Agent & Principal & Fiduciary Duty

A few weeks ago Dean Wesley Smith mentioned on his blog a clueless tweet by an author’s agent advising authors not to “argue contract law with agents/editors”, an opinion which Dean rightfully scorned.  (Full disclosure: I’ve criticized some of Dean Wesley Smith’s positions in the past.  I stand by those particular criticisms, but general criticisms do not necessarily extend to specific issues.  While I don’t wholly agree with Dean’s stance on the subject of Author’s Agents [i.e. that authors should eschew them entirely], he does have a lot to say on the topic that authors should at least consider.)

Other sites, such as Bad Agent Sydney and Michael Stackpole on his blog and the Passive Voice picked up on the same tweet, and universally condemned the untenable position suggested by the agent in question.

Once again, my MBA-Super-Powerz kicked into action, and I saw that there was a somewhat unique perspective I could add to this discussion.  The “Agency Problem” is one that is sometimes discussed in B-Schools.  (It’s probably also discussed in a substantially more thorough manner in some Law Schools.  So, of course, I warn again that I Am Not A Lawyer.)  Basically, it boils down to this: the role of an Agent is to carry out the express will of a Principal.  The Principal?  He’s the guy (or gal) in charge.  He wants or needs something done, but lacks the necessary tools and resources to do it himself.  So the Principal hires an Agent – someone who possesses the tools and resources the Principal lacks – to act on his wishes.

The Principal?  If you’re a writer, he is You. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #5: The Hunger Games

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

In the second post in my in this occasional series (what was actually a three part post), I tackled a novel I had just finished.  Having recently finished Suzanne Collins‘ widely-acclaimed The Hunger Games, I thought now was a good time to similarly analyze this book – the recent release of the film notwithstanding.  (Note that Dear Wife and I have not seen it, yet, but intend to.  Getting a babysitter on short notice is not generally easy – especially when all your stand-by babysitters are themselves going out that same weekend to watch the same movie.)

Obviously, now, no links to the book – but if you haven’t read it you can probably obtain a copy from your local library, and a nearby bookstore is almost certain to have a copy.

I picked up The Hunger Games on the recommendation of Dear Wife, who picked it up on the recommendation of other friends.  She read it a couple years ago while I was still in Grad School and thus unable to read it myself at the time.  But with the movie coming out this year, I was determined to give it a read before seeing the film.  (And in fact I finished the book about a month ago… I just hadn’t had time to write this up, yet.)

I will say, right off, that I didn’t have the same conflicted relationship with this book that I had with the last novel that I analyzed in this blog (the aforelinked The Magicians).  Whereas I found the ending of that book problematic, I found the ending of this book mostly to be quite satisfying.  That said, I don’t come to this analysis without some criticism for The Hunger Games.  But criticism aside, it’s a good book and well-worth the read.  It doesn’t have the same lyrical narrative flare and style that some of the other works I’ve analyzed have.  But that’s of necessity, being in the first person perspective of the protagonist.  Obviously, though, the book has become a phenomenon for a reason, and that reason is valid.

By now you’re likely familiar with the book and its plot.  But here’s a short run-down anyway (and my usual warning: There will be spoilers): it’s the dystopian future, and what was once North America has given way to the oppressive regime of Panem, as ruled from the Capitol. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending March 24, 2012

I just don’t have anything witty or pithy to say about this week past:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 650 words

Grand Total: 650 words

So, yeah.  Not a terribly good week, writing-wise.  I am not terribly surprised.  Last week was a really good one.  It often seems to me that good weeks are typically followed by less-good weeks.  That observation, in itself, is not particularly witty or pithy either.

I’ve got no real explanation for why I didn’t get much writing done this past week.  Little things here and there – no one significant thing reared it’s head to put a pause on writing.

Anyway, with last week’s work, I finished what I’d considered to be the first chapter of the book.  For those keeping score at home, that puts chapter one at a “finished” wordcount – albeit in first draft form – of about 4,300 words.  As I opined last week, this puts it on par with my general expectations for chapter length.

The upshot of all of this?  I’m handily smacking down the rate at which I wrote that novel-that-I’ve-been-writing-since-forever.  During the latter half of my college years and the first years after – some four years – I wrote about 24 chapters (out of a planned 35-40) of the last extent iteration of that book.  That’s an average of an approximately 4,250-word chapter every two months or so.  I’ve done that much in first draft, now, in the last three weeks.

