Category Archives: Fiction

Do we still need gatekeepers?

Jill Schoolman

Literary Hub has published Kerri Arsenault’s Interview With A Gatekeeper. The featured gatekeeper is Jill Schoolman, the founder and publisher of Archipelago Books.

The title echoes the ongoing (and sometimes noisy) dispute about the future of publishing. (Check out this online brawl, for example.) “Gatekeeper” is a noun full of baggage, often used derisively by those who insist the rise of self-publishing has made traditional publishing obsolete. But that would mean people such as Jill Schoolman no longer have anything of value for either readers or writers.

The Literary Hub interview highlights the unique and well-suited skills and insights Schoolman brings to her job. She studied film and literature in college, learned three languages, has lived and worked in three continents, and has done freelance film work.

All of which adds up to a good foundation for an editor, which requires both the specialist’s skill and the generalist’s grasp of a variety of subjects — but as the interview reveals early on, it takes much, much more:

KA: How does one learn to be an editor?

JS: You have to be a good reader, a good writer, and have a good ear. I think you also need to be a good listener. You have to listen to the writer’s voice and not impose your own voice on a text. Being a good translator is a similar craft: to be able to feel the spirit of the text and see what the writer is trying to do. When you start out editing, there’s a tendency to over-edit, to be a bit heavy-handed. But the more you edit, the more you grow to respect the text. You can also feel very quickly if you are not adept at it. It’s not for everyone.

Sound like someone you’d like to read and edit your work? I would. Even in this age of CreateSpace and other self-publishing venues, gatekeepers like Schoolman still fulfill a much-needed role for both the reader and writer. Here’s an excerpt from author Tina Ann Forkner’s article 5 Reasons You Should Still Pursue a Traditional Book Contract:

Vetting is important. Having a traditional novel proves your book has been vetted by the industry and that your writing has been found worthy. When it comes to bookstores carrying your books, being traditionally published is still the best proof that your book is professional, well-edited, and has a great story that readers will want to read. You can be vetted in other ways if you are self-published, but it isn’t easy. Having a traditional publisher is still the best route if you want a wider readership.

The traditional submission process makes your novel better. Sure, you are going to get rejected. I’ve been rejected my fair share, and so have J.K. Rowling and John Grisham, but if I had to go through all of that rejection again, I would do it. The great thing about the traditional submission process is that every time you are rejected, you have to revisit your manuscript and make it better before sending it out again. Revision is a great teacher, and I’ve learned a ton from editors who have rejected my work. If you still decide to go the self-publication route someday, you will be glad that your manuscript was read, critiqued, and rejected by editors who knew what they were doing.

Being traditionally published is a VIP Pass. If you manage to get traditionally published, it will be good for the rest of your career. Even if you self-publish or go with a small publisher later, as I have, you’ll be able to say that you were previously published by a large traditional publisher.

Forkner’s point is that there’s much writers can learn from traditional publishing. Don’t get me wrong — I think the rise of self-publishing is a big plus for writers. In fact, self-publishing is a rebirth of the way authors got their work out to a mass audience in the early days of the printing press. Who could argue against the independence and opportunity for greater earnings now available to writers? Plus, as James Scott Bell has pointed out, a writerpreneur who publishes some works traditionally AND self-publishes enjoys more income than those who exclusively self-publish. And, as in other artistic endeavors, greater income affords greater freedom of expression.

The takeaway of this debate is that great publishing freedom requires even greater pre-publication self-discipline.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

hemingway-boxer

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary heavyweight. Compiled by ernie.

C.S. WildeFree Scene Planer
John HartnessMusic to write by
Miguel Olmedo MorellThe Day I Filmed Tolkien’s Grandson
Fionn GrantThere Is No Original
PenstrickenA Fight Scene Worth Reading
Janice HardyBackstory: Finding the Right Balance
Alice OsbornWhy I Love Editing
Ernest Hemingway Seven Tips on How to Write Fiction

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

MishimaOffice

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary ninja. Compiled by yukio.

Joanne Jeffries and Julian YanoverThe 10 most Influential Poets in History
Jacqui Murray19 Ways to Describe People
Amber MVThe Aliveness of Places
Lowlife MagazineThe Private Detective – A Beginner’s Guide
CandaceLiterary Dust (timely and well-written reviews)
John HartnessThe #1 Reason Your Book Gets Rejected
Ruth HarrisCreate Memorable Characters: The Secret’s in the Details
Yukio MishimaSun and Steel

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

Ezra Pound

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary rock star. Compiled by ezra.

