I have a high opinion of story. I see it as the essential trajectory of narrative: a coherent, onward movement, taking the reader from Here to There. Plot, to me, is variation or complication of the movement of story.
Story goes. Plot elaborates the going.
Plot hesitates, pauses, doubles back (Proust), forecasts, leaps, doubling or tripling simultaneous trajectories (Dickens), diagrams a geometry onto the story line (Hardy), makes the story Ariadne’s string leading through a labyrinth (mysteries), turns the story into a cobweb, a waltz, a vast symphonic structure in time (the novel in general)….
Now go read the rest of it.
Apropos of my post on third-person omniscient…
…look what I just came across in A Hole in Texas, by Herman Wouk:
“You must be Dr Carpenter.” Small slight woman, classy dark suit, large brown eyes, engaging smile, swift stride. “Thank you for coming in.”
“My pleasure, Congresswoman.” Very tall man, white hair ill suited to an ascetic face and wiry build, trouble getting to his feet. Such were their first impressions of each other, as they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
A perfect example of the strength of 3PO. It would have been difficult and awkward to describe both of these people in one swift paragraph in any breed of third-person limited, but it would simply have been impossible to slip that “Such were their first impressions of each other…” in there at all without 3PO. It could be argued that the insertion is unneeded, but I think it is a swift and elegant summing up, sliding without any serious snag into the rest of the paragraph.
“Such were their first impressions of each other…” Who, exactly, is saying that? Mr Wouk himself, the omniscient third person, the narrator, the storyteller. It is ludicrous to try to pretend that he does not exist, or to try to pretend that he has nothing to say, or that everything that needs to be said can be said through the mouth of a character. In that direction lies those jagged cliffs known as the As-you-know-Bob Precipice.
Back to the Wouk example. Notice the lists of sentence fragments? Notice me not saying anything about them? I could point out the natural flow of them, the conciseness of the information they present, their smooth and innocuous nature. I could point out that what is good enough for Herman Wouk is good enough for the likes of you and me. I could hunt down the reviewer who said, in regard to one of my books, that a “good editor” would have detected and removed the sentence fragments. But I won’t. I will do no such thing.
…but sometimes, it’s the tree trunk in your own.
I just read a blog post on “How Not to Write Christian Fiction.” No, I’m not going to link to it. You can find it if you try hard enough. It does make some valid points, many of them, actually, but it’s also full of the same old dull, toothless saws we’ve all heard too many times. Things like the complaint against “He emerged, turning to lock the door.” This, it is said, implies that two things are being done at once, when they simply can’t be. Well, no such implication is made. Not with a comma there. But I’m not going to go into that.
I’m going to address the statements about POV.
First, a little background. I know that the vast majority of new writers and wannabe writers have this unsupportable belief that you’re “not supposed to” use the third-person omniscient point of view. I’m very used to remarks like the one I got from a local writer when I said I used 3PO: “But what do you do when you want to show what a person is thinking?” she asked. “I show you what she’s thinking,” I said. “But you can’t do that in third-person omniscient,” she said, in a very confused tone. Um… what part of omniscient did you not get?
There is nothing you cannot do in 3PO. Nothing. I can show you what this person is thinking in this second, and what that one is thinking in the very next second. I can tell you on page 22 that she wants nothing more than for her husband to unzip her dress on the back porch swing, and on page 123 that he’s been longing to do that for thirty years. He’s certain it would get him in trouble.
So whenever I see statements like “If you are telling Jane’s story, don’t ever show us John’s viewpoint,” or “Never tell us that she was sometimes unaware of the glances of men, because she is unaware of her unawareness,” then I know that yet another person has fallen into the trap of simply not recognizing the fact that 3PO is being used.
Third-person omniscient is quite possibly the oldest POV ever used in fiction.
As soon as your story-telling moves past autobiography (“Mommy! I saw a bird in the little place by the big rock, and it was brown!”) into fiction (“Once upon a time, there was a little boy…”), you move into 3PO, and you stay there until some unpublished MFA (or the unpublished MFA’s unpublished pupils) tells you that you “can’t” do that. But 3PO was good enough for Chaucer and Austen and Tolstoy and Dickens, and it’s good enough for me. In spite of all the wannabes running around quacking that “You can’t do that! You can’t do that!” it is still arguably the most common POV in use. In the excellent movie, Stranger Than Fiction, IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) tells Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) that the strange voice he hears narrating his life said “Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous act would result in his death.” Hilbert replies “Little did he know? I’ve written papers on ‘Little did he know.’ I’ve taught classes on ‘Little did he know.’” “Little did he know” implies, as Hilbert goes on to point out, the existence of someone who did know. It implies that the writer knows, and wants you to know. It implies the existence of an omniscient narrator (omniscient in the universe of the story). Little did he know, she had no idea, they could not know, she was unaware of the glances of men… Once you begin to look for them, these tags are everywhere.
