Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Unveiling the 1780s Stays

What time is it?
New stays time!

I finished my 1780 stays last night, binding the last edges while watching Mad Men on Netflix, which never fails to inspire dozens of additional sewing projects. This was my first foray into corset-making, and I learned a lot--and discovered that a) it's not as scary as I'd feared and b) I think I want to make more.

The final product:

Blue silk, cotton canvas innards, linen lining, cotton tape binding and steel boning. Pattern from Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines with help from discontinued Simplicity pattern. The front-tied straps are from the Simplicity pattern--I knew I'd eventually pop one midway through something and need to retie it myself.

What went well:

It fits (mostly) perfectly. Unlike my old stays, it doesn't pinch my hips at all, yet it laces tighter and yields a much more fashionable shape, for those days I'd like to go "fashion-before-ease."

General construction was easy-peasy.

The finish work not only turned out well, it was really fun to do! Call me a nerd, but stitching the binding and creating the eyelets was a blast! I've decided eyelets are my new favorite thing. Watching an ugly hole turn into a lovely bound eyelet was just too enjoyable! Plus my method was great. I don't have "real" tools for this, so I stabbed a cross-hatch in with a paring knife then shoved a really large bodkin through several times. Great stress relief.

Things that went not-so-well:

First. I ordered steel boning from an online vendor. It was very good quality, arrived promptly, and was inexpensive. It was also twice as wide as I expected. (I swear I ordered the "normal" size, not the "wide" size.) But I wanted to forge ahead. Which meant I had to rework the boning channel layout and deal with a result that was less authentic that what I had hoped for. See yesterday's red example--the thin channels were really what I was hoping for.

Then. Some of the boning was longer than expected. (And I measured, friends. I measured twice.) My dear husband got to spend an hour with the dremel shaving a good two inches off the ends of the boning needed for the back. Good to know--a thick layer of goopy nail polish finishes raw metal boning ends beautifully.

And. While the horizontal channels stitched up just beautifully on machine--no wrinkling, no crumpling, they simply would not stitch without wrinkling on the vertical channels. I tried every tension setting, every solution--eventually I decided that, if I was going to complete these without wrecking the fabric, I couldn't pick out another row of stitches. It was wrinkly machine sewing or hand-sewing, and as these are my first attempt (so in many ways a glorified mock-up) I went for the speed of wrinkly machine.

Finally--though the waist and bust fit great, the very top of the back is too loose. This would not be difficult to fix. It also doesn't ruin anything as is. The front is also a touch long.

I'm also very pleased with the blue fabric and the wee little gold bows. It's the little things.

Thoughts? Questions? Suggestions for next time? Am I nuts for wanting to forge ahead and do a 1870s/1880s corset next (looks so fun!).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Research and Background of the 1780s Stays

The 1780s stays are nearly finished. I feel like I've had a giant fight with them, mourned what they could have been with fewer problems, and come to accept them as they are. Before unveiling them in all their not-quite-glory, I thought I would share where they came from, and why they're different from the stays I already have.

First up--the inspiration for the stays comes from these beauties from the Victoria and Albert museum.

Noteworthy about theses? It's best in comparison with an extant pair that most closely mirrors my current stays:

These are from the Met, and besides being a bit more careworn, they have some distinctive differences.

1) Straps. Denoting these as probably a lower-to middling-class woman's set, as straps restrict movement further and were more often used in upper-crusty stays. They keep the shoulders back, further improving the proper, upright 18th century posture.

2) Boning. See how these achieve their shape and ability to support through heavy boning? The V&A uses a more strategic approach--shaped pattern pieces and angled boning lend the garment its shape and the wearer the proper support.

3) Shape. The beige stays are basically conical. The red ones, however, are a bit more nuanced--the front is flatter, and they are broader across the bust and nip a bit more at the waist. As the 18th century progressed, less cone, flatter front, more emphasis on the bust became more fashionable. This is, as I'm sure you can tell, due in large part to the shape of the side pieces--whereas the beige stays have basically straight-up-and-down pieces, whereas the red stays have a rather extreme diagonal bent to the sides.

For example of absolutely breathtaking recreations of these stays, visit Bridges on the Body and The Aristocrat. I find the second example to be particularly droolworthy and the seamstress in question is lucky I can't afford to fly to Finland and steal them.

