Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview with Barry Eisler

For those who don't know, Barry Eisler is the second hardest working man in publishing; though his latest marketing effort for Inside Out is bigger than anything I've ever done before. I get exhausted just thinking about it.

Besides doing his usual 100+ bookstore tour (he has already signed at over 200 stores this year alone), Barry put together a thirty page marketing and publicity campaign that puts all but the most competent publicists to shame.

Inside Out, which goes on sale June 29, is ripped straight from today's headlines; CIA videotapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques get misplaced. Being former CIA himself, Eisler has an unique insight, and a solid opinion, on what our government has been doing post 9/11, and this book is an eye-opener.

But laid on top of the political subtext is a kick-ass thriller, filled with exotic locations, double-crosses, intense action, and over-the-top sex.

I was lucky enough to read Inside Out before it was published, and it’s a must-buy for anyone who likes mysteries. It's easily the best thriller of the year. It's also Barry's best book, which is saying something considering his oeuvre.

I caught up with Barry in NY at BEA, and hit him with a few questions.

Joe: I’ve noticed loyalty is a continuing theme for you, especially in a “sense of duty vs. desire for self-interest” way.

But rather than ask you about that, I was hoping you could post an excerpt from the big sex scene.

Barry: As long as people understand I’m only doing this under duress:

Somehow his hand had slipped under her robe. She pressed it tightly against her breasts. Her skin was warm and smooth. He could feel her heart pounding.

“You’re upset,” he said, his voice low, his throat thick. “I don’t know if… I don’t think we should…”

He stopped, not sure what he was saying, feeling like he was babbling. His hand moved. He felt a hard nipple against his palm. He wanted her so much it made him groan.

“No,” he said, panting. “No, no, this is a bad idea. A bad idea.” Somehow he pried his hands off her and sat up. “Paula, no.”

She sat up and turned to him. The robe had opened partly, and in his peripheral vision he could see the muscles of her neck, her breasts contoured in shadow, the skin smooth and dark against the white terry cloth. He was massively hard and knew he’d never done anything as difficult as not reaching out and tearing the robe off her and throwing her back on the bed and—

“Fuck you, then,” she said.

He shook his head, not comprehending. “What?”

She slapped him. Hard. His head rocked back and he saw a white flash behind his eyes. He was so stunned by it that she managed to slap him again before he could do anything to stop her, another powerful, stinging shot from the opposite side. A red haze misted his vision and he felt his scalp tighten with anger. She drew back her arm again, her hand balled into a fist this time, and as the punch came forward, he snaked an arm inside and deflected it. He pushed her onto her back and straddled her. She twisted an arm free and punched him in the mouth. She couldn’t get any leverage behind the blow but it smashed his lips into his teeth and hurt like hell.

“Bitch,” he said, turning his head and spitting blood. She tried to hit him again and he caught her wrists and pinned them to the bed next to her head…

And if you want to hear a bit more, here’s a video Random House Audio shot of me reading the scene while we recorded the audiobook in LA.



Joe: You aren’t allowed to talk about your time with the CIA, and I respect that. But I am curious if the Agency has to vet your manuscripts, and if so, have they ever made you cut anything?

Barry: When I was with the Agency, they taught me it’s better to seek forgiveness than to ask permission. I’ve tried to honor their teachings since I left.

Joe: I’m putting you in charge of the entire publishing industry. What will you do to improve it?

Barry: Dude… how much space do you have here for my answer?

Okay, in short, they need to do two things. First, they need to become competent at traditional aspects of the business, including: selecting the right title, based on automatic and acquired resonance; writing a good author bio; choosing an effective book cover; properly packaging the book. To do all this, publishers have to stop winging it and instead learn the principles behind branding, marketing, and selling. They also need to change their business culture into one where an understanding of these principles is passed on to the next generation of employees, who themselves need to be inculcated with the values of a business culture that rewards the dissemination of institutional learning.