More to the point, if you don’t like the way something was written, you are free to say so, but you cannot review the book you wish had been written. If a book is written in 3PO, then do not try to use the evidence of that fact as proof of “POV violations.”
POV violations are common enough, usually in the form violations of character truth or of character knowledge. You don’t have to make them up out of thin air.
My mother died at the end of last month.
(Her name when she died was actually Hay, but she was a Montgomery for many years, and I wanted the connection to be a little clearer in my title.)
The following was written by my sister, Cherie:
Corienne Maire Hay neé Hackett, beloved sister, mother, aunt, and grammie was born in Vancouver, Washington and died peacefully in her Bellingham, Washington home at the age of 75. She was preceded in death by her mother, Opal Adele Jones; her father, Russell Hackett; two sons, Steven and Wayne Montgomery; granddaughter, Alina Montgomery; granddaughter-in-law Anne Montgomery; and nephew Brian Waldo. She leaves behind sisters Dorothy O’Brien, Carolee Lindquist and her husband Bruce, Kay Waldo and her husband Ron; daughter Debbonnaire Kovacs and her children Nathaniel, Robin and Sally Christopher; son Levi Montgomery, his wife Cathy, and their children Brandon, Aaron, Amanda, Lacey, Steven and Andrew; daughter Cherie Valeithian, her partner Kristine Thomas, and Cherie’s daughter Heather Pauley; daughter Summer Katheryne Holmes and her children Lindsey and her husband Chris Leimbach, Liandra, Elliott, Spencer, Abigail, Preston and Valerie; and Wayne’s daughter Desiree. Also surviving her are eight nieces, two nephews, and numerous friends.
Corienne became a Seventh-Day Adventist at the age of ten and was an active part of many congregations throughout her life. In recent years she was a member and beloved elder of the Lummi Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She was a full-time homemaker and mother while her children were young, and then worked as an Activities Director and Social Service Representative at area nursing homes for more than 20 years. Upon leaving her position in Social Services at Pioneer Ridge Health Care in the late 1990s, she became a private home health aide. She retired from that profession in 2010.
Corienne was passionate about her relationship with God, a dedicated elder in her church community, a regular donor to Adventist Development and Relief Agency and other charitable organizations, an environmental conservationist, and a strong believer in “reduce, reuse, recycle” decades before that phrase was popularized. She was a compassionate woman who accepted just about everybody, foibles and all. As a result she “adopted” or was adopted by the friends of her children, the children of her friends, and others who needed a mommy, a grammie, a sister, or a friend to give a helping hand, a listening ear, or a hug. She also had a fiercely independent spirit and lived for thirty years on her own land without many of the conveniences of modern life. She could (and did) build, re-build, or re-purpose items for her daily life, cut her own firewood, can fruits and vegetables over an open fire-pit and carry drinking water from town. She was a talented seamstress who made beautiful clothing out of pieces of used clothing from a thrift shop or scraps and remnants of new fabric, often without benefit of a pre-printed pattern. She made wedding dresses and other formal gowns for various sisters, daughters and others, sometimes using curtains or bed sheets as fabric if that was all that was available. She was a writer of prose and poetry, a singer and songwriter with hundreds of songs and a CD to her credit, and was skilled in many crafts, including crochet, embroidery, quilting, making and arranging silk flowers, building bird houses out of natural materials, and making jewelry. She was famous for her ability to make roses out of anything handed to her, including ribbons, leaves, bread or pie crust dough, pieces of fabric, children’s modeling clay, and yes, even facial tissue or toilet paper. She was also an avid reader and lifelong learner who excelled at word puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. All of her skills and talents combined with her stubbornly-held independence made it difficult for those of us who loved her to take care of her, though she softened on that in the last few years.
Her time on this earth was too short. We expected to have her with us for many more years, and we will miss her terribly. However, as long as we carry a piece of her in our hearts she is with us still.
