The non-rule Rule

While I don’t intend to teach anyone a full course in grammar or punctuation, I sometimes come across a quirk or issue that bugs me. So, today let me run one by you. He said. Said she. The rule that isn’t a rule.

Said is a simple word to explain who is speaking. A few other uses for it exist, though it’s sometimes used unnecessarily. It’s most usually a dialogue tag. Sharon said, “Don’t overuse dialogue tags, but if you need one to clarify who is speaking, said is the most invisible word to choose.” This tells you, I am speaking to you. As for dialogue tags, maybe I’ll mention those in more detail another time. Here I want to address whether said should go before the name or after it.

Should one write, James said, or said James? Should that be Suzie says, or says Suzie? Neither is strictly wrong. It’s all opinion, so I’m not about to argue with anyone, but let me explain why I and many editors prefer the first.

It’s a simple matter of cause and effect. To explain it simply, a person speaks. You don’t speak a person. Until a character opens his or her mouth to speak, no one has spoken. Logically then, it’s much better to write: “The name should always go before the action,” Andy said, than to write: “Writers not getting this simple logic drives me crazy,” said Andy. I share ‘Andy’s’ opinion on this. Whenever I see the action before the name, it always pulls me out of the story.

But, as I’ve told you, it’s not a ‘rule’. The choice is yours. Simply keep in mind that not all readers and editors like the second option. Granted, most will set this annoyance aside if they enjoy your work enough, but why take the risk when some readers and editors dislike ‘said Sharon’? No one objects to ‘Sharon said’.

Dragon #12

My last dragon post, I put up a photo of a Butler & Wilson dragon brooch I own. I have another red dragon brooch that’s far smaller, but this week… Well, if you have the B&W brooch, it stands to reason you need the earrings to match. Love these little guys. I don’t wear nearly often enough, though our lives of going out have been extremely curtailed, mine especially. Anything that raises a smile is much welcome, and they had me at ‘dragon’.

Disconnect

Fate dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century this month, forcing me to buy my first ever smartphone. Yes, you may all laugh. The first words out of the mouth of someone we know was, “iPhone?” Hmm… no. I use a phone as… well, a phone, or more often a texting service. I send a message and make a rare call; the call service is really for emergencies. I have a landline at home; friends and family can call me on that should they feel a pressing need to get hold of me. I went for the cheapest phone that was returnable should I have problems with it.

So, how did this amazing transformation come about? My phone provider changed networks and the new sim kept rebooting my old standard phone. In short, I’m now stuck with a piece of tech I never wanted.

First impressions… why are people so obsessed with these things? Why are their lives on it? I find it extremely difficult to text on a small screen whereas I was so fast with my tiny old phone and its buttons. Seriously fast! One of the first things I had to buy was a stylus to have any chance of typing on the new phone at all despite it being a standard size. And it’s heavy. Far heavier than the small phone I used to have, so I have additional weight to carry around. I’m a woman who likes to streamline her handbag. Some days I wish I were a man with just pockets to fill. And I’ve no interest in any of the apps except possibly the calculator.

Of course, this is no doubt because I spend way too much time on screens, anyway. Between television, writing and marketing on a laptop, and making use of an occasional game or ebook to break up a long trip (and as distractions when in pain these days), I spend way too much time in front of screens. I know my eyes pay for it, as does my body. For health I’ve got myself moving again, and work at a sit/stand desk, a worthwhile investment.

Naturally, because of my reluctance, something occurred to me. People complain they have less time than ever in an age where we actually have more leisure time than in any era in the past. I know this because at one job we interviewed people who had worked for the company in ‘the good old days’ — an actual phrase these people used, but they worked far longer hours. Their working conditions were terrible.

Now, someone I know gets wound up because colleagues are messing about watching YouTube videos or similar during their breaks and returning to work late, or even watching at their desks when they should do something else, all while said person doesn’t mess with a phone and is working. It’s up for the employer to do something, but there’s much of this sneakiness going on everywhere. And then these people do some more of the same when they get home.

I can’t help thinking we waste so much time online and could get so much more done in our lives if we limited ourselves. Which I’ve done a lot recently. My mac reports my screen time to me. If it’s up these days, it’s because I’m writing. But social things, I’m limiting myself. I can understand playing with a phone on a long journey (if you’re the passenger), but even then when I took a long train journey every day, I used to read a book. I’m not speaking against anyone or for everyone, but I think many people have time; they simply aren’t aware of how they use it up. The internet is the great procrastinator.