Second, they need to understand the way digital is changing the business they’re in. Understanding piracy is not necessarily a zero-sum game, for example, as you’ve written about many times before. And understanding, again as you’ve repeatedly pointed out and demonstrated with actual data, that the way you fight piracy is through cost and convenience, not with lawsuits and DRM.

Joe: You earned a black belt in judo at the Kodokan in Japan. Do you still practice?

Barry: Sadly, no. I got pretty into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for a while, but after two knee surgeries, I decided someone was trying to tell me something. These days I practice this and that mostly on my own, and when I can, train with some amazing people: Massad Ayoob, Tony Blauer, Wim Demeere, Marc MacYoung, Peyton Quinn, to name a few.

(Joe's side note: I've visited Barry's house, and he has converted his garage into a dojo. After a few belts of scotch, he insisted on showing me how it was possible to knock someone out in five seconds. And true to his word, he can do it. I'm never drinking with Barry again.)

Joe: I’ve seen you do lectures on personal security. Give me five of your best self-defense tips.

Barry: 1. Think like the opposition—if you were trying to do whatever it is that concerns you (kidnapping, mugging, ATM robbery), how would you do it? Where? When? What kind of victim would you be looking for? Thinking like the opposition will help you spot problems before it’s too late.

2. Use good situational awareness. When you’re home and the doors are locked, you can afford not to pay attention. When you’re in a zone you’ve identified as dangerous because you’re thinking like the opposition, you need to be more alert.

3. Spend some time at No Nonsense Self Defense. Bring a cup of coffee—you’ll be there a while.

4. Boxers shadow box. Think about why, and start practicing mental shadow boxing, what cops call when/then scenarios. “When this happens, I’ll do this.” Make this kind of mental training part of your physical training. The closer your physical training is to the real event, the better you’ll perform when it counts. If your physical training doesn’t include adrenal stress scenarios, your skills are apt to be unavailable when you need them most.

5. Read Personal Safety Tips from Assassin John Rain, Practical Martial Arts Tips from Assassin John Rain, and Surveillance/Countersurveillance.

Joe: Unlike a lot of authors who blog about writing and publishing, The Heart of the Matter is about politics and language, two of your passions. Is America changing? For the better, or for the worse?

Barry: I think the country is changing for the worse, though I comfort myself in the knowledge that every generation, and indeed the founders themselves, have come to a similar conclusion. Still, the Obama administration has now embraced and thereby rendered bipartisan policies that were rightly recognized as lawless and radical when Bush was doing them: torture including human experimentation; warrantless surveillance; imprisonment forever without charge, trial, or conviction. Indeed, now that Obama has claimed the right to order American citizens killed extra-judicially, he’s even gone beyond Bush, as he has in a number of other areas.

I think traditional civic notions about what democracy means and requires in America have finally been ground down by the permanent state of emergency Garry Wills describes in his excellent book, Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State—what journalist Mark Danner calls the State of Exception. The Cheneys have been effective (and the Democrats typically feckless in response) in persuading a significant part of the country that Torture Has Kept Us Safe (the opposite is true) so when the next attack comes (and it will come, because our current policies create more terrorists than they eliminate), the political foundation for a tighter embrace of torture, war, and other lawlessness will already be in place.

Which is of course what Inside Out is all about—plus the sex, of course.

Joe: Thanks, Barry.

Barry will be stopping by this blog over the next few days, checking the comments and answering questions (though he's on a whirlwind tour right now so it might take him a bit of time to respond.)

I'll also be chatting with Barry about some of these topics, live, and everyone is welcome to join in. Once we pin down a date and time, I'll post it.

57 comments:

Fiction for Dessert said...

Barry -- I'm sold! I'm definitely buying Inside Out. Question: my husband is a politics junkie and I argue with him constantly that the Bush Administration was no better than the Obama Administration. I claim our problem in America IS politics. Too much attention to politics NO attention to getting things done. He still wants to play the my-party-is-better-than-your-party game. What would you tell my husband?
And good luck with the book!

WDGagliani said...

Excellent! I plan to see Barry at his Milwaukee stop, Mystery One. Can't wait to read the book!

He's one of the best, and has a lot to say.

Barry said...

