MANNERS!

Huddle up, writers. This post’s for you.

As social media has eroded the once formidable barrier between writers and readers, it is now commonplace, even expected, for readers to contact writers directly via the writer’s website, Facebook, Twitter or other online venue. For the most part this is a good thing for writers. Hearing from readers is encouraging and a balm to the essential loneliness of the job.

lurkerBut with greater contact comes greater friction. Writers are now exposed to unvarnished reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book venues, and therein lies the problem. Stories abound (and rebound) about writers retaliating for bad reviews by outing anonymous bloggers and harassing, stalking, threatening, doxxing, even physically attacking reviewers.

Writers, of course, have a long and storied history of bad behavior, but this particular form of misbehavior is seen primarily (though by no means exclusively) among self-published writers. This makes sense, because at its core, the behavior arises from a boundary problem. Overly reactive writers are like helicopter parents, fiercely protective and unable to distinguish themselves from their offspring. Writers who publish traditionally give their work over to specialists who expertly edit, package, produce and market the book. It takes close to a year. By the time the book is released, the writer has already let go and most likely is working on her next. Self-published writers go through a much shorter process, in which they control every phase. The cord is never severed, so when the book comes out, it is still flesh of their flesh, undifferentiated.

This is not a good thing. There’s a reason we speak of “releasing” books. They are finished works that we send out into the world. However they’re published, once released, they must be allowed to stand on their own. Readers have every right to their own opinions and interpretations, which at that point are just as valid as the author’s.

Much is changing in the publishing world, but some values remain constant. I have therefore taken upon myself the role of Miss Publishing Manners and jotted down a few simple guidelines:

Rogan’s Rules of Writerly Decorum

1. What do we writers owe readers? In return for their investment of time and sometimes money, we owe readers an entertaining and/or edifying experience, preferably both.

What we don’t owe are explanations or justifications. These are not good uses of our time and attention. The book stands on its own and speaks for itself.

2. What do readers owe writers? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Their side of the contract is fulfilled by reading. Specifically, they don’t owe us reviews, recommendations, accolades, attendance at events, or financial support in the form of book purchases. We are, to be sure, grateful for any of these, but we are not entitled to them.

But writers are not saints, you may protest. We can’t be expected to turn the other cheek when our work is maligned. I agree, being neither constitutionally nor culturally equipped to turn the other cheek.  There are times when strong language is indicated, and writers have great stores of the stuff on hand. We should feel free to vent in private to friends and family about the astonishing blindness and stupidity of certain critics.

But in public? Shtum.

dianagabaldonI have a friend and colleague, Diana Gabaldon, author of the wildly popular Outlander series. Her reply to a post from a critical reader struck me as the epitome of class, economy, and good sense.

“Not all books are for all people.  I hope you enjoy whatever you read next.”

 

For more posts on the business and craft of writing, subscribe to In Cold Ink  via links above and to the right.

Happy Birthday, In Cold Ink!

It’s been just over a year since I started In Cold Ink. Like most anniversaries, this seems like a good time to reflect on the experience.  As you can see in my first post, I started out with some trepidation. I juggle a lot of jobs, and when I write I’m prone to obsession.  I worried that a blog, in my hands, would become just one more thing to neglect. And you can’t neglect a blog.  It’s like babysitting the neighbor’s kid, except that you can’t plop the blog down in front of the t.v. and expect it to amuse itself.

But I had things to say, as a writer but also as a longtime publishing professional. Before I gave it all up to write my own books,  I was an editor in a large New York publisher and a literary agent. My career path has given me a multifaceted perspective on the industry, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned and demystify an industry that from the outside can seem remote, strange in its ways and potentially hostile.  I also wanted to learn from others. Publishing is an industry in turmoil, on the cusp of profound change, and I wanted to explore that evolving world.

The results have exceeded my expectations. A surprising number of readers found their way to the blog: nearly 24,000 visitors last time I checked. Many left comments, and I’ve met some smart, interesting people through the blog. I’ve had the opportunity to interview some publishing pros, who’ve shared valuable insights and perspectives, including literary agent Gail Hochman,  Viking editor Tara Singh, and Editor-in-Chief of S&S, Marysue Rucci. Among the writers who’ve graced my doors are Diana Gabaldon, Tiffany Allee, Lorraine Bartlett and Mika Ashley-Hollinger.

dianagabaldonIt was interesting to see what posts attracted the most reads. The most popular by far is my two-part interview with bestselling author Diana Gabaldon, of Outlander fame…and I do mean fame. Her fans would follow her anywhere, and they followed her to my blog.  Second in popularity is my interview with literary agent Gail Hochman, also a two-parter, and very meaty in terms of how agents work, what they look for in new writers and what they avoid. Third is a post called “Ten Things Writers Should Expect from Literary Agents,” which I wrote because, while lots of writers are busy hunting for agents, few know what to expect once they nab one.