Then, come back later this week for the unveiling of my not-quite-as-impressive first attempt at staymaking, as well as a breakdown of what went well--and what will be done differently next time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Meet Felicity--the Newest Addition to my Sewing Room

I've had need for some time of a dress form. I can certainly complete projects without it--but draping on oneself is not only tricky, it's stabby. I've driven a pin into myself more times than I care to admit!

So I started trolling craigslist and freecycle, garage sales and secondhand shops, looking for a quiet little friend to stand in the corner of my sewing room and lend me a hand.

I brought Felicity home last week.

Why Felicity? Becase getting her was rather, well, felicitous. I was having very little luck finding anything within my budget, and came across a listing on craigslist with a price I was happy to pay. Unfortunately, the listing was over an hour away.

But remember how I live in a college town? The young lady selling the form was transferring to the university I work for--so a couple emails and a quick visit to a dorm parking lot, and I had Felicity in the backseat.

She is ever so patient with my draping and finagling, and even likes having pins poked into her.

And yes, she's currently modeling the Sapphire Gown. The drape of chiffon on her has been pleated, pinned, draped, and tucked about a dozen times--experimenting is such fun!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Historical Costume Inspiration Festival Returns!

Last year, Atlanta at Story of a Seamstress hosted a festival celebrating historic costume. From dedicated reproductions to fantasy costumes to modern ensembles inspired by history, the week-long posting frenzy was a delight to participate in! I submitted my eighteenth-century walking gown for the festival; this year I hope to share another reproduction piece--or ensemble--as well as the Sapphire Gown.

Sorry to say, however, you'll have to wait until January to partake in the fun of basking in others' creations. So why am I sharing so early? Simple. Often when I post sewing projects, my creative readers comment that they'd love to try something like this "someday."

The Historical Costume Inspiration Festival is a perfect "someday" to aim for! The submissions run the gamut of authenticity and style, and no one should shy away from participating because it's their first historical creation! Consider joining in!

Get the skinny--and enjoy last year's festival--on Atlanta's blog!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cries of London: Ballad Seller and Clothing Breakdown

I enjoyed picking apart the clothing of the Strawberry Seller so much that I found another fun Wheatly Cries of London print to talk about--the Ballad Seller.

In review--the Cries of London were a painting seriesturned series of prints (much of art in the 18th century had multiple lives as paintings, print runs, slightly adjusted and re-run print runs, etc) that depicted ordinary people of the London streets, plying their trades.

The Ballad Seller was one of these street vendors. Before the days of albums, CDs, and mp3s, new music was disseminated on broadsides--large-format fliers that printed the lyrics to new songs and sometimes included slips of sheet music. Ballad sellers were often among the poorest of street vendors, and some contemporary prints and writings depict ballad-selling as little better than begging. However, their trade required a skill that other street vendors did not need to possess--to sell their broadside sheet music, they sang the song printed on it. More on broadsides and ballad selling can be found here; the study of this historical "pop culture" is fascinating!

In the print above, the ballad seller seems to be doing a rather good job drawing a crowd--she must be good at what she does!
Though she looks quite sweet, she's also a bit raggedy (check the rather floppety hat and the shoes, which don't appear to have buckles), lending credence to the idea that ballad sellers earned only a meager living. I can't tell if she's wearing a gown rucked off to the side or if that's a large apron; either way, she likely has her wares tucked safely inside.

The bottom of her petticoat has what looks like a crease along the hem. This may be a growth pleat--or one that has been let out, leaving a long crease. Growth pleats were included in clothing for growing girls--this seller could be a teenager. I've also (having very little good data) sewn horizontal pleats into petticoats to help them stand out a bit more. I've seen this on one extant garment made for an adult. So--my guess-either our ballad seller is a girl young enough to have had her most recent clothing made with a growth pleat, or she's wearing something secondhand. (Secondhand clothing was very common in the 18th century--"rag fairs" sold used goods at discount.)

Unlike our strawberry seller, who would have been peddling her wares in the early summer, the ballad seller seems to be on a chilly, wintery street. To combat the cold, her audience is wearing great coats and cloaks. The ballad seller is wearing a mantelet or a short cloak--I'm guessing at mantelet because it appears to be shaped in the front. Either way, note the hood on the back. She could pull this on over her cap (she'd probably ditch the straw hat) for extra warmth. More on mantelets and short cloaks here; hers is probably a wool broadcloth.