Joe, thanks again for posting this, and for being such a great interviewer as always. I'm so glad you don't remember what happened in my garage after I knocked you out.

FfD, great question. The short answer is, what's really going on in America isn't so much left/right as it is inside/outside, or powerful/powerless. Yes, the GOP has gone insane and yes, the Dems are craven, but people who cling to the notion that they should be fighting on left/right grounds are like prisoners being set against each other by the guards.

WDG, thanks for the kind words, and see you soon.

wannabuy said...

Zoe,
I really enjoyed reading your post on the previous thread. Good luck starting your own 'publishing empire.'

But if I may note, the publishers to not have 5 more years to be 'stupid about e-book pricing.' If they go more than 3 years with pricing stupidity, they won't be around.

On topic: Barry, I do not know if it was good choice or luck, but going with a Random House imprint will help you. I'd love to know how much e-book market share they gained not following the heard...

Neil

wannabuy said...

Joe and Barry,

The Kindle app for Android is about to be released! A phone on T-mobile will ship with it pre-installed on 7/21/2010.

http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/06/28/amazon-kindle-app-for-android-to-launch-on-or-before-july-21st/

Yes, I know I'm obsessed with smartphones being the 'gateway' to the Kindle market. I would appreciate knowing if you see any change in sales with the launch of the Kindle app for Android.

Note: I think only those phones with a 4" or larger screen will help sell books (in numbers). In other words, the Ipad, DroidX, Galaxy S (an Android phone), and a dozen more Androids by Christmas. Even though Apple is an Amazon competitor, I hope they develop a new phone in a larger format that is more book friendly.

Barry,
I haven't read your work before, but I like JA's recommendations. I've already sent out the e-mail recommending the book to a half dozen Kindle owners. Good luck!

Neil

Rob in Denver said...

Great interview! Can't wait to open INSIDE OUT tomorrow morning after it's delivered wirelessly via Whispernet.

Ty Johnston said...

Okay, I'm sold. And I've never read one of Barry's books before. I will be now, for sure. And I've got a ton of online reading to do, too, now thanks to all the links Barry and Joe supplied.

Barry said...

Thanks, Neil and Ty. RH seems to be doing a good job -- gonna find out more tomorrow!

Zoe Winters said...

Great interview! I totally agree with the advice to publishers. Part of my frustration with the publishing industry in general, is that most NY pubs don't seem to have any true respect for business basics. In a NY Times article there were top NY editors saying things like "Publishing is a lottery. We really don't know how it works."

I just can't respect that. They are relying on the "spine tingles" system of acquisition. They need to read a business book, see a chiropractor, and stop leaving everything up to chance.

Zoe Winters said...

@wannabuy LOL I was still following the other thread.

I know 5 years of stupidity is too much to hope for. It would still be ideal, though. ;)

Jude Hardin said...

Great interview, guys!

Congrats on the new release, Barry. Sounds like a winner!

Moses Siregar III said...

Congrats on the new release, Barry. I'm reading some of the excellent material on your site, and thinking about automatic and acquired resonance with book titles. I'll most likely blog about this subject before too long and link to your articles.

Would it be appropriate for me to toss out a tentative book title and get your feedback on it, as well as Joe's and anyone else's ideas?

Joe Konrath said...

Go ahead and toss, Moses. :)

Moses Siregar III said...

Thanks, Joe. Here's a little flavor on this standalone epic fantasy novel:

Her father-king wants war. Her messianic brother wants peace. The black god wants his due. She suffers all the consequences.

Here's the working title (I'll comment on it later):

DEUS EX KARMA

wannabuy said...

Barry,
Out of curiosity, I noticed many of your books have different US and UK covers; any particular reason?

I'm trying to decide which of your books to try first!

Everyone else: So much for "about to release Kindle for Android." On Amazon.com's home page, it is the highlighted product (free download). If you have an Android phone, the app is also in the 'marketplace.'

Hints on some neat new features for Kindles being promised in the press release:
http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/06/28/amazon-kindle-app-for-android-to-launch-on-or-before-july-21st/

Neil

Moses Siregar III said...