Looking over the list of posts also reminded me of some of my favorites, which I’ll mention just in case you missed them. “What if J.K. Rowling Had Self-Published?” is one. It’s my fullest answer to a question I hear frequently: “If I have a choice, am I better off seeking an agent who will then seek a publisher or self-publishing?”

Medicalert: The Scourge of Premature Submission” is a comical piece with a serious message. “Digging up Blurbs” shares some of the Dickensamazing blurbs my latest book received posthumously, from writers like Jane Austen, Hemingway, and Dickens. (I thought it was funny, anyway, even if one reader took it way too seriously and accused me of literary grave-robbing. )  “Too Much Body Language, She Said, Frowning” focues on the essential matter of craft in writing. Finally, this one has nothing to do with writing but is so worth reading: “A Former Slave Writes to His Master.

The last year has been a momentous one for me, with a new book on the way and five (five!!!) earlier books reissued. Happy events; but like other Happy Events, very time-consuming. If it weren’t for the support and engagement of this blog’s readers, I would never have been able to keep it going, but now the blog is a part of my life.  I look forward to an exciting year ahead, with lots more interviews with publishing insiders, writing advice, and reflections on our changing industry. I also look forward to sharing with you all the events surrounding the publication of my new novel, A DANGEROUS FICTION, coming out in less than a month with Viking Books… including all the fun stuff that goes on behind the scenes.

Thanks for reading.

Diana Gabaldon Interview Part 2

I promised you the second half of my interview with Diana Gabaldon, the internationally bestselling author of the Outlander series, and you shall have it in just a moment. First, though, I have some exciting news of my own to share, and a confession to make.

The confession is this: I used to envy Diana. Not her work—I love her books, but they are hers and I have my own. No, what I envied was the fact that they were all in print, all the time. Readers who aren’t also writers may not realize how rare that is. Publishing is a bottom-line business, and shelf space is valuable; books that don’t sell very well are quickly replaced by new books. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of living writers whose entire body of work could be found on the shelves of bookstores, even virtual ones. For the rest, the most one could hope for was to have a new book in hardcover while the one before it was still available in paperback. Once the stores started returning copies, the books were essentially dead, except for copies circulating in libraries and used-book stores. They’d be remaindered and declared officially out of print. Writers could then get their rights back, but there was nothing much they could do with them.

The explosion of ebooks has changed all that. Now it costs nothing for publishers to keep every book they’ve ever published in print perpetually, so long as they own the rights. And writers who have regained the rights to their old work can reissue it with an ebook publisher or on their own: the literary equivalent to the elixir of life.  One year ago, Simon & Schuster published ebook editions of my last three books, SUSPICION, HINDSIGHT, and ROWING IN EDEN, and since then I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them out in the world, making friends and finding readers.

And now for the news I promised. Two of my earliest books, CAFÉ NEVO and SAVING GRACE, have just come out in e-book editions with E-Reads. Print editions will be available within a week. I’m quite proud of those books, and when they first came out other people seemed to like them too. Saving-Grace510x680p

cafe-nevo-510x680pKirkus called CAFÉ NEVO “An inspired, passionate work of fiction…a near-magical novel,” and Madeleine L’Engle praised it as “a wonderful novel…with richly developed characters acting and interacting…the café and its clients will long remain in memory.”

Library Journal wrote of SAVING GRACE: “Readers are quickly enmeshed and will be staying up all hours to see what happens next…what BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES tried to be.”

I know you’re all waiting for MOBY, as I am. In the interim, may I commend SAVING GRACE and CAFÉ NEVO to your attention?

And now, back to my interview with the delightful Diana Gabaldon, whom I no longer envy but admire as much as ever. If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can find it here. In Part 2, the second half of the interview,  Diana talks about her life as an international literary star, her relationship with her fans, the book industry’s attitude toward women writers, and lots, lots more. Enjoy!