Not that everything about the internet is bad. It’s enabled to me to make friends both at home and abroad, some of which I’ve met, and you’re talking 20 year long relationships. I’ve rediscovered old friends. I’ve made equally rewarding and long-lasting friendships with work colleagues. It’s possible I would never have become published without the internet. I appreciate all it’s done for me and how it’s enhanced my life, but I don’t want to find myself constantly hooked up to, or hooked ‘on’ tech, and I think that’s what the modern version of a portable phone means for me: always ‘on’. Almost always contactable, able to access the internet wherever one goes. It’s not something I want, and therefore, aside from going on Wi-Fi for updates, I most decided won’t use my phone for online.

While I’m sure nothing I’ve said here will convince most people, I still advise to disconnect sometime. Go out into nature. Take your phone — you never know what might happen and it’s a safety net. But consider turning it off. Listen to the birds singing, not the chatter on Facebook. Watch the waves breaking on a beach, not the videos on YouTube. Take some time to spend with nature. Disconnect. I feel so much better for it.

Update June 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Took a break from the DIY this month, though there’s no going out and about for us. We don’t want to mingle, and at the moment I’m still not up to it. Faced with a reason to celebrate, alas we could do nothing more than enjoy a good home-cooked meal. I always cook with fresh ingredients but made more of an effort. It’s not like I can even enjoy a bottle of wine these days, as that irritates my condition. Good news on the exercise bike I mentioned last month. I love it, and am cycling 10 miles 4 times a week.

FILM/TV:

Coming to the end of the last series of Parks and Recreation having enjoyed it, and two other series I recommend that I’ve revisited while cycling, is Schitt’s Creek, and The Good Place… a comical series that explores ethics in a way no show has done before or since. I advise sticking with both as they get better with time.

We’ve also gone through the original episodes of Star Trek, not having watched them for years, though, of course, they’ve revamped it a little, using better tech to make the planets and ship more ‘real’ touching none of the interior shots except for what the crew sees through the viewing screen. I’m sure there are some purists but I can see that this makes the Original Series more accessible for a new audience. As much as I love some of the Star Trek series, and the original will always remain my favourite, seeing it with an eye of living in a modern era is a strange exercise. Even worse, the writer in me can’t help but pick up on inconsistencies and questionable decisions. In some scripts, I couldn’t help feeling they had characters working against their own well-established personalities. Still, nothing plays as well as that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy trinity.

Thoroughly enjoyed The Nevers on NowTV, described as a science fiction drama, made better as they filmed it in London. Although the last episode of the first series seemed bizarre and completely out of sync with the Victorian steampunk feel of the episodes which had gone before, I kept watching, and I’m pleased to say it circled around until it made sense. I had no clue this was a Joss Whedon project when I started watching, though it has his mark all over it, serving as writer, director, and executive producer. It seems to have received mixed reviews but I hope this isn’t a series cut short before its time like Firefly was, even though it’s not as compelling.

READING:

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, James Lovegrove

Book two in the Firefly novels. Not as enjoyable as the first, but primarily featuring Jayne Cobb it’s still fitting, like watching an episode. Not as rewarding, but the next best thing and the closest fans are likely to get to their beloved Serenity and its crew these days. I wasn’t sure I believed one of the plot points, but am inclined to be forgiving to the books of my favourite series. I also love how they present these paperbacks and hope the quality in both writing and presentation continues.

The Walking Dead, The Fall of the Governor Part One

Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Whereas I felt the first two books in this series (The Rise of the Governor) added something to The Walking Dead universe, for most of this book I felt as though I didn’t need to be reading this. Having watched the series and read the graphic novels, this book offers yet a third version of the same world, that of Woodbury and the zombie fights that take place in the arena within Woodbury’s walls. In some ways, it’s bad enough when a beloved book series gets an adaptation to screen (or vice versa) and the fanbase must juggle two timelines in their minds when the stories differ. Why would I want a third? All I can say is this book as one of the most bloody revenge outcomes I’ve read in a long time. Definitely not a scene they would have got away with on the small screen or graphic novel.