Anything else you notice about the ballad seller's clothing? Questions about her clothing or the clothing of her audience on these rainy London streets?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sapphire Gown: Underdress

The sewing bonanza last weekend was uber-productive, and I finished the underdress construction on Saturday with a quick nip to my sewing room at home on Sunday to attach the lining. It's really, really simple:

As it stands, I could actually wear this on its own--it just needs zipper and hem. But once I get those elements complete, the real fun of draping the chiffon overdress and creating a mini-bustle begins. Because as is? It's a touch boring.

I tried the dress on for fit last night and to get the zipper placement worked out:

Yay! It fits!

Things that worked well so far:

1) I created a boned foundation piece for the first time with this dress, and I'm thrilled with it. I've never used plastic boning in a garment before (I use steel for 18th century stuff most of the time). Despite the fact that little Edith, my sewing machine, faints at the sight of sewing anything thicker than a couple layers of satin and I had to hand-stitch all the boning, the results are worth it--much more support and the gown just hangs better. It was super-simple, and even if a gown pattern doesn't include a foundation piece, you can just use the lining pattern, cut two of each pattern piece cropped at the waist and stitch the boning between them. The pattern I used called for interfacing in the foundation piece as well, but I didn't include this--I think, after finishing, that this was the right call, as instead of the boning curving when I wear the dress to my natural waistline, the whole effect would have been stiffer and less natural-looking.

2) This pattern went together swimmingly. Even the princess seams, which I usually have a little fight with. It's an out-of-print Vogue wedding gown pattern.

3) It is such fun sewing with a friend! There were three of us gathered around her dining room table, our sewing machines all whirring away happily as we chatted and watched one another's progress. Only downside? My flood of navy satin kept trying to take over the table.

4) The fact that I'm not even making a "things that didn't go well" list. Yep, this part was that easy. I expect that the zipper will come to life and try to eat the dress or something, because no sewing project is without a mini-disaster.

Pardon the mannequin arms. And the giant bruise on my shoulder--I managed to shut my arm in my friend's car trunk unloading groceries for our sewing bonanza. Nothing beats a leisurely lunch of fresh bread and Camembert to keep the sewing energy up!

How are your projects coming along?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Agents Reject You

Of course, I don't really know the all answers to this. I'm not an agent or an intern or any kind of expert besides being someone who has traversed the query waters before.

But I think I've got an answer that doesn't get shared very often. Because here's the thing--your query letter, your personalized greeting, your hook can all be fine--and you can still get rejected. Why?

Agents reject you because they have to.

Let me explain. I work for a university, and manage a program of undergraduate teaching assistants. It's a popular program. Instructors love it--they get assistance with their courses that they wouldn't otherwise have. Students love it--they get experience and a paycheck that's usually reserved for grad students only. The only problem with this great program?

I usually have at least four times as many applicants as I do positions available.

It's overwhelming. I have to employ plenty of tactics to wade through the pile. First and foremost? Matching applicant ability/interest/experience to instructor need. This is the most important part--I can have an exceptionally qualified applicant, but if she can't provide anything of use to the instructors who need an assistant, I can't use her. So it is with your manuscript--if an agent doesn't have any interest in the topic, if she doesn't have a home for it at her agency, if she doesn't think she has the right connections to sell it, it can be awesome--but she's going to reject it.

And even then--even after I weed out the no-gos in terms of supply/demand, there are still far more applicants than slots to fit them into.

Then--I confess--I start looking for reasons to reject applicants.

I tend to preference seniors--because I'm nice and they won't have another semester's shot, but also because they have a little more experience to bring to the table. I tend to preference higher GPAs--but not always, as I think work ethic and professionalism are more important than grades. Probably most importantly, I pay attention to how the applicant addressed me in emails, how he or she handled her personal statement with the application (professional, polite, and useful? or did she blow it off?), and--this is a big one--did he or she follow directions. I even have an abbreviation on my spreadsheet--DFD. Didn't Follow Directions. Most applicants with DFD next to their names don't get positions.

