Thursday, November 30, 2017

Get thee behind me, sort of.

Scientists have invented a robot that can do your writing for you. You give it the basic plot and characters and it does the rest. Would you use it? Why or why not?

by Catriona

This is a bad day to ask me. Ordinarily, I wouldn't entertain the notion. However, right now I'm trying to edit a book to give to my agent for her to read on the plane to Tokyo on the 23rd of December. I know the story is there somewhere, as are the characters. I know I can tighten the plot and fix the pace because I've done it before. I know which bits of  the prose need attention because I have a sense of smell and they stink. I can do it. I will do it. (I can't be responsible for my beloved agent getting stuck on a fifteen hour flight with a bad book.)

If I could just hand it over to the Plot-o-Bot, though? And, instead, spend the next three weeks responding to the editor's notes on a different book, which happened to land on my desk today? So that was done by the end of the year? And I could start next year with a clear desk? Tempting.

If I didn't like what the Editron did, I could always fix it in the next edit, couldn't I?

I'd never let a Myster-a-matic write a first draft, or a final draft, or even check page proofs. But I've got to tell you: if I could farm out tasks like "spread this sub-plot back through the early chapters" and "sharpen this relationship; it's boring" and "merge these two minor characters into one" [groan], I might well.

And I'd definitely let it write the synopsis. I'd let my blender write synopses if its typing was better. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Danger, Will Cathy Ace

Scientists have invented a robot that can do your writing for you. You give it the basic plot and characters and it does the rest. Would you use it? Why or why not?

Okay – so this is going to be a short one from me today, because my answer is simple...but read on, because there's some NEWS at the end of this blog you won't want to miss...

“No, thank you. I’m delighted you think you’ve invented a robot you believe can breathe life into the most basic elements of storytelling, but I have a question for you, ‘What have you been reading to even think this might be possible?’” 

I mean, seriously? Take the plot and characters of each Shakespeare comedy or tragedy and you have a ‘blueprint’ – give them to the Master, and you have wondrous works that speak to us today as they spoke to those who first saw them performed almost 500 years ago. That’s the human touch. 

Take the plots and characters of Agatha Christie’s works and give them to a thing and see what you get…a type of pastiche, lacking the human touch. Same goes for the works of any author. 

The human touch is what sets apart the basics of plot and character. The style of the author, their individual voice, beyond those of their characters. 

No. Nope. Not for me. Thank you. 

But if you could invent something that could do all my chores and errands for me, so there's more writing time available, I'd take it in a heartbeat! 

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries.  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

Available NOW for pre-order...coming December 11th...find out how Cait Morgan met Bud Anderson, how the WISE Women set up in business together...and more. 8 novellas, 4 short stories...a ton of murderous fun!Click here to connect!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Robot Soup - by RM Greenaway

Scientists have invented a robot that can do your writing for you. You give it the basic plot and characters and it does the rest. Would you use it? Why or why not?"

My first impulse was to answer "of course". Think of all the free time I would have to paint my toenails, re-organize my recycle bins and all the other things I'm neglecting.

But then I thought twice. Wouldn't that make me obsolete? I was at the supermarket the other day, and thought I'd try the automated checkout. Didn't know how, so a kind employee walked me through the process. All I could do is stare at her and wonder, aren't you afraid? Aren't you very afraid of losing your job? Maybe she was mid-management, I don't know.

Photo by Siyan Ren (Umsplash)
Anyway, I think not. I don't want to use the auto checkouts, and I don't want a robot to write my books either.

I also urge others to not encourage the robots. Give them an inch, they'll take a mile.

But you know what? When it comes to writing novels, let them. They'll do their zillion-byte per second market research and algorithms and whatever, and they'll zero in on exactly what's hot and what's not, but there will be a fatal flaw to their scheme. There always is.

I'm thinking the fatal flaw will be word count. Robots are very anal, and if algorithms say the optimum crime novel has 98,725 words, that's where they'll stop. Mid-sentence or cutting off a good joke or screwing up the denouement, or whatever, they'll just stop.

Thus, in the end, readers will come back to human writing. We know when to type the end.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I’m Thankful

From Jim

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

Short answer: Both. Who wouldn’t want to achieve financial and critical success?

Long answer: I’m thankful but motivated.

On the subject of financial success, I’m fond of quoting Mr. Bernstein, Charles Foster Kane’s business manager in Citizen Kane. “Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” That may be true. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t tried it. While I’d love to make a lot of money, I’ve always wanted more than just that. That’s why I wouldn’t steal to acquire wealth, for one thing. Or work for Donald Trump, for another. And that’s why I wouldn’t write and try to sell something I don’t believe in. 

When vampire books were all the rage, I didn’t jump on that bandwagon and try to write one because they didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not criticizing vampire novels. I’m only saying I’m not interested enough to write one myself. The same way I’m not interested (or qualified) enough to write a physics textbook or a legal brief.

I don’t begrudge writers who reap wild financial rewards. Nor do I invoke Mr. Bernstein’s aphorism to describe their success. You can’t fool readers, at least not for long. If writers are finding success with their books, it’s probably because they’re doing something right. Something they believe in. We all have different interests and passions. That’s what makes a horse race. (By the way, the sixth Ellie Stone mystery, A STONE’S THROW, comes out June 5, 2018, and it’s about horse racing. Very exciting and there are horses! You don’t want to miss this one.) 

Excuse the BSP, but we were discussing horse racing, after all. Oh, right. We were talking about success and/or literary legacy.

Close parentheses.

The problem with achieving immortality in a pantheon of writers is that you’re no longer around to enjoy it. Kind of a hollow victory, isn’t it? Whereas money buys so many things, not least of which is a sense of accomplishment. 

