Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blog Tour: Guest post by Christina E Pilz

We are pleased today to welcome Christina E Pilz here to Historical Tapestry as part of the blog tour for her book Fagin's Boy.

One of the most difficult parts about writing is not, as one might reasonably think, the issue of coming up with ideas. Actually, writers have loads of ideas, though not all of them will make great stories for other people to read. No, the real problem, the most difficult part of writing, is that once people hear you are a writer, they want to give you suggestions and advice. Even, believe it or not, without you ever having asked for said advice.

Usually well-meaning (but bad) advice contains the phrase: “you should.”

Here are some great examples. (I’ve put in the exclamation points because they really do add to the tone of the excitable person giving well-meaning, well-intentioned but unsolicited advice.)

“No one will read a book about that. You should write about something else!”

“No one will read the book that is self-published. You should get an agent!”

“This story is too dark and grim. (Alternately, “This story is too complex or too .) You should write happier stories!”

“Everyone is writing about . You should write about !”

My favorite one is: “You should write a science fiction story! Science fiction sells!”

(Oh my goodness yes, science fiction does sell! There are so many good science fiction writers out there and my hat’s off to them. But if I actually had to do the amount of research it would take for me personally to create a world on another planet or something along that ilk, well, frankly, I’d rather eat my own head.)

Then, with my book, Fagin’s Boy, I got an extra dash of “let-me-tell-you-what-to-do” type of advice.

“You should warn people what your book is about. How are you going to warn them about what you did to those characters?”

“Why are you writing a book about two guys who fall in love? That’s disgusting!”

“Can’t you just take the sex out? Say, for example, you could have two editions, and one of them indicates that there is s-e-x in there?”

And last but not least:

"Charles Dickens would roll over in his grave if he knew what you were doing to his book!!!”

Here’s the other one people like to say: “You can’t do that.” As in “no one does that,” “it’s never been done before,” it’s been done too many times before,” “it won’t sell,” “people will turn on you,” or whatever.

At a writer’s convention I went to, I had my first 15 pages critiqued by a very obliging agent. I brightly and chirpily explained the premise of the story (“It’s a sequel to Oliver Twist!”) and then handed her the 15 pages. She scanned the pages, and then said, “You can’t have a table of contents in a work of fiction. No one has a table of contents in a work of fiction these days!”

I looked at her, and was about to open my mouth and explain that I was going to have a table of contents in my story, because Charles Dickens did, and I wanted something in my book to be a paean to this great master. Plus the table of contents was a nifty way to create a sense of feeling and purpose to each chapter. Plus each chapter title was loads of fun to write!

Then, as if to emphasize how wrong I was to do this crazy thing, the agent added “Unless you are trying for an old-timey feel.”

So then I’m about to say well, it is a sequel to Oliver Twist and I’m not really sure how much more old-timey you can get than that, when the agent, somewhat defensively, said, “I’ve been doing this for a long time.” And no doubt she had. But who’s to say that that table of contents isn’t what makes the whole of Fagin’s Boy come together?

Here’s another tidbit that I was told at the same convention.

“You have to start with action or dialog! A book won’t sell if it doesn’t start off with a bang!”

All the agents that I spoke to were really adamant about the dialog/action/bang thing. But where on earth did this rule come from? I guess has forgotten Cold Mountain, then. Or Gone With the Wind. Or pretty much ANY Charles Dickens novel you’d care to name. Frankly, in my opinion, you should (there I go, using that word!) use the device that the story needs; forget about everything else.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten is no advice. I don’t need no advice. That’s not to say I don’t need help; and I do tend to get that when I ask for it.

I have a friend in Alaska, Sharon. She’s my go-to gal for good ideas, which are about plot or character or whathaveyou; any help she gives me is about the story I’m writing, not about what I should do with my writing career. I’ll ask her, “What do mental patients do with their free time in asylums?” She’s fabulous. She’ll sputter how she’s not got a single idea in her head, and get irritated with me, and tell me to ask someone else, and then, after trying not to answer me for a bit, she’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know, how about art therapy, but I really don’t know!” And of course, art therapy is the perfect answer.

I used to have a friend who passed away, Nik, who would soothe my questions with general responses that had more to do with how I felt about the writing than with what was actually going on. “That’s a powerful idea, Harpy,” she’d say. “What part in there, what’s the part that sets you on fire? Which direction makes you feel alive? Go that way.”

The there’s my friend Amy, who made her mark in Fagin’s Boy, by waving her arms around, Kermit-style, sputtering and saying, “What’s with this scarf? Why do you have this scarf? It’s red, and it’s in so many scenes in the beginning, and yet, by the end, the scarf is gone? Either tie it in or get rid of it, but I think you should keep it because it’s got to mean something!”

But those three people, what they did, was different. I was talking to them, and what they gave me was not advice. It was a response to what I was saying. In the end, this is what I think. What writers need, what they really, really need, is someone to listen, who will not judge or give advice or lay down the law about what can and cannot be written about. There will be no encouragement to follow the money, there will be no questions as to why I’m writing about what I’m writing about. But there will be listening over cups of coffee (Amy), or over the airwaves to Alaska (Sharon), even over time (Nik). There will be a sounding board and the comfort of a place where the half-baked insanity that writing can be will find cohesion.

If you can find someone like that? Hang on to them with everything that you have.

About the tour

Link to Tour Page: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/faginsboytour/
Tour Hashtag: #Faginsboytour
Christina E Pilz's website
Christina E Pilz on Twitter
Christina E Pilz on Facebook

About the book

Publication Date: January 1, 2014
Blue Rain Press
Paperback; 624p
ISBN-10: 0989727300

Five years after Fagin was hanged in Newgate, Oliver Twist, at the age of seventeen, is a young man of good breeding and fine manners, living a quiet life in a corner of London. When Oliver loses his protector and guardian, he is able, with the help of Mr. Brownlow’s friends, to find employment in a well-respected haberdashery in Soho.

However, in the midst of these changes, Jack Dawkins, also known as the Artful Dodger arrives in London, freshly returned from being deported. Oliver’s own inability to let go of his past, as well as his renewed and intimate acquaintance with Jack, take him back to the life he thought he’d left behind.

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