I know, it's infuriating. A perfectly good applicant, rejected because he didn't follow directions? Well, not rejected entirely. I'm nicer than that. But it does reflect poorly on him, and I'm less likely to assign him. Why? Because it shows me he's not interested in playing the game 100%. He's not interested in devoting the time it takes, in giving the respect it deserves. Yes, following directions really does say those things to me--especially when the instructions are clear as day.
And especially when I have to find someone in the pile to reject. I can't give positions to everyone--agents can't offer representation to everyone, either. And their applicant pile is a lot more competitive than mine is. I can appreciate why, while they may not "auto-reject," someone who DFDed or addressed them unprofessionally deserves less consideration than someone who put in the work to send a professional, tailored email.

That person is someone with the patience and work ethic it takes--someone I don't mind giving as an assistant to a well-respected faculty member, someone who won't make me look bad for making that assignment. Someone who an agent knows can work well with an editor, with a publishing house, and not make her look bad for representing him.

And still? I have to reject plenty of people with great applications, great credentials, well-written statements of purpose. It's not them. It's the demand, relatively small in comparison to their overwhelming supply. I try to pick the best of the bunch, but I admit--I know that I turn down great applicants every year. Maybe I turn down applicants who would have been better at the job than students I pick. I'll never know.

Now, if you're only getting rejected, never getting requests, yes, something is wrong with your query or your pages. But I hear so many writer-friends trembling at every rejection, disheartened because every agent didn't request their manuscript. You know what? It does stink. But I have a ton of great students who aren't getting positions this year. It's not them--it's an applicant pile that's far larger than I need it to be.

What do you think? Can a sparkling query and brilliant pages still get rejected? Or am I making excuses for work that's just not up to par? Any tales of giant slush piles in your own life?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lessons for a Writer from Scrapbooking

I'm going to lay it out right here--I'm not a scrapbooker. I don't own any die cuts or fun punches or a Cricut or a cute bag with tons of adorable stickers and embellishments crowding its pockets. I don't have friends who scrapbook and I don't go to meet-ups to play with fun papers and layout with other ladies. I really have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to cropping and arranging and adding sweet details and captions. Nope, not a scrapbooker.

What am I? Someone with a jumble of newly printed digital photographs with such lack of continuity that they only way to make any sense of them was to put them in a pretty album with other stuff filling in the blanks. Someone, also, who likes pretty papers and wandered into the scrapbooking section of the craft store last week.

I became an accidental scrapbooker.

This weekend I started laying out some pages--simple stuff, just a pretty background paper (I bought a pad of colored and patterned papers the same size as the album, to make things easy) with some photos arranged (hopefully artfully) on top.

Ever notice how much we read into photographs based on what's around them? This summer my uncle and cousin and I sorted through a box of loose photographs--the results of a lack of organization were hilarious. "What the heck is THIS from?" was a common refrain. Similarly, adding context--even just a pretty bit of patterned paper or some photo corners--said something about how I wanted people to "read" the photographs.

For instance--I made a page of the Mister and I at a 1920s party--I used photo corners and a simple layout on a paper that could have been your Grandma's parlor wallpaper. What was I saying? Perhaps that this is meant to be read as vintage, as historical. Had I popped it onto a background of alligators and added a sparkly frog sticker here and there, you'd read the page differently. How, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps that we'd been at a reptile park for the party. Perhaps that I was playing a little visual trick by matching the papers to the color of the dress I wore. Regardless. You'd read it differently.

The papers and stickers and mats are just decoration--the story is in the pictures. Writing is the same way--the story is the story, but what you use to embellish it or frame it tells the reader how to read the story. You're writing a funeral scene, and the language is stark, minimal, pointed, raw emotion. You've told the reader to infer something completely different than if the writing was lush, broad, removed emotionally but very reflective and pensive. I assume things about the narrator, about the characters involved, about how the death affected those involved. Just from the way the scene is written.

Or think about a beautiful spring day--how would you describe it if your romantically-entwined characters were taking a walk and discussing their future? Compare that to how you would describe it if your assassin protagonist was taking that same walking route after whacking her first assignment. I'm guessing the characters would notice and react to different things, which will inform your writing, but how you package it with language, word choice, sentence length--all those stylistic elements--will give the reader a more authentic experience. And here's the cool part--unless the reader is either very perceptive or is slowing down to analyze your writing as s/he reads, you've done it without the reader even noticing.

You've gotten into their heads. Fun.

