Thursday, October 30, 2014

Synopsis Hell

A synopsis is a wonderful, beautiful, elegant tool for publishers and agents to understand what your entire book is about, without all the bother of actually reading the book.  Because publishers and agents are inundated with queries on a daily basis, it makes perfect sense for them to request a
So, how's that synopsis coming, Rob?
synopsis after reading, and enjoying, a sample of your work.

A synopsis is also an exercise in utter futility, not unlike brain surgery with a rock wall.  It literally (and I mean literally) opens the Gates of Hell and lets forth every demon and tortured soul to visit pain and suffering upon a writer such that the Spanish Inquisition looks like a lovely tea party.

The problem for most writers is that condensing the beauty, brilliance and genius of an 85,000 word manuscript into a 1,500 word synopsis isn’t just writing a book jacket description meant to sell copies.  The synopsis must show all the major characters and events in a story—what happens, when it happens, who it happens to—but without any of the internal emotional consistency that provides for character depth, background or logic.

It’s like a three year-old telling you what happened in an epic and seminal science fiction movie.

Yesterday, working with my Beta Team, we railed against the requirement of a synopsis due to the closing scenes for my samurai novel The Second Cut.  Reworking the synopsis to prepare it for an agent became a four-hour chore as we attempted to work out how best to describe the conclusion.  An earlier draft ended with these exact words:

Wary of the trap, Yoshimori agrees and the former enemies sit down to tea while Juke’s men tend Yoshimori’s wounds.

Early options to writing a synopsis.
You see?!  This historical fiction about bold, brave sword-swinging samurai, with fights and chases and romance and escapes, actually does end (essentially) with a tea party.


But to actually understand why two enemies sit down and sip tea at the end of the story, you have to actually read the story.  One of my Beta Team members went off at some length at how much he enjoyed the scene, how it was true to the characters and the overall emotional conclusion of the book.  But in the synopsis, it’s boiled down to sipping Earl Grey over a quiet chat.

Fortunately, my Beta Team enjoys a good challenge.  Together, we worked through several revisions.  Finally, bleary eyed, battle-scarred and exhausted we at last arrived at reasonable, and well-written, conclusion to the synopsis that more accurately reflected the true nature of the scenes.  Meanwhile, a couple of short folk with no shoes wandered into a volcano, which erupted and then some big birds scooped them up and carried them to safety.  Exciting!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faith In Humanity

This is how it went down yesterday.  Driving home from a successful doctor’s visit/pharmacy
visit/phlebotomist visit, I saw a homeless man crossing the street.  He meandered along, because, after all, homeless—not much going on for him except crossing streets and whatnot.  After he passed me, I saw that he had no shoes or socks.  He had a hoodie and over that another coat, long pants, and here in SoCal that’s almost too much clothing.

But no shoes.  And here I am, in a truck, wearing a nice pair of light hikers, with two pairs of running shoes and at least as many pairs of socks.

It seemed like the right thing to do, so I turned my truck around and flagged the man down.

“Sir, do you have a moment?” I asked him.

“Are you trying to help me?” he asked back.

“Only if you want it,” I said.

“Sure I want it!” he replied, and shuffled over.

“Great.  Do you happen to know your shoe size.  I’ve got an extra pair of running shoes and socks for you, they look like they might fit.”

He looked down at his feet and I looked with him.  He lifted one toward me.

“I don’t need no shoes, bro,” he said.  “I need bus fair, food money.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied, a bit wary.  “I don’t carry cash.  But I have these shoes and socks.  They’re clean and in good repair.  I’m happy to give them to you.”

What the WHAT!?
“No bro, I don’t need no shoes,” he continued.  “You got change, dontcha?  Some cash?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t.  I don’t carry cash.  I thought you could use some shoes, but if you can’t, that’s really all I can do right now.”

“Bro, I could use a car or a house, or some cash,” he said, and he was getting a little edgy.  “But I don’t need no shoes.”

“Ok, I understand.  Sorry I couldn’t help.  Good luck to you.”

“Yeah, whatever bro,” he said, and there was some obvious anger in his voice now.  “What you did was waste my time, bro.  You wasted my time.”

