Tag Archives: shawn inmon

New Release: Life is Short, by Shawn Inmon

This short story anthology is now available. I was substantive editor.

If I counted correctly, four of the stories have appeared in previous fiction anthologies, some of which were for charitable projects. Shawn would never tell you openly about this particular part, but nothing’s stopping me: for the charitable projects, he tried to pay me, but obviously I was having none of it. No big deal, right? Right…except that here’s the kind of honest guy he is. When he decided to republish them in a for-profit anthology, he turned around and tried to pay me for them after the fact. When I smiled and thanked him for the intent, but declined, he offered to take me to a Mariners game and host me at his and Dawn’s place. I figured I could accept that, so I said all right. We had a fantastic time at the game and on the drives there and back. Anyway, if you’ve noticed how much effort Shawn makes to put forth quality reading in an attractive presentation, do know that he treats his vendors with the same conscientious courtesy and fairness with which he treats his readership. No wonder his pre-publication people, like me, work extra hard to help his work to shine (not that it needs much help).

The good news is that at least 2/3 to 3/4 of the stories in this compilation are new material. The variety is appealing. Some of it is dark and even a bit paranormal. Some is autobiographical, telling stories from his youth. As you might expect, many touch upon familiar Inmonian themes: 1970s and 1960s nostalgia, music, etc. He experiments with the unreliable narrator, and in my opinion succeeds in this mode. The overall outcome is anything but predictable, with fresh styles and approaches as well as fresh plots and varying lengths. This might mean that few people will enjoy every one, but also makes it likely that no one will find it predictable from one story to the next.

So far it is only out in Kindle, but if you keep an eye on it, I suspect it will come out in dead tree.

Compilation release: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver

Some of you have probably read my posts about the six-part serial release of this story on Kindle. The plan all along was to assemble the pieces into a novel-length story, and this has now been done.

If you’ve been following Shawn’s work–and his sales suggest that you and others might well be–you may remember his Second Chance short story series, later stitched together into a book. This time, he decided to plan it that way, which is not to say that he planned it to any great degree. Quirk of my character: there are some words I so deeply loathe. There are so many, in fact, that I don’t tell people about them, because I know that most people consider it the height of amusement and wit to torment one ever after with the disliked word. Here are a couple of in-crowd writing slang terms I don’t mind saying how much I hate: “plotter” and “pantser.” A plotter is someone who plans the whole book out in advance, like Dean Koontz (his plots feel like a college basketball tournament bracket). A pantser is someone who writes “from the seat of his or her pants,” in other words, just improvises. Both terms reek of writers’ workshop banter and writing-oriented message boards, about which I will say no more for the moment. The terms say: “We’re cool, we’re writers, this is the club lingo.”

I’ve never been a joiner.

Shawn considers himself more of an improvisational and spontaneous writer (and yeah, I like that term better than the slang) than I do. I see his style as right down the middle. He begins with an overall concept of story arcs to realize, but comes up with most plot twists and major events as he goes along. Doing this in serial form is interesting to edit, because it’s all developmental. That’s how our process went. Shawn would tell me what he figured to write for the upcoming installment. I would:

  • Notify him when a plot choice was about to limit too many future options.
  • Remind him when his time travel/supernatural aspects were getting too loopy, or too convenient, or too distracting.
  • Offer solutions or alternatives to unworkable stuff.

In short, I would throw myself on any necessary grenades (to borrow his rather colorful description from the acknowledgements) to make sure their shrapnel didn’t shred his story. Then we would debate. Most of the time, I would win the debate because I very rarely defend an editing position with shield and body, and only when I feel it’s crucial. If you’ve always imagined an editorial relationship that involves repeated shoutfests, all I can say is that I don’t have those. I am not emotionally suited to regular squabbling, and I don’t stake out a position just to get a ‘win.’ My style is more collaborative and cooperative. If I tell Shawn something doesn’t work, I have just signed on to help him devise a better alternative. And while Shawn loves to tell the world about the scorpion stings he finds in the margin comments, he does not emphasize the fact that the comments also contain compliments. When the author goes yard, I believe s/he should know it, and I don’t hold back.