Of course, these elements are just the window dressings, not the windows themselves. The story is still what is seen through the panes. But you can tell the reader how to approach the window by choosing a panel or a valance, a heavy brocade or a filmy linen, rigid wooden blinds or billowing silk. Ok, enough curtain metaphors.

What are ways you use the curtains to influence how your reader will look through the window? What about draperies and valances in other creative pursuits? Anyone else want to make new curtains now?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sapphire 1880s Gown--Inspiration

Well, it's that time of year again--the Navy Ball is in a couple months, so it's time for me to pull out the sewing machine and challenge myself with a modern gown inspired by historical fashions.

Last year I created a gown based on 1930s evening-wear, with a modern twist. This year I want to try something based on one of my favorite epochs in fashion, the 1870s-80s, that, unfortunately, I have very little cause to create clothing for. Unlike other time periods, there's not a lot happening in my area that warrants whipping up a late Victorian re-creation.

However, the period provides tons of inspiration from which to create a modern gown.
1880s Sapphire Gown
So, how am I going to do this? Well, for starters, there won't be any of the underpinnings that create the characteristic shape of the 1880s--no corset, no cage bustle, no petticoats. The silhouette will be strictly modern, which *should* keep this from looking too costumey. The fabric will be a deep navy/sapphire blue satin with chiffon over-draping. The basic shape will come from a super-simple strapless gown pattern with a narrow front skirt and more volume--plus a train for bustling--in the back. Additional detailing to create a more elaborate neckline and decorative touches will be done with draped chiffon.

The elements I plan to pull from the inspiration gowns, however, are characteristic of the time period:

1) Bustling. No, there won't be a wire or other heavy-duty support underneath, but I intend to create a "bum poof" of draped fabric. It remains to be seen if the fabric will support this on its own, or if I'll need to face the inside with some tulle for stiffness.

2) Neckline. Note that all three necklines featured in the inspiration board have wide v-shapes, narrowing over the shoulders (specifically the black-and-white fashion plate). I plan to drape a chiffon over-bodice to mimic this look, but show the strapless neckline underneath for a modern twist.

3) Front Drape. Another characteristic element, particularly well-shown in the peach-colored gown, is a drape across the front. I plan to extend the chiffon over-bodice down into a draped skirt--how, exactly, this will drape will have to wait until I get the basic construction done and can play with the fabric. I'm not ruling out poofs or cascades of chiffon.

A few notes on odd elements in the inspiration board:

1) Sapphire: I like the color, I like the subdued opulence, I like the hard edges and soft sheen. It's a nice metaphor for the gown, with its simple, straight underdress and softly-draped overdress.

2) Ostrich Plume: Nope, I don't plan on using any feathers. But the feathery, soft drape reminded me of how I wanted the chiffon to look.

3) Blue Fabric (background): This is about the shade I plan to use, in a heavy-ish satin.

4) Building with Columns: Last year I included an interior shot of the location of the ball for inspiration, an ornate, luxuriously painted and decorated foyer. This year I'm struck by the architectural columns--the subtly detailed simplicity producing an elegant look.

I'm heading to a dear friend's place this weekend for a sewing bonanza--I'll see how much I get done on this project, between fits of giggles and cooking delicious meals together. I'll try to take pictures of the project in progress--I'll update next week!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

See Hyaline Work

I've shared pictures before of my two favorite spots in the New Old House--my reading nook and my writing nook. I had intentions of sharing pictures of my sewing corner, but it's always such a mess that I have a compulsion to clean it whenever a camera gets near it, and it never quite steps up. So...forthcoming!

However, my writing nook pictures were a little too...pristine. Nice. Artfully arranged. This is not how it looks while I'm working. It looks like a mini tornado hit a tiny five-and-dime store on my desk while I'm working.

So here's a shot of the desk in action, with helpful deciphering key below:

A) Pencil cup holding two fans and a tube of hand lotion that I can't decide if I like the scent of or not. No pencils.

B) My giant hardcover notebook that holds my mishmosh of outlining, sketches, short writings, and other pen-scratch paraphernalia. More on that below.

C) The stack of books, papers, etc. underneath the notebook. This includes a printout of the last draft of The Courier that I edited from a few months ago. Clearly I need to recycle some stuff.

