Yo ho here we go again: Piracy and who pays when

New book, new theft.ThinkOfEngland72web

I don’t usually spend that much time worrying about ebook piracy. It’s one of those things that could keep you awake all night if you think about it. But when a new book comes out, as Think of England did last month, and I check for reviews, and a piracy result comes up on the first page within a week of publication…

I’ve read several articles on justification for piracy. They all line up a variety of reasons why people pirate books, and tell publishers and authors to take note and address these concerns. A typical example quoted in GalleyCat:

 “I’ve pirated electronic versions of books I already own physically.”

“I limit myself to pirating things that are out-of-print or otherwise unavailable through a legal digital outlet.”

“I’m poor and I like to read, but I can’t pirate food, so I pirate everything else.”

“The library rarely has the books I want to read.”

“I only pirate textbooks from school … They are ridiculously priced an I have a hard enough time paying tuition.”

“If the ebook is more expensive than the paper-version I sometimes pirate it out of annoyance.”

“Pirating also lets me sample things i would not be willing to pay money for up front”

Hang onto that last for a moment. Now, here’s a lovely exchange one author had.

lawrenceThanks for clearing that up, Emmanuel, your a star lol.

But, sarcasm aside, look at that line:

I do believe in being able to read or listsin to someone’s work before taking home for good books and music being especially of those sins there a million of you guys all calling your selfs artist

Which I interpret to mean:

As there is a great deal of work on the market and quality can be variable, I like to sample goods before spending my money.

Hang on to that one too as we go back to my pirate site experience.

So I went to the site that came up on the first Google page for Think of England. It’s a forum for filesharing, where you post a request for a book or game or film and other people post links to offsite places you can get it for free. Here’s the request. If you are profprofferson, please feel free to step on Lego any time.

mobilism 2

Now, we’ve all heard plenty about the benefits of piracy. Exposure! People discussing your book! Building an audience! As it goes, my bank doesn’t currently accept exposure for the mortgage, but hey, it would be better than the nothing I otherwise get…if it actually happens. So I joined up and asked.

mobilism 1

Yes, I like to stir.

Within five minutes they’d deleted my comment. No kidding. However, I also got this message.

mobilism 3(NB that I haven’t sought or received Lee’s permission to reproduce this private message. What goes around comes around.)

Several things to note here:

  • Apparently, I ought to be pleased that people steal my books in an enthusiastic rather than a lackadaisical fashion. Oh, wow, you guys really like me! I feel so…unpaid!
  • They did indeed take down all my books on my request, at once.
  • Total lack of apology. Friendly chat, smiliness, pleasant, genuinely positive and helpful, from the person who had uploaded my book illegally for people to download for free. Remorse? Embarrassment at being caught? A sense of having done something wrong? No.

But mainly

I adored it, so bought it. … If I like something I’ll buy it.

Lee even linked me to a thread on her forum where members discussed how many ebooks they had actually bought rather than stolen. (I think this was meant to be encouraging.) There were people saying, ‘Well, I have at least a hundred books I paid for!’, claiming the moral high ground in a forum dedicated to taking things without paying. All of them were adamant that you should buy the book post-piracy if you liked it.

I do actually believe the people who have told me that they take for free and pay if they like the book. (‘Believe’ should not be confused with ‘approve of’. You can get a 10% free sample off Amazon if you want to try before you buy.) I think it is actually probably true that piracy helps many new authors build a name and a readership because it’s done by enthusiastic booklovers to a surprising degree.  I know really nice, committed, passionate booklovers who give their own time and effort for free to promote books, yet who have pirated. I know of people who will upload the books of authors they love to pirate sites, apparently in the belief it’s doing the author good, or no harm.

It simply seems that the burden of risk, for some people, has shifted from the buyer to the author. Previously if you bought a book and didn’t like it, you were out of pocket; now the author takes the hit. I suspect Emmanuel the Illiterate’s comment was referring to the explosion in availability of poor-quality product that’s happened with the self-publishing boom (and NB that the quality of trade editing has dropped like a rock in recent years as publishers cut costs, so that is not a dig at good self-publishers). It is undeniable that there’s a lot of crap out there. Equally, there have been some gigantic successes of authors who started publishing free fiction on the net, whose fans have gone on to buy the same work in book form over again.