So yes.  That’s something at least.  I may be slow.  But I’m doing myself one better.

How was your week, in writing and otherwise?

Collusion

I am not a lawyer*, but I do have some appreciation for the legal environment of business (need I mention, again, the MBA?).  You don’t have to be either to have an interest in the outcome of the US Justice Department’s recent decision to sue Apple and 5 of the Big-6 publishers for collusion.

I linked to John Scalzi’s post on the topic quite intentionally.  If I may, I’d like to quote him on the subject:

The question of whose side I am on is simple and obvious, to me at least: I’m on my side. My side wants my work available to readers in a way that that is affordable and easy to get in whatever format they prefer while at the same time allowing me to make a living doing what I do. In a larger sense, I’m also on the side of other writers, so that the end result of all this punching back and forth is not that authors are obliged to take contractual or retail positions that are detrimental to their interests, either as businesspeople or rights holders. Basically, my side doesn’t want anyone else to screw up what I see is the actual goal of all of this as a working writer, namely, connecting my words to readers, and their cash to me.

I, too, am on my side, and on the side of writers and of readers.  To say that the emergence of this case gives me pause would be quite accurate. Continue reading

Tidbits of Inspiration: Mysterious Island

The deep history of science fiction is replete with stories of strange islands and mysterious, hidden valleys where creatures thought long exctinct still roam the earth. 

Sometimes… the truth is as crazy as the fiction. 

In the lonely Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand, there is an island… a sharp rock jutting up from the ocean.  And it is a mysterious island… for there, researchers have discovered that a species of rare walking stick thought extinct for half a century has in fact survived.

It’s an amazing discovery.  Which is why I thought it worth mentioning in today’s “Tidbits of Inspiration”.  Read about here on the blog of NPR science correspondant Robert Krulwich.

It’s a classic pulp-era science fiction story come marvelously true.

Writing Progress: Week Ending March 17, 2012

In a fit of exuberance, I managed to put down quite a decent week in writing:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 3,108 words

Grand Total: 3,108 words

So that’s a not-too-shabby start to the novel writing for this book.  For those of you following along at home, that comes to just under 4,000 words so far.

I have a few observations, at this stage.

First, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve written in terms of scenes and chapters: I’ve been convinced by various posts on the craft and notes on how to use this or that writing software (even if I don’t use said software) that the relevant work unit, when considering a novel-length piece of fiction, is not the “chapter” but the “scene”.  The former is something of a more fluid definition; varying in length according to the dramatic needs of various storytellers.  And in the revision process, it can be useful to have the story broken up into scenes so the scenes can be reshuffled, repurposed, added, or discarded as the edit reveals the need – and all of these recombined in endless varieties to form chapters.  That said, I’m finding the “scene” to be a tad arbitrary as well.  What is the natural breaking point of a scene?  I’m no sure that’s clear to me.  Ostensibly, the breaking point is when a sequence of actions and events comes to a discrete end (a mini-climax, if you will), or to when a shift in character POV occurs. But it’s possible, by that strict definition, to have scenes go on an exceptionally long time, and themselves to vary in length dramatically.

My point?  Continue reading

Alphas & Betas

Author Mary Robinette Kowal in a recent blog post linked to the blog of one of her readers.  The topic of interest?  Alpha readers

Many of you are already familiar with the term “Beta reader”.  The Alpha reader is the flip side to that coin, as Laura Christensen explains in her post, which is worth a read.  Beta readers, as you know, help authors refine their work by identifying where things aren’t working, clumsy language, and various other problems in a manuscript.  Alpha readers also help authors, but their focus is more specifically on the story, plot, and characterization.  Alpha readers are the first readers: they provide the first feedback to an author on whether a story is working.

Whenever possible, I try to use a combined Alpha/Beta approach to getting feedback on my writing.  I like a first response to help me figure out problems with my story, the story’s structure, and the characters.  And then I like to get a second sounding to help me further refine once I’ve got the structure to my liking.  I’ve read of some authors who take that even further and hand off later drafts to Gamma readers.  That’s pretty thorough, and I’m sure their manuscripts are all the better for the extra attention.  And all of this, of course, is before the story sees the eyes of an editor.

