Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Friday, July 29, 2005

Is it censorship or the wrong market?

I don’t advocate censorship. Look at any one of the past issues of American Bard, a magazine I used to edit and publish, and you would know that I don’t censor what I publish. All the same, there comes a time when what is appropriate and what is not is an issue.

Take, for example, my E-zine.

My E-zine is for writing parents, true, but it is ultimately a FAMILY FRIENDLY electronic publication. It doesn’t promote ANYTHING racist, sexually explicit, violent, religious-bashing or pornographic. Sure I’ll run the occasional Christian poem, but I’ll also run a Jewish poem or a Catholic poem. I don’t discriminate against religions and there’s really nothing wrong with someone being allowed to express their religious beliefs.

I bring this up because I recently got a poetry submission for the E-zine. The submitter included this in his E-mail to me: “I believe censorship to be blasphemous.” And I could only take this statement in one way: That his submission contained poems that could very well be censored.

I approached the reading of his submission with an open mind but after I started seeing a bunch of swear words, I knew I couldn’t take it. I knew I would have to reject his submission, though I’m iffy with one poem in this submission because it doesn’t have ANY swear words but it does talk about something controversial. I might take it. It’s a big “might,” really.

But even as I prepare myself for the rejecting part of this job, I’m still wary of his censorship statement.

But the question becomes, am I censoring his work? Or am I just telling him it’s not appropriate for this E-zine?

Of course my mind tells me the latter but, in my heart, I’m dubious of the whole thing. I’m not saying this because I’m willing to publish a poem riddled with foul language just because the submitting author made a comment against censorship, but it’s more of if he has the right to have his poems read.

At this point, I’m reminded of the saying given to new drivers: Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege.

The same can be applied to a writer. Getting published somewhere isn’t your constitutional right, although writing whatever the heck you want to IS. But getting published is NOT your right, it’s a privilege.

I can’t compromise the guidelines I’ve set up for my E-zine just because someone is against censorship. And I happen to state that I won’t publish anything racist, sexually explicit, etc.

This brings another point to mind: Did the submitting writer even READ my guidelines?? (Sadly, a lot of writers don’t read guidelines.) They pretty much spill out that those kinds of poems are wrong for me. Maybe if he took the time to read the guidelines, he’d save himself the rejection.

Reading the guidelines – and maybe even a past issue or two – would help him understand that this was the WRONG market for that kind of material. There may be E-zines or magazines that publish stuff like that, but I don’t. Maybe he just happened to submit his poems to the wrong market.

I can’t let myself feel bad for rejecting his work. I owe it to my readers to keep this E-zine clean because that’s what they have come to expect all along. I’m not going to take the risk of losing subscribers just so a guy can take a stand against censorship. And it’s not really censorship that’s the issue here, but just submitting to the wrong market.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Reading books, writing books and rewriting books

Sigh. Just when I thought I could get started writing my next novel, along comes the request to do some revisions on my previously-submitted novel. I KNEW this was going to happen, I knew this. And I thought I could handle writing my next book in addition to doing some minor editing on the other. (“Minor editing.” Hah! What a joke.) Turns out it’s not so much editing that needs to be done but some revising and some serious hitting-the-books to research domestic violence.

Sigh. Just when I thought I could get back to reading books for pleasure. Oh, well.

But, actually, I’m looking forward to this part of the revision stages. I’m a book freak and, first and foremost, have a personal interest in the books I made a list of to read. (I did do some minor research on this subject as I wrote my book but it wasn’t enough to “get it right.”)

All the same, it would be nice to be able to read some other books. Novels in the same genre as mine (and with similar themes) serve more as an inspiration than as a distraction or object of imitation. Oh, sure, I started copying Stephen King’s writing style after reading The Shining. But I later fixed that, okay? I fix those things because I want them to be my own and not somebody else’s. The main thing is that it inspired those words, those emotions and those scenes. It gave me a chance to look at horror and suspense writing differently. And of course the extra kick it adds to my imagination never hurts. :)

The books I’d like to read, though, are more nonfiction than fiction. And I really can’t see how I can write a scene where a guy is living in the past when I have Eckhart Toole telling me in his book that people need to forget the past. These nonfiction books INFLUENCE me. And they can influence my writing, my thinking, my attitudes.

