Let’s Just Say No to “Sensitivity” Readers and Other Forms of Censorship

I’ve been reading a few articles lately about a disturbing new trend, particularly in traditional publishing–using so-called, “sensitivity” readers.

Wow. When did we, as a society, become so thin skinned that we now need, “sensitivity” readers to ferret out so-called, “trigger” words in our manuscripts?

Here in the United States our constitution includes a wonderful thing called, the First Amendment. This amendment guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as slander and libel, but those exceptions are few and far between. And while the First Amendment guarantees your right to free speech, it was never intended to protect you from being offended by someone else’s free speech.

Oftentimes what is and isn’t, “offensive,” is subjective. For example, a vegan may be offended by your photo of a hamburger, while a chef at a gourmet burger restaurant will not. But because the vegan took offense at your photo, should he or she then have the right to prohibit you from posting it on social media, or even publishing it on your website or blog? Even worse, should the vegan be allowed to force the gourmet burger restaurant to close just because he or she finds it offensive? I fully support that individual’s right to choose to be a vegan if he or she wishes, but I draw the line at that individual telling me what kind of photos I can take, or what restaurants I can patronize, just because he or she is, “offended.”

So-called, “sensitivity readers,” pose a real threat to a writer’s ability to express him or herself freely. I’m a woman who writes romance novels, therefore I have plenty of male characters in my books, even though I’ve never been a man. I also write in a third person narrative, which means some of my chapters will be written from a male character’s point of view. I’m simply trying to tell a good story, but to the so-called, “sensitivity” expert, I could be, “stereotyping” men. And because the “sensitivity expert” has determined that I’m stereotyping men I’m no longer allowed to write anything from the male viewpoint, because it could possibly “trigger” some reader. And by the way, the word, “trigger” is the new politically correct word for offend.

I guess maybe I’m just too old school. If I’m reading a book, and for some reason I find one of the characters offensive, I simply stop reading the book. I don’t go off on a tangent because I was, “offended.” I don’t demand the publisher pull the book because I was, “offended.” And I most certainly don’t go on a hate campaign campaign against the author, or demand the book be banned, just because I was, “offended.” As I said, I’ll simply toss the book aside and read something else. How’s that for a concept?

“Sensitivity” is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP,  and censorship goes against everything The First Amendment was created for.

Well, guess what? The “sensitivity thought police” can go straight to Hell. I’m protected by the First Amendment, therefore I will write what I wish to write. Period. If you don’t like my books then don’t buy them. How hard is that to understand? This is yet another reason why I choose to remain an indie author.

GM

 

The Difference Between Sensual Romance and Erotica

lips3Sensual romance and erotica are similar, and many people, including some authors, think they are one in the same, but they’re actually quite different. Sort of like the old cliche about apples and oranges.

I write sensual romance, and sensual romance does include a few steamy love scenes. Those love scenes, however, are included to enhance the overall plot as the characters consummate their relationship. Euphemisms, such as, “manhood,” or “sweet spot,” are used instead of describing actual body parts, and the scene typically includes descriptions of the characters’ feelings and emotions during the experience. In other words, the story is about the characters’ relationship to one anotherwith any and all “bedroom scenes” being but one component of the overall story.

Erotica is different. In erotica, the sex is the story. It’s all about the characters having sex, and a lot of it. The descriptions are more graphic, the language less polite, the characters’ relationship to one another is of less importance, and their emotions may or may not matter.

Both sensual and erotica are considered romance sub-genres, however there is little, if any, romance in erotica. It’s really the literary equivalent of hard porn. Or, to put it a different way, sensual romance would be like an “R” rated movie, where erotica would be rated triple X. And while there are, no doubt, readers who enjoy both, they are two entirely different writing styles, written for two different audiences.

GM

So How Long Should a Chapter Be?

magicbook
Photo by CanStockPhoto.com

When I write my novels, I think of each chapter as an episode, or a little story within the bigger story, and a specific event occurs in each chapter. Let’s say your protagonist plans to meet up with another character, but then something unexpected happens. Maybe she has an accident on her way to the meeting and she’s rushed to the hospital. That would certainly be a little story within the bigger story. And since I like to have a strong ending to my chapters, I might end with the man she was supposed to meet thinking he’s been stood up. The next chapter would be a new episode about what he does next.

So, how long should a chapter be? Simple. It’s as long as it needs to be to tell the story. I’ve written chapters as short as a page and a half, and as long as ten pages. There really is no hard and fast rule for chapter length, at least not one that I’m aware of. So don’t worry about the page count; just concentrate on telling your story.

Happy writing.