D) The laptop, open to the current document. At any given time, I might have Pandora or my own music open as well, and possibly my Twitter feed if I'm looking for #1k1hr motivation. Sometimes I disable my internet if I need to minimize distractions.

E) Stuffed behind the laptop are more file folders of papers, including this loose piece, which happens to be a retirement fund statement with my name spelled wrong. Need to fix that. So I put it beside the computer to remind me. That's not worked as well as one could hope (three months later).

F) I usually have a glass of wine, cup of tea, mug of coffee, something to sip on. It was a muggy, deep-summery sort of evening when I took this picture, so I was enjoying a very chilled glass of Torrontes. Seriously, people--Argentina is where it's at for wine. Thank you, free wine tasting at local specialty foods store, for enlightening me.

G) Also featured: A photo of my grandmother when she was in her twenties, in the 1920s. She had awesome hair.

So how do all these pieces fit together? Well, that giant notebook is where most of it starts. I write down story ideas in here, and details I don't want to forget on stories I'm currently working on (often inserted in pre-existing outlines with big circles scrawled around them). I'm a terrible outliner. Really, I am. Yet, I'm not really a pantser, so I plot the course of the story through a series of really, really ugly entries in the lined pages of the notebook.

They look like this. See? Ugly. Arrows, brackets, stuff scratched out and circled and moved to other places. It's a mess. But it works. Of course, someone someday will find it and think it's some kind of elaborate code covering up the location of buried treasure or a government conspiracy or military intelligence or something.

I also sketch maps, family trees, and anything else that I'll need to remember later to keep straight what the heck I was talking about. This is a map of the Colony, the setting of my current project:

I am not a cartographer, clearly.

As for that stack of books...I would love to say that they're all research material related to the WIP and that I have them all marked with wee little Post-It notes and refer to them while I write.

Nope, mostly costuming books, actually.

Which should probably live upstairs with the rest of my sewing stuff, but I was doing some comparative research between current commercially available patterns and these extant garment sketches. Hi, I am a dork.

Though I did find myself using some gown elements from this book in The Courier and Book Two, its sequel.

How do you work? Please feel free to share pics or posts in the comments!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mean Editor Tells It Like It Is

I do quite a bit of editing. For funsies--it's not my day job. Not to say I don't edit at my day job--let the people you work with figure out that you're a grammar grump and they start passing a lot of stuff your way to proof. (I also had a stint at a stationery company where I proofed hundreds--literally--of peoples' wedding invitations.) Outside of Ye Day Job, I have a few crit partners (shout-out especially to June and Hayley) whose work I've had the privilege of nitpicking, and friends often ask me to lend a hand with cover letters or even tricky emails. Because having a second pair of eyes is a good thing, especially if those eyes are almost pitifully anal about proper use of commas in linking prepositional phrases.

I tend to think I'm really nice, for the most part. I point out what I see are problems, but in a tactful, kind way.

Then I had to plow through a statement a friend had written for a professional portfolio. I was in a huge hurry, I didn't have time to nice it up, plus this friend gets my sense of humor.

Mean Editor came out. Mean Editor smash grammar! Smash stylistically clunky prose! Smash!

Mean Editor had some good lessons that I didn't think should be limited to one word doc full of bright red "Comment" bubbles.

1) "Why did you explain this? A brain-damaged mule deer would get this." Sometimes we writers feel the need to explain our terms a little too much. Yes, if you've created a world with tons of different technology or fantasy animals or are describing a historical setting, sometimes you have to explain what it is you're talking about. Preferably in a subtle, non-pace-slowing way. But if your futuristic laser gun is called the LaserGun5000, you do NOT need to tell us that the LaserGun5000 is, in fact, a laser gun that's replacing the LaserGun4000 and shoots--yes--lasers.

2) "Ditch the Sh!tty Modifiers...ok, hold on--this is going to be an acronym now. DTSM." I love adjectives and adverbs. They're beautiful, colorful, exciting little parts of speech, aren't they? But they're all-too-often categorically abused. Here's the thing. If you write in a modifier, ask yourself two things. First, does using this modifier change, clarify, or improve the functionality of this sentence? Sometimes it does. Rarely is that modifier "very," "completely," or "suddenly." If the sentence says the same thing with or without the modifier, you don't need a modifier. Second, does using this modifier take care of that functionality in the BEST way possible, or would using a more precise noun or verb do the trick? Yes, there are some times when the cadence or style benefits from using the modifier-noun/verb combo more than that one precise noun or verb. They're rare. Use them sparingly. In the meantime, DTSM.