Donations can be made in her name to her favorite charity, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency www.adra.org
~ Biography by Cherie M. Valeithian, Corienne’s middle daughter
I hope this explains some of my AWOL-ness in the last couple of weeks.
I got a strange email this morning.
It seems that one of my scenes caused some discomfort for one of my readers. I won’t say what book it’s in, and I won’t even name the characters, because it’s a bit spoilerish, but the scene is this:
- Girl, seated
- Boy, crouched on his heels in front of her, his hands on her knees
- Boy: “I’m really sorry, but I [spoiler] your [spoiler] on my [spoiler].”
- Girl punches Boy in the mouth hard enough to knock him back on his butt
- Girl punches Boy in the face again, knocking him to his hands and knees
- Girl kicks Boy two or three times and runs away
Don’t worry about poor Girl and Boy. They get back together, and there’s a serious hint of some happily-ever-after by the end of the book (or at least mostly happy for some good long stretches of ever after). That’s not what bothered my reader. What bothered my reader is that Girl was not described, prior to this, as being overly large, or overly powerful, or overly aggressive, or overly something that would make it possible for her to beat up Boy. In fact, this is the first and only scene in the book that remotely resembles violence.
It just can’t be that a girl who is just a girl is able to beat up a boy. Not even if he is in a precarious posture to begin with. Not even if she takes him totally by surprise. Not even if karate lessons in her distant past have been hinted at. No, she has to be Supergirl.
Let me digress a moment.
I spent eleven years in a wheelchair, and although I no longer use it, there’s not really much doubt that I will end up back in it before I’m done. I personally know at least two dozen people who use wheelchairs on a daily basis, people who get up in the morning, get showered and shaved and dressed, eat breakfast, sometimes even make the breakfast, get off to school or work, stop at the grocery store on the way home, take the dog to the park, go out back and play catch with the kids, and top it all off with some one-on-one with the POSSLQ (just google it). People, in short, who live life.
Until, that is, the press gets hold of it. Then, suddenly, everything changes. Now it’s the story of this poor person, confined to a wheelchair (DO NOT GET ME STARTED! I can’t begin to tell you how much I despise that phrase. In the first place, you are not confined to it – you are liberated by it. In the second place, unless it involves chains, handcuffs, or duct tape, no one is confined to a wheelchair. Not even Stephen Hawking is confined to a wheelchair. Or wheelchair-bound. Society only wishes they were bound into them, because it would make them so much easier to deal with.) (Deep breath. Do not get me started. More deep breathing.) Anyway, now it’s the story of this wheelchair-bound person who somehow manages to cope anyway. Adore him! Adulate her! All hail the Supercrip!
Next time you read one of those mealy human-interest stories in your newspaper about the double amputee who walks his dog every day, or the woman with CP who runs the local house-painting company, or the paraplegic art teacher who throws bowls on a potter’s wheel, ask yourself how remarkable it is that a man walks his dog every day, or that a woman runs a business, or that an art teacher throws bowls on a potter’s wheel.
They’re not Supercrip. They’re just people, living their lives.
Robert Heinlein had a tendency to make his female characters into Supergirl.
From Peewee to Jack to Friday, female characters in Heinlein’s work are not just bigger than life, but bigger than all the other girls and women around them. This has caused some to claim that he was misogynistic, because he was afraid to let a girl be a girl, or to let a woman be a woman. I don’t know whether he was or not, because all I have to judge on is his fiction, and that’s not the sort of judgment I want to make based on fiction, but I would like to point out that if Heinlein was a misogynist because his women were Supergirl, then he must also have been a misanthrope, because all of his males are Superboy, too. I mean, come on – Kip was normal?
There is no drama in having Supergirl or Superboy or Supercrip do super things. That’s like finding it marvelous that an airplane flies. Isn’t it supposed to fly? The drama, the turmoil, the power of fiction comes, not from the super, but from the mundane. From the boy just like you, or the girl just like you, or the person who is you in every way, doing the right thing when it hurts, or when it costs too much, or when everybody around you is going to say it was the wrong thing, and only you will ever know the difference.
Sometimes the girl gets to be the truck.
Sometimes she has to be the bug. And that’s okay. It is no more bothersome that she was able to beat him up without being Supergirl than it is that he got beat up without being Superwimp.
Life’s tough. Buck up.
UPDATE: As of about 13:30 Pacific time, the Aima Kickst profile has been deleted.