Yeah, seriously, that was his parting shot to me.  I’m assuming he had a high level business meeting that he was “rushing” off too, and I’d now delayed him with my effort to provide reasonable footwear.  Mea culpa.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nathan Hall Interviews R.A. McCandless

Nathan Hall’s interview with me about science fiction, fantasy which included some very insightful questions.  This interview took place over Facebook which was a new experience, but also allowed a more conversational tone.  Nathan was a great interviewer and we had a really good time discussing the aspects of science fiction/fantasy and the current publishing world.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with (via Facebook) and interview author R.A. McCandless, author of Tears of Heaven published by Wild Child Publishing. Our discussion was as follows (give or take the occasional typo).

Ride, boldly, ride!
Was there a certain book that got you into Science Fiction and Fantasy? Could you describe it, and why it connected with you so strongly?

Tolkien’s The Hobbit was given to me as a gift and really opened the castle gates of fantasy to me.  Suddenly, there was a whole world of swords, magic and fantastical creatures to meet.  Immediately after I finished, I took all the money I had and biked down to the bookstore to buy everything else Tolkien had written.  I had no idea I was getting the seminal fantasy series: The Lord of the Rings.

I’m compelled by any world where dragons can make an appearance.  They don’t have to show up, but the idea that they can?  Please and thank you.  I also like any world where a woman is as strong or stronger that most of the men around.  Personally, I prefer a woman who can go toe-to-toe and sword-to-sword with anyone else.  So my preferred genre is fantasy, but I’ll take urban fantasy, science fiction and even historic fiction off the shelves for those reasons.

I have a similar story. The Hobbit was a childhood favorite.

It and LOTR remain in my top ten despite numerous excellent authors over the years.

They both have a lot to offer, even after all these years. There's a reason he's the first name people think of in Fantasy.

What is your work about? Would you care to describe it?

Don't worry.  He's a leaf on the wind!
Telling a good story well and hitting some epic high note moments.  It’s hard to not to get carried away from the reality of, say, a sword fight or a battle scene, and into the unrealistic.  Keeping the physics of actions and reactions on target is something I really strive for and enjoy.  This is especially enjoyable when readers catch the effort that went into making a fight scene exciting, but still within the realm of the real.  I have to say that my favorite is when a reader comes to me and says, “You bastard, I can’t believe you killed this character.  He was my favorite.”  They really aren’t mad at me, but it means that I connected with them through that character, and I achieved a realism of life between their mind and the book with that character.  That’s magic right there.

Haha I've heard that a writer's job is to  make the reader go through things they'd never willingly choose to go through on their own.

Or things they can't go through.  It's really tricky to get on the back of a dragon and go for a ride these days, what with all those damned knights riding off to slay them all the time.

But there's JK Rowling, writing about Harry Potter and his friends climbing on board a dragon in the underground vaults of Gringotts, riding a dragon to freedom.  Wow

That was a good one!

Yeah, amazing ride!

Such a great scene.

Iconic really, if you think about it.  If you talk fantasy, you think about dragons, but how many fantasy novels actually have dragons in them?  That's not a slam on authors or fantasy as a genre.  Too much, and we'd get tired of "another dragon in another fantasy book".  Rowling did a good job of showing us dragons in her fantasy, but not overselling the creatures.

She did, very much so. One of her greatest triumphs, I think.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In Shambles With Cover Art - Release

In Shambles is set to release through Harren Press (and at all your fine eBook and print book
Ah yes, Mr. Anderson!
retailers) in the next month or so (stay tuned, of course).  In the meantime, enjoy the following passage from And Into A Watery Grave along with the cover art:

“The fae aren’t like the stories,” Aubrey said.  “Or rather only half like the stories.  They’re practically immortal, with experience both broader and deeper than any mortal can possibly have, even an empress.  We’re mere children to them.  They play games with us and tease us—they like to see us embarrassed and foolish.  They have a darker side as well.  You don’t want to make one of them angry.  It rarely ends well.”

“Like being spanked by your da?” Sergeant Hamnar laughed. 

“Yes, except with teeth and claws and blood.”

“How do you keep from that?”

“Avoidance, mostly,” Aubrey said with a shrug.  “Fae don’t usually seek us out, we tend to trespass without knowing.  Keep out of their way.  Endure them when you can’t.”