3) Pare down the Crap. Taken from my Word doc Comment bubbles : Ok, we need to pare down the crap here. I could write a book on PARING DOWN THE CRAP but, well, it would probably be mostly crap I’d have to pare down. Sometimes when we write first drafts we tend to repeat the same things in the first drafts and use fluffy filler words to express things to others that say what we mean. Yeah. But not all repetitive junk is technically repeated--often, it's redundant because the reader has already inferred it. If you mention that Susan and Jack are meeting after Susan observes Jack's first day on the job, you don't need to tell us that the purpose of the meeting is an evaluation and discussion about that aforementioned first day on the job. Just say Susan watched Jack like an obsessive hawk all day and then asked to meet with him. We know why.

If you're wondering, I got an email back from the friend that said "This was harsh but I couldn't stop laughing--and yeah, you're right." Now--I do NOT recommend being a crankypants editor with your friends unless you KNOW that you share the same vicious sense of humor--and that that sense of humor applies to what others say about your work, as well. Tactfulness goes a very long way, and usually produces more constructive results than bluntness does. But sometimes giving yourself permission to see the worst in a CP's work--or your own!--gives you the freedom to see the best, too.

What does your Mean Editor say?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Genres and the E-Reading Age

When it comes to book genres, will e-readers change the game?

There's been a lot of talk about all the changes e-readers bring to reading, writing, interacting with literature, the publishing business--all sorts of sometimes exciting, sometimes confusing, sometimes scary differences e-publishing can make. One thing I haven't seen discussed yet is the implications of e-pubbing on genre.

Genre is a tricky animal. On one hand, writers are often encouraged to write the book of their heart, but the other hand deals the tricky truth--many genres have conventions and expectations that are difficult to break. And many readers return to the genres they like for those conventions. A romance reader likes a happily-ever-after. A mystery reader likes finding the clues alongside the protagonist. Breaking with the conventions doesn't mean bad writing--just writing that falls outside the norms of the genre.

I've had great discussions recently via the blogs of a couple of friends--Val, Caroline, and June, thanks for the great thoughts! They and other writer-friends of mine have questioned where their stories fall in the genre spectrum. Say you're writing a historical novel with romantic elements. At what point do you call it a historical romance? If it's a love story but doesn't fit the category expectations of a romance, where does it live? Or a story set in a speculated future that's more of a thriller than straight sci-fi. You might label it sci-fi, speculative, or thriller (or a combination of the above) depending on how you were describing it and for what purpose.
And, of course, you all know where to find your favorite genres in your bookstore of choice. Mine has romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western, and then general fiction, which mishmoshes everything from contemporary women's fiction to historical fiction to literary fiction in one section. But what about e-bookstores?

The virtual environment of buying e-books allows, in my opinion, more flexibility in "shelving" books. A could "tag" her book as both "historical romance" and "historical fiction" if it carried elements of both genres. A reader could browse the thriller section and find some sci-fi he may not have thought to try before. A historical mystery could be easily found in both the historical fiction and mystery lists. Readers may or may not like the ability of internet gnomes to keep track of their purchases and make "suggestions" but cross-genre suggestions could work their way into the mix.

Not to mention bringing YA out of the corner--what if YA that a writer or publisher felt adults could enjoy, too, was shelved not only in the "Teen" section, but in the appropriate genre, as well?

Of course, the question with that--would this lead to reader-grabbing strategies that would only annoy the reader? "Well, dang, I opened up this stupid Nook to buy a mystery and all I can find are YA vampire books and romance novels. Frick."

Will we start loosening up on the genres? Does e-pubbing give more freedom to bend the rules and be successful? Will readers enjoy being introduced to new authors whose take on their favorite genres is a little different? Or will readers be disappointed that, for instance, something they found in the mystery section doesn't quite live up to their expectations, because it was a fantasy novel with mystery elements?

How much do you pay attention to genre when picking a book? Is it deliberate? Or more "natural selection" that your choices tend to be in some genres? If you're a genre-devotee, what does it take for you to read outside your preferred genre/s?