Basically, it looks like a section of the market is moving to a model of payment by results, rather than payment in advance. Which is not, of course, legal, and it’s not how meals or haircuts or widescreen TVs work. But it looks more like that, in these cases, rather than simple theft to me.

Ebooks have brought much wider availability along with much wider stealability; access to bigger markets means we reach wilder shores. Maybe being involuntarily moved to a ‘payment by results’ model for a section of the market is part of the price of the huge reach authors now have.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for you. I might be completely wrong. But it’s worth authors remembering, for our own sanity, not every pirate is a thief, not every pirated copy is a lost sale, and piracy is not necessarily the catastrophe it feels like.

I still hope they tread on Lego.

 

Think of England is on dozens of torrent sites, or you could buy it here and my children will eat. /big puppy eyes/

Good Bad Language: a post about swearing

Warning: This is about profanity. Stop now if you don’t like swearing, because there will be a lot, and I am not going to use asterisks except once, in the next sentence. There is liberal use of c***; skip to the end for a postscript if this word particularly bothers you, or just abandon ship now. My advice is not to text-to-speech this one in public. Right, here we go.

Every few days, a post floats by on Twitter or pops up on a writing advice forum about profanity. Generally, the advice is the same: Swearing betrays poverty of imagination and language; you can convey the same effects without using rude words; you might upset people who don’t like swearing and what’s the point in turning off potential readers?

This is not the advice you are about to receive here.

Poverty of imagination/language

Swearing is just a lazy way to get an effect, we’re told. Shoving a few fucks into the dialogue isn’t the same as writing an effective character. Can’t you do some real writing?

To which I can only say, have you not seen The Thick of It?

No, he’s useless. He’s absolutely useless. He’s as useless as a marzipan dildo.

I’ve come across a lot of psychos in my time, but none as fucking boring as you. I mean you are a really boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing. You are a really boring f star star cunt.

If you do think about running with this pill story, I’ll personally fucking eviscerate you, right? I mean, I don’t have your education, I don’t know what that means. But I’ll start by ripping your cock off and I’ll busk it from there.

The creators of The Thick of It are not linguistically impoverished. They invented the brilliant word ‘omnishambles’ and created my favourite insult line ever (without a swear in sight):

My theory is, Malcolm built him in a lab from bits of old psychopath.

Swearing can be elaborate, hilarious and glorious. But even monotonous swearing of the kind that makes people tut about ‘poverty of vocabulary’ can be used to brilliant effect. Look at Trainspotting, which uses monotonous swearing to convey everything about its narrators – Scottish, rage-filled, of varying education, all of them spiralling into heroin and self-destruction and a mass of unfocused fury, turned inwards as much as out:

You fucking knew that fucking cunt would fuck some cunt.

You can hear the character in that line (roughly translated, ‘It was inevitable that the individual we’re discussing would one day cause severe injury to somebody’.) The accent, the words spat out like bullets, the incoherent emotion overwhelming any powers of expression. That’s character through poverty of language.

You can do without naughty words

Some say you can do just as well by telling the reader that the character swears without larding the dialogue with profanity. I dispute that. Here’s a scene from my book The Magpie Lord. Lord Crane has only just survived a magical murder attempt:

Crane got up on the second try, poured himself a very large brandy, spilling quite a lot, knocked it back in a single, painful gulp, sat on the floor again and began to swear. He swore fluently, inventively and with spectacular obscenity in Shanghainese until he ran out of epithets, switched to English, and started at the beginning again.

“You’re feeling more yourself, then,” said Merrick, when Crane reached an impressively foul climax.

“No, I am not. What the fuck, what the fucking, bloody devil-shit, what in the name of Satan’s swollen cock was that?”

“Do you speak in the House of Lords with that mouth?”

Magpie LordCould I have achieved the same effect by leaving out Crane’s line? Just say, ‘He swore foully’ and allow the reader to use her imagination? Really? ‘He swore foully’, unsupported, has about as much effect as claiming, ‘He spoke brilliantly about Wordsworth’s poetry’, or ‘She was a world expert in symbology’ and never letting us hear the character say anything on the topic.  The reader won’t believe you know what you’re talking about. I didn’t have to spend paragraphs on Crane’s swearfest, but imagine that scene without the single line of extreme foul-mouthedness and see how much weaker it is. (I may add, in response to the “lazy writing” thing, I spent ages getting that swear exactly right – stunned repetition, slightly foreign cast, an elaboration to convey the richness of his imagery, all of it with rhythm, structure and build – and I’m proud of it.)

There is a reason that George Bernard Shaw in Pygmalion insisted on including the line, ‘Not bloody likely,’ rather than having it implied – the watcher has to hear Eliza say this shocking thing in her new cut-glass accent to understand how Higgins’ experiment has cut her adrift from class structures. There is a reason that Larkin’s poem doesn’t begin, ‘They mess you up, your mum and dad.’ And, because swearing is not a modern invention, let me give you one of my favourite poems by the Earl of Rochester (born 1647), ‘Upon His Drinking a Bowl’. I know the language is a bit flowery but don’t skip, the payoff is worth it.

Vulcan, contrive me such a cup
As Nestor used of old;
Show all thy skill to trim it up,
Damask it round with gold.

Make it so large that, filled with sack
Up to the swelling brim,
Vast toasts on the delicious lake
Like ships at sea may swim.

Engrave not battle on its cheek:
With war I’ve nought to do;
I’m none of those that took Maastricht,
Nor Yarmouth leaguer knew.

Let it no name of planets tell,
Fixed stars, or constellations;
For I am no Sir Sidrophel,
Nor none of his relations.

But carve theron a spreading vine,
Then add two lovely boys;
Their limbs in amorous folds intwine,
The type of future joys.

Cupid and Bacchus my saints are,
May drink and love still reign,
With wine I wash away my cares,
And then to cunt again.

Many bowdlerised versions of this poem replace cunt with ‘love’ in the last line. Love. Love?! Cunt here is a depth charge, blowing the classical imagery out of the water so the poem’s graceful elevated lyrics land in shards around us, leaving only the bare sordid truth of debauchery. ‘Love’ turns it into any other tedious seventeenth-century poem ever.

Not upsetting readers

It is true, some people don’t like reading profanity. Some don’t like reading sex. Some don’t like reading violence. Many don’t want to read queer romance. Some don’t like reading about magic because it’s tampering with the occult. I refuse to read YA, hard scifi, shifter romance, or any book containing a cute robin called Robbie. Do come back to me when you’ve thought of a story that will appeal to every single person in the world and I’ll agent you. I take 15%.

And, bluntly, if the main thought in your mind when writing is ‘How do I maximise my appeal to readers?’, rather than ‘what’s going to make this scene powerful and this dialogue convincing’, your book will suck, no matter how often you take it to a focus group and optimise for search engines.

 ****

As ever, it comes down to do it well.

Ask yourself why your character swears. You can convey a lot about them by what words they use – who says cunt, who never exceeds sod, who doesn’t swear at all? Is their swearing mostly sexual or religious, specifically abusive or just verbal decoration? Consider where they get their swears from – Army past, foreign travels? What about their social class? How can a Regency upper-class heroine let rip? Do they swear with spluttering fury, or elaborately worked eloquence? Does someone who normally swears like a bastard mind their language around just one person, or vice versa? Can you use an inadvertent ejaculation to betray your character’s shock or anger, and at what level of extremity will that kick in?

Know your registers. A Regency heroine cannot toss damn about in public; bloody obeys grammatical rules and cannot just be dropped randomly into a sentence to convey Britishness; calling someone a sodding tart is not the same as calling them a fucking whore.

Consider context. What impact does each swear have on the people around them? Are they trying to shock, or does it go unnoticed? If swearing is routine and similar among a variety of characters, that can be very boring. I am mostly a big fan of Richard Morgan’s fantasy series that began with The Steel Remains, but everyone swears identically. There is no difference between the battle-hardened social reject mercenary and the (non-fighting, political) emperor in the middle of his court. So we don’t get any sense of social or power divide between emperor and soldier, and because the emperor uses fuck all the time, his register has nowhere to go when he gets angry. This doesn’t seem to be making a point about the emperor’s court or ruling style. Everyone swears, it is grimdark, the end. Before you create a register in which, as Anthony Bourdain puts it, fuck is used principally as a comma, ask yourself how you’re going to escalate when people are really cross. (No, you may not put the swears in capital letters for emphasis. You’re not JK Rowling.)