This series had plenty of those moments, as well as those where I dug trenches, constructed gun emplacements, prepared to rake the beaten zones with interlocking fields of fire, and pre-registered artillery targets. If I did a lot of that, I think it would devalue the concept of defending a fervent recommendation. They can’t all be fervent, or there is no fervency.

One area that did not affect me as much, but that did affect a great many readers, was the theme of animal cruelty. A number of Shawn’s loyal readers wrote to him (or in one case, to me) to ask for a spoiler on one particular outcome. If the outcome went a certain way, they wanted to know, so that they could stop reading. I am like that with movies, but never books. In fact, I am so affected by movies that I mostly just do not watch them. For the record, if you buy and read the book, and you reach a point where you believe that you cannot continue without knowing the outcome of one particular situation, take my word that the worst does not happen. It is safe for you to go on.

In the end, I believe Shawn has created a work that reads better than nearly anything you’ll find on an endcap, or “bestseller” aisle. Want to have fun? Next time someone calls a book a “bestseller,” ask what the supporting sales figures were. There won’t be any. “Bestseller” is not a status conferred by quantity sold. It is a status confidently predicted by the purchase of prominent product presentation at retail. The cart goes squarely before the horse. In my view, it is always moral and ethical to mock such shenanigans. If anyone calls you on this, send him or her to me.

The Strange Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 6 and final

This, now out in Kindle, completes the serial novel Shawn began some time back. I was developmental editor.

Some time ago, Shawn proposed the saga of a middle-aged loser who commits suicide in his early fifties and awakens in his fifteen-year-old body, over thirty-five years back in time. Writers often bomb at time shifting and travel, because it keeps creating thorny issues that most authors gloss over or mishandle. When Shawn brought the idea up to me, I hammered on that point. If he must do it, and couldn’t be dissuaded, very well; but he should know that I wasn’t going to sit quietly and accept crummy shortcuts without vocal objections. He expressed an interest in my vocal objections, then got to work.

We had our first big disagreement during Bowl 2, if memory serves. I should put this in perspective: by a disagreement, I don’t mean we had harsh words, hard feelings, or anything negatively affecting the relationship. Rather: Shawn wanted to do what he wanted to do, I told him it was a very unwise idea, he explained his reasoning, and we ultimately worked out a plot solution that didn’t give either of us heartburn. During Bowl 6 the last, we had another round of these, both of which centered around the nature and timing of the rebirth of souls in his universe. Shawn was leaning toward actions and solutions that he felt would be more emotionally satisfying to the reader. I was arguing the side of situational ‘physics,’ used in the loosest possible sense given that all of this time travel stuff–and angels, for that matter–go against all our known conventional physics. By physics in this context, I mean what a thinking person could logically infer given the altered assumptions in play. I guess it’s fair to say I prevailed, though not in some overwhelming way, because when I object to a plot choice, it doesn’t very often mean that I am insisting on a specific alternative. It means I feel strongly that we need something other than what the author is proposing. If that’s how I feel, I must participate in helping the client perfect a solution that will pacify me.

I also did a thing the reader has no way to notice, but that I think will affect Shawn’s writing going forward. As I see my job, to the extent my client wants to grow, I always have some duty to teach. Difficulty: I am a very linear thinker who tends to dial in on a given mode and stick to it. This can result in very disciplined, consistent work, but it can be fundamentally uncreative since it may disregard for too long signs that the chosen mode is unsuitable for the best outcome. In this context, it means that when I am reviewing, I am not editing. At all. I salt the ms with little margin comments, always in lower case to distinguish them, so that I make sure to fix certain things when the real editing begins: “nts ghastly phrasing” “sp” “nts punct” “tcfkao”* and so on. (‘nts’ = ‘note to self’.) I don’t want or expect the client to fix these, though if s/he chooses to, what am I going to do, complain? I am better at review and commentary and teaching when I’m not being the punctuation mechanic.

Here, Shawn had a section that was well isolated from the rest, about a third of the way into the story. For those who end up reading it, it’s the very significant discussion Thomas has with Anne. The original was full of overtell, enough that it would be more like rewriting than editing. I don’t mind doing that, but it’s hard for an author to learn from tracked changes. So, this once, I did the editing early and asked Shawn to go over it with great care, and in each case put his takeaway lesson in comments. Afterward, I found it very hard to get back into the I-will-read-and-comment-without-changes mode, and I probably did some minor edits without thinking about it. No harm done, just one of the situations we encounter, germane to a piece on how the sausage is made.