And I have to put reading those books off, too, until this thing is DONE.

The thing that bugs me, though, is that my next book is once again put on hold. Well, actually, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The character in my next novel (my protagonist) is a schizophrenic and even though I’ve done research on this MI to portray her accurately, I really feel it’s not enough. So while I’m reading about the psychology of abusers, I’m also given the chance to read up on schizophrenia (an editor commented that my book’s antag does display some qualities of a schizophrenic, so maybe that’s not so much of a distraction from my current book research). And of course I can dabble here and there with the next book, researching mental institutions and the cases of mental patients being killed all in the name of science. (Oh, wait a minute, am I giving away too much here??)

I have heard of some writers who can work on two or more different books at a time. This does not come easy for me. Believe me, I know from personal experience that I can only write one book at a time (as a teenager I tried juggling several books-in-progress at a time, and ALL of those stories remain unfinished). There is a difference, though: I’m not writing two first draft novels. I’d be writing the first draft of one and the (hopefully, please God let this be true!!) final draft of another one. And the final draft is pretty much laid out; I just have to go back into there to make everything the way it should be.

Still, I think I’m better off delaying my next book. I hate this idea but I’m the kind of writer that has to be 100% THERE with my stories and give it my full attention. I may be writing nonfiction books, essays, poetry and short stories on the side, but those aren’t too big of a distraction from my imagined world. They’re more of a reminder that I just need to stay grounded.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Looking busy

The good thing about being a home-based writer is that you don’t have a boss (editor) breathing down your neck. But when you’re in a position where someone you’re trying to impress – a prospective client or publisher, for example – is just a chat window away, then things can get a little hairy.

I recently submitted a novel to a publishing company. The company’s acquisitions editor E-mailed me about using AIM to chat with since I can only take relay calls in the event they need to call me. (Though I must add here that receiving phone calls isn’t a very good option for me since I have to keep my phone line connected to my modem for most of the day. This is only a temporary arrangement until I get better Internet service.) I said sure, that’s fine, and let her know my AIM.

On the surface, I didn’t see anything wrong with this. And so far it’s worked out pretty well – we greet each other each morning then bid an “adios” at day’s end. Any questions I have get her reply that same day and it’s even given me the opportunity to ask for more info about the company.

But just like with all things in life, every up has a down.

As many authors know, after we get our books out the door, there is ALWAYS that temptation to pester the editor/publisher to see if they got the manuscript, if they LIKE the manuscript, what they don’t like, what they think so far, etc. And! More importantly: If our chances of being accepted look good.

As busy as I can get with all the writing projects I got going on, I keep one eye on my work and another on that AOL symbol to see if that little guy starts flashing. Anytime it flashes could be my nephew or sister IMing me to say “hi” but I always hope it’s the editor sending a message like, “Dawn, we’d LOVE to publish your book!” Or “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted. Where can I send your big fat advance?” (Heh, just kidding.) (Really.)

Basically we talk about stuff like goings-on where we’re at, editing, writer/editor etiquette and just general chit-chat. I once talked about how I was stumped on a title for my blog-post-turned-article. Just, that sort of thing. Of course I don’t bug her TOO much; I’m not going to abuse this privilege of being in touch with her through AIM.

Still, sometimes I’m wary of the whole thing. I get on- and offline A LOT during the day (partly because I usually forget I had to do something TODAY) and since I’m on her Buddy List, I wonder if her noticing my frequent online/offline/online status makes it look like I’m frantically checking my E-mail hoping I’ve heard from her or that I just don’t have much of a life outside of being online. (This, of course, isn’t true; I got a toddler, after all!). I don’t want her to think I am DESPERATELY HOPING to hear from her, with nary another WIP to keep me busy (actually, I’ve got quite a few, but let’s NOT go there).

Well, getting a reply soon would be NICE. A huge amount of stress lifted off of me after I submitted the book but not all of that stress is gone and it won’t be gone until the book finds a nice home somewhere. I’m holding my breath on whether or not they will publish my novel and I kinda need to breathe soon. Hopefully, it’ll be a breath of relief!

But even as I am trying to be EXTREMELY PATIENT during this agonizing waiting process, there is ALWAYS that niggling temptation to ask “Did ya read my book yet? Huh? Did ya? Did ya like it? Huh? Did ya???”

