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Posts by Margaret Ball

Questions, questions

  • If rising carbon dioxide levels doom the planet to destruction, and fighting “climate change” is the moral equivalent of war, why isn’t anybody talking about nuking China?
  • When did Marseilles become Marseille, and what did they do with the s?
  • Can anybody tell me how to fiddle a browser so that a blog that normally appears as white-on-black reverses its orientation and shows me black letters on a white backgrouns? I like to read Francis Porretto’s blog but it’s not easy to follow his reasoning while trying to ignore the incipient headache.
  • Is there really a good reason to continue publishing paperback editions of my ebooks?

Okay; the first question is rhetorical, the second is trivia, I’d welcome an answer to the third, but the last one, of course, is where I’d be truly grateful for insights from the community of indie authors. Read more

Heaping stones

Some lines by Gary Snyder that I can’t find on a quick skim of my poetry bookshelves, so this may not be quite accurate:

“When creeks are full / poems flow / when creeks are dry/ we heap stones.”

There are times when the book in progress is like a trout leaping and flashing through a spray of cold water in a peaty burn, something so very much alive that I’m typing as fast as I can just to keep up with the scenes and dialogue flashing through my mind, and that’s glorious.

And there are other times when I feel as though the trout has disappeared, and to find it again I’m going to have to dam that Highland burn, one stone at a time. Read more

Finish it!

A couple of days ago Amanda mentioned what is possibly the single best reason for finishing what you’re working on: if you don’t finish, you have nothing to sell.

Now, it hasn’t always been quite that way. Back when traditional publishing was the only game in town, a lot of books got sold on the three-chapters-and-synopsis system: you submit the first three chapters and a synopsis of the rest of the story, and if the publisher likes it and trusts you to finish the work, you get a contract and an advance; usually half on signing and half when you submit the completed manuscript and they find it acceptable. Naturally there were a few writers who got book contracts on this basis and then couldn’t deliver. But there were very few who got a second book contract after failing to deliver on the first. And so the system staggered along… and to tell the truth, I liked it just fine. The prospect of investing all that work in a book and then discovering that nobody would buy it gave me hives. I felt a lot more financially secure with that steady stream of book contracts and staggered completion dates.

But after a while, editors started complaining that an unusual number of new writers were able to write a gripping opening but lacked the skills to carry the story through to the end. Well, what did they expect? They were selecting for the ability to grab the reader in those first chapters. Read more

Steak as well as cookies

Sarah has mentioned the importance of “reader cookies” – those genre allusions and tropes, or better, tropes turned upside down, that keep the reader happy as he goes through the book.

But what happens when you get a book that’s nothing but cookies? How long does that keep you happy? In my case – not very long.

I recently came across a case in point, a comic novel written around the Norman invasion of England in 1066. You might think that’s not a great subject for comedy, but the writer pulled it off… sort of… tongue firmly planted in cheek, in the style of 1066 and All That, but applied to fiction. For the first few chapters I kept chuckling at the irreverent views and up-ending of conventional wisdom, reading specially good bits aloud to the First Reader. Read more

A modest proposal

I’ve been under the weather again and devoid of great thoughts about writing other than yeah, sure would be nice to sit up and do some. So in lieu of exciting new stuff, I’m going to repeat a recent proposal from my personal blog. Hey, it’s about language. Writers use language. It’s relevant.

Recently I came across an opinion column in the New York Times whose author, whom I’ll refer to as F.M. because I don’t want to give F.M. extra attention, complained bitterly about the oppression of traditional English-language third-person gendered pronouns. Yes. Referring to someone as “he” or “she” isn’t just a feature of the way our language developed; it would never happen if, in F.M.’s words, “we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel.”

Huh? Read more

Surprised by Joy

I read a lot of posts and comments – not just on this blog, but on writers’ sites all over the Internet – subscribing to a world view which I would characterize as “Live is real, life is earnest, and everything worth doing is hard.”

Well, yes. Can’t really argue with that. But I sometimes fear that with all the comments like “Writing requires butt in chair and fingers on keys,” and “Just force yourself to do it,” we’re lying by omission – leaving out the most important part of the enterprise, as though it were marked TOP SECRET. Read more

Characters We Love to Loathe

No, not the Evil Warlord or his minions. I’m thinking of the characters that spice up a story by being Good but Irritating, or even Morally Neutral but Obnoxious. The ones that keep you reading not just because you want to see your hero save the world, but because you want to see Obnoxious meet his comeuppance, or because you laugh every time Monumentally Tactless splashes the other characters’ social strategies in their faces, or because it looks as though Good but Irritating may frustrate the hero’s personal desires even while helping him save the world. Read more