Friday, November 18, 2016

Better Late Than Never: It's a Book Review!



So hey, apparently I forgot that I was supposed to have a blog post ready for last Thursday. And didn't remember until tonight (a week later) and still didn't have something ready to go. Usually I'm a little more organized than this, but life has been happening a lot in my little world, and things have just dropped right out of my brain without telling me.

Since I had nothing but a couple drafts sketched out and nothing really ready to go, I thought perhaps I'd do something I rarely do here: a book review. Typically I'll promote some of the books I work on, and those are more hit-and-miss deals than anything, but I almost never review a book I've simply read for pleasure.

Today I break all the rules to bring you a brief review of Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter, Book 1 of the Tuck Watley series by our very own A Beer for the Shower guys, Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers.

I should preface this by saying that I almost never get the time to read for the sake of reading. And reading is my default "what to do when there's down time" activity, so I don't waste time reading crappy stuff. Anymore, I don't bother continuing a book unless I'm completely captivated by the first chapter.

I should also say that being a book snob doesn't mean I only read classics. I'm a snob in the sense that I won't waste the effort on a poorly written novel, or one that's lacking in creativity. I'm definitely not a snob when it comes to genre. Humor in the style of Douglas Adams works as well for me as an epic from Tolkien, incredible science fiction, heart-stopping old-school Stephen King horror, or an autobiography.

But this . . . this book . . . I can't even adequately describe what I felt while reading it. First of all, you need to get it. I don't care who you are: if you like to laugh your butt off, get it. Read it. Butt = gone. Seriously. I have no butt anymore because I laughed it off.

Tuck Watley is, as best I can gather, an idiot. But no, he's a genius. Or lucky. Or I don't know what. Just when you think he can't be any more of an inept boob, he comes through with the solution to what's troubling America and solves a case in the most unlikely way.

Tuck works in government surveillance—protecting the American people from . . . themselves?—and the scenarios he encounters are both over-the-top ridiculous and incredibly believable, given the state of our country. His escapades remind me of Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther), with every bit of clumsy success attached to them. He has a sidekick, DB, who is the muscle of the operation—and who would never, ever be mistaken for the brains.

I can't go into details without giving spoilers, but I have to say that this was a book I had a hard time reading without laughing out loud, or trying to read portions of it to whoever was sitting near me at the time. Brandon and Bryan are not only witty, but they manage to make even the most dorky, immature, bathroom humor hilarious to a full-grown adult, and it's all due to their skillful writing.

These guys are hilarious. I already knew that from their blog, A Beer for the Shower, but after reading Tuck Watley, I have even more respect for the fact that they know how to express themselves not only in a short web-comic a couple times a month, but for the long haul of a full-length novel. Anyone can have a funny one-liner, but what really impressed me was that I did not stop laughing from page one all the way through the end. Yes, some of the jokes were totally juvenile, but you know what? They were still stinkin' funny, and mostly because of how cleverly the writing was done. And I have to add, of course, that as an editor, I was overjoyed to read something that was edited well in addition to being written skillfully.

This is the first book I've read from Meyers and Pedas, but it certainly won't be the last.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What Better Diversion Than a LEGO Project?

Today's post sneaked up on me. I even have a draft of what I'd planned to talk about, and apparently I never got back to it . . . and it didn't magically write itself.

So instead, I'm going to toss out something fun that has (almost) nothing to do with grammar rules and editing, but will provide endless hours of fun.


My good friend/sibling/partner in crime, Stephen Fender, is working on yet another new project, so of course, being the incredible backhaver that I am, I'm going to tell you all about it.

A departure from Stephen's Kestrel Saga space opera books, his Star Trek fan fiction projects, and his current stand-alone space sci-fi novel Master of the Void (a retelling of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to be released in spring of 2017), this project is geared toward kids and adults alike.

When Bricks Get Their Wings is the newest Kickstarter from this guy, and I'll just post the link here and let you check it out for yourself. It's part building brick project, part storybook and all enjoyment.