As you know (if you are reading my blog), I started my first Kickstarter project yesterday.
This morning, I received what I first thought was an email from an organization calling itself the “American Investors Microproject Association.” AIMA offered to advertise my project to “big investors” for the fairly low rate of $20.00, and said that they had a money-back guarantee: my project would be fully funded, within the deadline, or I would get my money back. Well, that’s not really much a performance guarantee, when you think about it. I take your twenty bucks, I do nothing at all for thirty days, and then, assuming your project funds, I wave bye-bye at you.
Due diligence seemed to be called for.
Boolean searching seems to have died out completely on the internet. In fact, it’s becoming virtually impossible to search for a specific word, given the predilection of all the major search engines to swap your word out for synonyms to bring you “more results!” More results? I don’t want more results, I want the right results, and when I want to search for the exact phrase “American Investors Microproject Association” I particularly do not want the search engine to proudly announce that it is “including results without quotes” in order to bring me more results. It’s like searching for “stool” in an online dictionary, and being told “Here are all of the words with an S in them, all of the words with a T in them, etc, etc, etc. Good luck!” So search was not only useless, it was insultingly infuriating.
However, rereading the email, I realized it was not actually from AIMA, but was an email from the Kickstarter system, telling me that I had a message from “Aima Kickst,” and here was a copy of the message. So I went to Kickstarter and looked at the profile for “Aima Kickst.” Joined: 27 March 2012. Backed projects: 0. Started projects: 0.
There’s a Twitter account for Aima Kickst also, just a week old with two tweets total.
Their website is totally useless, with nothing but a chance to send them some money.
I’m not prepared, at this time, to say that “Aima Kickst” is a scam.
But it looks pretty likely to me. I’ve written this primarily in the hopes that others trying to pursue their own due diligence will find this and think twice.
My first Kickstarter project is now live!
The goal of this project, as I have stated here and elsewhere, is to get funding to pay for professional promotion of the novel. Minimum donation is just a measly buck, but for $5, $25, or $100, you get cool stuff!
- Pledge $5.00 or more to receive a copy of Blood Bonds in the ebook format of your choice (MOBI, EPUB, or PDF).
- Pledge $25.00 or more to receive a signed copy of the print edition of Blood Bonds, plus a copy in the ebook format of your choice (MOBI, EPUB, or PDF).
- Pledge $100.00 or more to receive your name (or the alias of your choice!) on the acknowledgments page of Blood Bonds, plus a signed copy of the print edition, plus a copy in the ebook format of your choice (MOBI, EPUB, or PDF).
I am currently shooting for a release date of 1 June 2012, although that may change as time goes by.
If you’ve read and enjoyed any of my other books, please consider supporting this project. And don’t forget to tell everyone you know! Yes, including that kid from third grade that gave you a wedgie every time he saw you, and then last Thursday, you saw him at Starbucks and he did it again.
I will be releasing Blood Bonds (assuming all goes well) on the 1st of May.
Blood Bonds is a novel that attempts to deal with the invisible web of bonds we create between ourselves, that network that connects us to each other with lines of friendship, of love, of hate, of sex, of things as simple as the places we grow up and as complex as the blood that runs within us. I guess, then, Blood Bonds is yet another attempt to write about the same things I always write about.
Maybe I got it right this time.
I am going to be contracting with a PR firm to handle the processes press releases, of getting reviews, etc.
That, unfortunately, costs money. Up front. In my view, the ideal would be for a PR firm to take on such things for X percent of the profits over T time. And before you go and dip the pitchforks in the tar and get them all flaming nicely, consider this: For several years now, you’ve seen, in all the blogs about how to Do It Right, that authors must hire professional editors. You can’t do that yourself. You must hire a professional cover designer. You’re not an artist, you’re a writer. You must have your page design done by a professional.
But the marketing must be all your own. Attempt to hire someone to do that, and you’re selling out. You want to be taken care of. You’re being unrealistic. You’re offering a share of the proceeds of selling your home to the kid that cuts the grass.
Writing is a creative process, as are editing, cover design, and page layout. A writer is a creative person. Is it all that unreasonable to think that a writer might be able to edit? Or to design a cover? In fact, aren’t most creative types involved in more than one type of creativity?
Marketing is not, at its heart, a creative process. That’s no slur on marketing, it’s just a fact. It takes a whole nother set of skills. And yet it is certainly something that some people are good at and others are not. I am not.