Luckily, I haven’t given in to that temptation. … Yet.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fun with fiction

Writers are an odd sort. Who else, in their right (write?) mind, would voluntarily neglect themselves, starve themselves, go without sleep and risk being labeled “strange” as we publicly babble nonsense, all in the name of writing a good story?

Still, moments can be had that you just don’t get to innocently walk away from unless you’re a writer. I remember quite clearly how, when I was sixteen, I got a good laugh out of my neighbor when I appeared on his doorstep only to inquire if he knew Russian. I can also recall how I asked my brother-in-law to tie me up a certain way so that I could physically determine how my character could free himself. Then there was the time when, as I wore an eye patch due to eye surgery on a train ride home from New York to Connecticut, I had the ready reply of any curious onlookers: “Point forty-five.” It’s too bad nobody asked about the patch, because I was all ready to launch into a story of how I’d been found out while working undercover for the FBI.

And only recently, I had a good chuckle when a friend I was chatting with gasped, “Dawn, do you KNOW someone who killed his wife?!” I explained that I was talking about whether someone who knew about this murder would accidentally say so in a fit of rage, right in front of the murderer, because I was giving a novel a publisher asked for a final read before submitting it. (Don’t worry, I took that out after my friend answered that no sane person would do something like that, no matter how mad they were.)

Still, writing fiction can have its downsides. When we create, we keep creating. Somehow, some way, we seem to forget some very important details we have set into place earlier in the story because we keep trying to figure out new plot twists and suspenseful ingredients to keep the story interesting. Say, for example, we made sure readers know that a character doesn’t know how to shoot a gun in chapter two. Later, we have them expertly firing a pistol in chapter ten, and we never even wrote a scene between those chapters showing our character learning how to shoot. Those things need to be there, and not in our heads. We can’t shrug it off with a, “Readers will figure it out for themselves.” If our characters learn a new skill which is later put to use in the story, that scene must be included.

Sometimes, though, it’s the little things that get overlooked. A character’s eye color is blue in chapter one then gray in chapter seven. A character is 6’2” in one chapter then 5’8” in another chapter. A character with his own car later grumbles about having to take the bus to work every day.

The above examples are just a few goofs that slipped into that novel. I had a good dose of forehead-slapping moments as I frantically worked at correcting any mistakes and inconsistencies. Some things I had to end up guessing, like how a character would have to wear his arm in a sling after being shot in the shoulder (I figured he wouldn’t be able to use the arm for a while, anyway). But, for the most part, I made sure a character with green eyes at the story’s beginning still had the same eye color later on. (Then again, if I’d already mentioned her eye color once, there’s really no need to mention it again unless I have another character saying “Grandmother, what gray, I mean, GREEN eyes you have!”)

There was actually one part where I wrote that my hero’s son was 9 years old. Later, I had my character mulling over how he wasn’t able to attend his son’s birthday party that day, his NINTH one. Oops.

Still, some novel goofs aren’t that obvious. I had my story’s antagonist go through the whole book convinced my protagonist was his ex-wife, who’d left him three years ago. (Actually, he murdered her, but he has conveniently forgotten that part.) And I never happened to mention whether or not the guy still wore his wedding ring! This little detail came to mind after I sent the first five chapters off to some beta readers and I started to wonder what kind of points they might make. Sure it might seem like an unimportant detail, but I don’t want my readers to have to ASSUME anything! You can’t let your readers assume anything; you have to TELL them. You can’t have them thinking a character knows how to bake like a pro because she made a prizewinning cheesecake in one chapter, because they’ll realize that assumption was WRONG when, later on in the story, our character bakes a cake that you couldn’t cut with a saw if you tried. (This actual incident has happened to me, once upon a time.) Then the readers will feel cheated. See, they put SO MUCH faith in the author of the story, and when the author lets them down in some way, it can be a huge turn-off. Some readers MAY forgive the infraction and keep reading, some may get angry and STOP reading. And the last thing you want to do is get your readers angry at YOU (or even have them stop reading)! You’re the storyteller; it’s your job to tell the story. The WHOLE story.