Unlike other franchises, the LEGO company seems to be amenable (and realistic) about their customers and fans in general. They have clear guidelines about what can and can't be done when creating things that involve their products, and are happy to allow others a little piece of the pie, so to speak.

Check it out and see if this sounds like something you'd like to support, or share it with someone who would enjoy it.

I'll see you all in a couple weeks!


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Editor's Notes #26: Chicago v. AP Style


One of the first things I learned when I began to edit was that I needed a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Over the years, it's been an invaluable tool for me, for everything common and uncommon while working on manuscripts. There's a reason why it's known as the "editor's bible."

After I got over my initial "how in the WORLD do I find my way around this thing?" phase, I came to love this thick beauty of a reference manual. If you don't know basic grammar rules, this is the book for you. If you know basic grammar rules but can't remember whether your numbers should be spelled out or written as numerals, this is the book for you. Have you forgotten when to capitalize titles and honorifics and when not to? Well, this is . . . yes, the book for you.

The Chicago Manual is THE go-to when editing works of fiction and more. Though some online resources such as Grammar Girl talk about CMS as if it were one of many options for fiction writing, the fact is that it's used as the standard by most publishers as a formatting guide, so it's probably best that you get used to it—especially if you're submitting your work to a publishing house.

On the other hand, The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual is used for magazines, newspapers, and similar publications. The differences between the AP Stylebook and Chicago are sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious—and in some cases, the rules are the same.

The key to using these guides is consistency, no matter what you're doing. If you've been using the wrong one for the wrong purpose, then at least be consistent in your usage. There are many times that AP will put quotation marks around something that Chicago puts in italics. As long as you're not using both styles in one book, you're not as bad off as you might have been.

Still, it's best to keep some general guidelines in mind when trying to figure out what to do in any given editing situation, especially if you tend to write magazine articles as well as full-length novels. The most general, sweeping rule is this: AP style is geared toward brevity and space-saving. If you keep that in mind, most of the differing rules will be easy to remember and will make sense. Newspapers and magazines are all about cramming the most information in the smallest space possible, so this is key to any memory tricks you'll want to employ.

For example, AP does not use the Oxford comma. Yes, I know, this is heresy. I swoon at the mere thought of not having that comma, and consider anyone who doesn't use it to be a moron of the highest (or lowest?) degree. I'm sure we've all seen the cartoon example of why the Oxford comma is such a necessity:

I can't tell you how important that comma is . . . I don't want to see any stripper who looks like Stalin or JFK. Uh . . . or any other stripper, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here. Just use it, okay?

Numbers and numerals differ with the two style guides. AP is all about saving a few character spaces, so they recommend the use of numerals in almost every case. Chicago states that numbers should be written out up to ninety-nine, and then numerals after that—though it does acknowledge an "alternate" rule of writing them out only up to ten if you prefer. 

Also differing between AP and Chicago is the use of spaces. Again, AP typically wants brevity. When using ellipses, a newspaper will place them ... like so. Space, three dots, space. However, in novels or other books, you will see them placed . . . in this way. Space dot space dot space dot space. In the various books I've edited, I've frequently come across... this, where there is no space prior to the ellipsis but a space after it. Seriously, I have no clue where that one comes from, and yet I see it from a variety of people. I did have one author tell me (after I did an eval for her) that another editor had told her this was the way to do it for "proper" formatting for e-books and that print books were "different." I've never heard of that and can't imagine why it's thought to be so. It's wrong, plain and simple. 

A seemingly contrary use of space comes with the em dash (one of my favorite things to insert in a sentence). The AP Stylebook recommends a space before and after the em dash — like so, and Chicago recommends no space, just butting that dash up against the words on either side—like this. Why does AP want to add space for this when they recommend space conservation everywhere else? No idea. It just is. And again, consistency within your manuscript is the key here. [Unrelated side note: I think the biggest problem I find with em dashes, really, is that people seem to feel that a hyphen is the same thing. A hyphen, short and sweet, is used to connect words such as "quick-witted." An en dash (longer than a hyphen, shorter than an em dash) is used to show a range, such as "anywhere from 100–150 people attended."]