The Walking Dead, The Fall of the Governor Part Two

Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Having come this far in reading the first three books, I had to learn what happened to the Governor. The buildup of this felt rather slow, though that’s in part because a story visited both in the graphic novels and on the show, makes this feel like traversing the same ground… though the outcome leads to a major battle sequence that’s worthwhile.

The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell

This gothic chiller takes off slowly but picks up once the ‘companions’ make an appearance. I love the idea of them in this well-plotted gothic mystery. Alas, it’s impossible to tell why without giving away the creepiest part of the book. I’m pleased to have stumbled across this book. The only (small) negative is the sound the author describes as a ‘hiss’ does not appear to relate to the cause of the noise. I would liken it more to a rasp, and the narrative does indeed call it a rasping hiss at one point, which made no sense to me, and didn’t seem to relate to what the protagonist experiences. That slight discrepancy aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Wolf in Shadow (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

The book which introduces us to Gemmell’s compelling protagonist, Jon Shannow. More western at the start than fantasy, the book blossoms in a bizarre conglomeration of fantasy, western, politics, and religion which doesn’t quite seem to blend. The idea of a world changed 300 years ago, yet reflecting a life of guns and horses, farmsteads, corrupt townsmen, and tribes with little evidence of a technological age mentioned by characters leaves one feeling as though the author was feeling his way as much as the reader does. Took me longer to read than it should have; still, this makes for a intriguing and entertaining story. I’ve two more to work through.

WRITING:

I have finished the draft of my Work in Progress and have lined it up for an edit in the weeks to come. And I’ve now received edits for Cosmic ready for its re-release. Although the edits were basic and few, me being me I re-read the entire book at every opportunity, so am currently going through it line by line, hoping to return it before the end of the week.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

When Not to Sign

Most writers would like to be published. Even some of those who do not readily aspire to, and write mostly for amusement or self-gratification, would likely consider it should they have the opportunity. For writers who range from those who would like to be published or are desperate to see their name in print there are still times when it’s better to shake one’s head and walk away. After all, there are opportunities for self-publication these days and for some that option will be better than signing dubious contracts or supporting vanity press.

To clarify, vanity press is NOT self-publishing. A vanity press praises the writer, tells them their book will be a best seller and for X amount of money they can make that dream come true. These ‘services’ minimise their costs, often use Print on Demand technology (although bona fide markets use POD too), and then leave all the marketing to the author, whilst they take a percentage of the profits. True, many mainstream publishers also leave all or most of the marketing to the author these days (which is why many authors at least consider self-publishing), but vanity definitely will. Either they’ve already taken a fee and/or they simply sit back to rake in profits from the hard work put in by the author. What they count on is having many hopeful writers on board who will all have at least a few family members and friends who will want copies of the ‘published’ book. The author may sell only what they can flog to acquaintances, but if the vanity press has many people doing this those many small payments all add up to a large profit, while the writer may receive almost nothing and not even recoup costs. In short, they are crooks out to scam you. Please avoid.

Even if the writer can manage the marketing to become a success, then he or she would have done better to self-publish and keep a much larger percentage. There are self-publishing services that are not vanity, although they do charge, but they give a genuine service and distribution. They are not to be confused with vanity publishing although the difference can be difficult to spot. Go with a recognised firm and do your research. Currently, well-known companies are those like Amazon and Lulu to name two. Be aware that there will be much more work required in going it alone, although even those with a publishing house usually need to do a great deal of marketing. If the author will undertake this side of things completely alone, then they can become their own business.

Remember: Money always goes TO the author, not the other way around. The only time this isn’t the case is if one goes the self-publishing route and purchases publishing/distribution services.

Avoid anyone asking for lifetime rights/life of the copyright. There are exceptions and some have no problem with it, but for me to even consider this it would have to be a HUGE deal with a mainstream publisher. In the UK/US at present copyright lasts the life of the writer plus 70 years, during which profits from the writer’s work would go to any remaining family, charity, or whatever the author had stipulated in their will (such as with Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street). If no such stipulation exists for what happens at the end of copyright that work then becomes ‘public domain’. If an author signs ‘life of copyright’ over to a publisher, he or she is essentially giving the work away, and depending on the rest of the wording one might not get out of this even if the publisher folds or removes the work from the market. It’s what many refer to as a ‘rights grab’ and IMHO is criminal. I would never become involved with a publisher (exceptional circumstances are this can be a money-grab for ‘throwaway’ work) who put this in their contracts even if they claimed it was negotiable because I do not feel I should condone poor practices.