(continued from above)

In the meantime, I'm also considering an alternate:

LUCIA AND THE BLACK GOD'S WAR

Anonymous said...

Moses:

God's of War

Anonymous said...

Sorry...

GODS of WAR ... no apostrophe

Moses Siregar III said...

Well, hey, Barry's blog posts about book titles really got me to re-thinking some things. I'll have to buy a copy of his new book just to thank him for that LOL.

I've been discussing it on Facebook, and now I'm looking at new options. Probably ...

DEUS EX KARMA: THE BLACK GOD'S WAR

THE BLACK GOD'S WAR is another option, and a good title, but probably not fitting for this particular work.

p.s. thanks Anon. Good title, just not for this particular book.

M.J.Ware said...

I had the chance to hear Berry speak about writing several months ago.

Except for the part where he described how much time and effort he puts into promotion (which frankly freaked me out), he was an entertaining speaker.

There's also a great section on his website (www.barryeisler.com) with lots of great advice and information for writers.

evilphilip said...

"I just can't respect that. They are relying on the "spine tingles" system of acquisition."

IMHO they are not relying on the "spine tingles" method of acquisition. That implies a certain love of books and of specific genre of books that I don't see from the companies who publish dozens of Dan Brown clones, Stephanie Myer clones and the hundreds of ghost-written James Patterson books.

When you throw yourself under the bus of "follow the market trends" you are being a good business person -- from a certain point of view.

I think more flying by the seat of their pants and throwing their marketing dollars behind books that they love might bring them more sales and more readers.

I agree with everything Barry said about how to run their business, but I think there is more to it than "learn the principles behind branding, marketing, and selling".

Without the "selecting the right title" part you get the horrible choices the big NY publishers are making right now.

A little more spine tingling would benefit the industry in a big way.

evilphilip said...

"Here's the working title (I'll comment on it later):

DEUS EX KARMA"


This is the part in the cartoon where Jon Lovitz says, "It stinks."

That title doesn't resonate fantasy or war or anything about family in-fighting and "Deus Ex" is the title of a beloved video game and comes with that baggage.

Stick with something simple like "Black Gods" or "The Black God" (though I there there is an element of oddball racism in that second title).

Best of luck!

Ty Johnston said...

"The Black God's War" struck me as strongest. Has a bit of a Glenn Cook feel to it, and there's nothing wrong with that if you're selling epic fantasy.

Zoe Winters said...

@evilphilip

You may be right, but in that same NY Times article an editor was talking about how they selected a book cause it made their spine tingle and just 'felt right'. That may or may not be true of that editor or editors in general.

Of course their spine may be tingling, not because they think the book is so awesome, but because they are thinking about how much money they think the book can make them. Or... they just need a chiropractor.

You may be right, but either way, I do think that a lot of publishers and editors put themselves forth as people who just "love books" and are in this because they love books. There can be no possible other reason since we hear a million times that "there is no money in publishing." and "You don't get into this business for the money."

I think that kind of "love of books, no money in it" PR has given publishers sort of a free pass on being big corporations, that the music and film industries don't seem to get.

People seem to feel a lot more free to acknowledge that music and film tend to be bottom-line driven, but because there is "no money in publishing" a lot of people seem more hesitant to put those motives on publishers.

Jack H. H. King said...

Barry,

I enjoyed the interview. I explored your website. I went to Amazon to read customer reviews of your books. 80% positive.

I "searched inside" FAULT LINE and read the hook.

Two "to be" verbs, an adverb, and a flashback. I shut my web browser.

Have you ever read LONDON BOULEVARD by Ken Bruen? That begins with two "to be" verbs, two adverbs, and no flashbacks. But I kept reading Ken. The leanness of his prose makes me hard.

After some self-anal, I realize I have flashback-sensitivity. And a pronounced dislike for the word "really."

I like sex and violence, profanity and politics, but you lost me with your prose. Call it personal taste. Don't feel bad. I don't respect romance novels. I don’t respect spinach.

But you made me think.