These are but a few of the most basic differences in the style guides, and after a while, you'll probably have them so ingrained that you'll begin to spot them in other people's work if done improperly. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Editor's Notes #25: Points of View Part 3—How Many Are Too Many?


My previous two posts discussed first-person POV and third-person POV with guidelines as to the logic behind each choice, based on four roles: author, narrator, viewpoint person, and protagonist. I showed how these roles sifted out or interacted, depending on the POV chosen.

Since POV deals with . . . uh . . . viewpoint, the role of the viewpoint person seemed to warrant its own blog post. And I can't talk about viewpoint without talking about a "workable" number, how many is too many, and why so many inexperienced authors have their characters head-hopping without even realizing it.

If you're writing in the first-person POV, the viewpoint person is almost a no-brainer. It's you. You may or may not be the protagonist, but you're telling the story, so we see and hear it because you've seen it. Whether your thoughts are neutral or not is neither here nor there; this is your story, dang it, and you'll tell it the way you want to.

This can be a powerful way to introduce an element of surprise during a climax in the plot because there may be a turn of events you never saw coming. What? The murderer is WHO? How did I not notice? It can also be a limiting factor when knowledge is needed and you're the only source of it with your eyes and ears—and biased interpretation of events.

Third-person POV can give a little more lenience with the information that's doled out, because the narrator can fill in bits of information the viewpoint person may or may not see. We hear the viewpoint character's voice through dialogue and thoughts, and see the other characters through their reactions. If we want to know the thoughts of the other characters, they either have to say them aloud or the author needs to change the viewpoint character temporarily.

Writing in the third person can be done with an omniscient narrator who seems to touch upon each character's thoughts from time to time as needed; however, skill is needed or everything will become a big, jumbled mess. It's not technically head-hopping if you choose this route, but it's also not likely to allow the reader to connect with a particular character, either, and may cause a complete disconnect with the reader and book.

The "limited third-person POV" is a more common one in use today. You either have one viewpoint person, or you change views at logical, designated, easy-to-follow places.

And there lies the hard part. How often is too often? How many viewpoints are too many? I'm a firm believer in the "less is more" adage when it comes to viewpoints. There can be exceptions, of course, because there always are: the juvenile fiction book, The Westing Game, has about a dozen viewpoints, each one with its own chapter, and it's done so skillfully that the book became a favorite of everyone in my family after we discovered it.

On the other hand, if you ever want to see multiple viewpoints done badly, go to the Kindle freebies and take your pick of sample chapters. For every author who takes his work seriously, writing and rewriting, getting betas and edits, there are at least ten others who think they'll make an easy fortune by writing a book and getting it out there in all its first-draft glory. I've read books that have had viewpoint people change every paragraph or so, and without a distinct "voice" to the character, I couldn't guess which character was speaking. Those are, not surprisingly, the books I don't bother to continue reading past the first chapter or so.

It's too frustrating to hop around that many heads, and you don't want a frustrated reader on your hands, because a frustrated reader is one who will put your book down and never look back.

One of the best examples of a changing POV that works extremely well is in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. (No, I did not jump on the bandwagon because there's now an Outlander TV series with a hot Scot.) I started reading Gabaldon's books about 11 years ago and was hooked on her superb storytelling skills. She has a way of making the reader feel immersed in not only the sights, but the sounds and smells and texture of the time period. And her historical research is top-notch.