World rights may or may not be beneficial depending on the terms. The same goes for Foreign Rights. I would not sign a contract that allowed a publisher to seek publication for my works in foreign markets without my final refusal. I once came up against such an offer, but the contract would have given the publisher full leeway to negotiate the terms on my behalf with no final agreement from me, and I could not allow that. Ideally, that is something an agent should do for the writer, and even then the writer needs to maintain control.

First Refusal Clauses can be a pain but are standard—these usually list the right of ‘first refusal’ on works in a series, featuring same characters or worlds previously brought out by the publisher. Few publishers list the right of first refusal on ALL future works, and again, if they do, I recommend avoiding. If the writer no longer wished to work with a publisher, but had signed this condition, then he or she could not send ‘any’ work elsewhere, stuck signed into one publisher because of this clause.

There are likely many pitfalls, but I’ve listed only a few here as an example of what to look for and are best avoided. If in doubt, research, and do not sign until happy. Any publisher wanting the writer to sign without some ‘grace’ to read the contract and/or consult a legal source is questionable. That doesn’t mean you can think about it for months, but days or weeks is not unreasonable, particularly if the justification is one of seeking legal advice.

And, although I’ve never seen this, never sign a contract where the publisher states the terms may be updated. Future contracts for newer works may change but terms of existing contracts should not. Banks among other ‘services’ catch customers with this clause—it wouldn’t surprise me that someone in the publishing industry will have thought of this.

Also, be aware that many publishers will ask for all kinds of rights on a work including print, digital, audio, film, and merchandise. Things to consider are how successful the work may or may not be, and what terms of payment the publisher is offering on these other stipulations. Make sure there is at least a negotiated payment for all forms. Imagine what would have happened if J.K. had signed away the merchandising rights to a certain wizard and the fortune she would have lost. Although it’s unlikely, such successes happen and could be disastrous.

Another warning, although I’ve only come across one case of this: avoid publishers who insist they own all ‘edits’. A publisher contracts a work, assigns an editor, publishes said work for the agreed number of years, and when it comes out of contract, the story publishing ‘rights’ revert to the author (the author ALWAYS retains copyright). There should be no exception. For a publisher to state they own the edits is as good as saying the writer never owns the finished product. I don’t see how a publisher can justify this when the writer has as much input in the editing process as the editor and certainly should be the one adding any sentences or passages. The ownership of ‘edits’ means that the writer would own no changes to the story after it entered the editing process even if those suggestions came from the author. This is petty at best, possibly criminal. Do not sign.

For all new and even existing writers, please check what you are doing before subbing work or entering competitions. I again stress do NOT send your work to anyone requesting ALL RIGHTS or WORLD RIGHTS, and do not sign any contracts that include a non-specified time limit for the publisher to publish; without a timeframe, the publisher could hold onto the work and never publish. In all these cases, you are essentially handing away the rights to your work indefinitely.

Last, this post on the EREC blog is from 2011 but the advice remains good today, where they detailed a perfect example of a contest taking advantage of hopeful writers, and charged them a whopping amount for the privilege of relieving authors of the right to their work. Read HERE.

Always think before signing. Always be aware of what rights you are giving away. Sleep on the decision overnight. Seek advice where necessary; there are plenty of authors out there who will help if you’ve no other resource.

Cosmic Rerelease

A simple update this week. After some editing, I’ve subbed and contracted the rerelease of Cosmic (previously published at Loose Id) with JMS Books. Anyone interested may not have long to wait as we’re looking at an August publication, but more on that as and when. I also hope to release a completely original work with JMS this year.

Cosmic, by Sharon Maria Bidwell

Can three hearts break harder than two? While on a mission, the last thing the crew of the Sovereignty expects is to gain an addition crew-member, but when an unknown assailant attacks, Axel has no choice but to beam the stranger on board the spacecraft. Already in a sexual relationship with ‘Snake’, a rare species of alien, Axel certainly isn’t looking for another person to complicate his already challenging existence.