GM

 

Why I Don’t Recommend Using the F-bomb

FwordSo this morning I’m looking at a sample chapter from a novel, (not one that I wrote), and there, in the second sentence of the opening narrative, is the dreaded, “F-bomb.” That was it. I was done. The book may have had an intriguing title, but once I saw that expletive, that was it. I was immediately turned off, and had no reason to read any further.

Now I’m not saying I’m a total prude, however, I don’t use profanity in my narratives. There simply is no reason for it, especially when writing in the third person, as this novel was written. It’s a sign of a lazy, sloppy writer–one who is a rank amateur. A good storyteller doesn’t need to use profanity. Plain and simple.

But some of you may be asking, “What about the dialog?”  Okay, there will times when an, “Oh my goodness gracious,” simply won’t cut it. I’m also fully aware that it’s the 21st century; not the 1950s. Therefore, I’ll use an occasional, “damn,” or “hell,” in my dialog, but never the “F-bomb.” And by the way, the keyword here is occasional. My characters are not potty mouths. Even my villains have more class than that.

Yes, it may be the 21st century, but there are still people out there who find profanity, particularly the “F-bomb,” offensive. So why risk alienating readers who would have otherwise loved your book?

My tip for the day.

GM

 

It Takes a Team to Write a Book

Photo (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

Back in the 1990s, a well-known political slogan went, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, there is a version for authors, and it goes, “It takes a team to write a book.” So, who’s on the team?

First and foremost would be the author him or herself. After all, the author is the star of the show, and the captain of the team. Some of you may have an image in your mind of an author, in some isolated house on the seashore, working away at his or her typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were really like that, but it’s not. In my case it’s me, in my office, working with my team.

The first person on my team is my beta reader, Geneva. She’s an avid reader, but not a writer herself, and she’s honest. Sometimes brutally so. That’s what qualifies her for the job. Every couple chapters or so I call Geneva and read it back to her. If something isn’t working, she’ll tell me–and in no uncertain terms. “Cut this,” she’ll say, or, “No, that’s not accurate.” Granted, not all of you will have someone in your circle who is willing to give you such candid feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writer’s associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups will typically meet once a week, someplace quiet, like a coffee bar, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. They can be a real asset, and it can save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.

So, if the author is the captain, the editor would be his or her first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct those gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. He or she is the person who separates the pros from the amateurs. My advice is to find someone you feel comfortable working with. I’ve been working with Cynthia, my editor, for sometime now. We have a great relationship. She fixes the problems, without changing my voice. She also likes to make snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.

The next team member is the proofreader. He or she goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, my have missed. Typically these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark, that can be easy to miss.

Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers or illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or you’ve had some professional training, leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines that take many years of training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you look like an amateur as well. Also be cautious using stock images, especially for your cover. Another author may come along and decide to use the same image for his or her cover.

Finally, the last member of your team is your publisher. You have many options here, and I have a page on this blog that discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which would be the best for you.

Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. He or she is the most important member of your team, and would be the one you simply can’t work without.

GM

 

How to Skillfully Use Flashbacks in Your Novels

Reunion Loew Cover NookMy day today got off to the best start ever. My latest novel, The Reunion, just got another five-star review on Amazon. One comment made so far by all of the reviewers is how well the flashback scenes were done.

If used properly, flashback scenes can greatly enhance the story, and can be a terrific tool for telling the back-story. Poorly done, however, they can be a distraction or a hindrance, blocking your story flow and annoying the reader. Here are my suggestions on how to apply flashback scenes.

Use flashbacks sparinglyThe Reunion has fifty chapters, but only four are flashbacks, and the flashbacks end after Chapter Six.  The story is set in the present time with the characters in the here and now. Therefore I didn’t want to spend too much time with the flashbacks.

Make sure your flashbacks are relevant to the present time. Since The Reunion is about two lovers having a second chance later in life, the purpose of the flashbacks was so readers could see them meet for the first time, consummate their relationship for the first time, and get a general feel for their earlier relationship. Interestingly enough, I decided not to show their original break up as a flashback. That back-story is instead told in dialogue when leading lady Gillian describes their break up to a friend. Dialogue, by the way, is another great tool for telling the back-story.

Watch where you insert a flashback. Never drop a flashback in the middle of a cliffhanger. This will upset and annoy your reader to no end. I lead up to the flashback at the ending of a chapter, with the flashback starting at the next chapter. This way my reader is prepared for the flashback scene.

The following is an example of how I set up one of the flashback scenes from The Reunion. It includes the end of Chapter One, with the last paragraph setting up the flashback scene, which immediately begins with Chapter Two.