FlightOfMagpies300Swearing lends power to not swearing. In my Charm of Magpies trilogy, Crane is spectacularly foul-mouthed throughout; his love interest Stephen uses four-letter words during sex and never elsewhere. When he swears for the first time outside the bedroom, in the third book, I hope the extremely mild word he uses will have all the impact of the most baroque explosion from Lord Crane – because it’s breaking his usual register and reflects a couple of extremely significant changes.

Swearing has power, and effect. It conveys mood and character. It can be explosive, done right. It can be monotonous and ineffectual done wrong, in which it is exactly like everything else we do with words.

Of course you don’t have to do it. If you don’t want to write swearing, then write characters who aren’t inclined to swear by personality or compelled by circumstance, and nobody will complain about it. Though you need to accept that if your battle-hardened Marine says, ‘Bother!’ when he stands on a landmine, people will laugh at you.

All I ask is, whether pro-swearing or not, pay as much attention to the rude words as to all the other ones. After all, you don’t want to be Terri in The Thick of It.

Terri: We don’t exchange insults with bloody Simon arsepipes titty-twat.

Ollie: Is that honestly the best swearing that you can come up with?

 ****

A note on cunt: Many Americans in particular regard cunt as a sexist term, and it can indeed be applied in a particularly unpleasant way as a synonym for woman. However, Brits most often use it as a swear without any specifically sexual connotations, either as a high-impact word on the tit – arse – cock – twat register, or, in some regions, as more or less a synonym for ‘person’. (‘My round, any of you cunts want a drink?’) Use it or don’t, as you see fit, but be aware of the cultural baggage.

_____________________

ThinkOfEngland72webKJ Charles is a perfectly civil human being on Twitter and Facebook and just debases the English language in her books. Her latest, Think of England, is hardly sweary at all, except for the line ‘you fucking shithouse cricket,’ which was irresistible.

Thanks to Marian Perera for the inspiration for this post, and check her blog post that tackles swearing in fantasy.

Selling books, not yourself: musing on writers and social media

As a writer, you have to sell yourself. We all know that. We have to market our books, our brand, our writerly personas. You can’t just sit around being JD Salinger these days. You have to have a Facebook account and a Twitter feed, a blog, a group. A bio, a picture, a persona. You have to sell yourself.

And you have to talk about stuff that isn’t your books, because nobody gives a damn for a Twitter feed that’s just “buy my book”. If you want “social media outreach” you have to give value. And that requires something interesting to talk about. Um… Other people’s books? What you saw on TV? Your commute? The weather?

Or, you can talk about your life. Because that’s always there, and it’s what you are, and we can all talk about ourselves endlessly. You can be funny, maybe, or political off the back of it, and once you have readers, they might even be interested in details about what your existence is like.

And also, it’s comforting. If you spend much of the day alone with the imaginary people in your head, a bit of human sympathy is lovely. My cat recently disappeared for five days. I tweeted and Facebooked about it, and the number of people who got in touch and sympathized and said kind things, and rejoiced with me when he turned up again, was wonderful and touching. It feels  natural to turn to the people out there to be happy with you in the good times and feel for you in the bad.

But…

When my cat came back, my first thought was to give him a hug and check for injuries. My second was to put a picture onto Facebook and Twitter. I don’t ever want that to be the other way around. I really don’t ever want that to be how I think about my relationships with people.

You may recall Julie Myerson, who wrote revealing personal things about her son, even after he begged her to stop, to the point where they are estranged. Or the columnist who wrote a column about how her husband had asked her to stop writing her column about him. The next column announced they were divorcing.

Everyone on social media needs to decide how much of their life to share and with whom. As a person, my FB profile is locked down. As an author it’s wide open, but I have a solid mental wall. I don’t name my kids or show their faces, and I don’t talk about non-trivial aspects of my marriage, to the extent that I’ve been known to delete my husband’s comments off this blog to stop him identifying himself. (I swear it’s that and not the damn fool things he says.) I’m not ashamed of any aspect of my life or particularly scared of being stalked. But this is my life, for me. I don’t want to spread my reality so thin it’s in danger of tearing.

That’s my choice, based on my (let’s face it, misanthropic) nature. Other people share a lot more, or a lot less. I follow many authors who blog movingly and generously on deeply personal issues of their identities, pasts, struggles with illness or disability in themselves or others, and much more. Some people simply share everything – partners, dating, domestic squabbles. Each to her own.

