(Hopefully Not Very) Problematic Updates: Travels in the Near Future

So today I have no new chapters, and I won’t have them next week either. I’m not sure whether I’ll be posting next week, in fact, because I’m going to Venice! Hooray!

It will be a welcome change from the rainy Danish summer, and a welcome change from work. My professor is pleased with my thesis progress, so I don’t feel bad about taking a week off there. The guy I’m writing a web shop for can’t pay me yet, so I don’t mind taking a week off there. And in my last week of tour guiding, I was first verbally abused by a passer-by not even on my tour, and the next day I had to take an emergency shift totally unprepared. So I don’t mind taking a week off there.

I will definitely be writing a lot about Venice and Florence. I may try to take some pictures, although I am a notoriously bad picture-taker. If time and the internet permit, I’ll be able to post as normal next week. But if not, I’ll try to post another chapter of Tracks when I get back, as well as some cool Venice-Florence thoughts.

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Planners and Pantsers

Every year I try to participate in Nanowrimo. I have not succeeded unequivocally, but at least I have tried.

The good Nano’ers have divided us writers into two different camps: planners and pantsers. The planners prepare their novels right up to the moment of writing. They have intimate character sketches, theme discussions, hidden relationships, in-depth outlines. They’ve got it all and more. The pantsers, on the other hand, start working on their idea the moment they start writing. They’re going by the seat of their pants. They no more know what’s going to happen in their novels than a reader might.

I am, without a doubt, a pantser.

I tried once to be a planner- in my very first novel, written when I was 15/16. The completed manuscript was a bloated 400 pages written from a series of notecards that had little moments and elements that I wanted to capture in my story. I took the notecard approach on the recommendation of a book that claimed it would teach me how to write science fiction and fantasy. I have since disdained the book and, while the notecard approach doubtless works for some, I never re-approached it.

My next book was written in the same year, completely by the seat of my pants. As a result, it was utterly without plot. The next tried to put too small a plot into too large a novel. Again, I had the bloating problem.

Others no doubt have great success with pantsing. But in my work (and this is only a commentary on my work), when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I wander around in my world until I finally do. Which means that my manuscripts are at best meandering, and at worst overblown.

But for me, pantsing is more fun. During the writing process I am excited; I don’t know what my characters are going to do next and it’s so much fun to find out that I often dispense with the planning in favour of being pleasantly surprised.

But when I recently started work on a new novel, I decided to give planning another try.

Part of this is for research purposes. It will be set in a city much like Renaissance Venice, and I want to be able to capture and express a feel like that.

It’s also because this idea has been following me around in some way or another for eight years. I want it to come to something.

Wish me luck in my endeavours! I will still be pantsing on everything else. Maybe in a few months I’ll put in an update on how the pantsing vs planning is going.

The Excess of Marketing Meets an Ostracized Reader

So, I’m dashing off this post while I’m supposed to be doing my thesis. Hopefully it’ll be quick. Hopefully it also won’t have a whining tone.

I joined twitter not too long ago (I’m still in the Dark Ages, I know. Don’t even ask about Google+ or Pinterest). Because I am an aspiring writer and want to connect with other aspiring writers, I started looking for – and following – these people.

For the most part, it’s been great. I get to have a brief glimpse into a stranger’s life, rejoice with them at the strangeness of their cats or the deliciousness of sushi, and see links to book reviews or mars landings or articles about writing.

But certain people on my feed only talk about themselves, or their work. The following is going to be the Great Hypocrisy of the Age, since this post is publicized on twitter, but:

This guy spends so much time telling everyone how awesome he is that I kind of want to punch him in the face.

People should definitely advertise their blogs, their books, their articles, photographs, beadwork, knitting, basket weaving or whatever else they want on twitter.  But how much is too much?

For me, the joy of clicking on a twitter link is that I only have the faintest idea of what I’m about to read. The joy is gone when I already know that the end result will be a eulogy of his work, only his work, and how amazing it is.

Am I being too sour? He seems to have managed to make a living for himself off of writing, which is, of course, what I am striving to do. But in the land of twitter, where everyone is always talking about him or herself – throwing opinions and entreaties into a void from which no reply may ever come – he is the only one who comes across as entirely self-involved.

I hope this is a legitimate question and doesn’t come across as a whiny rant. I’ve heard many debates on statistics and the rules for publicizing your work. How many people are put off by excessive publicity vs. how many are brought in by it?

