August 24, 2005

Those darn critters!

Sometime after I made that entry about writing, getting published and so on, Laurie convinced me that I needed to join a crit group. A "crit group", what the heck is that? I hear you ask :p Basically it’s a group of people who get together to critique each others’s work so that everybody could become better writers … and the people who submit crits are known as, critters :p

Laurie already had a crit group in mind and we both joined up after looking around a bit and deciding that they looked OK. Most crit groups require you to do some crits before you can submit your own crits – so as not to have people join up, get their stuff critted and then immediately leave. This particular group required you to crit six pieces before you could submit your own stuff and both Laurie and I started critting stuff immediately. I think I did one crit the first day and three crits the second day. On the third day, I discover that one of my crits from the previous day had been short critted.

Now a short crit, in this particular group, is a crit which doesn’t count as a crit. For each crit you give, you receive crit credits and you can later use the crit credits to "pay" for getting crits for your own submissions. So when you are short critted by an admin, you basically have your crit moderated down and you don’t get the credits for your work. I had worked several hours on that particular crit and I had stated in the crit itself that there wasn’t much to crit since the writer had done a good job. Besides, somebody who had critted an earlier chapter in the same novel, and who had written about 80 words more than I had (yes I counted :p) didn’t get short critted.

So I asked the admins about it and their explanation was that we were newbies and so were moderated and could have our stuff moderated down but the long-term members could call it a crit and it wouldn’t be judged till later – when the admins distributed crit credits at the end of the month. She went on to say that different moderators judged differently as to if it was short crit or not. I went back and did some checking – the other crit had been moderated as well and it had been moderated by the same person. So the explanations didn’t really hold water and as far as I could see, what it boiled down to was that they were simply looking at crits and deciding whether they qualified based on their whims and fancies, the phase of the moon and however they felt at a given time. I didn’t like that one little bit and quit that group immediately.

Laurie started looking around for other crit groups but we didn’t like any that we came across and so we started talking about starting our own group and how we’d go about it. After a little discussion, we both agreed that we really wanted to do it and so, the next day we bough the domain name we wanted and set about setting up the technology to do things the way we wanted them to be.

We wanted things to be as automated as possible but we also wanted the author of the submission to have control over a critter being credited or not – not some moderator/administrator who might not even have read the crit. We also wanted to take the critting process online – away from mailing lists though we wanted people to have recourse to a mailing list if that’s the format they liked. I looked around for a forum software which integrated well with a mailing list and the only candidate around seemed to be Fud Forum. But Fud Forum would not integrate with my choice for running the rest of the site – Mambo.

Because of this incompatibility, we decided to drop the mailing list idea for the moment and go ahead with the rest of the stuff. I set up Mambo and found that Mambo could be made to integrate fairly well with SMF – which was my choice for forum software. We also wanted a fully fledged web-based database system which would keep track of submissions, allow users to give themselves credit for crits they’ve done and also allow authors to either grant extra credits to critters or to take away already granted credits from a critter if they had done a poor job of critting. It turned out that Mambo had some pretty nifty add-on components which made coding all of this fairly easy. So, about a week after we had come up with the original idea, was launched 🙂

Laurie had already gotten expressions of interest for the project from quite a few people on another forum where she’s a member, and by the time we launched we already had around 10 members. It’s been about a week since the launch and I’m still adding stuff to the database, we’ve had around four submissions and people are still signing up. It’s not a major success in terms of traffic but I’m happy at the direction its taking as far as getting stuff critiqued, encouraging people to write and making my own writing better 🙂

Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 7:55 am  |  No Comments

August 12, 2005

The Long Road to Publication

I have been totally incommunicado while I finished work on my first novel – I didn’t do much writing here or on DC and I have not been doing much work on my software – except to write a few new tools for my writing but more on that later. I finished the first draft about two months ago and since then, spent a month polishing up the first draft. Laurie helped me immensely with it since I tend to have this bad habit of using adverbs liberally and Laurie is of the opinion that there is only one solution when it comes to adverbs – total genocide :p Between the two of us we hit a happy medium where I do use adverbs but not as profusely as I did at first. I do see her point about adverbs being the lazy way of saying things at times and how it weakens a sentence but sometimes I feel that an adverb can actually make a sentence more succinct rather than having to use many more words to say the same thing without adverb usage 🙂

Anyway, now that I’ve polished things up a bit, I’ve moved up to the next step. There is difference of opinion at this point – some believe that you should go straight to a publisher while others believe that you must find an agent first. The first class of people say that if you find a publisher, any agent will take you on while the latter say that an agent will give you more credibility with a publisher 🙂 I decided to try an agent first and wrote to one and waited a couple of weeks, they took a look at the first few chapters and said that wasn’t for them. (Of course, I had done something really stupid with the first agent – I sent them my unedited first draft because I was too impatient and in the words of Laurie, "Of course, they rejected it" :p) That’s a lesson for anybody who might want to learn from my mistakes – do not send out your unedited first draft no matter how impatient you might be :p

I then queried a second agent and waited two weeks with no response and then wrote to them again to find out that they’d never received the first query. They came back with a "I personally dislike humorous science fiction". Then I queried another well-known agent and was told "that this doesn’t sound like a project for us" without them even seeing my manuscript.

So here I am – struck out three times. This probably is the time when I should take a good look at things and decide where I am going … or maybe not :p I did manage to get a hold of Terry Pratchett’s agent Colin Smythe and I must say that Colin was a really nice bloke and a great human being in that he didn’t know me from Adam and yet, he helped me out as much as he could and pointed me in the right direction for submitting to more agents and publishers. I will be forever grateful to Colin for his kindness.

I have decided to continue to try agents till I find somebody who likes my style of writing because I’m beginning to get the feeling that humorous science fiction might be a dirty word amongst agent or something. However, I ran across this site by a fellow programmer who has actually managed to get his humorous science fiction novel published and that has given me hope. I will continue on my road to publication and will try to keep this page updated in case somebody is still interested in how it goes with me – or not 🙂

Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 8:01 am  |  1 Comment

August 8, 2005

Muggles, muddles and missives

Now there’s all this brouhaha over a letter Terry Pratchett wrote to the The Times about an interview given by J.K. Rowlings. I first read the original BBC article (not the one I’ve linked – the original is gone) on a newsletter and it portrayed Terry as being more worked up about the whole thing and taking swipes at JKR and thought "Hmm … is Terry getting jealous, as unlikely as it might be?" I then went to the BBC site and what do you know, the article had completely changed it’s tone! So I was like, "Oh yes, another one of those!" But I went to mugglenet and read their reactions and I must say that it left me less than impressed with humanity’s capacity for reasoned thinking :p

First you have all the people going, "He’s jealous", "I’ve never heard of him", "How mean of him to do this on Jo’s birthday" and "Harry Potter rocks". Then you have a few people who actually came in and said, "Read the article people, it isn’t the way you think it is" and right below that you’d get, "He’s jealous!" again. Now what kind of stupid, gormless moron do you have to be if you will not even read all sides of an argument before jumping to a conclusion? Probably somebody like me – totally human :p

Now I had missed out one thing here too, I read all about Terry’s comments (or the BBC’s interpretation of them) but I hadn’t read the original JKR interview. So I went back and read that now and I must say, that between JKR and the interviewer (who seemed to be very full of him/herself) the interview came out making JKR look totally silly – she should get her money back … oh wait, this was an interview right? :p

First, JKR says she didn’t know it was fantasy that she was writing and had no idea it was till she’d published her book – this could be true I suppose though I find it a bit hard to believe. Maybe she was being flippant or maybe she did indeed start writing a book and didn’t consider what genre it was going to be. But then she goes on to talk about how she doesn’t like fantasy, that she’s trying to subvert the genre and so on and I began to wonder whether instead of Pratchett being jealous, if JKR wasn’t a bit too full of herself. She kind of dismisses the Narnia series and says that she didn’t read all of it but talks about a character (Susan) and what happens to her which you would not know unless you read the final book of the series. So is she basing her opinions of Narnia and fantasy on general on other people’s opinions? Or did she *gasp* read the series out of sequence and make invalid assumption? Oh the horror!

Then there’s the interviewer waxing poetic over her " lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness" and we have Rawlings talking about "Harry getting some action and Hermione getting some action" and I cringed. This is supposed to be a children’s writer? Sure, I know I’ll have people jumping up and down on me saying, "Hey, she writes realistic stuff, what teenage kid doesn’t think about girls/boys" but this is the kind of series which was originally aimed at the pre-teens as well as the teens and call me a prude, but I don’t feel comfortable having a child reading stuff written by somebody who thinks in terms of "action". But then again, you can’t blame somebody for being themselves can you?

But what I do blame JKR for is the fact that she seems to have such a lack of respect for fantasy and continues to write in the genre. Writing to me is about passion – it’s not about money but about putting down what’s in your heart, characters who are so real to you that you just have to put them down on paper. If Rawlings felt that way, why would she dislike fantasy or think it needs subversion? There seems to be a bit of a dichotomy there.

Contrary to the opinion of the press, there have been many writers who’ve invented and re-invented fantasy for years. Heck, as much as it pains me to say it, (I’m a bit partial to science fiction :p) – fantasy probably has been around since the dawn of time and it has never been *just* about knights and swords and sorcerers and "people dancing to Greensleeves". Whether you take Alan Garner or Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or a score of others, they wrote fantasy and they wrote it in contemporary settings – they did just what JKR is doing now but in my opinion, they also did it much much better in literary terms. Sure I enjoy Harry Potter as much as anyone else but there is a difference between a good writer and a successful one – the two are not always synonymous.

Lest that be taken to mean that I don’t think JKR is a good writer, let me hasten to add that I do believe she’s good. I enjoy her plots – they don’t signal stuff a mile away, they don’t give anything away, they make you work. But for pure turn of phrase and for making you think about people and their foibles, I’ll take Pratchett any day of the week – and considering he’s made me write all this over a letter to the Times, I’d say Pratchett has done it again :p

Tags: ,
Posted by Fahim at 6:09 am  |  1 Comment