The end result is something that keeps taking on the tough questions even as it rides into the sunset. I think readers will love it.

 

* The Comma Formerly Known As Oxford. I’m in full earnest about my rejection of Oxford’s moral authority over the English language after they sighed and said that ‘literally’ can mean ‘metaphorically.’ It can’t, they’re wrong, that decision was moneychanging in my temple, and I will drive them from it with scourges. However, the comma situation still remains, and we need a reference term for it. Ideally it would be a reference term that aims a banderilla at Oxford’s overhyped withers in every feasible instance. Therefore, “tcfkao.”

More Serial: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 5, by Shawn Inmon

This installment, part five of six planned, is now available in e-format. I was developmental editor.

Shawn is proving to me that the serial form can be an effective way to release a novel and get paid along the way. It enforces a certain discipline, this form, in that each installment has to pay its way. One cannot decide that Bowl Four, for example, will be the dull downtime bowl. If one were to do that, Bowl Five and Bowl Six would be gutshot. This dynamic demands that the author continue to hold interest, and it comes with risk for him: if he doesn’t stick all his landings, the rest of the planned installments will lose significant portions of readership and sales.

As this bowl came my direction, the overall story was building toward some decisions. Some I expected to like, others not so much, but #5 out of 6 has an additional duty: it’s throwing setup for the closer. It has to prepare the reader for a conclusion many months in coming, and that reader deserves a very good one, because s/he has probably showed fidelity and faith in reading this far. One thing I like about Shawn is that he understands there is a limit to how much one should tease or troll one’s reader, because the reader is his friend. S/he is the reason he has a job; s/he deserves respect and affection; s/he may be teased, but must be able to take on faith the ultimate promise of literary satiation. More simply, Shawn likes and appreciates his reader, s/he knows it, and that’s partly why he sells so much writing. When they figure an author for a phony, he’s finished.

In this particular case, Shawn wrestled the issue of voice uniqueness. Simply put, when his characters have offended other characters and are apologizing, in first drafts there can be an almost predictable sequence to the sorries. I had to rake him over the coals about this, getting my message through: not everyone apologizes the way Shawn does. Some people half-ass it. Some left-hand it. Some can’t choke it out. Few make detailed confessions of fault, full of intensifiers and validations. Perhaps they should, but they do not.

The reason Shawn keeps getting better as a writer is that I can say something to him like: “*sigh* Okay, this is way too much Shawniness. Time to begin the de-Shawnification of this segment,” and he won’t wet himself. Trust me, if you said suchlike to most writers, there would be a new chill in the air; some would fire you on the spot as someone who “doesn’t believe in my work.” Shawn isn’t most writers. He won’t “fight for his words” (he has no opponent; I can’t force him to accept any change). He won’t take offense. He won’t bawl and threaten to quit writing. He’ll look over what I did, keep it if he finds it better than what he had, and learn from it. If he doesn’t understand what I thought was wrong, we’ll discuss it. And next time, he’ll probably write better.

The result has been a serial novel that has improved over the course of its execution. Not bad for a concept to which my initial reaction was: “Oh, for God’s sake, not another fucking time travel story.” (It’s not that I hate all time travel. It’s that I hate lazy time travel, and since we do not know of any practical means to travel in time, there is work to be done in postulating how and why, and some writers consider work to be very icky.) I’m getting very picky about anything paranormal or fantasy, not because I don’t like the genres (look, I edited a parenting book, and I never wanted to be a parent myself), but because most people are leaping onto the bandwagon and doing them wrong. And there’s a problem: the worse the writer, the less receptive s/he will be to growth. It has become predictive and tiresome. If the people who most needed help, truly wanted it, that would be great, but the people who most need help wish to be told they do not need help. I’m not their guy.

If you enjoy a good story by someone who isn’t afraid to break stuff, and who is committed to not letting you down, Shawn’s your guy.

Eat your serial: The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Bowl 4, by Shawn Inmon

No, you haven’t missed anything. I haven’t been announcing these installments, though I ought to have done so all along. This is the fourth of what will eventually be six installments, and I was substantive editor.

Shawn at times brings up story ideas just to troll me. I deserve this, because he has a thick skin about some of my margin comments. When he first brought up the idea of a middle-aged failure who commits suicide and wakes up back in his teenage body before life went south, I showed exaggerated patience in acquainting him with all the issues time travel brings into storytelling. That failed to discourage him, and he wound up writing a very good story anyway.

Now we’re on Bowl 4 of the serial, and what I like is that Shawn’s not afraid to wreck stuff. (Not often, anyway. Whenever he gets too attached to his characters, I heckle him about it, and we get some action.) He has thought through the metaphysics of his story environment, and in my view, has made good decisions and lived by them rather than taking the easy way out. When authors answer “why is it this way in your book?” with “because I say it is,” that’s usually code for “because thinking it through was work, and would have been icky, and I just wanted to write this, so I did, go to hell.” They never get by with giving me that answer, but too many are willing to give it to their customers. That’s what readers are, the customers, and authors need to remember that.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t rock the readers’ world. Fairly typical conversation:

Shawn: “And then I’m going to kill off Person A, ruin Person B’s life, and leave them wondering where that leaves Person C.”

Me: “Your readers love Person C, and will think you’re a sick man for doing that to him.”

Shawn: “Yep! This is going to be great!”

The serialized novel, impractical in the pre-e-reader days, is getting more traction. As a form, it offers advantages:

  • The author has to hook people into the story early, or they won’t stay with him/her.
  • The pricing and revenue are spread out.
  • The author may later choose to combine the bowls into a full-length novel, which means a chance to correct anything s/he doesn’t like in hindsight.
  • It offers people quick reads, a thing I can appreciate as I wade halfway through a history of Argentina that’s got to be six hundred pages, half of them purely about economic data with a focus on cattle products.

In the case of this particular bowl, I had to help Shawn break his logjam. He no more believes in writer’s block than I do, but there are times when he finds his motivation and creativity at an ebb. When that happens, he does what he should do. He sends a shoutout to his hardworking and dedicated editor, explains his plight, and requests help. In this case, I took a look at the story so far and told him: “You are bored with your characters. Memorable characters are a strength of yours, and it’s time for you to inject a brand new one.” That’s a good method for most fiction authors when they find the writing in a bogdown phase: maybe it’s time to create a new character to play with. Shawn went to town, came up with someone fun and entertaining, and that gave him the creativity laxative he needed. (He will get me for that.)

This serial has exceeded my expectations, and I think readers are enjoying it as much as I enjoy working on it.

Passing knowledge on, Baja Canada, and eating a bag of Dick’s

Now and then I take an authentic business trip, defined as travel that can without question be construed as related to my work. I am allowed to enjoy them, though, and I did this one. On Friday I headed north from Portland toward the forests south and east of Tacoma to visit a couple of my favorite clients: Shawn Inmon and Heidi Ennis.

Heidi recently released her first book, a nuanced and well-researched Native American historical fiction tale set just before 1800. I liked everything about working with her. She is a homeschool mom with a background in education, and her daughter and son are outstanding young people. Walking past the Latin declensions on the whiteboard headed toward her kitchen, I can see why. I love history, and any time children are interested in history and reading, I become a teacher on the spot. We had lunch, then spent several pleasant hours in questions and answers. Had it been feasible, I’d gladly have stayed longer.

I spent most of the weekend with Shawn, who owes his success to a combination of work ethic and willingness to market. Marketing is a problem for authors (and not a few editors, ahem). To market well, you have to be ham enough to enjoy taking the stage, and you must not be embarrassed to stand up and announce an event or a giveaway or a new release. I would have a hard time doing that because I would find it mortifying to put myself out there that way in the assumption that anyone should care. Good marketers do it without the slightest embarrassment, and if Shawn thought that the best way to market his work was to base jump naked off Columbia Tower, he’d probably do it. (I may regret giving him that idea. Well, actually, he kind of prompted it himself, though not in quite that form.)

After a very pleasant dinner out with Shawn and Dawn, we spent the rest of the evening chez Inmon talking about his current projects and some issues we must overcome. In short, there are a couple of situations in the story that we can agree need to occur, but we cannot determine how to make them flow naturally. I’m a big opponent of ‘showing the strings;’ I consider contrivance to be a bad odor, and it emanates from so much self-published fiction. We are still working this through.