These aren’t just rhetorical questions. Answers of opinion are considered amazing and awesome, as are the people who provide them.

Ghost Writing and the Money Conundrum

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend about my ghost writing work: when I consider all the effort I’ve put into a piece, I feel like I haven’t been paid what I truly deserve.

I’m sure lots of writers feel this way. After all, only we know exactly how much we slave away on an effort. But there is a difference between writing an original work, and writing for someone else. There’s a difference in the theory of it, the practice of it, and the payment of it. But what are these differences, and how do they make me so frustrated?

The Theory:

Writers attach a lot of importance to ideas. We want original ideas that capture the imagination and leave our readers reeling. We want profound ideas that people will discuss over and over again with their friends and acquaintances. And when we get ideas, we both guard them and obsess over them. Thus, ghost writers, who use the ideas of someone else, get relegated to second class.

When I first investigated ghost writing as a way to make a living, other aspiring writers were rather disdainful of the notion. The word “hack” was mentioned more than once. In the craft, there’s this idea that a ghost writer is the equivalent of a second-class citizen, all because we write someone else’s ideas down and not our own.

Which brings us to the second difference:

The Practice

In practice, I get more ideas for stories than I can possibly use. I have strange dreams and intriguing conversations, hear bizarre tales, read fascinating news articles and come across thought-provoking art every single day. In this I am not an especially unique person. We all have experiences worth writing about, and every writer I’ve ever met has complained of having too many ideas and not enough time to put them all down.

Neil Gaiman, my favourite author, has often related a story in which somene has come up to him at a book signing or public function and said, “I’ve got a great idea that’s sure to be a bestseller. I’ll give it to you, you just jot it down, and we’ll split the profits 50/50.”

The problem is, as Neil so eloquently explains, that ideas are the easy part. Putting them into a cohesive narrative with an engaging voice in a manner that will draw in readers – that’s the problem. That’s the difficult bit. The hours and hours of writing, followed by more painful hours of re-reading and re-writing, destroying your piece and putting it back together again.

Ghost writers skip the idea part and go straight to the writing part. And we spend hours and hours writing, reading and re-writing something that someone else gets to claim as his. So shouldn’t we get some kind of compensation for that?

Exactly How Much Compensation?

This is where the ghost writing business gets tricky. In my mind, the question of money is intricately tied into the question of ownership. Let’s compare some examples:

I recently submitted my poem Snow White to the fairy-tale e-zine Enchanted Conversations. I was absolutely delighted when the owner, Kate, asked to post it as an honourable mention. Honourable mentions on that e-zine are unpaid, but that’s okay because my name will appear beneath something I am proud of, alongside other brilliant stories by talented authors. In other words, my payment is acknowledgement and publicity.

It is an oft-quoted piece of advice that writers should write for the joy of it and not for the money. Does the same thing apply to ghost writing?

For example, on http://www.odesk.com, a client offers to pay $5.00 per 1,000 words, or half of one penny per word. Now, were I to sell a 5,000 word short story for $25.00 to a magazine under my own name, I would probably be pretty excited. Not ecstatic, but excited. I would never, ever ghost write for so little. At the end of the day I’ve put in effort for something I can never acknowledge as mine – so don’t I deserve some kind of compensation for that?

Clients don’t seem to think so. The above offer is hardly abnormal. Another job on ODesk right now offers $20.00 for 10,000 words of erotic content. Yet another offers a whopping $200.00 to the lucky person who can write an entire novel from a provided outline. Am I the only one who thinks these prices are ridiculous?

With the kinds of prices offered on the e-market for freelance and ghost writing, I wouldn’t be able to support myself even if I made freelance writing a full-time job, and never had to go a day without something to work on. And considering that I’m selling my name as well as my hard work, I hardly think that’s fair.

What are ideas, hours, names and identities worth in the field of ghost writing? How much should a ghost writer charge for the sale of her name and the building of someone else’s portfolio? It’s a question I don’t have the answer to.

Maybe there are some other ghost writers out there with the magic formula. Thoughts and comments are encouraged.

Tracks, Chapter Three: Unrequested Visitors

Click here to read from the beginning.

