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Writing Women as a Man; are all writers equal?

I got a review of my novel The Ecology of Lonesomeness the other day. It was good: five stars. I was delighted. This paragraph struck me: “I’ll be honest, too, that I don’t think a lot of books by men in the romance genre really and truly portray women correctly. But, this author manages to do that with Jessie very well. She is a complicated character and she manages to be complicated without being whiney or annoying – which is always a plus!”
I don’t know why this is; I mean, why a lot of books by men don’t portray women correctly, or that complicated characters would be whiney.
I do know that most romantic writers are women, or at least have female pen names, and most male writers don’t write romance – under their own name, at least.
There is definitely an expectation of this – no, a surprise I’ve experienced when I have been interviewed about my romance novels. Which, in my view and that of their publisher, are contemporary novels with romance, more than straight romance. The surprise that I write such romance as I do under my own name; excluding my J.D. Martins novellas, which are romance.
And I hope that readers aren’t very prejudicial against male writers that they’d pass one over in favour of a female name.
Why should male writers “normally” write female characters and points of view badly? After all, the opposite is rarely commented upon. Nobody said JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, or Ron, or Dumbledore all wrong (though she did use an ambiguous name to publish under). And surely there are male points of view in many romance novels (don’t read too many, myself, I admit).
I wrote Jessie from The Ecology of Lonesomeness, and Susan in Leaving the Pack (and Cora in the sequels), and Julie in The Soul of Adam Short, as people first, and female second. The sex (if there is any, depends on the book) might be a bit different, but the need for, and capacity for, love is the same. And every other desire and motivation is also equal between the genders. At least as far as I am concerned.
Perhaps I’m different. I suppose I am, though I don’t feel much different. However, I don’t think it hard to get into the mind of a female character, if you consider women your equal. Many men don’t. But that’s a problem of their own emotional growth, or lack of it. Many men are so obsessed with their own inadequacies that they fear women – or fear strong women (strong means equal here, in case you missed it).
Luckily, male writers are not usually like that. Their inadequacies are firmly sitting in their literary challenges. Their relationships may or may not be great, but they know they are in a business where (and I know the inequality exists even if I believe it is more in the readers’ minds) women are just as proficient as they are – if not more so, to be honest.
All writers are not equal, but the division is not based on gender.
So give a male writer a chance. You might be surprised as so many other readers.

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So I have a new book out…

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Your friends don’t give a toss about your new book.

That’s one of the first things authors have to learn when they first publish, along with not to read reviews, not to take bad reviews to heart when they don’t follow that previous rule, and certainly not to comment on bad reviews even though they want to gouge out the eyes of the reviewer.

Your friends are not your friends because you are writer, even if you’re a good one, or a published writer. They were there before you told them you wrote. They were there when you were clicking away at the keyboard in your spare time at work, when you told them you were holding out for the box set of season three of The Wire because you were really writing instead of watching television. And they gave you a pass, held off on the spoilers in your company, though they’d to bite their tongues to do it.

When you put away the notepad you’d been scribbling on in the coffee shop before they came in, they didn’t twist your arm and demand to see your poems, or short stories or whatever. And you were glad.
Now that you’re published, you can’t go and demand everyone read your shit, or get pissed off that nobody seems to give a toss that you have this amazing new novel out now (Spoiler alert: I have a great new novel out today, but I can’t give any more info because it would be spoiling). You can’t now do the equivalent of shove that notebook in their face at the coffee shop and tell them to check out what you just wrote before they sit and get a cup of coffee. The truth is they don’t give a shit.

Yet, if they did, would you be happy? I suspect, because I have no firsthand knowledge of such situations, that it would be similar if a Hollywood movie actor’s friends were all waiting for his or her new flick to come out, or asking them to give a few lines of whatever movie they were rehearsing at the time was. And you’d think they were just there because you were what you were, not who you were.

That’s what I tell myself anyway. It helps when friends don’t give feedback, when they don’t crack the book you asked them to beta-read, when they give you no, “hey, thanks,” or anything of the sort in response to the dedication you put in the book you sent them a copy of when it came out, because, basically, they didn’t even fucking look at the acknowledgments.

There will be plenty of people out there who delight in the fact that you’ve a new book out. They’re not necessarily your friends. They’re called readers. If you are lucky, there will be overlap. But there doesn’t need to be. There just needs to be people in both camps. Lots of people in one, and however-many you’re comfortable with in the other.

When your friends don’t respond to thinks like wedding invitations and photos of your children, you can worry. You might see your book as a newborn baby, but to some you’re basically asking them to get all teary-eyed over a work project you finished. They didn’t read your research thesis, nor the amazing 100-page contract you wrote for the sale of three thousand solar panels to a Chilean copper mine consortium, nor did they do much more than glance at the wing mirror you designed for the new Chevy Volt (is that car even being made?). It’s all work to someone, though it’s art to others.

