Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Leaving Stuff Out

I went on a week-long writing retreat to rough draft a short story. The absolute upper limit of the submission word count is 9000 words, and my draft finished at nearly 11,000. A weeeeeee tad bit too long, eh?

So now I'm going back through and polishing and cutting.

The point of pounding out a draft during National Novel Writing Month is to just pound the thing out, to just get the story down, to get to the end. It's okay if there are repetitions; later, you decide what the best place for that information is.

So my first pass through the draft has been to trip repetitions and streamline awkward sentences. I've cut a bunch, added some, and I'm still above 9000 words.

Now comes the hard part: Now comes the part where I have to cut stuff that isn't awkward and isn't repetitious.

Luckily for me, I know where to go first.

I'm almost finished with Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem Trilogy. It's insanely satisfying: Hard science fiction plus strong, rich characters. But, although the author realizes any number of worlds and societies, the books contain no animals. No, I tell a lie, there are a couple of ants, some passing birds, and mention of a pet cat. Otherwise, humans are the only animals on earth or in space.

So I put some animals into my story.

And now I'm going to take them out.

If cutting those bits give me enough wiggle room, I might be able to stick a reference in here and there, just a tiny brushstroke suggesting much more.

Wish me luck!

And read that trilogy!

Marian Allen, Author Lady

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Short Tale of a Long Tail: Are Events Worth It?

People who don't go to events (conventions, conferences, festivals, craft shows) often ask if going to these events is worth it. The answer is a bit complicated.

Naturally, if you don't have the money, it doesn't matter if it's worth it, or in what sense it's worth it. As I often tell salesfolk, you may be offering me a good price for the product, but $400 would be a great price for a flawless diamond--but that doesn't matter, if I don't have $400.

But let's assume you do have the money to pay your entrance fee and/or table fee (if you're selling books) and to get a hotel room and to pay for gas and food.

Now the question, "Is it worth it?" involves defining what you mean by "worth it."

I'm a member of the Southern Indiana Writers Group. We publish a themed anthology of members' stories every year. Fellow member T. Lee Harris and I (and often other members, as well) went to science fiction and other writing-oriented conventions and offered the books for sale.

We sold some, but never enough to cover expenses.

After a couple of years, we were approached by an independent bookstore owner in our own state, who said he had been observing us at events and wanted to invite us to do a group signing/sale at his bookstore.

That led to a great relationship with him, his wife, her mother, other writers, and readers. When he began an Authors Fair, we were always welcome there. We always sold books, met people, and had fun.

When he started an indie press, any member of the SIW who had a book was invited to publish with him, the first novel publication for some of us.

When he decided to get out of the publication business (which, I would venture to say, most indie presses do), T. Lee and I joined another "orphaned" author to form our own indie press. This happened and that happened, but Per Bastet Publications, LLC is going strong, four years later and counting.

Whether we've made money or broken even or panned out monetarily shy at events, we've never attended one without coming away with something valuable: a contact or two, good will, recommendations for other outlets, marketing ideas, and fire for writing.

Your mileage may vary, but my answer to the question is an unequivocal YES. Assuming, of course, I have what T. Lee calls "the readies" to pay my way.

Do you attend writing/sales events? Do you consider they've been worth it?

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Friday, September 21, 2018

Avoiding the Cabot Cove Syndrome #amwriting

Sharon Arthur Moore has a wonderful post on this topic giving 6 methods she's gathered from mystery writers/readers.

The method I'll be using in my Spadena Street series is kindasorta #4. The series is set on Spadena Street and the attached Spadena Villa. The Villa is a gated retirement community on the site of a chandelier-drop factory, and Spadena Street is a two-block cul-de-sac of factory administrators' housing built in the Storybook Style.

Each book will feature a different resident involved somehow with a different murder (or non-fatal but serious crime). I've NaNoed several, and I've enjoyed having the characters pop into one another's stories and seeing what they think of each other.

I'm hoping to get the first of the series out in 2019. If I can pick which one I want to go first!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Book Review Without a Title

I just finished a book that was very strangely composed.

The first two-thirds consisted of a group of men telling another man what they knew--or had been told by others not present--of the puzzling events of a particular day. Yes, two-thirds of the book take place on one evening, although the events they relate on that evening go back much farther than that.

The next part of the book skips around, with no notice, between the book's present and the past from the points of view of characters who weren't present at the first part's conference.

The last few chapters were only one scene long, while the chapter headings (In which so-and-so does such-and-such and this-and-that happens) have grown so long and detailed that they're longer and more informative than the snapshot or snatch of dialog of which the "chapter" consists.

Interesting, no? Well, no. It won the Booker Prize, and I'll never forget it, but I would never recommend it.

If one of the aims of a writer is to write a book which enters into a relationship with the reader, this book succeeds brilliantly. Unfortunately, it's a dysfunctional relationship, and, ultimately, a broken one.