Reading the post left me feeling more than a little guilty. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending March 10, 2012

With the Home Project Phase I finally and fully in the rear-view mirror, it was a good week for writing:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,743 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 622 words

Grand Total: 2,365 words

As I posted last week, I finally finished the outline of my work-in-progress novel “Book of M”, and in the latter  half of last week I began the process of actually writing the book.  It took me a while to find my footing.  While I had an outline to work from, the opening scene itself wasn’t clearly delineated.  For a moment I almost thought I should write a detailed outline of the opening scene to help me get the story started but I quickly abandoned that idea.  I decided, instead, that the only choice was to jump in.  Consequently, whereas I knew generally what was supposed to happen, it took me a while to find my authorial voice again.  It’s been a while since I’ve written the first draft of anything.  (The last first draft I wrote was for “Story of G“, which was started over a year ago.)

But toward the end of the week I started to find my footing, and I’m feeling more comfortable with the voice already.  But man… I’ve got a long way to go. (Take a look-see over at that progress bar on the right.  That sliver of red is oh so very small.)

As for the finished outline: you can see that I put in a fair amount of wordcount on that.  Funny, though, because I was on the climactic scene of the story.  Interestingly enough, I found as I approached the end of the outline that my notes increased in detail as I worked to ensure that I had all the motivations of the different characters figured out.

For the most part, I’m satisfied with the direction I’ve chosen for this story.  It’s not as brilliant as I’d hoped it would be.  But I think I’ve got a solid footing for an entertaining, satisfying finale.  The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.  I’ve finished writing up the recipe for this particular batch of pudding.  Now to cook up the real thing!

[ETA] All of this happy news notwithstanding, now Home Project Phase II looms near to view.  I expect that Dear Wife and I will be consumed by work related to Phase II sooner rather than later.  But, as Dear Wife has said, better that we get the work done now, and get it over with, than that we do it much later.

So, how was your week?

Interrogating the Text #4: Jay Lake takes a “Long Walk Home”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

Today, I want to talk about a story I read recently by author Jay Lake called “A Long Walk Home“, which you can read for free at the website of Subterranean Press.  “A Long Walk Home” is the first science fictional story I’ll review and analyze for this series.  As with all the stories/novels I’ve discussed so far, I definitely enjoyed reading Jay Lake’s “A Long Walk Home”.  There were, however, some things about the story that disappointed me, which I shall get to in due course.  To follow along, you might want to go check the story out first, then hop on back here, as there will be spoilers in my analysis.

“A Long Walk Home” starts pretty strongly, as we’re introduced to protagonist Aeschylus Sforza, thereafter referred to as Ask.  The year is 2977 – the distant future – and Ask is an enhanced human.  These technological enhancements give him increased strength and durability, longevity (and presumably immortality, as we shall see), a perfect memory, and a direct neural connection to whatever information network exists in the future.  Except Ask is cut off from the network, deep underground exploring the strange and mysterious caverns on an alien planet called Redghost – a planet that has been colonized by humans and looks faintly like a far-future version of the American Frontier of yore. Continue reading

Outline Done

Just a super-short post today: last night I finally finished the outline for “Book of M”. 

It’s over 13,000 words long, in total, split between two documents (one is about 5,600 words long and the other is just shy of 8,000 words).  The longer document overlaps the shorter document, using about 275 words to cover the same territory that the 5,600 words covered.  I was trying to be more concise in my outline – I wanted to finish the outline faster.  But then I added another 7,500+ words to get from there to the end of the novel, so it wasn’t a lot more concise, and it still took a lot of time.

I’ve learned a bit about outlining, I think – and I don’t think I’d follow the exact same outlining journey I followed here again.  Two documents with so much overlap… it doesn’t make a lot of senseBut it was definitely a useful exercise… and I have a much better idea of where the story is going now, and how it ends.  I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Next step?  I’m jumping into the draft.

I’m still going to do the timeline and probably also the transfer of my outline notes into a yWriter project.  But I’ve been looking forward to writing the rough draft for months.  Now I’m here.  It’s time.  I’ll just take little breaks from rough draft writing now and again to do more work on my notes, timeline, and other supporting materials.  So, rough draft of “Book of M”: here I come!