Monday, December 12, 2005

The List of Approved Subjects

No, this is not the working title of some historic piece about monarchy loyalists. It's about people. And writing. Because my split personalities have been arguing over what to blather on about today.

First, the writing. Recently, I was told that prologues are a sign that you're an amateur, they tell agents and editors you don't know how to fit the story into the context of the book and have to use this cheap, outdated technique.

Which convinced me that the person who said it didn't know a whole f*ckin' lot about the kind of books I read.

I mean, lets talk prologues. Val McDermid: A Place of Execution. Mark Billingham: The Burning Girl. Simon Kernick: A Good Day to Die. Laura Lippman: To The Power of Three.

Yep, these are all amateur hacks who've only ended up being published by some absolute fluke and will likely fade into oblivion after their second or third book. I wish I had a 'roll my eyes' emoticon to put after that comment. Clearly, nobody told these authors that prologues are out. Psst. Pass it on. What were you all thinking?

Same source critiquing the opening of the sequel to the manuscript they referenced above said it started too quickly with the action and they didn't know who anyone was.

Uh, if you read the first book, you would have. Ever skimmed the opening to Rankin's Black & Blue? Not exactly a "His name was Rebus and he'd been working with the Edinburgh police since 1937..." kind of intro. More like "smack, bam, in your face, figure me out later" - do people really want to start sequels with pages of back story? Not this reader. I mean, I don't mind back story as much as some people do, as long as it's relevant to the current story, but I don't want to OD on it in the first chapter.

All of this to say that every bit of advice you get as a writer shouldn't just be accepted without question. We learn best how to construct a story from reading the work of those we admire, those who write our genre. I'll go with the works of McDermid, Billingham, Kernick & Lippman over an unnamed editor any day.

Which brings me to people. There are some people who seem to have this criteria for conversation. "We can talk about this, but not that." What really burns me is when you've known someone for a long time, and discussed a number of things with them in the past, and then all of a sudden it's just, "I couldn't give a damn and won't talk to you about that now." And it's not like a conversation you've done to death. Something they told you about months ago has come up again, and there's been some news on the subject, so you ask what they think and basically get told to shut your trap.

Like, gee freakin' whiz people, if you didn't want to talk about it, why'd you bring it up months ago?

Recently, I got this email from someone I don't know, asking me to recommend a product to them. It's a long, complicated story, but I felt uncomfortable making general referrals to someone I didn't know, particularly of a product I don't use. So when I wrote back to this person, I was very careful to benchmark the few companies I did know of that they could consider with statements about how I'm not a client of any of them, have never been, blah blah blah.

The person wrote back to me and started off the note, "Look lady."

Look lady? WTF? First off, the person is likely twice my age. Second, nobody who knows me calls me lady. Insolent juvenile perhaps, but lady? I mean, why not just take that out and insert 'old geezer'?

Not to mention that I didn't ask them to write to me in the first place! Now, I always try to write back to people, and I always try to be nice and polite because that's my nature (shut up Stuart) but when somebody writes to me, unsolicited, doesn't use my name and just says "Look lady" they're asking for trouble.

Sorry, I just had to bitch about that somewhere. And this is cheaper than therapy.


Stuart MacBride said...

I never said a word!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh yeah, right!

Anonymous said...

Being nice and polite is wasted on some people.

There are some tedious subplots out there but they mostly involve spaceships.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 (My cat typed the 0s!)

Prologues obviously can be put to good use so a rule against them seems stupid.

Anonymous said...

That anonymous comment was from me - Kate

Sandra Ruttan said...

I was going to ask which cat did the typing!

I'm with you - no hard and fast rules.