The Pros & Cons of a Pen Name (With a Little Help from KK Ness)

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In 2012, when I released my debut novel, Enemies Closer, I decided to use the pseudonym “LE Truscott”. The book was action adventure and I was concerned (perhaps unnecessarily) that male readers wouldn’t be interested in reading a woman writing in the genre. I didn’t think too long or too hard about what the drawbacks might be. But just as there were benefits, there were also disadvantages.

KK Ness has recently released her first book, Messenger, in The Shifter War fantasy series and her pseudonym is a complete departure from her actual name (as opposed to the partial disguise I chose). I asked her a few questions about her choice to help illustrate the pros and cons of using a pen name. Continue reading

You Know What I Mean: When It Sounds Sort of Close but Isn’t Quite Right

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The first three years I was in high school, we spent six months of the year being taught French and then the other six months of the year being taught Indonesian. Then, in Year 10, we would decide whether to continue with one or the other or to give away foreign language studies altogether. I continued on with French and achieved the best French marks in the entire school the year I was in Year 12 (nothing really to brag about – my marks were just okay and the “honour” just made me wonder how badly everyone else had done). Twenty years later when I finally visited France though, I still knew enough to be able to listen to locals conversing in their native tongue about tourists when they didn’t think anyone on the tour group could understand them. (Australians aren’t big tippers apparently but they thought the Germans were. “Donnez, donnez, donnez,” they said, which means, “Give, give, give.”)

Conversely, I can’t remember a single word of Indonesian. I didn’t enjoy learning it the way I enjoyed learning French, which had a lot to do with how similar it was to English (which, of course, I loved then and still do now). But I remember the Indonesian teacher. I didn’t think so at the time but we were lucky to have an actual Indonesian person teaching us the language. Her English wasn’t great but then I don’t suppose it needed to be. It explains, however, when she was scolding us for not paying attention or for not trying hard enough, why she would say, “Pull your socks together.” (She was trying for either “Pull your socks up” or “Pull yourselves together” and instead ended up somewhere in between.) Continue reading

The Benefits of a Goodreads Profile

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I’ve been helping an internet and marketing ignorant author about thirty years older than me in the lead up to his book being published and he’s also been receiving moral support from another published author roughly his age. He’s paying a professional to put together a small website and I suggested I set up a Goodreads author profile for him so that when the book is released I – and whoever else is so inclined – can post a review. He agreed.

I signed him up, added a picture and posted his About Me text that we’ve been working on for the website. Then, since I’m on Goodreads as well, I connected with him as a friend. And knowing the name of the other author who’s supporting him, I looked her up on Goodreads in an attempt to connect the two of them.

But when I found her profile, it was empty. She’s there – her book was quite successful and has an average rating of 3.46 – but there’s no picture, no author bio, no other information except that she was the author of the book listed. I was surprised. I went back to my friend and told him what I’d found, suggesting he contact his friend and let her know her profile was there and that she could claim it. He told me she was as clueless as he was when it came to technology and being online and that he doubted she would be interested. Fair enough. She clearly doesn’t have someone like me to help her out the way he has me. Continue reading

How Long Should a Novel Take to Write?

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It’s another chapter in the “How long should…” series of blog posts. I saw this question on a writing forum and immediately thought, “Should, could, would…” It’s the kind of question that someone who has never written a novel tends to ask and makes me think they want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Boy, are they going to be shocked when they realise that’s almost impossible.

In almost every one of the “How long should…” series, I bring up the piece of string and then go into guidelines that might help somehow. But that’s unlikely when we’re talking about how long it should take to write a novel. Because it’s not like roasting a chicken or completing a school year or watching a movie, all of which will come to an end within a reasonably predictable time frame.

But here are a few things to consider about the sort of commitment it takes. Continue reading

Misspellings, Misuses and Typos: Getting It Right Helps Readers Get You (and Not Want to Get You)

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As the heading suggests, English is a complex language. There are many, many instances of exactly the same or similar words meaning very, very different things – after all, writers want readers to get them (in the sense of understanding) but they very rarely want readers to get them (in the sense of being attacked). A blog I recently read on Hubspot about twenty-five common grammatical errors contained a comment from someone calling himself (or herself) BJ that “as long as you don’t do anything egregious you can bend and break the rules as much as you want. The only thing that matters is whether or not the reader understands, accepts and appreciates how you communicate with them.” BJ promptly earned himself (or herself) a grand verbal spanking from everybody else reading the article. In fact, I couldn’t find a single comment supporting that view. Perhaps because anyone who was inclined to read a post on that topic wasn’t likely to understand, accept and appreciate BJ’s views.

The fact is that more people get annoyed by writers bending and breaking the rules than support “creative” but incorrect approaches so it’s generally in your best interests to try to get it right. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a misspelling, a misuse or a typo, the effect is the same – it’s wrong. In fact, you can run the Spelling & Grammar Check as many times as you want but the problem with Microsoft Word is that if a word is spelled correctly, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the context, it won’t be highlighted as an error by the program. I once accidentally typed “whale dongs” as two of my characters discussed a potential soundtrack for meditation. Of course, I meant “whale songs” but it could have been highly embarrassing if I hadn’t picked it up. And it could be much worse, especially if you confuse your onus with your anus.

There are some obvious homonyms like “here” and “hear” and “none” and “nun” that I hope don’t need explanation but here are a few to be on the lookout for. Continue reading

The Five Types of Writing

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These days it’s on everybody’s bucket list – to write a book. But regardless of whether that bucket list item is a novel, non-fiction or memoir, the world needs more than just book writers. Content is a vast industry in itself and despite the resistance to paying for it, it is continuing to grow.