***

The mansion of Daniel Gallow was a stately work of neo-classical architecture, commissioned by some ancestor who had seen much more in old-world charm and style than in the need to flaunt his wealth. Naturally, when a man is the friend of a king, he doesn’t have to show off much before everyone falls into whatever trend he is setting. In the case of Daniel Gallow, who had been the childhood playfellow of the royal family, imitating his lifestyle seemed to be a surefire way of keeping the style of the court. When Daniel had married his dark skinned princess seventeen years before, most of the court women dyed their hair black and adopted the looser, flowing garments of the lady’s country. More recently, the Gallows had made it fashionable to have a minimalist garden, with long stretches of grass interrupted only intermittently by some artfully placed bush or trimmed hedge.

The Falconer cared nothing for gardening, and nothing for style. He strode up the stone path towards the long mansion and his guard came behind,trampling the carefully tended grass as they fanned out to form a semicircle around him.

When he reached the front door, he picked up the heavy brass knocker clutched forever in the talons of a stone eagle. He dropped it three times in total, then waited with the affectation of a man who had all the time in the world.

When the door opened to reveal the impassive form of the butler he said, “Retrieve your master, his lady and his daughter with all haste.” The man recognized his livery, nodded and slipped away.

When the door was opened again, it was only the lady who looked out on the Falconer and his assembled men.

Eva Gallow was still dressed in her evening finery, with her hair half unbound as though she had been interrupted just as she was about to retire. Her hair fell around her face and tumbled down to her waist in a cloud of curls. She had been girlish when she first came to court, and her beauty had grown with age, despite childbirth, innumerable poxes and the stress of living in a volatile and vicious social environment. Most men were half in love with her smooth honey skin and shining black hair.

If there was one person who did not soften any cruel thoughts at the sight of her, it was the Falconer, and there was certainly no love lost between them. But princesses, even former ones, do things only with the height of courtesy. “Good evening, Lord Falconer,” she said, and curtsied perfunctorily.

He bowed in reply. “I am surprised to see you so ready to receive us, my lady. I am not interrupting any other planned engagements?”

“No,” she replied. “We returned from one not so long ago, and I simply have not yet gone to bed.”

His eyes darted behind her. “I requested your manservant to fetch your husband, and your daughter as well. Are all your servants so intolerably lazy?”

Her voice brought a chill to the summer air. “My husband is out, and my daughter not suitable for presentation in mixed company.”

“Lord Gallow is out at so late an hour?”

“He said it was urgent.”

“What was?” The Falconer’s lip twitched, as though he were suppressing a smile.

If anything her voice grew even colder. But her tone did not shift and with all the manners of an ice queen, she said, “I did not ask.”

“You did not think it strange that your husband wished to attend to business so late in the evening?” He raised his eyebrows as though to be suggestive.

“When my husband says something is urgent, I do not detain him with pointless inquiries.”

His tone became flat and hard. “What happened, exactly?” he demanded. He crossed his arms and planted his feet on either side of the path, and stared at her with his cold eyes. For a long moment she met that gaze, but at last her eyes dropped and she replied in a somewhat subdued voice.

“He received a letter, and upon reading it said he must go. He did not say where, and he did not say when he would return.”

“Did he take the letter with him?” the Falconer asked.

“I do not know,” she admitted.

“Then you won’t mind if we look.”

She unfolded her arms and placed one hand against the door frame to block his path. “I do mind, Lord Falconer. What right do you have to disrupt our peace at this hour, insult my servants and invite yourself to rummage through our personal belongings?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the Falconer replied in his silky voice. He put a hand into his pocket and drew out a square of paper. As he unfolded it and handed it to her, he said, “You are under arrest for suspected arson, destruction of the king’s property and treason. Please do not struggle.” As he spoke, his guards approached and two of them placed their hands gently but firmly on her arms.

Eva did not try to shake them off. She stared at the warrant, her wide eyes growing wider as she processed the contents of the paper before her. “You put Kate on this warrant,” she said at last. Her voice was thick and confounded.

“You may send a maid to fetch her, but I’m afraid she’ll have to be accompanied by a guard,” the Falconer replied.

Eva nodded to a maid. “Please tell my daughter to dress with all haste and get her cloak,” she said. The girl scurried away and the guards marched their unprotesting charge back down the stone pathway, to the carriage that waited.

***

Click here to read Chapter Four.

The Purgatory Blues, Chapter 2

 Click here to read from the beginning.

***

The last time I had been in a hospital, I was four. I was visiting my mom. When she told me she was going up to Heaven soon, I asked her where it was and when I could go see her.