As an author, how many readers do you write for? One? One thousand? One million? Alone at your keyboard, nailing words to the page, who do you most want to please?

How many changes did Random House make to your book that displeased you?

How many suggestions did your editor make that made your book 3% more glorious?

The more books sold, the more money made. Everybody needs income. Big Publisher. Small Press. Indie Girl. Thinking about money affects title, genre, and word choice at the sentence level. Sometimes it helps to obsess. Sometimes it hurts to censor.

I guess I still harbor bad feelings about the felt bikinis in the DRAGON AGE sex scenes.

None of my friends know how to read, so I can’t recommend you. But, damn it, Barry, I respect your ambition. I hope INSIDE OUT sells like crack on the playground.

- Jack

Steve said...

Barry, I enjoyed Fault Line and am looking forward to reading Inside Out.

One question. Is there another Rain hiding in there somewhere that may come out in the future?

Moses Siregar III said...

Thanks evilphilip, Ty. Discussion continued on my blog, with mock cover.

Anna J said...

@Jack H. H. King ....

What's wrong with romance novels?

Zoe Winters said...

I'm with Anna J. What's wrong with romance? I get that most guys don't read romance just like most women don't read horror and thrillers. That doesn't make romance an inferior genre to other genres by default.

Most people who say they don't respect romance think the only kind of romance novel that exists is Harlequin category novels with insanely expository titles like "The Greek Millionaire's Pregnant Mistress". The romance genre is much wider than that and has a lot of great fiction. Sherry Thomas,Jo Goodman, Kresley Cole, Larissa Ione... All talented writers writing romance.

Robert Christopher said...

@evilphillip I agree with you. In a previous life before the writing bug bit me I used to hear the term "branding" tossed around all the time with a succes rate of negative nill!!

In other words they lost millions (several companies, several times) by over thinking the process and ignoring what their customers wanted, which only further alienated their already disgruntled fan base. And never coming close to be a success let alone a "brand."

@Fiction for Dessert -- First off, Obama got handed a big bag of dog . Give the guy a chance, even though he was overly idealistic he was handed an unpopular war, an economic collapse, etc etc etc. It doesn't get fixed in a day. 2. Both parties need fresh ideas. And perhaps a unicameral government might be a way to go (future generations). And they need to bring back manufacturing jobs.

What say you Barry?

Jow with all the money you are making now, maybe you can buy a senate seat. Chicago politics at its finest!

Robert Christopher said...

@Zoe -- I know a ton of women who read thrillers/mysteries.

Coolkayaker1 said...

I think only those phones with a 4" or larger screen will help sell books--wannabuy.

My iPod Touch 3rd gen, which is the size of all the iPhones out there, is superb for reading novels on. I use the Amazon app religiously, and strongly recommend it to anyone. I think, indeed, it has made a huge impact, even if no 4 inch screen , on ebook sales. There is nothing more convenient for me than to have this in my pocket each and every day, ready to read at a moments notice. Now when my wife goes shopping at Woodfield Mall or Ikea, I'm no longer am the dolt holding her purse outside the changing room. I'm the dolt inside my van reading my iPod in the back bench seat.

Zoe Winters said...

@Robert and I know many men who read romance. (Because they write me reviews and fan letters) Also you just lumped mystery in. Mystery is a genre that has a fairly even male and female reading demographic. But Thrillers (especially certain subgenres of thriller) and Horror are genres that have a predominantly male fan base.

But people make a snap judgment about a person who reads romance. Somehow a thriller or horror novel is "smarter" or in better taste than a romance novel. And I think those who think that haven't read many romance novels. Because yes, like every other genre we have our "dime store pulp" but, that's not the whole of the genre.

Randall said...

But Thrillers (especially certain subgenres of thriller) and Horror are genres that have a predominantly male fan base.


Do you have a source or are you making this up? I worked at a major indie bookstore for six years and the vast majority of people who bought thrillers and horror were women. Hell, they were the majority of people who bought all books. There were a couple men who picked up Romance titles, but for the most part men bought non-fiction, literary fiction, and especially Fantasy and SF.