The next day, Dawn had a prior commitment, but Shawn had planned for he and I to attend a Mariners game at ‘The Safe.’ That’s a good name for a stadium with a big sliding roof that can close over the top of it, which I consider an engineering marvel. The Blue Jays were in town, so I knew to expect a veritable Hoserama. Yes, the Canadians outnumbered the USians, as they had the last time I’d seen a Jays@Mariners game. (It had been a while. I had watched it in the Kingdome, which was imploded quite some years back.) I hate the company who sponsors the Ms’ field, so I will not use their name, but The Safe is a very nice place to watch a game and I’d never been there. It felt a bit like a hockey game, with the playing of both national anthems (everyone stands up for both).

Our section of Baja Canada was just in the trajectory of sharp foul balls or bat fragments from a right-handed hitter, close enough to the first base line to discern facial expressions. Most of those in royal blue were drunk but not on their lips, and behaved very well. Props to the eh-team. As we were choking away the bottom of the ninth, I got some laughs by asking if we could pull our goalie.

Afterward, Shawn wanted to take me to lunch/early dinner. We’d originally planned to visit an old Cap Hill favorite, but to our general shock it was closed up tight. As an alternative, Shawn suggested we stop at Dick’s Drive-In. Dick’s is a Seattle staple of many years, well loved by many and with a reputation as a good place to work. Shawn told me about a homeless person whom he had once seen sitting on the sidewalk near the restaurant. “He had a sign that said HELP ME FILL MY MOUTH WITH DICK’S.”

“That’s great. Did you give him any money?”

“Definitely, I gave him a buck.”

“Good man. That deserves a buck at least.”

I hadn’t been to Dick’s in some time, and it was better than I’d remembered. After inspecting the bags to find out whose Dick’s belonged to whom, we sat down to eat in companionable festivity. A lot of people hang around Dick’s, some of whom are even there to have dinner. We spent the drive back southward working on plot issues. We have not yet solved them, but it was a good brainstorming session.

Normally, of course, the client would not be taking the vendor out to such an involved event, but this will tell you a lot about Shawn’s ethical standards. He has written some stories that went into charity anthologies. I edited them, but resisted his efforts to press payment upon me (duh). This arose out of him contacting me to notify me that he was planning to include those stories in some for-profit work, and that he therefore needed to pay me. I wasn’t interested in money, though I respected his punctilious honesty about the situation. He had already invited me to come up and visit, and attend a Mariners game with him, so he proposed to pay for my ticket. That worked out to a lot more than I’d have charged for the editing, but one can hardly say no to such a kind offer, and all senses of right action were thus satisfied all around.

I came home this morning very happy to see my wife again, but with the afterglow of a fine weekend’s business travel. Thanks to all my hosts for their warm welcomes. The best part of my work is the client relationships, and this weekend was a good example of why.

Serial is good for you: new release, The Unusual Second Life of Thomas Weaver, Book 1

The first bowl of this serial is available today in Kindle format. I was substantive/developmental editor.

Shawn Inmon and I have as nearly ideal an editor/author relationship as one can imagine. My job is to tell him exactly what I think, without holding back. If what I think is that his idea is inadvisable, and he insists on going through with it anyway, my job is to help him make it the best possible story. His job is to conceive and write the story, ask for my help when he finds himself perplexed or stuck, and send me a check when I finish editing. We do our jobs.

When Shawn first told me he wanted to write a story that incorporated elements of time travel, I groaned hard and loud. With time travel, suspension of disbelief is very difficult. My viewpoint is that an author gets one, and only one, “because I say it works” explanation for something that has serious plausibility problems. For everything else, an underlying explanation must exist even if not articulated, and that underlying explanation needs not to be stupid. Many authors squander their BISIW excuse on something petty, then continue to use it in lieu of intelligent characterization and world shaping. When someone objects, they sniff that that’s just their creative process. The result may be a good story idea taken to levels that render it silly.

Time travel thus plays that card immediately, and the problem then is that from the moment a character goes back in time, an alternative sequence of events unfolds. If you want someone to avoid a problem in July, and send him back to April, by July the actual problem will no longer be the same as in the first version of history, proportionate to the character’s ripple effect. For example, an earthquake would still occur on schedule, because there is not much anyone can do to change them. However, its impact would change dramatically, because the time travel would change the actions of many people.