Even if it means taking a class on how to shoot.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Morning interviews

As I sat reading an E-mail last night, a thought struck: “Why, oh, why can’t I be in the Eastern time zone?” This thought came as a result of one of my contacts saying he could finally avail himself to a phone interview with me at 9 a.m. EST. At any other point I would’ve danced in the street since I’d been spending all week trying to get through to him so that I could meet my deadline. (And no matter how hard I try it seems there will ALWAYS be something to make sure that I don’t!) But the problem was, the time he said I could interview him. In my time zone, 9 a.m. was just 5 ½ hours away!

I sat there drinking my second cup of coffee (which I suddenly felt very relieved to have in my system), pondering my options. I couldn’t miss this interview. That was definitely out of the question. And because my contact is one VERY BUSY guy, I couldn’t ask him if we could move it to a little later in the day, like, say, 4 p.m. (As you might have guessed, I’m not much of a morning person.) I could just picture myself being awakened after only five hours of sleep, grabbing the alarm clock, throwing it out the window then settling back into bed cursing modern technology. Soo, going to sleep didn’t seem like a very good idea at the moment. Besides, what if I forgot? My memory isn’t exactly as sharp as a tack and I suddenly visualized the alarm clock covered with Post-It notes screaming in bold letters accompanied with an army exclamation points, “CALL JOHN!!!”

If I was going to stay up until 6 a.m., what would I do to keep myself awake? I’m not one of those people who can stay wide awake thanks to a generous dose of coffee at night (though I have been known to bounce off the walls after half a pot). I could read one of my many unread books in my little library, but reading doesn’t exactly keep me awake. I could watch a movie, say either The Ten Commandments or Part 1 & 2 of The Thorn Birds. I could plug in the bread-making machine and wait out a fresh loaf. Or I could spend the time online, chatting. (I didn’t really favor the more sedentary options because I REALLY don’t like sitting down for too long unless I absolutely HAVE to.)

Then I thought about something else: The fact that I have a toddler. Oh, sure, tomorrow was Saturday and she’d be spending most of the day with her father. But just as there is always SOMETHING interfering with my writing deadlines, there’s always SOMETHING interfering with my weekend plans, too. (Come to think of it, I can’t even remember the last time I spent my weekend relaxing.) So there was a chance I’d be a “Zombie Mommy” tomorrow if I skipped on getting some sleep. Oh, sure, I’ve survived on less sleep before. During the first couple of months after my daughter was born, I pretty much got by on only 4 hours of sleep, though admittedly I wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around.

That flashback didn’t look too sweet. I decided to get whatever sleep that I could.

And it only turned out to be four hours!

Surprisingly, though, the phone interview went pretty well. I was able to comprehend what my contact was saying and even type of my repeated questions without error.

That’s the good news.

The bad news was, putting my article together afterwards didn’t go so smoothly.

You would think that, because I could work without interruption, writing a looong article would be a breeze. But since I was practically falling asleep over the keyboard with my eyelids getting heavier, I had to make quite the effort to get it done. I pretty much spent the next two hours grumbling, cursing and trying very hard not to pull my hair out or punch the keyboard as I had to keep deleting typos, rearranging paragraphs, rereading sentences (sometimes out loud) just so I could understand them and going over my article again and again just to make sure it all made sense.

Finally, I sent off my 3500-word article then thankfully trudged back to bed. Ahh, blissful sleep was finally mine. I had done my job. I met my late deadline. I had left the building.

Or so I thought.

My body was exhausted but my mind was actually now quite wide awake as it went over every word of my article, wondering if the title I'd finally chosen (which was one my editor suggested) was just right, if I’d left anything out and if I really should’ve tried to ask my contact his opinion on something I decided not to get a quote for. Oh, but it didn’t stop there. The article is for a book I’m writing and so, of course, I started thinking about the section titles for the book, what other topics I plan to cover, if I should try to get photos for it now, what to say in my proposal, why I haven’t even dashed off the proposal yet even after finishing four chapters, and exactly WHAT I’m going to call this thing.

Now, I love my Muse, but right about now wasn’t exactly a good time for her to bug me. In fact, had my Muse been an actual person pestering me to stay awake any longer to worry about the article. I would’ve grabbed it by the neck, my bloodshot eyes widened, as I screamed at it, “GO!!! AWAY!!!”

Hmph. Sleep is overrated.