They were within a few dozen yards of the naiad, and Aubrey held out her hand, opening it to expose the bright silver to the sunlight.  She rocked her hand lightly, back and forth.

“Ooooo,” the naiad responded.  It was an ethereal note that rose and fell and rose again.  It sounded like Brunhilde’s operatic ending.

Aubrey continued to move her hand back and forth, and moved forward toward the naiad, whose full attention was on the two women.  Aubrey moved closer to pond’s edge, holding her hand out over the water.  The coin slipped from one side to the other, and finally dropped into the water with a soft plop.

“Oooo,” the naiad said again.

The fae skated over the water, leaving two V-like trails in her wake.  She stopped a few feet from where Aubrey and Hamnar stood on the shore, knelt down on the water, and reached in to retrieve the silver coin.

“Ahh, so pretty, so pure, so shiny,” she mused.  She turned the silver over and over with her long, delicate fingers.

Aubrey felt her heart quicken and warmth spread across her chest, down her stomach and over her thighs.  The sensation was uncomfortably welcome.  A natural response to being so close to a fae in her element, and apparently quite pleased with the offering of silver.

Herla Naiad,” Aubrey said, and gave a clumsy bow.

The naiad turned her full attention on Aubrey, as if seeing her for the first time.  She laughed, a trilling sound like the tinkle of a small water fall over a mossy stones.  Her limpid, green and blue eyes gazed at Aubrey, and increased the warmth Aubrey felt.

“Why so formal, child?  Yes, why?  Have you come to dance for me?  To shed your clothes and feel the cool, clearness of my touch?  Yes, yes.  Please do!”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Black is the New Black

Black Pentel RSVP Medium Point.
Hello, beautiful.

The best pen to write with.  Ever.

Even after the carpal tunnel made it difficult for any extended writing, the RSVP remains the standard by which all other pens are measured and generally found wanting.  A box or two of them are stashed in my desk as proof against the coming Zombie Apocalypse.  Yes, that’s a warning.  No, you may not borrow one of my pens.

There's a story that goes with the Pentel RSVP and its discovery as the finest writing implement ever.

In college, in the days when the internet was exclusively for discussion and porn, the RSVPs were first released only in the fine point. Why remains a mystery to this day.  Fine points are only good for scratching and tearing paper to shreds, especially when you are really in the moment of telling Jenny Slater how you feel about her choice to take John McKenzie to the Spring formal instead of you—a general occurrence we can all relate to.

Internet circa 1990s
Perhaps Pentel was in bed with the Scotch Tape industry?  Perhaps Jenny Slater was too?

Suffice to say that the Pentel RSVP, while a vision in form and function, was flawed in this one, and only one, area.

If you haven’t had the joy of picking up the RSVP, let me explain to you that the size, shape and feel of the pen is unlike any that you are likely to experience this side of Heaven or a shot of Demerol.  Slightly larger in diameter than “standard” pens of the time, Pentel set a bold new trend by taking into consideration those of us with hands bigger than that of a Hobbit or a small child.  No more would we have to cramp our fingers around thin, flimsy hard to grip writing implements.  Here was a mass-produced item conceived of by a god and fashioned by angels, with a comfort grip that provided for hours of writing.

But that damned fine point.

Necessity, however, is the mother of invention.

I found that I could replace the Satanic cartridge with a blessed medium point Pentel.  Alas, as an iconoclast, a daring individual who marches to the beat of a different drum, at the time I was really grooving on the color green for my pen usage.  Pentel offered a lovely shade, in the fine point RSVP, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in stores.

Frustration can also be the mother invention—or an annoyed customer with a 1-800 number!

Vice President Steve
I called Pentel directly (another wonder of the internet), and spoke to Steve in their marketing department about how much I loved the size and shape of the Pentel RSVP, but despised their reliance on the evil fine point cartridge.  Without a doubt, Steve was the head of the marketing department, vice president of customer relations, with a direct line to the product folk.  I assure you, I made no demands on Steve, his company, and at no time did I call down the wrath of Michael, Gabriel and the FIRES OF HEAVEN AND ALL THE ANGELS or anything at all like that.  That sounds silly.  Steve was pleased, pleased I say, to take down my feedback.

A year later, Pentel released medium point RSVPs in ALL colors.

Coincidence—Most likely!

An archaic huzzah?  Definitely.