Thursday, August 19, 2010

Weclome, Cate Masters

Reverse Standards at the Top?

Recently, I picked up a copy of a well known author’s book. The cover touted her as a New York Times bestseller, and I’d heard good things about her titles, so was excited to read it. From the first chapter, I was surprised at all the rookie mistakes. No epress I’ve published with has put up with such low standards. Each has its own set of strict guidelines to prevent such glaring offenses. It made me wonder how the Big Publishers operate – do they push bestselling authors to churn out title after title without regard to any standard of excellence?

I’ve grown leery of writers who publish more than one title a year (unless like me, they’re newly published with a large backlog!). I, for one, won’t be buying any more of this particular bestselling author’s work, because it lacks just that: work. Here are some of the more teeth-grinding problems I noticed:

A joke in my local writers group is that authors are allowed only one “suddenly” per book. So many bestselling authors insert “suddenly” so often, it makes the protagonist appear to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Worse, it lowers the level of the writing. There are more effective means to show the tension in the scene.

Head Hopping
I grew dizzy trying to keep up with whose POV I was supposed to be in. From paragraph to paragraph, the story hopped from hero to heroine. In one particularly bad section, it began in the heroine’s POV, and then the next paragraph started with “The woman,” leaving me stranded in the storyline. It took several moments for me to figure it out, pulling me away from the story.

Beginning authors are taught to trust readers, and not give in to the urge to explain every little detail. While some explanation is necessary, novices learn to weave it into the backstory or conversation between two characters. My critique partners have no qualms about marking an “OE” on my drafts, and I’m thankful for it.

Info Dump
Of all the glaring errors that can rip me away from a story, a long, overly detailed chunk of backstory or explanation will do it. Worse than over explaining, info dumps drag the pace of the story down and can, frankly, bore readers. So reading a bestselling novel with one or two info dumps really surprised me.

Authorial Intrusion
One step beyond over explaining, authorial intrusion sometimes appears as tacked-on info. It doesn’t quite fit the narrative, or any particular POV. Imagine it as the narrator in a movie, the voice-over that intrudes on the narrative. In print, that’s authorial intrusion – one more example of the old “Show Don’t Tell” rule.

If done effectively, a quick “tell” is sometimes preferable over a long write-around describing something inconsequential. An author can get the point across and keep the story flowing. Take caution to use it sparingly, though. Savvy readers, and especially other writers, can spot it in a second.

Readers with a loyalty to a particular author will forgive such mistakes, obviously. Still, I’ve gained a healthy respect for the indie epublishers, most of which adhere to rigorous standards. If it explains why sales have shifted in favor of digital, maybe the large publishing houses should take note.

In closing, here’s a short excerpt from my historical Native American romance novel, Follow the Stars Home, available from Eternal Press:

Black Bear stared at her, the fullness in her gaze made his breath flutter like the fireflies. “The moonlight lit your face. You’re more beautiful than ever.” Warmth coursed through his face. He must have enchanted himself with the song. Though he’d thought it many times, he’d never before called her beautiful.
Unable to hold back any longer, he knelt in front of her, and she lifted up to kneel before him. Entwining his fingers through hers, he held them against the scar on his chest where the bone tore through two summers ago. With a voice soft as a trickling stream, he spoke. “I welcomed the pain of becoming a man. Do you know why?”
“Because you wanted to be a great warrior?”
His thumbs caressed the back of her hands. “No. The time of great Sioux warriors is ending. I must learn to be a better hunter. To provide for my family.” A family he wished with all his heart to have with her. His insides lurched when she glanced down.
“Black Bear—”
She tried to slide her hand away, but he held it fast.
“Please let me speak.”
His seriousness silenced her. With a nod, she lifted her gaze to his scar, the mark of his love for her. It spoke of his hopes for their future. From now on, he wanted it to be a reminder of this night.
Soft urgency gave fire to his words, and the fire sparked in his blood. “I know now why you are called Quiet Thunder. I didn’t know I could feel such thunder inside. It overtakes me every night while I try to sleep. In everything I do, I feel your spirit with me. I need to know if you feel the same.” He pressed her hand against his scar so she might feel his heart thudding through his skin. It pulsed with his life’s blood as if to mingle with her own.
When she raised her chin, moonlight illuminated her face, her dark eyes ablaze. “Yes.”

Cate Masters writes fantasy/dark fantasy, historical, contemporary and speculative fiction, described by reviewers as “so compelling, I did not want to put it down,” “such romantic tales that really touch your soul,” “filled with action scenes which made it a riveting story,” and “the author weaves a great tale with a creative way of using words that makes the story refreshing to read.” The proud mom of three adult children, she currently lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, Lily the dog, their dictator-like cat, Chairman Maiow, and dozens of characters inhabiting her imagination.  Visit Cate online at, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Cate, I agree with the low standard of editing at the larger houses. Authors use head-hopping, passive voice, info dumps, everything writers are told to avoid for good writing.
Agents have rejected me for the very problems I see in best-selling books, go figure?
I loved your excerpt.

Arlene said...

Great article, Cate. I suspect that more and more established authors will be called to at least make an effort to clean up their act as more and more readers find the gems out there such as you. You've master the art and then taken it to the next level.
Thanks for sharing.

Lorrie said...

Wow, we must read the same best selling authors. When I find so many glaring intrusions and info dumps, I want to get out my red pen. Not that I'm a great author but I often wonder if they have crit partners. If not, it would sure do them and the readers a world of good.
And when such sloppy writing takes me out of a story, sorry, I don't finish reading it. I won't force, but like you, will never buy another of that author's books.
Thanks for sharing Cate.

Margaret West said...

It makes me feel happier that even 'best sellers' have problems unique to them!!! Great post.

Cate Masters said...

Whew! Crazy work day. I meant to be here earlier to say thanks, Ginger, for having me!

@ Diane and Arlene: Yes, I suspect the days of diva authors not allowing edits is coming to a close. A good thing for us all. There's messing with voice, and then there's just cleaning up their messes!

@ Lorrie: It's the curse of being an author! I can't read any story now without noticing errors, or how I'd have done it differently.
(And glad to see you out and about. :) )

@ Margaret: That we should all have a bestsellers' problems!

Thanks for stopping by everyone.

Pauline B Jones said...

Fun post and much true there. I have a small list of NY authors that I love and who consistently put out high quality books, but I've had a few former favorites fall off, too. Sometimes its hard to believe the same person wrote their later stuff.

In indie publishing world, there's almost too much to choose from!

Cornelia Amiri said...

I love the subject matter, Cate, and I couldn't agree with you more. Fantastic blog post.

Thank you,

Cornelia Amiri

Cate Masters said...

Thanks Pauline and Cornelia! I agree, there are so many great authors out there, it's like Disney World for readers - too many fun things to try on a limited budget and time. But the real fun is finding ones you love.

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