Folks don’t always get that, which is why you see sports fans complaining that the ref cost them the game in the last two minutes. They hate it when I say: “Actually, on the first series, a ref cost you the game–maybe.” They do not understand, and do not like this, as it challenges their victimhood in an emotional moment. With no memory of any actual event, I say with confidence: “Well, on third down, an offensive lineman was guilty of holding. [Since offensive linemen hold on every down except for the V-formation kneeldowns, this is automatically true.] The officials did not call the penalty, and the other team made a first down that should have become a third-and-long. The bottom line is that, had your team played better throughout, it probably would have won, and blaming the refs is a lame loser’s sour grapes.” I don’t much like to watch sporting events in groups, as you may imagine. But you see my point, I trust: change time, and you change events in an outward ripple. Some people miss out on car accidents, while new people die in them. Some people get phone calls that halt impulse buys, while new people do not, and take actions they could not have taken while on the phone (a decreasing set, of late). You can’t drop someone into a situation three months before a decisive event, then expect that the event unfolds on schedule, unless it is completely immune to human choices. A volcanic eruption, for example. Yes, a scheduled election would still take place, but not in the same way.

The need to explain all that is one reason I don’t look forward to time travel stories as an editor. It’s no fun telling someone that his or her brainchild doesn’t work. And while I can fix bad writing, I can’t always fix a bad story idea, nor do most clients want to pay me to do so. The logical rejoinder is to find “an editor who believes in my work.” I understand that, even though an editor who does not but is willing to help would serve that author better.

On top of that, Shawn wanted to rehash the Shawn-and-Dawn story again with him in it, going back in time to fix his mistakes. That story has been written twice, and has inspired another book that is somewhat derivative. It. Had. Been. Done. And. Done. And. Somewhat. Done. Again.

So. I talked Shawn out of the rehash, at least, then explained to him what the problems were with time travel, and he accepted that he was burning his one BISIW with his premise. The rest of his story, if it were to succeed, would have to pay its way on demonstrated good sense, originality, and merit. Shawn got cracking. At one point, he huddled with me to work though some storyline issues he found perplexing. I can usually suggest an alternate route that will work, which is the developmental part of the editing. Shawn had a bit of a slog with some recent projects, partly due to self-imposed deadlines and partly because he felt compelled to finish what he’d begun. Both are good habits, but they can mean one would ideally be doing something else. In addition, I have been after Shawn for many months to break out of his comfort zones with his fiction. Shawn loves music, youth romance, the small-town Northwest, and other familiar inclusions. I believe that it’s okay for authors to have pet themes–look how well it worked for John Irving–provided they don’t go so far as recycling the same basic storyline and characters.

Then Shawn got the idea to release it in serial format. Since the original ms had not been designed for serialization, this presented issues as to where the story should break. When Shawn first presented the idea to me, this installment ended with Thomas’s key decision; it was much shorter. My response to Shawn, paraphrased: “And that’s it? That’s all? If you are moving this to serial format, I don’t have a lot of experience with the concept, but I can tell you that if you break it there, you will not generate a ton of interest in the second installment. Your first installment must provide some form of conclusion, yet must hold out the promise of interesting things to come.” Shawn agreed, and moved the breakpoint forward. I think he picked a good spot given the flow of the tale. We may have several more discussions about breakpoints, because I believe that each installment needs to be rewarding on its own merit, and Shawn concurs.

Here, Shawn sets up shop in a different state than Washington. His protag is decidedly unsympathetic, but nuanced and very much unlike previous protags, and we see other characters taking on balance and nuance as well. He proves that he can begin a story without teen romance. What Shawn does best is get the esoteric details right, point up the silliness of pop culture, and time his epiphanies well. ‘Write what you know’ means not to just wing it, but to present backdrop and experience informed by real life experience or strong research. Shawn’s sales experience, real estate career, and the career path leading to those things give him a wealth of authenticity upon which to draw. You can always count on Shawn to take an aspect of pop culture and present it in just absurd enough fashion to bring a knowing smile. And when his characters should have realizations, they often do. Not always, not predictably. But often enough, and often not the one the reader would have anticipated.

I do not know how many installments will comprise this series, but I liked the first one very well. I suspect you will too.