But what happens if the aspects of your life you’ve chosen to share as part of your professional persona become things that you don’t want to share any more?

Something I realised while I waited for my cat to come back: If I’d had the phone call telling me someone had put the moggy to bed with a shovel, I wouldn’t have wanted to go on Twitter to discuss it. I woudn’t have wanted anyone to ask about my cat, ever again. I’d have been curled up, wishing I’d never, ever said anything in the first place because it was my grief, not for others to see or poke at. I’m not a very extroverted person, granted, but that’s how I’d have been about a cat.

I really wonder how you cope when it’s a relationship, or a child.

I wonder if it can be good for anyone with their life falling about their ears to feel they have to blog or tweet about a terrible thing that happened. I wonder if it brings comfort, or if it’s adding another set of raw nerves to be scraped, another place to fear exposure and criticism and unkindness, another level of pain. I wonder if people feel obliged to update, or worry that readers will turn on them if they don’t approve of the author’s life decisions. I wonder how often, in our post-privacy world, people look back and wish they’d kept more behind the wall.

Writers have to promote ourselves. But we also have to keep ourselves whole, in our own lives, for our own sakes. And I don’t know how you pull back when you’ve put too much out there. Or how you can retreat from talking about intensely personal and distressing matters to tweeting a 99c special offer on your backlist.

This post started by talking about how you market yourself as a writer. We all want to sell books, God knows. But you’re not obliged to throw in yourself as a free gift.

_________

Think of England, a searingly honest expose of the sordid truth of my marriage*, is out now.ThinkOfEngland72web

*It’s actually a gay Edwardian adventure romance, but don’t let that put you off.

Body Parts All Over the Floor

There is a trend in editing these days which is much less fun than it sounds: the removal of what are known as Disembodied Body Parts.The idea is that it’s poor style to use the following constructions:

His eyes were on Mary.

His arm went round her waist.

Jane’s head was in her hands.

Apparently, there is a risk that readers will interpret these sentences as:

His eyeballs were on Mary’s lap.

His arm went round her waist, but his body had nothing to do with that and may have been elsewhere.

Jane had been decapitated and her corpse carefully arranged by a psychopath.

I’d have thought, if the reader is in any doubt at all about whether Jane is in a) despair or b) two separate pieces, the book has more problems than I can deal with here.

The construction undeniably lends itself to comically poor writing (‘her eyes followed him through the room and out of the door’).  But the prohibition seems to have gone from ‘don’t do this badly’ to ‘don’t do this at all’. I’ve seen all the (in my opinion innocuous) examples above flagged as actually wrong – as if a body part as subject turns readers into Martians, unable to parse simple sentences.

And in some cases, it apparently does. Sample comment from a writing forum thread:

prickI have a weary feeling that, if you asked this commenter, ‘Can I have a drink?’, he’d reply, ‘I don’t know, can you?’

I really doubt that more than one in a thousand readers would think twice about ‘he raised his eyes’ or ‘her head was in her hands’. That’s just how people use language  But the concept of disembodied parts has become a huge issue for many publishers, editors and style gurus. There are people who will tell you that it’s always wrong and apparently some publishers insist that it’s edited out entirely. (Just stating for the record, this is not an issue with any editor or publisher I’ve worked with as an author. I’ve always had nuanced and thoughtful editing throughout.)

Use of a part to designate the whole is a literary device so ancient it has Latin and Greek names. I can never remember these but I’ve been told pars pro toto (the part for the whole) or synecdoche, which is the one I’m going to use. By all means correct me if there’s a better term for this device.

People use this all the time in actual communication. I have my eye on you, I tell my kids, and they don’t try to brush it off their shoulders. His hands were everywhere, a friend complains about her date, and I don’t ask her if they were still attached to his arms, any more than I ask if she means they were in Abu Dhabi and Venezuela. It’s a simple, obvious, metaphorical use of language by humans. And it’s bizarre to assume that people don’t understand devices in writing when they use such things daily in speech.

I’m not suggesting that synecdoche of this kind is always good, of course; merely that it’s not always bad. Let’s take some examples.

His eyes started out of his head at her words, then quickly roamed round the room.

Obviously bad writing. The mixed metaphor gives an irresistible cartoony mental picture. I’m going to call this the Looney Tunes effect for shorthand.