“It’s a beautiful place,” she’d replied. “It’s like having everything you want, but better. And when you get there, a long time from now, I’ll be waiting to greet you and hear about all the things you did while I was gone.”

From this description, my idea of Heaven was filled with fluffy pink pillows and soft, wide eyed animals that were my eternal playmates. What else do you expect from a four year-old?

Even when I got older and one conception of Heaven was replaced with another, I never shook the feeling that there was something soft about it. In my mind, the pearly gates were smooth and silky. The clouds were made of down. I knew the whole St. Peter thing was just a metaphor. For most of my life I went back and forth on the issue of God and life after death. But when it came down to those last moments, I still half-expected to be transported to the clouds, with a toga and a harp miraculously in my hands.

In some ways it’s hard to describe where I actually began my afterlife existence. With my body gone, I didn’t perceive things through my senses. But my first impression of my new bearings was – flat. Everything seemed flat. There was no vibrancy. The world was suddenly cool and drab and quiet, or as close as you can get to those things in another plane of existence.

The guy who brought me said, “Welcome to Purgatory.” He didn’t speak, as such. He just…decided which thoughts to share with me, and they appeared in my head.

“Purgatory?” I echoed.

“Also known as Limbo, the Waiting World, or any other host of names.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“My name is Conner,” he replied. “It’s my job to help you adjust to the loss of your body, your post-mortem existence here in Purgatory, and any next steps you want to take.”

“I don’t mean to be self-righteous, but I kind of always thought I’d either go straight to Heaven or Hell,” I said.

Conner laughed. “A lot of people say that. But most of us start out in Purgatory. Anyone who has unfinished business in the physical world stays here until it’s resolved.”

Then they go to Heaven or Hell?” I asked.

Conner did the spiritual equivalent of a shrug. “They go somewhere.”

I tried to consider the life I’d left behind. But I couldn’t really think of anything that might tether me to it. I’d been ready to go for months and I’d made my peace with anything and anyone I cared about. Maybe there had been some mistake.

“Look,” I said. “I don’t want to think about my old life anymore. I’m ready to move on and I’d like to see what’s next.” Anything, I thought, would be better than what I had. “So whatever papers or equivalent stuff I have to file here, I’d rather just do it now and get going.”

“It doesn’t work like that, Rachel,” he informed me. From the warmth of his tone I gathered he’d been down this road before. “You don’t just leave Purgatory because you want to. Whatever is holding you back…you have to find it. And fix it.”

The Purgatory Blues: Chapter 1

I was ready to die when it happened. I’d been ready for months. And as I lay in that hospital room, as they pumped serums into me and pick out all the splinters of skull, I knew the moment had come. And I was not afraid.

I was relieved.

There was no pain. I think I was beyond it then. But I could hear everything – the shouts of the nurses as they ran down the corridor, the murmur of the surgeon as he concentrated, the rustle of his sleeves. I heard the monitor flatline. My surgeon started cursing as the crash cart rumbled in. I don’t know how many times they tried to resuscitate me. But eventually they had to call it.

That was when I opened my eyes. Not my physical eyes, but the eyes – or perhaps awareness – of whatever was left of me once my physical body was gone. My body lay next to me, cold and motionless. Pale. Red matted the side of my head and my face was a mass of bruises. I looked away from my former shell. I didn’t need to see the damage. I’d lived it.

The surgeon pulled down his mask, revealing a thin, downturned mouth in the middle of an aging face. A nurse came around the side of the bed, walking right through my non-corporeal self to fold my body’s arms. She didn’t seem to notice a thing. When she was finished, she went over to the surgeon and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Do you think they’ll catch the guy who did it?” he asked. He sounded weary and frustrated. I reached out for him almost instinctively, touched that he cared. No one else in my life had.

She just patted his shoulder. “Come on,” she said, and turned him toward the door.

When they shut that door, I saw him. He stood behind it, barely more than a shadow. But when all the people were gone, he stepped into the light.

I knew he was like me, because he was staring straight at me. He was tall and thin – almost skeletally so – with jutting cheekbones and a sharp chin. His eyes were large and lilac-colored, and black hair hung to just above his shoulders in greasy strings. With his wide eyes and pale face he looked like a rag doll.

“Are you ready to go to the afterlife, Rachel?” he said. He extended his arm.

I nodded and placed my own, translucent ghost-hand in his. I’d always wondered what kind of a place Heaven was.

Unfortunately, Heaven wasn’t where we were going.

***

Click here to read Chapter 2.