I admire J. K. Rowling (like bowling) for her books, courage, and all-around awesomeness. And she went from living as a single mother on the dole to rocking it as a billionaire, all thanks to her amazing imagination. No seed capital from Daddy or some angel investor.

So, for me, the ideal would be to achieve a balance between the two. A healthy dose of accolades and piles of cash. And both in this lifetime, please. But if that dream never comes true—if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose—I would have to go with what I’ve already got. That is I’m happy to be a writer. I’m thankful to have an agent, a publisher, readers, and some much appreciated recognition. Because it’s really all gravy, considering I’d be writing just the same even if I had none of that. Creating is the best part of writing, and I’ll never forget that. And I’m sure Jo, for all her riches and millions of adoring fans, hasn’t forgotten that either.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Write what you know

by Dietrich Kalteis

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

Popular, prolific and commercial or revered and admired — rich or famous? We all want to be recognized and rewarded for what we do. Yes, it would be great to see a line snake down the block at my next book signing. And if there was a lot of money and a movie deal to go along with it, yoohoo, I wouldn’t rip up the checks. But let’s face it, writing fiction is the love of making stuff up and telling a good story.

It took time to find my voice and the right fit (genre) for it. Once I had that, it wasn’t about chasing a market down a rabbit hole or guessing at a best-seller; it was writing what I love to write about. There’s a passion to it, and that’s like writer’s rocket fuel. And it’s great when the words just flow on the page.

Storytelling is an art, and trying to force myself to write something I don’t have my heart in would never work. It would feel like work at best. And worse than that would be trying to sound like somebody else while I take a stab at the next best thing — a sure way to end up with a pile of crap. Being influenced and inspired is something different, and that’s why I read what I think are great books, to help elevate my own writing.  
Putting on blinders and tuning out the world, not thinking about whether I’ve got a hit or miss on my hands is how it’s going to get done. Just focusing on the work, not letting in distractions. I’m at my best when I turn off the phone, shut my door, turn up the music and refrain from social media and email, and go play with my imaginary friends.

Besides the voice and sticking to what I know, I think it’s important be able to edit my own work, to know when I’m taking a bad turn on a first draft, when to cut a scene from a second draft, and know when I should set down the third one and call it done.

Write what you know, they say. Well, I haven’t done most of the things my characters get into, but I suppose there’s a bit of me in there somewhere. Maybe I write what I do because I like seeing justice served, like when the antagonists get what’s coming to them. Or maybe I like the levity and irony that often creeps into the stories. Overall, I aim to write the kind of stories I would like to read myself. That’s the way it works for me, writing about something that sparks my interest, then finding that groove and letting the words flow. And in the end, if the book becomes a hit, then I say yoohoo, bring it on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Short is good

By R.J. Harlick

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

I am in a quandary on how to answer this question. It’s not something I’ve really thought about. Sure, I would love to make pots of money as a writer or write a book that would stand the test of time. But you know what, when I started out on this journey, my only goal was to write a book good enough to be published. Eight books later, my goals are still modest: write well-written books that people enjoy reading. If I happen to make a bit of money, great. And if a hundred years from now, people are still reading my books, great too, but it’s totally immaterial to me, because I will never know.  

Sorry for making this one so short, but usually I tend to go on a little too long. So sometimes short is good.

I’d like to wish all my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you get to celebrate it with family and friends.

Take care.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can I have it All?

Today the question is, would you rather be rich or famous for all time.
Short answer: Why can't I have it all?
I was talking with a publisher recently, and he said, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re really doing well.” Although I was flattered, I was also puzzled. What did that mean, exactly? Yes, I have a good base of readers, but if I had to depend on the sales of my six books for a living, you could visit me in my trailer in Podunk, Tennessee, where I assume living expenses would be a lot less than in the Bay Area. I know a lot of reasonably well-known authors—those with a few awards, a couple of appearances on best-seller lists—who write good books, but are never going to be able to pay the rent on their sales.
Like a lot of authors, I’m puzzled about what it takes, once you’ve written a good book, to become one of those authors whose books get snapped up by millions of people the minute they are published. Several of my loyal readers have told me they like my books better than (insert name of any number of wildly successful writers). So how come I’m not rich and famous? And back to the question: which would I rather be; rich, or famous?

Did William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous writer of all time,  make money commensurate with the admiration that endures for him? (Since nobody knows much about him, it’s hard to say). Did Charles Dickens make money in his time? He paid the bills. How about Jane Austen? Or Anthony Trollope? Or moving to the last century, how about Virginia Woolf? Earnest Hemingway? William Styron? E.L. Doctorow? Toni Morrison? All those authors are household names. Did they make the kind of money James Patterson does?
These days, books of literary genius are often successful monetarily as well. The opposite, not so much. Nobody thinks James Patterson’s books are going to be read in 100 years as masterpieces. I’ll bet he sobs about that every time he checks his bank account. Does the wildly popular Louise Penny make buckets of money? How about Sue Grafton? Michael Connelly? Craig Johnson? Don Winslow? The answer is probably yes, they do pretty well.
Will any of those be read 100 years from now with appreciation for their fine writing? Maybe. Craig Johnson puts together a damned fine sentence. Louise Penny writes beautifully. John LeCarre is likely. But do they write any better than any number of mid-list (meaning “the rest of us”) authors? That’s where the question comes in.
The answer is: who knows what will stand the test of time in the crime writing field? So given that answer, I want to make money on my books now. Let time be the arbiter of whether they last. I’ll be long-gone, and won’t know the answer anyway. So if anybody knows how to be one of those authors who is doing not just “well,” but making money hand over fist, I’m all ears.