During the first part of the book, I felt enfolded, drawn into the world described, that of gold-rush New Zealand. I learned things I never knew about the time and the setting, felt I had an insight into the psychologies of the characters, and was deeply invested in finding out the answers to the puzzles.

The second part of the book, in which the puzzles are supposedly answered, broke that spell with its more disjointed time hops and character switches, its competing explanations, its iffy timelines, and a big glob of magic realism that pops in like a gold tooth in a sausage.

That rapid-fire final section pushes you right outside of the story and only gives you glimpses of it, as if you're outside peeping through a keyhole.

Then there's that post-reading section that all powerful books have, in which you mull over what you've read. In the case of this book, there's a lot of, "Wait a minute.... That doesn't make any sense." After two or three episodes of, "But, why would she do THAT? That's just stupid," I stopped thinking about it. I believe the author did this on purpose, as a meta-message about what we can know or fail to know about situations and people. As if the reader hadn't been slapped upside the head with that often enough in real life, right?

There are some relationships you're just well out of. I could reread the book to see if things fell more neatly in place the second time through, but once bitten twice shy. No way am I going to give a toxic relationship a second go at me. Not the same damn one, anyway.

You'll notice I haven't named the book. The odds of the author of that book reading this post are so slim, I can probably safely say that if you're reading this, the book IS NOT YOURS. If you know me personally, the book is DEFINITELY not yours. You don't play unpleasant games with your readers.

I'm not going to name the book or the author, because I don't want to recommend the book even by warning against it. I know how that goes with human relationships. No, if you met Frankenstein's Monster, he would NOT be your bestie, unless you're an old blind violinist.

This curmudgeonly book review has been brought to you by

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, July 21, 2018


I read an article recently that said that a motive in a murder mystery must be strong enough to justify a murder, that nobody would kill somebody for stealing their socks.

As it happens, I had just heard an excerpt from Shostakovitch's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, in which the precipitating motive for a murder is a woman's appropriation of another woman's stockings. Granted, this is in Siberia and the stockings are warm.

So I would have to add three words to the article's advice: The motive must be strong enough to justify a murder to the murderer.

This means that the setting must be specific enough to affect the motive. The characterizations must be strong enough and deep enough to rationalize extreme reaction. Relationships must be clear enough to urge a violent resolution.

Think of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." Is there a strong motive for murder? No, there's no motive for the murder -- except in the mind of the murderer.

If you're just starting out writing murder mysteries, you might do well to follow the simpler advice and choose an obviously powerful motive like money, fear of professional damage, love, or immediate self-defense.

But subtler motives are a lot more intriguing, if more difficult to put across.

She took your socks? Yeah, baby, she had it comin'!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Grandma was Lily Genarose Green, from Leitchfield, Kentucky. My grandfather divorced her when I was about two. I clearly remember when he came in, all het up about something, and announced his intention to her. I don't think he even saw me in the room, because I was behind my mother. "They" said she paid too much attention to her good works and not enough to her family. The people I know who knew her have nothing bad to say about her, so I don't know what he was so mad about. She trained and got a job as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Mom took Grandpa's side in the divorce, so she and Grandma saw nothing of each other all the time I was growing up. I would visit with Grandma once or twice a year. She seemed cold, but kind. I think the coldness I perceived was just reserve. She got hepatitis from one of her patients and was given little time to live. We had her stay with us for a few weeks while one of her brothers converted part of his house for her. She and I did some cooking together and talked. I liked her very much, and was sorry when she moved out. Mom and I weren't with her when she died.

Mom was Ruth Genarose Turner. Her mother always hated having the middle name Genarose, and would never tell anybody what her middle name was, but then named her daughter the same name and called her by it. Grandpa had twin aunts, Ruth and Rose, and Mom was named after them, too. Mom was divorced before Grandma was, when I was just a baby. I have no contact with my father, and never did, much. Mom worked at the Health Department when it was located in Louisville. When it moved to Frankfort, she moved there for a couple of weeks to see if she wanted to move with it permanently. I stayed with a friend of hers in Louisville. She decided not to move to Frankfort, and I think that was when she started working for Corhart Refractories, which then became a division of Corning Glass (where the Corningware comes from). She worked nights selling Tupperware. Got some Tupperware party stories, you bet. When Corning moved its offices to Corning, New York, Mom did move, and took Grandpa and Grandma (his second wife, who I loved dearly) with her. I was all grown up, so I stayed in Louisville. Mom retired as Accounting Manager of the Ceramic Products Division. I took care of her as she aged and as dementia progressed. She passed in January.

Me. 'Nuff said.

The Amazing Sara Marian is a writer, an editor, and an archaeologist. Amazing.

Stories. So many stories. So many characterization wrinkles. So much conflict.

Everything is about writing.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes