I’ve had a lot on my mind lately that I haven’t been able to untangle, much less unpack on an issue-by-issue basis. What are they?Huh?

1. The election

2. Prop 8 in California

3. “Black October” in publishing

4. Independent publishing

5. Agents and editors (the “Gatekeepers”)

6. Mormon writers/Mormon literature

But a couple of posts on Nathan Bransford’s blog yesterday sorted at least one issue out for me, which is my firm belief that whether or not independent publishing becomes as accepted independent filmmaking and independent music making, it was the right choice for me. And I’m going to come back to that Espresso Book Machine thing because it’s tres important.

Which leads me to a post Mike Cane made recently about self-pubbing and an author’s inability to do it all, yet tries because he wants to save money. He’s right overall, but I learned long ago that creative types in one discipline are drawn to other disciplines and have the ability to do those well, too. What they are, though…that I can’t say. So that’s going to be my jumping off point for today’s Jack Handey.


I’ve had something rolling around in my head for a while since Dear Author asked, “What’s wrong with a C Review?” More recently, a discussion at Racy Romance Reviews involving a book I must get expanded on the conversation at Dear Author (I have a sneaking suspicion RfP and I are on the same wavelength with regard to this).

To clarify: C means neither good nor bad, but average.

To me, an average book = meh = forgettable. In my opinion, if a book is forgettable, it didn’t finish the job it started. What I haven’t figured out yet is if a book is so bad it’s not possible to forget, did it do its job?

I’m trying to distill this out for myself, but I’m reading a lot of books lately that are meh. In fact, they are so meh I forget I was reading them the minute I turn my ebook reader off to tend to other things. As I said on the Dear Author thread, I found a dozen books by bestselling authors that I didn’t remember buying and, worse, that I didn’t remember reading until I scanned the blurbs. Mind you, these are books that got high marks at Dear Author and Smart Bitches (I know, ’cause I went back and looked).

Now we have DocTurtle reading a Harlequin Blaze as a challenge by Smart Bitches to read a “real romance” and see how wonderful it is. Turns out he’s having fun, but not of the type everyone expected. He seems to read in fits and starts, so obviously it’s not keeping his eyeballs glued to the pages, unless that’s the type of reader he is, which I don’t know.

So what is this meh? Where’s it coming from? One of the last non-meh books I read was Ann’s because it was so damned different. What made it different?

I’ll tell you what made it different. She broke all the “rules.” Somewhere, somehow, with the evolution of RWA and its sister organizations and their writing workshops, easier access to agents and editors, more stringent-yet-vague criteria on how to write a query letter, and more propagation of some writing “rules” (the ones that would get you a D in any college creative writing course–ask me how I know), there’s been some weird homogenization. (And I started noticing this really begin to gather steam in the early ’90s.) Yeah, you can have unique plot devices or tried-and-true plot devices done differently, but essentially, the voice has become the same: same meter, same literalness (thanks, RfP) to supposedly make for clarity, and same explanation of things that I (Random Reader with a modicum of intelligence) don’t have to be told and would have rather inferred or been left wondering.

Tired, y’all. I’m tired of reading the same stuff over and over again. Even the stuff I’m getting mad at and simply not finishing–one reason is because the voice is tired on top of other problems. Everybody’s taking voice lessons from the same singing teacher out of the same songbook. The only reason I remember any of these books is to say, “Oh. That.” And off it goes to be archived on CD or in the box to take to the used bookstore–without finishing. One book I’ve been looking forward to reading and bought on its release date (because I had it on my calendar as a reminder) was a real let-down.

This “write from the heart and you’ll get sold if you try hard enough” cheerleading? Bullshit. Don’t write from the heart; write from the rules. Write what the gatekeepers tell you to write and, more importantly, how they tell you to write it. Obviously, lots of people love it, and I am the High Priestess of Capitalism, so I’m not arguing with an established market.

But…if everyone’s following the rules, how do you know the reading public wouldn’t like what you wrote from the heart? I know how you know. The gatekeepers won’t buy it because why mess with the homogeneity of voice? People like it; people buy it. [Insert philosophical plug for doing things independently, but that’s not what this post is about.]

Nothing, but nothing, makes me realize how homogenized the romance voice has become until I read something different. Kristan Higgins’s books were different and I enjoyed them muchly (although I heard some whisperings they weren’t romance so much as women’s fiction/chick lit and honestly I don’t know what the hell difference it makes). Ann’s, of course. Laura Kinsale, always.  Eva Gale, who came here as a poster (never heard of her before that), whose voice (albeit short pieces) just pushes all my right buttons (not talking about the erotic aspect, either).

Remember, I’m not talking about archetypes, plots, and themes. I’m talking about rhythm, word choice (e.g., the obsessing over avoiding “be” verbs and adverbs that spawns ridiculously tedious prose), dialog tags, over-explanation, and, yes, punctuation, which is one of the biggest tools in keeping your rhythm and singing in your own voice.

RfP said it best over at Racy Romance Reviews:

My most frequent complaint lately is that genre romance has no voice: it’s overly literal and can over-explain mundane detail to the detriment of style. Some of my favorite novels include more impressionistic passages in which I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but they’re wonderfully referential and evocative.

I mean, come on. If I’ve noticed it and other people have noticed it enough to remark upon it and complain about it (and we’re only a fraction of a percent of the reading public), maybe there are a lot more people tired of it than the gatekeepers think.