But there are actually five different types of writing, all requiring vastly different skill sets. So if your heart is set on it, it’s worth considering where your talents and your best chance of getting read lie. Continue reading

The Importance of Writing

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Anyone who knows me personally knows that my political leanings are left of centre. Not extremely left but left enough for my father to express his disapproval when I tweeted congratulations to a famous Australian gay couple who had flown to New Zealand to get married after that country’s marriage equality laws were passed. (Before I continue, please be assured that this post is about writing and not politics).

So when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election and I couldn’t take watching the coverage anymore (which took less than two days), I picked my jaw up off the floor and did what all left-leaning writing fans would do: I put Disk 1 of Season 1 of The West Wing in my DVD player and began binge watching it again (for about the one hundredth time). As well as being able to pretend I was living in an alternative reality, I could yet again immerse myself in and appreciate what is essentially a master class in writing.

As I write this, I’m up to Season 3 in which Democratic President Bartlet has announced his intention to run for a second term and the Republicans are on the verge of nominating Governor Robert Ritchie to run against him. When Governor Ritchie attacks affirmative action, President Bartlet has the opportunity to respond but chooses not to, prompting this exchange with Communications Director Toby Ziegler.

Toby Ziegler: I was a telemarketer for about a week. I can’t remember what we were selling but you worked off a script. “Hi. Good evening. My name is…” And Toby Ziegler was okay for New York but once I got into other time zones I needed a name that wasn’t gonna bother anybody.
President Josiah Bartlet: Toby, if you have something to say, please say it.
Toby Ziegler: Ritchie’s good for all time zones.
President Josiah Bartlet: My family signed the Declaration of Independence. You think I’ve got an ethnicity problem?
Toby Ziegler: The line isn’t between light skin and dark skin.
President Josiah Bartlet: Yeah?
Toby Ziegler: It’s between educated and masculine. Or eastern academic elite and plain spoken.
President Josiah Bartlet: It’s always been like that.
Toby Ziegler: Yeah but a funny thing happened when the White House got demystified. The impression was left that anybody could do it.
President Josiah Bartlet: You’re not telling me anything I don’t know.
Toby Ziegler: It’s one thing that Ritchie came out for the Pennsylvania referendum today but the manner in which he articulated it… His presence. The clear sign he wasn’t personally engaged with the facts…
President Josiah Bartlet: Toby—
Toby Ziegler: His staff was cringing, I promise you. And we let it go.
President Josiah Bartlet: It wasn’t the moment to go—
Toby Ziegler: You were asked the question.
President Josiah Bartlet: Do you have anything else?
Toby Ziegler: Sir, I don’t think I need to tell you that the level of respect with which the staff speaks of you doesn’t change depending on whether or not you’re in the room.

From “The Two Bartlets”, Episode 13, Season 3 of The West Wing

This episode aired in January 2002 meaning it was written in 2001. And even though it all happened 15 years ago, it struck me how relevant it was to what has just happened. How President-Elect Donald Trump could easily be substituted for the fictional Governor Robert Ritchie. How Aaron Sorkin and his writing team had anticipated the situation the US and the world now finds itself in. A battle between feminine and masculine, between smart and ignorant, between the elite and the common man (although anyone who thinks Donald Trump is part of the 99% instead of the 1% should really think again).

And I had a realisation, one that I really should have had long before now, about the importance of writing. Why, I hear you asking, has it taken me so long? Why would someone who has spent the last twenty-five years writing doubt the importance of the very thing they do day in, day out?

It says more about me than I would like – because I don’t doubt the importance of writing, just the importance of my writing. I’m not a philosopher or an influencer or one of the great minds of the twenty-first century. I write action adventure, young adult and crime fiction as well as non-fiction about writing and editing and the occasional article about employment. I suspect I will outlive by a long period of time the importance of anything I end up writing during my lifetime.

When I finished my master’s degree in writing with a high distinction average, I had the option of continuing my studies by undertaking a PhD. At least one of my classmates did. I chose not to because I didn’t think writing was something that PhDs should be awarded for. Chemistry, biology, medicine, physics, psychology, yes but writing, no.

In 2016, my little sister finished and submitted her PhD on psychological insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetes sufferers to become the first person in our family ever to be eligible to use the title “Dr”. That could have been me. Any thesis I could have written wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive and useful as hers is but I could have done it if I’d had the confidence, if I’d had the belief in the importance of what I was doing. But I didn’t.

Writing doesn’t have to be important but it can be. I know that now. What I do could be important.  What I write could be important. What you write could be important and I suspect you’re more likely to write something important than I ever am. (What can I say? Old habits die hard.) Why is it important? Because writing is the way we explode the bomb to explore the consequences without anyone having to die and without having to destroy anything and without having to pay for it (both in economic and historic terms).

Regardless of what it is we do, whether it’s writing or something else, it could be important. We have to be able to recognise that within ourselves, within whatever it is we are doing. Perhaps most importantly of all because if we weren’t doing these things, if I wasn’t writing, it would feel like something was missing.

I’ll give the last word to Kalinda Vazquez and Jane Espenson, who wrote the following dialogue about character of the Author who writes the fairytales Once Upon a Time is based on and became trapped in his own book. They say it much more succinctly and beautifully than I have:

August Booth: There have been many authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person, and the one trapped in here was just the last tasked with the great responsibility. To record, to witness the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. The job has gone back eons: from the man who watched shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy, to playwrights who tell tales of poetry, to a man named Walt. Many have had this sacred job. Great women and men who took on the responsibility with the gravity that it deserved.

From “Best Laid Plans”, Episode 17, Season 4 of Once Upon a Time