(for the record, fiction writing is totally fucking art, though my doctoral thesis is also stimulating reading…)

Why We Write

As you know, we just voted for equal marriage in Ireland.

I posted and shared and liked a lot of stuff on my facebook page recently regarding that vote. I also wrote a blog post and even reposted it the day before the referendum.

As an author, perhaps I shouldn’t put such political or religious sensitive material things out there. I’ve been told to be careful. There can be a backlash against it, and it can hurt your career as an author. I learned this from the experience of another author who I follow on facebook. Someone didn’t like the author’s opinion in regarding the Irish vote for Equal Marriage. And they lowered themselves to dirty tricks.

Which is very sad.

Do we always have to care what people think to respect their work?

I mean, I don’t like Tom Cruise much as a personality, but I think he’s a great actor and I watch his movies – ditto for Mel Gibson.

Of course, in my own case, I believe I am on the right side of the arguments, and hope it will make people more receptive to my writing, in the end.

Because why do I write?

Let me say first, in answer to my own question, that I don’t care much about an author’s opinions.

I follow Anne Rice on facebook. I love that she’s cool, and that she replied to my email when I pointed out a typo in one of her books. But I read her books before I found out she was cool, and would have kept reading, despite her political views. I have rarely looked up information on the authors whose books I have read. I don’t think many people do. Even vegans read The Old Man and the Sea and see the quality of the book.

But many readers do care about the writers. They want to like the author.

I hope that these readers don’t hate my books (or pretend to hate them because they don’t like me).

I am sure, on the contrary, that if they hate what I say then they will hate what I write.

For what are my books if not attempts to tell a story at the same time as awaken consciousness, make the reader aware of a topic, make them think, change them a little, for the better, for having read them? (High aspirations, I know, but we must try. If we don’t try save the planet we are certainly doomed.)

As an example, a post I wrote about farmers illegally burning land in Ireland got much more coverage than most of my musings and was sent around facebook quite a bit (to my amazement). I looked through a few comments (Okay, all of them) and found nothing but agreement, even with my use of bad words.

Every author, I think, tries to change their reader.

And to a certain extent, we have a responsibility to do so. Just this week, George Monbiot took a children’s author to task for contributing to the whitewashing of the realities of intensive farming for food and milk production.

There are some who write just to thrill, to scare, for the enjoyment of making the reader have an emotion.

I do too. But I also want the reader to pause, to learn a little.

I know I’m not alone. Before the internet came about to let us connect to the daily musings of our favourite writers, everyone could get a sense of the writer’s opinions from their novels. I never knew anything about Rolling Stone Magazine until I read Stephen King’s Firestarter. But it gave me an insight into King that none of his shared postings on the internet have altered.

I know it’s not considered good writing to have the reader pause, to look up from the page to have to go and look up a word, or a reference. Perhaps.

But I love those kind of books. I like being immersed in a movie so much that I don’t notice two hours go by, but afterwards, I like to be able to talk about it, about the parts that I haven’t quite figured out. I love the same with books, though I can take a break in the middle rather than waiting till the end. I love spending two hours on wikipedia or youtube, filling in blanks and adding to my knowledge, like I did after I watched Pride last month.

If we writers really thought thinking was a bad thing, then why would be bother thinking up these stories?

And I have faith that thinking hasn’t gone completely out of fashion. Even though the thoughts are often depressing.

Why Word Count is Fairly Worthless

I don’t know much about writing novels, but I know this. Counting words is a waste of time.

I have written six and a two half novels so far. Oh, and two novellas, which are a whole different kettle of fish.

I know how to write a novel because I’ve obviously done it before. But I don’t know anything about HOW I did it.

Nothing worth transmitting to others who might try to do it themselves.

Except that.

Counting words is a load of bollox.

It doesn’t tell you shit about how much work you have done, how much of a novel you’ve already written, or, in anything but the vaguest terms give you an idea of the shitload of grafting you still have ahead of you.

I’ve read too many quotes saying that a thousand words a day will give you a novel in three months.

Bollox.

Such shite was perhaps written with the best of intentions, to encourage would-be writers to get their finger out of their arse and get something down on paper.

It seems so easy.

Write a novel in a month, they say every November. Fifty thousand words crafted, or cobbled together, anyway, and Bob’s your uncle: a novel under the belt.

No.

Not true.

Sure, there are a few great novels out there with scant word counts.

Ninety thousand words is a decent-sized book.

But is it your book?

Did those fifty thousand words spill out of the typewriter ribbon as such, or were they the last standing syllables of a Mongol horde of words that got massacred until they resembled a roman army in perfect discipline?

Did their author stick to a thousand words a day? Did he or she spend two weeks locked in a hotel room and thump upon the keys with his/her fingers twenty-five thousand times a day for ten says straight? Or sit with a pencil between his/her teeth for ten hours and get two hundred words down eventually, before breaking open a bottle of whisky at the end of the day?