Q: I read some time ago about certain fanatical GAME OF THRONES readers who were furious that George Martin doesn’t churn the books out faster, ignoring any possible link between quality, time and effort.  They seemed to feel he was holding the books hostage and could release them in the blink of an eye if he chose.  The Outlander series inspires equal devotion among its readers. Have you ever had to deal with overzealous or irrational fans?

A: Deal with them?   Well, they’re there, certainly.  Most people have no idea how writers work, and many of them seem to feel that a writer is a sort of artistic Pez dispenser:  all the stories are stacked up inside, one on top of the other, and all you have to do is bonk the writer on the head hard enough to make them spit one out.

(In re which, James Patterson and his marketing machine have done a lot to promote this injurious notion.   For the record, folks—when the cover says, “by JAMES PATTERSON and someotherperson”,  it was someotherperson who wrote the book.  Don’t believe me?  Google “James Patterson ghost writer.”)

That is, of course, not how it works. <cough>  I explain, periodically, how it does work, and most of my readers are intelligent, well-meaning people who are happy to direct new readers to the places where I’ve explained my working methods.

dianagabaldonBut as for dealing with people who clamor for the next book, all I can be is honest.  I.e., it’s my name on the front of the book, and with luck, said book will be out there for a long time.  Ergo, it’s going to be as good as I can make it before I send it to the publisher.

 

Barbara: Would you like to have lived in the world you created?

Diana: To a point. <g>  That point stopping well short of life-threatening disease, warfare, injury, extremes of temperature or gross poverty.

Barbara: Lord John Gray is one of my favorite characters of your invention. What made you choose a gay man in particular as a series character?

Diana: Well, that was an accident. Some years ago, I was invited to write a short story for a British anthology: historical crime stories.  “Well,” I said to the editor, “it would be an interesting technical challenge, to see whether I can write anything under 300,000 words.  Sure, why not?”

The obvious first question was—what or whom to write about?  I didn’t want to use the main characters from the OUTLANDER series for this story, because—owing to the peculiar way I write—if I were to incorporate some significant event in this story (and it would need to be, to be a good story)—that would make the event a stumbling block in the growth of the next novel.

“But,” I said to myself, “there’s Lord John, isn’t there?”  Lord John Grey is an important character in the OUTLANDER series, but he isn’t onstage all the time.  And when he isn’t…well, plainly he’s off leading his life and having adventures elsewhere, and I could write about any of those adventures without causing complications for future novels.   Beyond that obvious advantage, Lord John is a fascinating character.  He’s what I call a “mushroom”—one of those unplanned people who pops up out of nowhere and walks off with any scene he’s in—and he talks to me easily (and wittily).

He’s also a gay man, in a time when to be homosexual was a capital offense, and Lord John has more than most to lose by discovery.  He belongs to a noble family, he’s an officer in His Majesty’s Army, and loves both his family and his regiment; to have his private life discovered would damage—if not destroy—both.   Consequently, he lives constantly with conflict, which makes him both deeply entertaining and easy to write about.  So I wrote the short story—titled, “Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club”—for the British anthology.

Well, it was a good story; people liked it.  But just as word was spreading into the US about it, the anthology went out of print (it was called PAST POISONS, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, for those bibliophiles who are curious).  People kept asking me about the story, though, and I thought, “Well, I enjoyed writing it—maybe I should write two or three more short pieces about Lord John, just as time an inspiration allow…and when I have a handful, we could publish them as a book, and all the Lord John fans could get the stories easily.”

So I did that.  I began writing the second Lord John story after returning from a book-tour, as a way of easing back into my writing routine, and continued working on it, picking away with one hand whilst picking up the threads of my novel with the other…and six months later, I’d just about finished it.  Well, at this point, I left for another book-tour, in the UK, and stopped in New York on the way, to have lunch with my two literary agents.

I was telling them all about what I’d been doing, and casually mentioned that I’d nearly finished the second Lord John short story.  “Oh?” said they.  “How long’s this one?”

“Well, I knew you’d ask,” I said.  “So I checked last night.  It’s about 85,000 words; I need maybe another 5000 to wrap it up.”

The agents looked at each other, then looked at me, and with one voice said, “That’s the size normal books are!”

“I thought it was a short story,” I said.