His eyes were on Mary’s breasts. / Her head fell into her hands.

Definite ambiguities there, with potential Looney Tunes meaning. Rewrite.

His eyes followed her round the room.

A hidden mixed metaphor. ‘His eyes’ as metaphor for his look/attention; ‘followed’ suggesting a physical movement. The effect isn’t as glaring as the first, but still risks another Looney Tunes image. Eyes probably cause the most trouble as Disembodied Parts when used metaphorically to convey ‘look/gaze’, and definitely need to be used with care. This doesn’t mean auto-replacing ‘eyes’ with ‘gaze’, though. ‘Gaze’ is just as much a metaphor in uses like ‘Their eyes locked’ / ‘Their gazes locked’, so the change makes no difference there.

His fingers grabbed the axe. / His hand waved. / His legs walked.

That isn’t English. I don’t know why people cite this sort of thing as examples of Disembodied Parts when it’s actually examples of doing verbs wrong.

Okay, so far, so obvious: bad writing is bad. But it isn’t all bad.

His fingers beat a nervous tattoo.

Some people will read that and say, sarcastically, ‘What? The fingers tapped by themselves? Aren’t they attached to him?’ I suppose that’s a valid interpretation. It seems to me akin to reading ‘Exit’ on a door as an instruction rather than a description, and immediately walking out of the room. You can read it that way but there’s nothing forcing you to, and sense and common usage are against it. And if we’re to reject one form of metaphor because it can be interpreted to absurd effect, doesn’t that go for all metaphors? (‘”Icy look” implies that the look is made of frozen water. Consider revising.’)

I’m not just grumbling here. There is a small but crucial difference between ‘His fingers beat a nervous tattoo’ and ‘He beat a nervous tattoo with his fingers’, and there are very good reasons why an author might use one rather than the other.

Let’s dig into this a bit. And let’s do it sexy.

His fingers ran up Jonah’s thigh.

The Disembodied Parts theory holds that fingers don’t move on their own, and that this is depicting Jonah’s sexual assault by Thing from the Addams Family. I think that’s ignoring a great deal of nuance.

Consider the following pairs, and note which of each strikes you as better. There will be a test.

1a) Ben looked at Jonah, thinking how much he needed this man. His fingers ran up Jonah’s thigh.

1b) Ben looked at Jonah, thinking how much he needed this man. He ran his fingers up Jonah’s thigh.

 

2a) Jonah held his breath, waiting for whatever would come next. Ben ran his fingers up his thigh.

2b) Jonah held his breath, waiting for whatever would come next. Fingers ran up his thigh.

I’m going to guess you went for b) both times. Here’s why.

Example 1a is detached body parts because we’re in Ben’s POV. Separating Ben’s fingers from his POV is weird and awkward. As contrast, try this:

Ben would be insane to touch him now. Yet his fingers ran up Jonah’s thigh, apparently of their own accord.

Point up the separation between thought and movement, show that his body parts are indeed moving without conscious volition, and it works.

Example 1b is perfectly good English: simple declarative sentences. (We’ll come back to the overuse of first names.)

Example 2a puts us in Jonah POV for the first sentence, yet the second sentence has Ben as the subject and actor. Too much of this risks giving the impression of head-hopping. You could do it deliberately to indicate that Ben is leading the scene and Jonah is passive, but it risks detaching Jonah, and by extension the reader, from the immediate experience. Even more importantly, it’s very boring writing over a long stretch. Jonah did X. Ben did Y. Jonah did Z. The boy saw the ball. Run, Spot, run!

(I recently read three books from the same small press, different authors, all with glaring overuse of declarative sentences. ‘I did…I went…I touched…’ until they sounded like a child’s What I Did On My Holiday. When this subject came up on Facebook, someone mentioned this particular press as having an absolute ban on disembodied parts. I wonder if the two facts are related.)

Example 2b has us in Jonah’s POV, experiencing what he does: the touch of fingers. Ben’s fingers, still attached to his hand: I really think we can trust the reader to understand that. But the use of ‘fingers ran’ keeps us firmly located in Jonah, tells us that Ben is the actor without making him the subject, and foregrounds the physicality. Because the point here, the purpose of the sentence, the author’s intent isn’t to tell us that the fingers belong to/are moved by Ben. We know that. The point is that they are on Jonah’s leg. If you change the subject of the sentence to Ben, you change what the sentence is doing.