Are ninety thousand words enough to tell the story that you need to tell? Or will two hundred thousand do it?

We create universes, us writers.

True.

But just like this one we’re all condemned to share, if it was made by some superior being, once it was made it pretty fecking quickly got away from it’s maker. Your universe will expand to the dimensions it requires within a very short time of its inception.

And you can do nothing but watch, and oblige its demands by filling it up with the structures it needs, however many words that requires.

You might find that you have fifty thousand words of a mess that will require more than one month just to get straight in your head.

Happened to me, after a fashion.

The 70k half book I have now will turn into, as far as I can judge from what I have uncovered of the world I am creating, around 150k. Much of what I am writing will be deleted. Only after they are written, can I hope to cut out the words the story probably doesn’t need.

My shortest novel is 30,000 words. It’s a children’s book. My longest, so far, is 175K. Each book I have had published has been shaved down. There were parts that weren’t necessary. But I didn’t know that until I wrote them. Some of these I noticed myself, once they existed. They could disappear. Others I didn’t know about until they were pointed out. But in every one, the thousand words a day would not have led to a finished story in the simple multiple of days to the final word count.

The other half-novel is currently at around 200K. I have an estimation that it will end up at 400K. I have no idea whatsoever whether it will stay that way, or will get chopped in half. I only know I have many more words to write, but no notion of how long that process will take.

So, check out your word count, by all means. Just don’t think you’re halfway done if you have 45K written.

You might be nearly finished, or you might only be starting out.

The story will decide.

You can only obey the rules of the universe you have created, and give it all the space it requires, however many years that will take to do.

There’s always another step to take…

 

 

I recently wrote an article about sticking with writing over years of unsuccessfully trying to get published, and how, twenty years after writing my first novel, I got it published and had it followed up by the second, and now I have contracts for five books, including one published under a pseudonym.

It’s hard to maintain confidence in your ability: I often thought I’d never sell a book, but along the way there were confidence boosts now and then when a poem was published, and a few quid here and there, even, for a poem or an article. When I finally got a contract, after all the effort, it was gratifying and affirming of my small amount of talent, and I felt vindicated in keeping at it.

I’d made that giant leap into Authorship.

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But getting a book on the market – professionally edited and with a great cover that I was able to have some input in the design of  – was just one more step forward, it turned out. I thought it was a giant leap because of my previous perspective – or lack of it.

It’s like an animation video describing the scale of the universe. You make it to the moon and before you have time to appreciate the view, the camera pans back to show just how far away Mars is, and then Jupiter, and how small our solar system is.

The journey has only really begun. It’s just you’ve learned to walk and been given a decent pair of boots, is all.

The pressure is not off now; it just got more intense.

Apart from building a platform, blogging and posting and advertising, there’s the requests for reviews and the feeling you have to get big sales, to justify the confidence in your work – and to a certain extent you do. Instead of feeling you’re no good if you can’t get an editor interested, now there’s the feeling that you’re not good enough if you don’t see lots of sales. Friends ask if you’re making millions yet – often despite not having read it themselves: and who ever sold a million copies of a book that wasn’t good enough for friends to bother with?

The reviews are another source of stress. You want everyone to love the book of course, but it becomes a bit over the top: what once might have been worthy only of a place in a desk drawer or the farthest reaches of a hard drive, suddenly needs to deserve only five star reviews.

God forbid someone should give it less than three!

But they do – they did mine already.

You can’t please everyone, and even fans of the genre might be your biggest stumbling block – especially if you did something with they didn’t expect, that quirk, that novelty, which pleases 9/10 readers, just doesn’t float the last one’s boat. They might even feel hard done by when the book doesn’t match their expectations – however misconceived they might be.

But the long term is what we have to look to again – just as before publication. Over the long haul, more will like it than not, and hopefully they’ll tell their friends. There will be reviewers who say they’re delighted to read a new slant, who believe your characters are great.

Nevertheless, in my short and scant experience, these great readers and reviews don’t do as much to put things in perspective as the old friends or colleagues who congratulate you and say they’re jealous of you. When you humbly tell them that you’re not making those millions, they shake their head and insist that they’re not jealous of you publishing, but of the fact that you actually wrote a novel: that you finished your shit, and polished it well enough that anyone would read it.

And that’s one of the things we need to keep in mind as we go to the next project, and keep blogging and advertising, and seeking more reviews. It’s a struggle uphill (hope Bjork doesn’t have that phrase copyrighted), but the fact we’re plodding ahead is something we need to be proud of.

Top 10 Tips on Writing.

Top 10 Tips on Writing..

who’d have thunk I’d be mentioned in a blog post about writing advice…

Tirgearr Publishing

Tirgearr Publishing

Anniversary Sale!
Tirgearr, the company that is publishing Leaving the Pack, my first novel, is having a sale. While you can’t buy MY novel there yet, there are lots of other great authors.