“Well, it’s not,” they said—and proceeded to take it off and sell it all over the place.  Publishers were thrilled.  “It’s a Gabaldon book we weren’t expecting—and it’s short!  Can she do that again?” they asked eagerly.  To which my agents—being Very Good agents—replied, “Of course she can,” and emerged with a contract for three Lord John Grey novels.

scottish-prisoner-3wide-200x300Now, the Lord John books and novellas are in fact an integral part of the larger OUTLANDER series.  However, they’re focused (not unreasonably) on the character of John Grey, and—Lord John not being a time-traveler—tend not to include time-travel as an element.  They’re structured more or less as historical mystery, but do (like anything else I write) include the occasional supernatural bit or other off-the-wall elements.  (Yes, they do have sex, though I don’t consider that really unusual, myself.)  And they do reference events, characters (particularly Jamie Fraser) and situations from the OUTLANDER novels.

In terms of chronology, the Lord John books fall during the period covered in VOYAGER, while Jamie Fraser was a prisoner at Helwater.  So if you’re wondering where to read the Lord John books in conjunction with the larger series—you can read them anytime after VOYAGER.

In terms of further chronology:  As well as the three Lord John novels under contract, I’ve also written several novellas for various anthologies.  Three novellas (two previously published and one written specifically for the volume) are included in a book titled LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS, while two further novellas have appeared or will shortly appear in anthologies.   The original short story (“Hell-Fire Club”) preceded the first novel, and—just to be confusing—the novellas fall between the novels.

The books and novellas do stand alone, and can be read separately in any order.  If you do want to read them in strict order, though, here it is:

“Hell-Fire Club” [short story. Originally published in PAST POISONS, ed. Maxim Jakubowski.  Collected in HAND OF DEVILS]

LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER [novel]

“Lord John and the Succubus” [novella, originally published in LEGENDS II: Short novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg.  Collected in HAND OF DEVILS]

LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE [novel]

“Lord John and the Haunted Soldier” [novella.  Published only in HAND OF DEVILS]

LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS [book-length collections of three novellas: “Hell-Fire Club,” “Succubus,” and “Haunted Soldier”]

“Lord John and the Custom of the Army” [novella, originally published in WARRIORS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.]

LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER [novel.  This one is actually a hybrid, as it’s half John, half Jamie.]Gabaldon-Outlander-220x322b

“Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” [novella.  Published in DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois,  2011.]

NB:  “The Custom of the Army” and “A Plague of Zombies” are both available (in the US and Canada) as standalone ebooks (as are a couple of other non-Lord John novellas).

Barbara: Was his sexuality or your portrayal of it an issue for any of your publishers, domestic or foreign?

Diana: I think some of the foreign publishers may have boggled slightly at it, but no one’s ever said anything directly to me about it, no.

Barbara: The upside of great literary success is plain to see: millions of books sold, legions of devoted fans, awards, invitations to the White House, the opportunity to inhabit a wider world full of interesting accomplished people. Is there a downside?

Diana: The major drawback is the sheer amount of travel and appearances (both in person and online) associated with being very popular in a lot of different places.  I really like to talk to readers and sign books—but I could do without the enormously time-consuming (and energy-sapping) travel involved in getting to them.

Then there are the constant demands for “content”—updates to websites, phone interviews, interviews for blogs <g>, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  (though I know how to deal with Twitter and Facebook; I spend an average of 10-15 minutes a day on each, and that’s It.  I have no Friends <g>, and I don’t follow anybody).

And there are the readers who think they’re entitled to dictate when and what a favorite writer writes, and yap at me in public about why am I writing all this Other Stuff, when THEY only want Jamie and Claire?  And why am I gallivanting all over the place, when I should be home WORKING?   These people are, of course, sadly mistaken about the importance of their opinions, but can be a little annoying.  Luckily most of my readers are very intelligent and have beautiful manners.

Barbara: What do you know now about writing that would have helped you when you first started out?

Diana: I’m not sure I actually know anything more about writing now than I did when I started—though I like to hope that I improve with experience.  Most of the novel (sic) things I do, in terms of ambitious structure, time-juggling, and playing with literary devices, are things that are the result of experience; I couldn’t have done them when I was first writing, whether I knew about them or not.

Barbara: What do you know now about publishing that you wish you’d known earlier?

Diana: Just who has the power in various situations.  For example, it took me eight years of hassling with Barnes and Noble in an attempt to make them move my novels out of the Romance section—until I finally got fed up and wrote a rude letter to Steve Riggio, then the CEO.  Twenty-four hours later, I got a call from the B&N VP of Marketing, telling me they were moving the books to Fiction, where they’d belonged all along.  Had I know that Mr. Riggio was the only person in that company who could change the diktat on where books went, I’d have started with him.