(I’ve used an m/m scene here in part because of the Pronoun Problem – whose thigh? Whose fingers? Seriously, you try writing a few of these. Synecdoche here is a great way to get around the clunky overuse of names as shown in example 1b.)

***

My point is, stylistic devices aren’t interchangeable. ‘She had her head in her hands’ does something different to ‘She put her hands to her head’ – description rather than act. ‘There were hostile eyes on him’ doesn’t have the same feel as ‘He was aware of hostile eyes.’ Different constructions give different effects. Used properly, with awareness and control, synecdoche is a terrific way to vary sentence construction, shift focus between characters, get the nuances you need, give physicality to a scene.

Used badly, it leads to bad writing, absolutely. But there’s no need to reject a stylistic tool because it can lead to bad writing. The logical end of that line of thought is that we should all throw away our keyboards for good.

________________________________________

I suspect many people may disagree. Have at it in the comments!

My apologies to followers who received a draft version of this post earlier. I clicked the wrong button. Or, rather, my fingers clicked it. Stupid disembodied parts.

Think of England is out now. Remnant is a free story at Smashwords that features an actual independently moving severed limb. Compare and contrast!

Yes, I Write Romance.

One of the minor irritants of writing, editing or reading romance is that people who aren’t romance readers make jokes. Well, I say jokes. Usually jokes are defined as ‘things that are funny’, so we may need another word.

I can’t tell you the tedium of the unimaginative rote remark. I probably don’t have to. If you’re very tall, think of ‘How’s the weather up there?’ If you’re carrying a double bass on public transport, it’s doubtless ‘I bet you wish you played the flute!’ If you have a surname that lends itself to tiresome weak jokes and puns, you know the score all too well. (My real surname lends itself to puns and I write romance. This is why I need anger management classes.)

I edited for one of the most famous romance publishers in the world for five years. It got to the point where I refused to tell people my job at parties because the inevitable conversations were so deeply, profoundly, irritatingly, predictably dull.

Dull person: Romance novels?

Me: Yes, that’s right.

Dull person: Like Mills & Boon?

Me: Yes, that’s right.

Dull person: [bodice-ripper; ‘don’t they just give authors a plot and tell them to write it?’; all the same; ‘my granny reads them!’; Barbara Cartland; ‘don’t you want to write real books?’; 50 Shades of Grey; hahaha sex!]

I mean, I get it. Really. Romance is this totally silly genre which is about love and sex, something that no normal person is interested in at all. It’s completely trivial too – why would anyone take a genre seriously when it only makes up 17% of the entire US publishing market? Obviously any genre dominated by women as readers and writers is inherently laughable, because women. And I for one have never understood why you should be expected to look at good examples of something before dismissing it with contempt. I think it’s much better to look at something terrible published in 1974 and base all your theories on that.

Me: You make films?

Film person: Yes…

Me: I saw The Swarm! It was awful! Hahaha, you make films! It’s all hallucinatory giant bee sequences, dreadful dialogue, and random jump-cut nuclear explosions caused by bees, right?!*

* If you haven’t seen The Swarm, take a long weekend and stockpile beer.

I’ve had a lot of these conversations and have every expectation of more, so let’s just get some of it out of the way, shall we?

– Yes, I write romance. In which genres are your books published?

– Yes, I write romance. Yes, it has sex. I’m sorry you find sex so painful and unpleasant to think about. I understand there are some very good creams these days.

– Yes, I write romance. Yes, many romance books are crap. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. I think Sturgeon was an optimist.

– Yes, I write romance. Yes, they’re real books. You know what else is real? My royalty cheques.

– Yes, I write romance. Yes, I think I can do something creative that I love and am really pretty good at, and make a living from it. I’m sorry, were you expecting a punchline?

– Yes, I write romance. No, you don’t have to respect that or be courteous about it. Then again, I don’t have to be courteous to you either. Your call.

And no, you don’t have to read my books. But – new rule – if you want to make snide remarks about them with impunity, you have to buy them. Show me a receipt and you can go to town on the hilarious subject of romance novels. As long as you’re aware that you have to pay me to listen to it.

 

Fed up of it? Join me in the comments!