John Hartness5 Reasons Why Your Story or Novel Gets Rejected
A. J. HumpageHow to Pace A Novel
A. E. StueveOn the Writing Process
Nicloa AlterThe Power of Competitions and Selections in YA Fiction
Emily BartonLiterary or Genre, It’s The Plot That Counts
Anna H. LucyThe Art That Does Have The Power To Save Lives
Brigido AnayaMastery, and the Meaning of Practise
Julian YanoverCSI: Poetry

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

Jack London

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, with advice and inspiration guaranteed to make you a literary adventurer. Compiled by jack.

Bob MayerTrue Grit. Writer Style.
Shaun LevinTaking Your Notebook for a Walk
Julian YanoverThe most Poetic cities in the World [infographic]
Mike CharaOn John Hudspith and Editors and Editing
Sarah K.L. WilsonHow to Avoid Major YA Errors
Andrew FergusonCreating Characters of the Opposite Gender
P. S. HoffmanWrite Everyday with these Nine Strategies
Jack LondonAdvice on Honing Your Creative Craft

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs

Lovecraft

The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, with advice and inspiration guaranteed to make you a literary cult figure. Compiled by howard.

Joanne Jeffries and Julian YanoverPoetic WordClouds: These are the most common words in Poetry
Owen Booth24 Rules for Writing Short Stories
Fionn GrantLiterary Agent: Another Step Toward Writer Status
Jami GoldWhat Goes into Building a Movie in Our Mind?
Aerogramme Writers’ StudioOpportunities for Writers: June and July 2016
A.J. HumpageGetting Your Story To Flow
Krishna Prasad Is Poetry Dead?
PenstrickenThe (Im)perfect Protagonist
H. P. Lovecraft11 Tips for Novice Writers

Fictional Atonement

Kanan Mikaya

Kanan Makiya is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University who was an early and vocal proponent of the 2003 Iraq War. In fact, he was in the Oval Office with George W. Bush when both received news that Baghdad had fallen to American forces. No doubt the two congratulated each other at the time.

Then came the aftermath, as this New York Times article relates:

For years afterward, as Iraq fell apart, Mr. Makiya’s pen went silent while he struggled to make sense of what happened and his own role in the catastrophe.

As a Middle East scholar at Brandeis University, Mr. Makiya is a man of facts and history. Ultimately, though, he decided the best way to express what he felt became of Iraq was to write fiction. Only with a novel, he says, could he access “the larger meanings and deeper truths about what went wrong post-2003.”

The book is also an apology, and represents a decade of introspection for a man whose life’s work was closely associated with a costly war that was justified by the false assertion that Mr. Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the United States.

That says a lot about the act of writing, doesn’t it? Dr. Mikaya could have written a scholarly account explaining what went wrong in the war he advocated. But that just wasn’t enough. Mikaya had to redo the Iraq War. He had to creatively re-arrange the facts — to play with them. Fiction writing is a type of play, which development psychologists now recognize as a vital part of learning. And play isn’t just for kids — creative exploration of the world around us is both therapy and mental exercise that adults need as well.

There’s a redemptive aspect to fiction writing, also, which I believe Dr. Mikaya would acknowledge. It’s a means of making right those things from our past that still gnaw at us.

[SPOILER ALERT!]

In the novel and movie Atonement, Ian McEwan explored that aspect of writing. It’s the tale of Briony Tallis, a young girl who spitefully and wrongfully accuses her sister’s suitor of rape. That, of course, ends the wedding plans and ruins the life of both the sister, Cecilia, and her suitor, Robbie.

At the end of the story, Cecilia and Robbie are happily reunited. Then comes this admission from an elderly Briony, now a writer:

My sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for, and deserved. And which, ever since, I’ve… Ever since I’ve always felt I prevented. But what sense of hope, or satisfaction, could a reader derive from an ending like that? So, in the book, I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I’d like to think this isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness. I gave them their happiness.

I think Flannery O’Connor was right when she said, “There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.” Atonement, whose meaning includes both paying what’s owed and seeking forgiveness, is at the heart of writing.