Barbara: Do you think women writers are taken as seriously as men by the literary/critical establishment?

Diana: Of course not.

Barbara: What’s the most common misconception readers have about you? (Here’s your chance to correct it!)

Diana: Well, they all seem to think I’m much taller than I actually am, and they can’t pronounce my name, but neither of those misapprehensions is actually offensive. <g>  (For the record:  I’m five-foot-two-and-a-half.  And my name has two pronunciations, both accurate:  If you’re speaking Spanish (it is a Spanish name, and it is my own, not my husband’s), it’s pronounced “gaah-vahl-DOHN” (rhymes with stone).  If you’re speaking English, it’s “GAH-bull-dohn” (still rhymes with stone).

That’s it, folks. Thank you, Diana!

Looking for something good to read between Outlander titles? Diana Gabaldon recommends A DANGEROUS FICTION: “A terrific read! A thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.”

Diana Gabaldon Interview, Part I

Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting “Scrooge McDuck” comics.” The series is published in 26 countries and 23 languages, with more than nineteen million copies in print worldwide and a miniseries in the works.

dianagabaldon

I’ve known Diana for fifteen years or so, ever since we met on the Compuserve Book and Author forum. For several years we both served as presenters at the Surrey International Writers Conference and had the opportunity to hang out in real life. Everyone who’s read her work knows Diana is a spellbinding storyteller. What you may not know, unless you’ve met her, is that she’s as delightful a person as she is a writer. She does a great deal for others that never gets talked about or reported, and I’m not going to out her here, except to say that she ministers to those who most need it and she goes out of her way to help fellow writers, as I know from personal experience.  (See Diana’s comment on my forthcoming thriller, A DANGEROUS FICTION.)

Back when that book was just beginning its journey into print, I asked some friends to brainstorm titles. Diana came up with  “In Cold Ink.” In the end it didn’t quite fit as the book’s title, but I loved it so much I adopted it as the name of my blog, making Diana its godmother.  Now she has graciously paid us a visit and bestowed an interview, which I’m delighted to share with you here in several parts. In this first segment, we talk about Diana’s origins as a writer, her taxonomy of character types, and her own writing process. Along the way she punctures a few misconceptions.

Q: Were you a great reader as a child? What were your favorite books?

A: Yes.  My mother taught me to read at the age of three; I can’t remember not being able to read.  I do remember turning up on the first day of kindergarten, flipping critically through DICK AND JANE and dropping it, remarking, “That’s a stupid book.  Is there anything else to  read?”   (I was not a tactful child.)child reading

I read—and still do read—just about anything.   I read my way through the entire children’s section of the Flagstaff Public Library by the third grade, at which point I went on to the adult section (my mother having assured the librarian—who was Very Dubious about this—that I could take out anything I wanted to).   Among the things I read repeatedly, though, were ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, the Oz books, all the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, the entire series of biographies of famous people for children, and any Walt Disney comic I could get my hands on.

Q: Do you recall a specific moment when you realized that you’d like to write stories yourself?

A:  Yeah.  I was about eight, and coming back in the car from a family outing to the cinder hills near Flagstaff (we often went out there on Sundays when the weather was nice).  It was summer and the daily thunderstorm was shaping up overhead.  I remember  looking up into the clouds and talking to God—I wasn’t praying, just talking to Him—and saying, “I want to write books.  I think I’m supposed to write books.”  Mind—at this point, the notion of WRITING A BOOK was the most far-fetched, impossible thing I could imagine.  I might as well have said, “I think I want to fly to Mars.”

I didn’t have the slightest idea how books were written, let alone how they got onto the library shelves (didn’t know people got paid for writing books, either; when I found that out, it seemed like an amazing bonus).

Anyway, God said (more or less), “Yes, that’s right.  You should.”

Q: First novels are often autobiographical in some fashion or another. You haven’t got a drop of Scottish blood in you, you were never a nurse and you haven’t (as far as I know) time-traveled. Is there anything in OUTLANDER that did draw upon your own life experience and/or passions?

Gabaldon-Outlander-220x322A: If you write an honest book, most of it is you, regardless of setting, time period, or the external aspects of your characters. And the idiotic assumption that one can only write about one’s own life experience—if widely adopted—would have prevented most of the world’s great books being written.  (Not saying you’re an idiot, mind you <g>.)  It’s just that that stupid, “Write what you know” axiom has been propagated so much that people don’t stop to question it, and thus don’t realize that it’s backward.  It’s not that you should limit yourself to using your own life as material; it’s that you shouldn’t write what you don’t know—but you can find out anything you need to know.