I've read several of your comments, and you seem to have a slightly confused sense of several things... how traditional publishing works, what constitutes success, and now what men and women buy.

If you have solid numbers to back this assumption up, I'll be more than happy to eat my words and admit I was wrong.

Anna J said...

I think what Randall said about who buys books is accurate. I think men are also buyers of westerns if they can find them. But for the most part, men just aren't as into reading as women are....My husband is a reader and he likes *some* thrillers, but if a story requires too much suspension of reality, he loses interest quickly.

Of course he likes *my* books, which are total fantasies. Actually, they're mainstream romances, but they're still fantasies.

Zoe Winters said...

Anna,

I think men reading less than women in general does tend to skew the numbers a bit. I agree that sci-fi is more of a male genre, but I'm not sure more men read fantasy than women.

Moses Siregar III said...

On another subject, has anyone figured out yet what royalties BN is paying through it's PubIt! endeavor?

Zoe Winters said...

@Moses

I think they're unveiling all that this fall. But they've claimed "competitive". So my guess would be that it won't be too much different than Amazon's payment structure. But we won't know for sure until they unveil it.

Jack H. H. King said...

Anna & Zoe,

My wife reads entire forests of romance novels. She likes Nora Roberts. She loves Amanda Quick. She prefers her fiction with an excess of sex.

I read the first paragraph of every book she eats. And some of the sex scenes. I'm a curious guy. In the last three years, not one romance novel has impressed me, prose-wise.

Perhaps my usage of the word "respect" was offensive. I will rephrase.

I respect anyone who can write an entire novel. The more novels written, the more respect I give. Indie authors get double bonus respect, for their spunk. And any writer who can impress me with a first paragraph, then delight me to the end, I will worship for life.

Name some great romance writing, and I will feed them to my queen.

- Jack

Moses Siregar III said...

Jack, how did you "search inside" FAULT LINE? I can't find that option.

Zoe Winters said...

@Jack

Ask her if she's read Sherry Thomas. "Private Arrangements" by her is really good. Kresley Cole's "A Hunger Like No Other" is one of my faves, but I don't know if she reads paranormals. Larissa Ione's "Pleasure Unbound" was HOT. If she likes steamy and a lot of sex, Ione is a good one. She manages to write sex scenes that are neither tedious nor dorky and euphemistic, and that's in short supply.

Jo Goodman's "The Price of Desire" is really good too.

Goodman and Thomas are both historical romance authors.

I'm also reading a book called "Behind the Red Door" by Jackie Barbosa, it's a collection historical erotic romance novellas, and it's really good.

Jude Hardin said...

I couldn't find the "Search Inside" option for Fault Line either, but I've read some of Barry's other stuff and I think his prose is exquisite. Also, there's nothing wrong with a flashback if that's what the story calls for. I know most of the books on writing say they're some kind of sin, but most of the authors of most of the books on writing aren't NYT bestsellers like Barry here is. I would prefer to learn from the latter.

Barry: since you've spoken at length about titles and covers, I would love to get your opinion on mine.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_5cLUL6evcpI/TCCsHX77EyI/AAAAAAAAAE4/HteZdwmn148/s1600/Pocket+47+picture.JPG

Jack H. H. King said...

For some reason, Amazon doesn't show the "search inside" for the blue hardcover. They only let you into the red paperback.

http://www.amazon.com/Fault-Line-Novel-Barry-Eisler/dp/0345505093/

Jude Hardin said...

That's a great opening.

Moses Siregar III said...

Jack, you won't allow characters to use "to be" verbs or adverbs in dialogue or internal monologue? Those are pretty high standards, friend!

Things are really looking up.

Jude Hardin said...

There's nothing wrong with "to be" verbs, either. It all depends on the voice you're going for. More hogwash from writing books. Read some Raymond Chandler.

Anonymous said...

Raymond Chandler using a pile of "to be" verbs: "If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and . . . if they had been any better, I should not have come. "

C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Hey all-- the Amazon 70% royalty has kicked in-- Joshua Tallent just e-mailed me the instructions. The Amazon login page was SLOOOOW but it worked! I'm now earning 70% on my Kindle book.