The gatekeepers, part 1

I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. I read Twilight and while I like cotton candy, I can only take so much. Like, one cone every 10 years or so or.

By now I’m sure everyone’s heard about the backlash against what is reputed to be the shoddy workmanship of Breaking Dawn and the push to return it to the bookstores after having read it. Mind you, the complaints ranged from the fact that Meyer tore her own world’s rules asunder to the poor editing job (i.e., grammar, spelling, typos). I found more than a few of those in Twilight and it bugged me then that a major publisher would release it like that. It looked so [sneer] vanity published.

I’ve heard ad nauseam about the gatekeepers, the agents and the editors, whose self-appointed Prime Directive is to keep out the unwashed masses of illiteracy who think they have a bestseller in them somewhere. They are there to not only 1) screen out the dreck and vet work that is potentially money-making, but once that is finished, to 2) put out a product that is well edited, well designed, and doesn’t look like it’s [sneer] vanity published.

Well, with Twilight, they did the first part right: They found a piece that would make money.

With the second part, they dropped the ball (especially with regard to Breaking Dawn) and Meyer ended up being put on the spot for a) bad writing, b) violation of her world’s rules, and c) bad editing in all stages.

I think that’s totally unfair.

I’ve been thinking about one particular Breaking Dawn post/thread on Dear Author for over a month now, wherein the commonly held die-hard fan opinion [that Meyer wrote by whimsy alone (putting forethought and craft aside)] was reiterated by author K.Z. Snow:

What’s so irksome is this: Meyer seemed to have a serious–and, to me, really appalling–lack of commitment to and respect for the craft. So shoot me for idealizing what we do, but one doesn’t become a writer on a freakin’ whim. I’m not surprised there’s been a degeneration from one book to the next.

and I opined:

I think this is clearly a case of wringing blood out of a turnip by the publisher and editors. They’re the ones who control the channel to the marketplace. If Meyer doesn’t have a commitment to the craft, who’s to blame? Meyer? No. The publisher and editors who facilitated her in that. If she has any thought about “craft” at all, I’d be surprised–and that’s not her fault. She hasn’t been required to to sell a gazillion+1 books.

Nora Roberts disagreed with me:

Yes, it is. Her name’s on the book. It’s her work. […] But it is the author who’s responsible for what’s on the page.

And this comment is what’s had me thinking about this for so long after it’s been done and gone.

Ms. Roberts’s comment is borne out in the fact that Meyer alone was held accountable for what’s widely perceived as shoddy workmanship. Do we know who her editors (content, line, and copy) are? Undoubtedly somebody does, but they aren’t the ones being burned in effigy. I wonder if they got dragged into a meeting to find out why so many die-hard fans took their books back? I wonder if they got sent to Remedial Editing? I wonder if Meyer went back and said, “Hey, why didn’t you do your job? You made me look bad and you’re supposed to make me look good. You’re the gatekeepers.”

She was also responsible for selling those gazillion+1 books and making a helluva lot of money for those gatekeepers, whimsy and shoddy workmanship and all.

Yet why should Meyer bear sole responsibility for what is obviously a case of “Bless her heart. It ain’ her fault; she doan know no better”? Moreover, she doesn’t know she “doan know no better” as evidenced by the fact that she’s trying to defend the book by blaming readers. “They just didn’t get it.” Well, maybe they didn’t, but you don’t say that in public. If you can’t keep from digging yourself into a hole, shut the hell up.

(And ahem, Stephenie. You’re college educated. Could you not have gone through your manuscript to make sure you caught all the typos? Oh, right. That was the copy editor’s job, wasn’t it?)

Meyer’s editors, in looking for a quick buck sooner rather than later, threw Meyer to the wolves. They, as the self-appointed gatekeepers should have done their jobs and when they didn’t, they let her take the fall because, as Ms. Roberts points out, it’s her name on the book.

They also threw the readers and die-hard fans to the wolves–who howled loud, long, and with their checkbooks. Who knows how many die-hard fans felt betrayed who did not take their books back and did not burn them (as some did)?

I have come to no conclusion except that, at this point, I think both Ms. Roberts and I are right. But how can that be? I don’t know, because obviously Meyer was held accountable for it, but she wasn’t the one who enthusiastically put it in the editorial pipeline. I can’t think she had much control over it after that other than galley proofs.

Right now, though, I only have two questions:

1. What, again, are the gatekeepers for?

2. How did such work warrant such gorgeous covers?

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What have you done for me lately?


I’d like to see new and different in romance. It took Ellora’s Cave and Loose Id and Samhain to break you out into genres you wouldn’t touch before (and no, they’re not all erotica).

I’d like to see you lead the way into e-publishing but again, you didn’t get in gear until the above-mentioned trailblazers kicked your butts. Apparently not even Baen was able to get to you like those three did.


The consignment system of inventory management is, I believe, in its late afternoon and Barnes & Noble CEO Riggio wants to push it into that good night. Agent Richard Curtis (and foresightful creator of e-Reads) points out that it’s not going away–on the dead-tree book brick’n’mortar playground, but, he says,

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Bettie Sharpe’s “Ember”

In my opinion, this is not so much a twisted fairy tale as an example of how to write. I won’t get into all the gush-deconstruction with various adjectives and superlatives because it’s been done ad nauseam (by an agent, even!)

Bettie, if you see, this, please email me your Paypal account and I’ll PAY you for the privilege of having read it.

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