There’s also this little item called “imagination,” which I think is given remarkably short shrift these days.   As a novelist, I can be Anybody.  Anytime, Any place, in any condition of body or mind.   Why should I just be me?  How boring.

(Not even going to touch the equally prevalent attitude that a writer should for some reason be strongly drawn to write about his or her ethnic background—but only if s/he isn’t white.  People keep pestering me to “write about your heritage,” by which they mean the New Mexican/Hispanic side.  Why don’t they pester me to write about the English or German side, assuming I wanted to write about my heritage in the first place, which I don’t?)

But returning to what you actually asked <g>:  Sure.  Owing to a series of academic accidents, I taught classes in Human Anatomy and Physiology in several different institutions, including Temple University’s School of Nursing.   Now, this had nothing whatever to do with my own scientific interests, background, or research specialties—they just paid me for doing it.  But the material was undeniably interesting—and it gave me the broad but shallow grasp of clinical medicine that is the core of Claire’s work as a healer and physician.

Now, I was a field ecologist for some time.  Which means I naturally look at what’s going on around me when I’m outdoors.  I know what the basic features of a given ecosystem type are—which means that whether I’m looking at the Scottish Highlands or the North Carolina mountains, I know that there will birds species doing X, and plant species that fill Y niche, and so on.   Beyond that, it’s just a matter of looking up the specific plants and animals, and that’s a matter of very simple research.

I’m sixty-one.  I’ve been in love, been married, borne children, had people near me die.  Naturally bits and pieces of all these experiences filter through into the books I write.  Be strange if they didn’t, wouldn’t it?

Q: You have many readers who are passionate about your books and personally invested in the characters. Putting all modesty aside, why do you think readers connect so deeply with your characters?

A: I do write honest books, so far as it lies in my power to do so.  People recognize reality (in terms of character and situation and emotion) when they see it, and it’s natural for them to empathize with people they see as real.

(The Washington Post recently asked me for “a few sentences” describing what I did for Valentine’s Day, for a column in which such bits from a dozen (female) authors were quoted.  Most of the other participants went on about going out for a romantic dinner with their husband and toasting each other with pink champagne, or…well…take this one:

“I love seeing the glowing pyres of fat, deep red-red roses in full cry, displays of pink Champagne and boxes of chocolates that spring up all over London, and hope that a glorious bunch might find its way to me. Yet, if I was giving roses to a man on this particular day (and why not, for all sensual men love them), I’d buy flame orange, rich yellow or creamy, pink-tinged white; and pretend — because I’m old fashioned — that it was merely joie de vivre, or exuberance, or entirely accidental….”  

And then there was what I said (the absolute un—er—varnished <g> truth:

“We’re having the saltillo tile floors resealed. This means having to move all the furniture, send the dogs to my son’s house for a sleepover, and walk around in our socks for two days. Our bed is disassembled and hidden in the closet, so I’m sleeping in a daughter’s room, and my husband is nesting somewhere in the living room (where all the furniture is). On the other hand, romance is not dead; he gave me a bathrobe and a card with a singing bug, and I gave him a jar of white anchovy filets and a tube of wasabi paste.”

Now, clearly one would like to escape now and then and wallow in thoughts of accidental roses…but which author do you think you might feel more connected with, on the basis of these brief snips?)

Q: It’s hard for readers to imagine characters in their embryonic state, when we experience them as fully-developed, complicated human beings. But characters don’t spring to life that way. Can you talk a bit about how you go about growing characters from stick figures into people?

A: But I don’t do that.  I know there are a lot of popular assumptions about how writers work, and the notion that one decides that a specific character is needed, equips him or her with a name, and then sets to work collecting pictures of actors and drawing up index cards with the character’s taste in peanut-butter is certainly one of them.  It’s possible that some writers really do do that, and God help them, if so—whatever works, you know?

For me, characters are pretty organic.   I don’t plot a story and insert characters; the story exists because these particular people have needs and desires and motivations, and finding themselves in a particular situation, act upon them.

You hear about “plot-driven” stories vs. “character-driven” stories (and why always “versus,” I wonder?  There’s nothing antithetical between plot and character)—but in fact, the plot is simply what the characters do.  They may do what they do in part because of the situation and circumstances in which they find themselves—but they do what they do mostly because they are who they are.