* * *

Gillian looked a good ten years younger than her actual age. Despite all the time that had passed, she still looked much the same. About the only noticeable difference between then and now was that her long blonde hair was now a shoulder length pageboy. She started to reminisce about the past and her mind suddenly filled with a whirlwind of images of all they had shared, the good times as well as the bad. It was like watching a movie, but the scenes were spliced together out of sequence.

“Calm down, Gillian,” she told her reflection. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.”

 She took a few more deep breaths, and as she did the events of one particular day began playing back in her mind with crystal clarity. It was the day she first laid eyes on Ian Palmer.

Two

Gillian jammed her paintbrush into her palette and glanced at the wall clock. It was almost four twenty-five. Class would be over at four-thirty.

“Damn it,” she muttered to herself as she tried to work more white paint into the canvas.

This particular painting was one of those projects that simply wasn’t coming together, and the more she worked with it the worse it got. It happened to every artist from time to time, but it was never good when it happened in a university art class the day before the project was due, and the painting in question would count toward the final grade.

“So what’s up, Miss Hanson?”

The voice behind her was that of her professor, Dr. Kinney. Kinney was a good instructor, but he could be hard-nosed when he wanted to be.

“I just can’t seem to get the lighting right on this one, Dr. Kinney.”

“Obviously. So now you’ve overworked it to the point that it’s turned into mud. A half hour ago this painting wasn’t that bad. You should have quit while you were ahead.”

“Should I come back later tonight and try to fix it?”

The university kept the art studio doors unlocked until ten o’clock every night so students could comeback and put in extra time, if it was needed.

“At this point, Miss Hanson, it would be a complete waste of time. As it stands right now, you have a few aspects that are still working. As I just said, if I were in your shoes I’d quit while I was ahead, especially if I had any aspirations of passing this class. You’ll get your new assignment next week. Perhaps you’ll have better luck then.”

As her professor turned away to announce that class was dismissed, Gillian let out a frustrated sigh…

 

Rejection Letters are not a Badge of Honor

No SymbolI enjoy spending time with fellow authors, but one thing really does make me wonder, and that is when someone starts bragging about all the rejection letters they’ve received while their manuscripts sit collecting dust for months, even years. It’s not necessarily a badge of honor. While they’re collecting their rejection letters, my books are on the market and being read.

As I often tell people, the six-figure advances, and all the fame that comes with it, is more myth than reality. Unless you’re a celebrity, the odds of a traditional publisher, particularly one of the major publishing houses, buying your manuscript, especially if you’re a first-time author, are about as good as going to Hollywood and landing a role in a feature film.

That’s why I’ve never bothered playing the game. Frankly, it’s bullshit. I too have had literary agents express an interest in my work, and it never went anywhere. Experience has taught me that most literary agents are full of more crap than the Thanksgiving turkey. I rank them right up with used-car salesmen. Yet I hear, over and over again, “I sent an email to an agent, and they got back with me right away and wanted my manuscript, so I sent it to them, but it was months ago. When are they ever going to get back with me?”

Um…they’re not.

As I mentioned before, while you all are being jerked around, my books are being published and people are reading them. That’s because I started out doing something called partnership publishing.

Partnership publishing is when you take control and you pay someone to publish your book. Is that “vanity publishing?” No. It’s a business decision. It means that you believe in your work enough that you’re willing to invest your own money in it. It also means that you get to retain the rights to your work. It’s really a form of self-publishing, only this time the publisher does all the formatting, printing and distribution, which is something most writers don’t have the time, or the skill, to do.

With both traditional and partnership publishing it is up to you, the author, to do the marketing. With partnership publishers, however, you won’t have spend years of your life begging and pleading and jumping through hoops. You get your book published, in weeks instead of years, and a publishing partner won’t drop you if your book fails to meet their expectations.

Just like anything else, there are good and bad partnership publishing companies out there, so it’s best to shop around. The typical price is $2000 to $5000. That may sound like a lot, but please keep in mind that producing a quality book is a time-consuming process that requires special skills and special software. Most importantly, find out about distribution. That’s the key. If they aren’t distributing through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, or both, you’re going to have trouble getting your books in bookstores.

So, it’s up to you. Do you spend the next few years collecting rejection letters while your book remains unread? Or do you want to control your own destiny and get your book into the hands of readers? The choice is your. If you decide to take control, please come visit our website at www.goodoakpress.com and find out how we can create a book you’ll be proud of.

GM

Is Writing a Memoir a Good Idea?

writinghandWriting memoirs has become a popular trend, and I’ve had plenty of inquiries from prospective authors wanting to publish their memoirs. And while I won’t turn an author away, I do suggest that you give a lot of thought before putting in the time to write your memoir.