I posted the instructions on my blog, The Publishing Maven, and you can also find them on Walt Shiel's blog (he's the one that posted them first.

Spread the word and don't forget to update your books.

PJ O'Friel said...

@Jack

I've always liked Johanna Lindsey. Her books are almost all historical romance, though, so if your wife likes modern, she might not care for her.

Zoe Winters said...

@C. Pinheiro, thx!

Zoe Winters said...

@C. Pinheiro

What I find annoying is how Amazon has just let everybody sink or swim. No emails or announcements on how everything works.

And what I really don't get is this new accounting system. Why are they still doing accounting for this week? It's July. Shouldn't everything have "stopped" since they pay by the month?

It makes no sense at all. Maybe it's a bug.

Jude Hardin said...

Raymond Chandler using a pile of "to be" verbs

I could just as easily have said Hemingway. Or Steinbeck. John D. MacDonald. Lee Child. James Lee Burke...

The list is endless.

I would love to see this mythical author who does not regularly use "to be" verbs in his/her prose.

I have read things from beginning writers who obviously avoided "to be" verbs because some teacher or book told them to, and their prose was laughable because of it. A deep crimson lacquer enveloped the automobile's exterior, or some such crap. Translation: The car was red.

Having said all that, I can definitely appreciate a well-placed Superverb that really makes a sentence pop. It's all in the execution, of course, but mostly I want prose to be invisible and allow the reader to sink unencumbered into Storyland.

And don't even get me started on adverbs...

Zoe Winters said...

@Jude

I'm glad I've never even "heard" that rule. Sounds like knowing about it is more harm than good. (Apparently I slept through quite a few lessons in school. Or more likely, I was writing short stories when I was supposed to be paying attention.)

Jude Hardin said...

Zoe:

It's not really a rule, but some beginning writers take the advice to avoid the passive voice to an unworkable extreme. Good wordsmiths (like Joe and Barry, for example) know how to find the right balance between active and passive for a strong narrative flow. Some of it is instinctual, but much (at least for me) comes with painstaking revision.

BTW, if you would like to brush up on some things you might have missed in school, there's a great little book (less than 100 pages) called The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It has been around in one form or another since the early part of the 20th century, and is a very useful reference for writers.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Jude,

Good to know. I own Elements of Style and also Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. (I THINK that's how the title is punctuated, lol.)

I do think people get a little bent out of shape about passive voice, like they do "alright" and starting sentences with "And" and "But".

Jack H. H. King said...

Moses,

My language requirements are not that extreme. I have no problem with “to be” verbs and adverbs in dialogue, though I do hate generic words like “very” and “really.”

Jude is correct. Words are just tools. There are many ways to paint, there are many ways to write. We all have our own taste. I like Hemingway. I dislike Chandler.

My entertainment time is limited. I watch 100 movies a year. I read 50 books a year. I play 25 video games a year. I spend too much time reading Kotaku and Engadget.

For books, it’s 50% nonfiction, 50% fiction. I filter by genre, premise, and language. I read mostly thrillers. No romance, no mystery, no fantasy. I look for thrillers about technology or politics. I lean towards violence and sex. I gave Barry the same first-page test I give any thriller. It failed on language. For me.

If you want my money, give me prose that hits me hard. Give me Fight Club.

For every 20 novels I sample, I maybe read 1.
For every 25 novels I read, I maybe pass on 500.

To date, I have written seven novels. I’m not a guru. I don’t lecture others how to write. I like Joe’s cafe because the level of debate is more intelligent than other book blogs.

PJ, my wife loves historical romance. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jude is double correct that most writing books suck. The only two writing books I like are STORY by Robert McKee, and THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield.

And, of course, Joe’s GUIDE TO PUBLISHING. It, like Joe, is a killer in a dress.

- Jack

Barry said...

Sorry I've been so scarce, everyone, and thanks for the comments. Just hammered with the tour... will try to respond soon!