For me, characters tend to fall into one of three main types: mushrooms, onions, and hard nuts.  (That’s not a description of their personalities, btw, but rather of the way in which I work with them, and them with me.)

Mushrooms are the delightful people who spring into life unexpectedly and walk right off with any scene they’re in.  Lord John Grey is a mushroom, as is Mr. mushroomWilloughby, the Chinese poet with a notable foot fetish, and Mrs. Figg, Lord John’s redoubtable housekeeper (“Mrs. Figg was smoothly spherical, gleamingly black, and inclined to glide silently up behind one like a menacing ball-bearing.”).  They talk to me freely, and I never have to stop and wonder what they’d do in any given situation—they just do it.

onionOnions are the ones whose innermost essence I apprehend immediately—but the longer I work with them, the more layers they develop, and thus the more well-rounded and pungent they become.  Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp Randall are both onions.

Hard nuts are pretty much what they sound like.  These are the people who  “come with” a story by default, rather than developing organically  by popping out of the mental compost.  Historical figures, for instance, who were necessarily there, and have to be animated in a satisfying way, or people who exist only because another character was pregnant, leaving me with an unknown child to deal with.  These, I just research (for the historical people) or live with (for the unknowns), and gradually, I begin to have a sense of them.  But as with everyone else, they truly “develop” only in the context of their own situation and circumstance.

End of Part 1.

Go to Part 2.

In part 2 of the interview, Diana goes on to talk about her relationship with her readers, some controversial choices, and the demands that literary success imposes on the writer’s personal life. Sign up for the blog’s email or RSS feed so you won’t miss it!

Thanks, Diana!

 

I’m delighted to announce that A DANGEROUS FICTION is now out in Penguin paperback.   Diana Gabaldon called A DANGEROUS FICTION “a terrific read–A thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing,”  and NPR called it a “clever exploration of our capacity for self-deception… an absorbing mystery that keeps its secret until the very end.” You can read the opening here.

FIRST REVIEWS!

I’m thrilled to share the first pre-publication reviews of A DANGEROUS FICTION, coming out on July 27 with Viking Books. I wish I could quote the whole reviews, but for copyright reasons I don’t think I can.  I can, however, share these excerpts:

DangerousFictionHC_jacket2Library Journal wrote, “This literary mystery veers back and forth between insider-gossip tone…and genuine terror at warp speed, fulfilling many of the requirements for a perfect beach read.”

And Booklist wrote, “Boasting an exciting pace, well-constructed scenes, and inside information about the publishing world, this engaging mystery will attract readers of P. D. James’ similar Original Sin (1995), an Adam Dalgliesh crime story set in theLondon publishing world.”

Thanks so much, Library Journal and Booklist!

A DANGEROUS FICTION is available for preorder as a hardcover and an ebook. If you’re a print book person and like a bargain, the hardcover is currently listed at 35% off on the major bookseller sites.

I love to meet readers! If you’re in New York or on Long Island, please come out and say hi. I’ll be reading and signing books at the Barnes and Noble in Carle Place, NY, on July 29, 2013 at 7 PM and at the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, NYC.

And now, to return to our regular program: Make sure you check back soon, because in a day or two I’m posting Part 1 of an in-depth interview with bestselling author Diana Gabaldon of OUTLANDER fame. In fact, you might want to subscribe to the blog via email or RSS feed so as not to miss it.

Behind the Curtains: What Publishers Really Do

An awful lot of what publishers do for books, they do behind the scenes and prior to publication. Viking/Penguin  is going to publish A DANGEROUS FICTION in late July, and they are gearing up in all sorts of ways. I thought readers might be interested in a glimpse behind the curtain.

Editing: packaging is important, but you’ve got to deliver the goods. Good editing makes any book better and good books shine. Shortly after its acquisition by my delightful editor Tara Singh, A DANGEROUS FICTION underwent a series of first-class edits and emerged the better for it.

Cover: Positioning a book starts with a cover that conveys the message and ambience of the work. Because the cover is also a marketing tool, it exemplifies the approach of the publishers’ marketing plan. If the author and publisher are not on the same page, this is where the fissure usually appears first.

Viking’s cover, by London-based French artist Malika Favre was the most perfect face I could imagine for the book I wrote. If the tone of the book could be converted into a picture, that picture would be this cover. At this point in the process, I am feeling the love.