Our life’s journey is certainly interesting to us, but it interesting enough to capture another person’s interest? There’s the rub, and it’s the question you have to answer, honestly, before you publish your memoir.

If you’re a celebrity it’s a no brainer. Our society is obsessed with celebrities and can’t get enough. However, most of us are not celebrities, so that takes care of that. Then again, you don’t have to be a rock star to be famous. Most of us will get our, “fifteen minutes” sometime, and, for some, it may be worthy of a memoir. For example, Daniel Hernandez, the young intern who saved Gabby Giffords’ life the morning she was shot, would certainly be a good candidate for writing a memoir.

Okay, so you’re not a celebrity, and you’re not tied to a major news event. Have you overcome an obstacle in your life that’s beyond the ordinary? For example, are you someone who survived a violent crime? Did you survive a horrible disease that would be fatal to most people?  Have you traveled to some faraway, exotic destination, such as Antarctica, that most people will never see?  Have you had some other extraordinary life experience? Most importantly, would your story be an inspiration to others? If your answer to any of these questions is, “yes,” then perhaps you should give some serious thought to writing a memoir. However, if you answered, “no,” then you may want to reconsider.

Most people read books because they want to be entertained, inspired, or because they want to learn something new. In other words, there has to be something in it for the reader. And unless you’ve had some out of the ordinary life event, then, I’m sorry to say, most readers just won’t be interested reading in your memoir. It has to be a story that inspires others, and perhaps changes people’s lives for the better.

My tip for the day.

GM

 

When to Use a Pen Name

Pen

Another question I’m sometimes asked is whether or not I write under my real name, or a pen name.  I actually write under both.

There are many reasons why authors sometimes choose to write under pen names.  These would include:

  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author who happens to have the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author as a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or has an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.

The latter two were applicable to me.

When I wrote my first book, Anna’s Kitchen, I naively thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common, so I included my maiden name, Homes, to make it unique. However, before I was married to Mr. Martin, I spent my life with both a first and a last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. People were always getting my name wrong, thinking I was, “Gail Holmes,” and no, it didn’t exactly do wonders for my self-esteem, but I digress. Once Anna’s Kitchen was published, I soon realized that the troubles of the past were coming back to haunt me. The name, “Gayle Homes,” with or without the name, “Martin,” simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search, and had I not picked up the name, “Martin,” along my life’s journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes, so when I published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first book in my Luke and Jenny series, I dropped the name, “Homes,” since I wasn’t using it anymore, and published it under the name, “Gayle Martin.” It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children’s book author. Then came the next problem.

As much as I love my Luke and Jenny books, I’ve wanted to write more adult material, and to branch out into the romance genre. And while I’m not writing erotica, readers in this genre do expect some steamy, if not somewhat graphic, love scenes. This would present a real problem if, by chance, a youngster, or a parent, who was a Luke and Jenny fan, came along and bought my latest book, thinking it too was written for younger readers. So I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name and my last name, and I’ll have to create a whole new brand. It’s fun, yet challenging at the same time, since “Marina” cannot ride on the coattails of Luke and Jenny. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

Ultimately, it’s up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name, and if you should opt to do so, I highly recommend coming up with one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

My tip for the day.

GM

or is it

MM

 

How to Create an Interesting Villain for Your Stories

villain-001It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys when I write my fiction that I sometimes forget the bad guy needs love too, so to speak. Since plot lines revolve around conflict there has to be a source behind that conflict, and that would be the antagonist, more commonly known as the villain.

There are different approaches to creating a good villain. One way is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable, sort of like a Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. That would be the sort of villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and your readers will leave feeling relieved and satisfied.

A more complex, and interesting, approach would be to create a “conflicted” villain. Instead of a purely evil Count Dracula, you could create a villain more like Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire of Dark Shadows fame. Barnabas had been a good guy until the vampire curse was placed upon him. Once that happened, he was left despising what he had become. He both hates, and deeply regrets, all the things he’s had to do along the way in order to survive. Thus he becomes a “hero-villain;” an antagonist whom the audience could root for, because they too wanted to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl, be it Maggie, Vicki, or his true love, Josette. In the interim, they sure get to see him wreak a lot of havoc.

Some storytellers like to take chances by having their protagonist, or hero, go bad. That can be a tricky approach. If you’re going to attempt it you need to have a character with plenty of redeeming qualities, otherwise your readers won’t be able to make a connection and they will not root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they had done earlier, and as well as be willing to do whatever has to done to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers will not be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.

Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with tragedy, especially if your hero-villain has done some really nasty things in the past that he or she really can’t walk away from. At the very end of the Star Wars saga Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force, but in so doing he has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. It certainly made for a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.

So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create develop interesting and memorable villains who can keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.
GM