Gabaldon's first book in the series was written from the first-person point of view. She's since said that was simply the way it came out when she started writing, so that's how she kept it. However, when she began to write the second book, she realized the first-person POV would be too limiting, so she did something unique: the chapters/sections where we see things from the viewpoint of the main character (Claire) are all first-person POV. The remaining portions of the book may be from the viewpoint of a select few of the other main characters, but they are all written in third person. I love this because it's such an original way of changing things up. When I see "I" in the narrative, my brain immediately shifts to the way Claire thinks and acts, and I'm right there with her. When I see "he" or "she," on the other hand, I know we'll be seeing events from the perspective of her husband, daughter, son-in-law, or other primary character. We're not hopping around like crazy people, mind you, but each person has such a unique voice that I can tell whose eyes I'm seeing through, even if it's just a simple narrative of the character making his way through the woods.

So tell me: can you spot a head-hop a mile away, or are you unaware until someone points it out to you?


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Editor's Notes #24: Points of View Part 2—How Do I Choose?



My previous post began to explore points of view and how to choose which one is right for your story. Many of you said your characters dictated what POV they wanted you to write from. I'm not surprised. Though I suppose an author can have one that's more comfortable for his writing style, each story is unique and should never become a cookie-cutter presentation. Nobody wants boring and predictable, after all.

We've already explored the first-person point of view, with its advantages and limitations; the next step is to look at the third-person point of view—a commonly-used way of showing what's going on in more than one head.

The four major players are the same: author, narrator, viewpoint person, and protagonist. However, their roles are divvied up differently this time.

In the third-person POV, the author is still the author, but that's pretty much the only similarity. The narrator doesn't actually participate in the action this time. The author and the narrator in third-person POV are the same . . . but they aren't, which can be confusing. Whereas there's a clear line to divide the author from the narrator in a first-person piece (because the narrator is the viewpoint person), the narrator in a third-person story is seen by the reader in a different light.

Harvey Chapman (from the Writers After Dark link I shared last time) explains it like this:
The author of a novel is a real-life person who has made up the events and written the words. 
But in order to feel like what we are reading actually happened, [we] readers need to forget about the author and imagine instead that the words have been written by a kind of invisible witness to the events—a person with godlike powers, perhaps, who can look down upon reality from above and describe it to the readers. 
The crucial point here is that this godlike narrator, as unlikely as such a figure might be, witnesses something that actually happened—whereas authors merely write about events they have made up. 
And so readers will ignore the author's name on the novel's cover and imagine instead that they are being told about the events by someone who actually witnessed them firsthand.
Also unlike the first-person POV, the narrator is not the story's viewpoint person. The narrator in a third-person POV is basically someone who gets us from here to there: this happened, and let me tell you all about it. Otherwise, narrating is kind of a thankless job: readers care about the characters, not the narrator . . . so, dear Narrator Person, please don't give us your opinion. Just enough facts so we can picture it all in our heads, and then step aside so the characters can speak.

Next is the viewpoint character, but the third part of this three-part series deals with viewpoint, so I'll only touch on it here. In short, if you tell the story through one person's eyes, there's a single viewpoint. If you choose to write from multiple viewpoints, different sections or chapters will feature different eyes to see through—aka different viewpoints. This deserves a good deal of detail, so look for it in my next post in two weeks.

Finally, the protagonist comes into play. The protagonist in a third-person POV novel is the leading or central character. The character the book is written about. The main attraction. The big Kahuna. He or she is the entire reason we're reading this story.

The protagonist may or may not be the viewpoint character. If you have a single viewpoint, then the protagonist will most definitely be your viewpoint character. However, if you have multiple viewpoints, there's no guarantee that these two roles will mesh. Imagine reading a novel based on two of my favorite cartoon characters, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (yes, I'm an unapologetic fan of SpongeBob). Mermaid Man may be the protagonist, but perhaps his adventure is told through Barnacle Boy's eyes. Sidekicks come in handy that way. And since sidekicks typically idolize the heroes whose sides they're kicking, it might be a pretty good gig to have if you're the hero, because your story from his view will make you sound even better than you are. Unless you have a rotten, bitter sidekick who has always wanted to be #1 but you've never given him the chance to shine. In that case, "interesting" is probably the best you can hope for.

Until next time, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Not all of them . . . just the good ones.