DangerousFictionHC_jacket2

 

Blurbs: Many months before publication, copies of the manuscript were sent to writers who expressed a willingness to read and possibly write blurbs for the book. For me, this marked the first time this book had been read by anyone outside my agent, editors, and immediate family. One by one, reactions began to come in. I’m very grateful to the writers who took time from their own work to read A DANGEROUS FICTION, and I’m proud to share their comments with you now.

“A terrific read! A thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.”-Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of Outlander and An Echo in the Bone

“Clearly, the most dangerous fictions are the ones we tell ourselves.” JA Jance, author of DEADLY STAKES and many other bestsellers

A Dangerous Fiction reads like a tell-all, inviting readers into the sleek, hallowed inner circle of literary Manhattan, then blowing that world apart with harrowing intrigue and a gripping mystery. Finally, as a bonus, Rogan offers a surprisingly sweet redemptive thread with which to stitch it all back together. A Dangerous Fiction blends deft prose with a pitch-perfect voice, and Barbara Rogan is a storyteller at the top of her game.”-Vicki Pettersson, author of Cheat the Grave and The Scent of Shadows

“Barbara Rogan knows the world of writers, agents, and editors, and in A Dangerous Fiction she offers a vivid inside look at both the glittering successes and the failures that breed feuds and obsession. As a stalker resorts to murder to destroy literary agent Jo Donovan’s life, readers will cast suspicious glances at everybody from a disgruntled former employee to a rejected writer to Jo’s most trusted friends. A Dangerous Fiction is great entertainment!”–Sandra Parshall, Agatha Award-winning author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries

“The backstabbing and cutthroat competition we imagine going on behind the scenes in publishing make it the perfect setting for murder, and Barbara Rogan has done it justice in A Dangerous Fiction. I loved every wickedly delicious page.”-Hallie Ephron, author of There Was an Old Woman

“Barbara Rogan’s A Dangerous Fiction positively drips with intrigue and delicious suspense.  I couldn’t put it down—and you won’t want to, either.”—Lorraine  Bartlett, author of the Victoria Square Mysteries.

“Rogan brings an insider’s keen view, pulling the reader into the New York publishing milieu with all of its jealousies, intrigue, excitement and larger-than-life personalities. At the heart of the story is a woman’s need to uncover the truths about her own life, even as she’s the target of malevolent foes she can’t identify. Danger, suspense, romance and the deep bonds of friendship–A Dangerous Fiction has it all. I couldn’t put it down!”-Darlene Marshall, author of Castaway Dreams

 

DickensI received a few other blurbs as well, from some Very Illustrious Writers, but for some reason my editor doesn’t want me to post them along with what she insists on calling “the real blurbs.” But you can read them anyway, right here.

Review Copies: Five months before publication, bound galleys are already out to long-lead reviewers. In a few months, the prepublication reviews – PW, Library Journal, Kirkus – will appear. I’m not thinking about that. Not a bit. Never read reviews. And if you believe that, I have a bridge that may interest you…

Brooklyn_Bridge

Sales and Marketing: I believe that the books are being sold into bookstores nationwide by the Viking’s terrific sales force even as I write this; so, being a somewhat superstitious person, I will say no more.

Online Marketing: Viking’s online marketing mavens have worked with me to help me improve my websites and FB author page, and to ease me onto Twitter, where I am known as @RoganBarbara–do look me up and say hi!   They’re patiently training an old dog new tricks, and I’m relieved to say they employ purely positive training techniques; not a whip in sight, no authors hurt in the production of this book.

Bookstore appearances, Book and Author Luncheons, conferences, etc.: These are already being scheduled, starting in July, for the New York area. I’m infinitely corruptible and shamefully approachable. If you have any offers, please direct them to Ben Petrone, Associate Director of Publicity at Viking.

The Readers’ Guide to A DANGEROUS FICTION has just gone live for use by book clubs and library reading groups. I think it’s terrific; it even taught me a few things about the book I didn’t know. Do have a look. I’m open to participating by phone or Skype in book club discussions of A DANGEROUS FICTION; just contact me at Barbara Rogan at Gmail dot COM.

So much of what publishers do is invisible and goes uncredited. I’d like to take this opportunity for a shout-out to the dedicated folks at Viking for their hard work and support. And next time someone asks, “What do publishers really do for writers?”, point them here.

 

A DANGEROUS FICTION is now available for pre-order;  and most vendors are offering early buyers  a 35% discount on the hardcover edition. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, my last three books, SUSPICION, HINDSIGHT, and ROWING IN EDEN,  have been reissued in ebook and paperback.