Why not meld the strengths of both types, in order to make a book as successful as it can be? I’m not going to offer the neighborhood kid down the street 10% of the proceeds of selling my house, in exchange for cutting the grass, but that’s a bad analogy. Here’s a better one: What if you offered 10% of the monthly take on your motel to the landscape service that makes it look attractive? What if you offered 10% of your daily box office to the manager of your theater?
Creating the book is a finite process, with a start and a stop and a place to point and say “There, I’m done.” Of course you’re not going to offer a percentage of the take forever to a person who is involved in the creation of the book. But marketing is an ongoing process. To the extent that your marketing effort has any effect at all, it will have that effect exactly as long as you keep at it. Why in the world would a percentage of profits not be a good way to buy that service?
But I’m digressing a bit.
This post is supposed to be about marketing Blood Bonds in particular, and about how I am going to (try to) get the money to do it. Which is by using Kickstarter. I need $3,500.00. If you’re thinking “Wow! Way too much! That shouldn’t be more than $9.00! (or $900.00, or whatever), please save your arguments. I did the research, I made the decision, and I’m not changing my mind. Not this time around, anyway. If you feel this is too much, the solution is simple – don’t back my project.
But if you have read any of my books so far, if you are one of the many who have left me such great reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, if you’ve liked my work so far, please toss a coin or two my way. The project is worthwhile, the rewards are good, my thanks will be from the very deepest bottom of my charcoal-cinder heart! (Oh, come on – you knew I had a heart of charcoal!)
The Kickstarter project is not live yet (still undergoing review to be sure I followed the rules),
but here’s a link to the preview:
(edited to say “Oops – wrong link!” And to fix it.)
Just don’t forget to go back in a day or two and toss some money in the pot.
(Ha! Like I have any intention of letting anybody forget!)
I really and truly wish that there was a way for me to contact Ann Packer.
It seems a bit odd, bordering on downright strange, that there seems to be no public contact information for a compelling modern author, except a way to request a public speaking event, or a way to find out about her bookstore events. I would expect that there would at least be an email address, perhaps in care of one of her publishers, undoubtedly moderated through someone else, but with some hope that she would eventually see something that was sent to her.
(There’s a Facebook account, but I absolutely refuse to have a Facebook account, given their stance on what they think it’s okay to do with your personal information, so that’s out. And in any event, all I could have done there was “Like” some button somewhere. Or play Virtual Pig Farm, or Gangsta Warz, or whatever they’re up to on the book of faces these days.)
So everything I would have said in an email, I’m going to say here, and then I’m going to pretend that she’ll read it. Who knows, maybe she has a Google alert set on her name, or her title, or both. I have alerts on my name and all of my titles, and so should you. (glares intently for a moment)
I have just read the opening novella in your collection Swim Back to Me, and I have some things I would like to say. Things like “Stunning. Stupendous. Compelling.”
Walk for Mankind is absolutely among the top three percent of all the fiction I have ever read, and that’s a lot of fiction. What fascinated me the most was the telling of Sasha’s story, through the eyes and viewpoint of a narrator who always seems to be only on the verge of understanding that story himself, and who nonetheless manages to make it all so very clear to the reader. This is something I have tried to do (for instance, in The Dinosaur and the Dragon Lady), and I know how hard it is.
You nailed it.
Just thought you should know that.
Now all the rest of you, go now and get a copy of Swim Back to Me. Read it. Reread it. Repeat as needed.
My latest novel, Blood Bonds, will be an experiment.
The book will be available in paper, but if you want it as an ebook, you’re going to have to go to Amazon and get it in Kindle format. That’s because author participation in the new “Amazon Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” requires Amazon Kindle exclusivity for ebook distribution. I can still make it available in paper wherever I want to, but I can’t distribute the ebook in any other place or fashion, including my own website, during the ninety-day library period.
Not sure how I feel about this, actually, but, as I said, it’s an experiment. This will also enable me to offer it for free on any five days during the ninety, which is another thing I’ve been wanting to try. I might as well be in Amazon’s library, since I’m in the local library system. In fact, this book may be a “Hot Pick!” in the local library, meaning multiple copies, with special shelving, face-out, right near the checkout counter.
On a related note, I’d like to ask a favor of any among you who have read any of my books. Could we make today “Tell someone about Levi Montgomery’s books” day? That’d be great! Thank you!