The trouble is he cannot deny his growing attraction to the newcomer, who is a striking and intelligent woman. Sela’s so intelligent she’s already worked out Snake is an alien and the two men are in a somewhat turbulent relationship. Still, Axel isn’t the only one who likes Sela. Snake likes her too, and Sela doesn’t appear to mind the idea Axel and Snake are lovers, especially after she sees them together… But can they truly battle their differences and natural distrust, while fighting a corrupt government and dealing with a zealot of a leader? One man, one woman, and one alien; two males and one female, all fighting corruption and their own desires. In a universe at war it’s natural to keep secrets, but can too many confidences mean they’ll never find peace?

Update May 2021

Hi Everyone!
AT HOME:
After finishing our bedroom on the first May Bank Holiday, we moved on to sorting out the hallway. Moved one unit, got another with drawers, changed storage in the ‘coat cupboard’ near the front door and everything looks so different and welcoming. After that we took a break on the decorating/DIY, though there’s more we need/would like to do indoors and out. I started some appointments which I hope will make me feel better and got myself an exercise bike! Delighted with it. Never seen a compact bike with so many design features that folds up so easily to stand as an upright column and with a fairly comfortable seat. Maybe I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

FILM/TV:
We’ve been watching the American comedy series Parks and Recreation for several weeks and are now in season five. It’s amazing they kept the momentum going for so long and though madcap it’s a fun series. Also pleased to watch The Librarians from the start. We saw season one some years ago, but at the time our Sky box melted (seriously, we returned home one day to the terrifying smell of melting plastic), and as they wouldn’t give us a deal on a new box, we cancelled our subscription. Have been watching to see if all the seasons would appear on one of our streaming services, and at last got our wish.

READING:
Brilliance of the Moon, Lian Hearn
Book 3 of the Otori
These books certainly walk the spectrum of love, hate, hope, grief, despair, subterfuge, cruelty, destiny, and prophecy in this sweeping action series set in a medieval Japan, though I had to remind myself of this when I tired of people over the course of the books being told to, or thinking of, killing themselves to regain their honour even though it’s fitting for the marvellous world Lian Hearn has created. This world feels real, as do the characters. Though the books don’t recount all the warfare, there’s enough action for the reader to visualise an immense battle and although I felt distanced from the brutality, this is understandable when considering this series is for the YA market. Still, there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy; indeed, some may prefer the simplistic storytelling, which still ignites the imagination.

Doc Hollywood, Neil Shulman M.D.
Originally titled, What? Dead Again? first, I should stress the only similarities between the book and the film are minimal — names, doctors, some plot basics, and a few quirky stories and eccentricities of the patient cases. The romance here is toned down to the point of almost non-existence, so if anyone is looking to read this for the same experience, they’ll at least feel surprised. Both versions have their own charm, and this rare book remains delightful because of the situation — a doctor out of his depth in a rural community. It’s a sweet read, not as funny as the film.

Mr Cables, Ronald Malfi
What can one say about Mr Cables? This story about a book which an author denies writing yet appears to scare everyone except said author starts off with a more sinister note than it ends, yet there is a chill factor here. In the beginning, it’s caused because the reader isn’t told why the book is scary. The answer is unexpected and, though bad, not as dreadful as the story initially promises. Still, something about this tale sticks in the mind. A well thought out ‘haunting’ plot.

Strangers, Dean Koontz
This book was my introduction to Dean Koontz, first read in my teens, and now, several years later, which makes it feel like a fresh experience. It’s easy to recall why this led me to be a long-term reader and how Koontz can be when writing at his finest. One warning — this a door-stop of a book, not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s true that this could edit down, as much of the story involves strange and slowly unfolding events through several characters’ viewpoints, leading to a languid revelation, I found none of it boring. After a time there are perhaps fewer surprises leading to a questioning resolution, despite being heartfelt and warming; sadly, the reality of such an outcome would lead to an overcrowded planet, even more so than it is now, so I find this tale of hope a little tainted. This is an epic book in both length, and optimism, but it may not be for those who prefer only a simple vocabulary, fewer descriptive details, and a sedate pace.

WRITING:
I’m just about at the end of a first draft for my current Work in Progress, which I shall call ‘ST’ for now, as I don’t reveal titles until I’ve contracted them. You could say I’ve been winging it, though I’m extremely pleased how it’s turned out. I’m sure I’ll add even more substance on the first edit round, but it’s reading like an almost complete book. Meanwhile, I hope to re-release Cosmic asap, and return to editing ST in a few weeks with a fresh eye. Someone has also contacted me with the possibility of writing a short story — more news on that as and when, though there are no determined dates at present.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x