 

Think of England is out from Samhain right now. The Magpie Lord is a Romantic Times Top Pick for September! (“The dialogue between the heroes is fun and intense… The building steam combusts into heat that sizzles right off the pages.”) 

 

 

How to Speak Blurb: a translation guide

You pick up a bunch of books at random. The blurbs claim that they are ‘A hilariously trenchant romp’, ‘Breathtakingly original, written in rhapsodic prose’, and ‘Lyrical, charming and heartbreaking’. Do you wonder if you have stumbled across a cache of literature representing the pinnacle of human artistic endeavour, or do you think, ‘These all look pretty average’?

Some books are indeed breathtakingly original, brilliantly written, wonderfully charming, or even life-changing. Let’s face it, most aren’t. But publishers still have to put some sort of something on the back to make people spend money. ‘Pretty good, will pass the time pleasantly’, while honest and perfectly respectable, isn’t going to get past Marketing. And thus we end up with ever-increasing blurb inflation, where the starting point for a mildly amusing book is ‘hilarious’ and trying to convey that it’s actually, really funny requires a specialist thesaurus.

So, here’s a (not entirely serious) translation guide to blurb-speak.(Please note, this doesn’t mean that these words below aren’t sometimes used with soul-deep sincerity. Just that, even when the book is merely okay, mediocre or full-on bad, some poor schlub still has to find something to say.)

How to Speak Publisher-page0001(1)

KJ Charles: my big news

This one’s all about me.ToE Blog Tour Banner

First, just so we know, the Think of England blog tour is underway, with a giveaway through the tour of a copy of the book and a $25 gift certificate to All Romance ebooks. Here’s the dates, links as they go live:

Sunday 29 June            MM Good Book Reviews (“The suspense was excellent! … There are also a lot of layers to this story, which I find to be the best marker for success of any plot. I loved it all!”)

Monday 30 June            Boy Meets Boy Reviews (Spotlight)

Sinfully Sexy Blog post about Edwardian attitudes to homosexuality, and separate giveaway, plus lovely 5* review. (“Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. What more could I wish for?”)

Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. What more could I wish for? – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf
Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf
Downton Abbey meets M/M romance ~ an absolutely brilliant historical novel with industrial espionage, murder, blackmail and two unlikely heroes up against the odds. – See more at: http://sinfullysexybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/think-of-england-by-kj-charles-review.html#sthash.njfvEWNG.dpuf

Tuesday 1 July               The Blogger Girls (Excerpt) and a great review

Charlie Cochrane’s blog (interview)

Wednesday 2 July          Boys in our Books (Interview)

Thursday 3 July              Prism Book Alliance (Excerpt)

Friday 4 July                  Joyfully Jay (Guest Post on sex and the inexperienced hero). Also a fab review: ” another fabulous story from K.J. Charles. I have totally fallen in love with Curtis and Daniel and was thrilled to hear Charles plans more for them.  Excellent story and very highly recommended.”

Saturday 5 July              Love Bytes (Excerpt)

Sunday 6 July                The Novel Approach (Guest Post)

Think of England is out 1 July. Lovely reviews coming in already (“witty banter and rich dialogue…sizzling erotic tension…a fast-paced, action-filled plot full of imaginative twists and quirky ideas and a smoothly flowing narrative.”). It’s a Heroes & Heartbreakers Best Read of June with a fabulous review by Kate Rothwell (“I love those two separately, but they’re even better together—which is the mark of a successful romance, after all.”)

***

After all that… The big news is that I’m quitting my job to go freelance. This means bankruptcy and doom more time to write; it also means that I’ll be available for editing work from September (years of experience! reasonable rates!). There will be details on my exciting brand-new website in due course.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve spent nearly two decades in publishing and there is no denying that the admin-heavy treadmill of book production gets draining. I’m doing too little of what I love and am good at: the actual getting MSS into shape and making them work as their authors hoped and readers want. And I have a lot of stories of my own to tell, too.

This is inevitably going to mean marketing. I have a Facebook page and, more interestingly, a Facebook group. Do join the group if you want sneak peeks into works in progress or forthcoming MSS, advance info, and general chat about my books and stuff.

I’m also racing through a Regency short for a charity anthology, and then I have a whole lot of exciting writing plans to make for my new life. Given all that, this blog may go a bit quiet for a couple of weeks, because there’s only so many words a woman can scrape together at one time. See you on the other side of Promotional Mountain.