In honor of Banned Books Week…

I’m going to commit atrocities on classics! I mean, I’m going to use passages from classics to which people have objected to illustrate the necessity of adjectives and adverbs. If you’d rather just learn more about Banned Books Week, the American Library Association has all you’d ever care to know right here.

So, I’ve taken the liberty of removing all adjectives and adverbs (as well as a few articles) from the following passage.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long–having money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about and see the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing the mouth; whenever it is November in my soul; whenever I find myself pausing before warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and whenever my hypos get me, that it requires principle to prevent me from stepping into the street, and knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Old Melville’s writing may not be for everyone, but that’s just…horrible. There are places where it makes no sense, and places where it says the exact opposite of what is actually true for the character. While it conveys the same general idea, it’s just not quite right.

Here’s the original:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such and upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Now we know that Ishmael’s run out of cash and, being rather bored and having nothing and no one depending on him, decides to run away to sea again. We now know what’s so compelling about the warehouses he’s loitering around, what he’s growing, and even the bit about the hats is somewhat more amusing. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) Not only is it November in his soul, it’s a damp, drizzly November. If you’ve ever experienced a damp, drizzly November, you can appreciate how he must be feeling. (If you haven’t, they’re about as much fun as they sound.)

Adjectives and adverbs help the reader fill in the gaps. A fiction writer’s job is to hand the reader the bricks (characters, plot-points) and the mortar (descriptions, setting, atmosphere, theme, tone) in such a way that the reader may reconstruct the story you are telling as effortlessly as possible.

Take a look at any of your favorite scenes from any of your favorite books. It doesn’t matter what kind of a scene it is–action, sex, maybe just two people chatting in a kitchen. Five will get you ten that a big part of what you get out of that scene comes from the way the author used adjectives and adverbs. If the scene was merely a recitation of the things within it, or if one character merely recapped it for another without letting you see it, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective or affecting. It wouldn’t be your favorite scene.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Or you could just hum along, I’m not picky.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s not true at all: I am picky, and about odd things. This time, I’m piqued by the “heat ratings” of a potential publisher, because once again same-sex interaction (limited to bisexuals and lesbians; five will get you ten the bisexuals they’re thinking of aren’t men) is relegated to the highest level.

I’m horribly, terribly tempted to write to them and ask if one of my mild/sweet stories featuring nothing more than guys kissing really would require the same labeling as my unfinished deeply explicit M/M/F BDSM story. Ask them why it’s apparently impossible for them to separate “same-sex” from “explicit”.

To use my favorite example of the moment, the end of Chapter Eight of The Slipstream Con is blisteringly hot, achingly beautiful, and completely lacking in ‘vulgar’ details. It features one kiss (between two men) and implicit/implied straight sex — but only the kiss is described in any sort of detail. Does that make it worthy of the highest heat rating?

I know that everyone gets to choose their categories, and to run their railroads as they see fit — but I’d like to see some justification for their choices, particularly when they use wording that makes their motives appear suspect. (That is, I suspect the reasoning goes like this: “hawt lesbians and hawt bi girls = AWESOME!; bi guys (which are urban legends), unattractive lesbians, and gay guys (all flaming screaming queens) = must be hidden under the rug thanks”. Unfair? Oh yes indeed, which is why I’d like the clarification.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write about two university-age naga boys holding hands and smiling shyly at one another… #possiblygayYA-fantasy #notTHATkindoffantasy

Dearest Publishers…

I know, I keep writing you the same letter, over and over again. I do it because I want to love you, and you're making it really hard for me to do that. 

See, your submission guidelines? They are your cover letter to me, the author. When you put up guidelines that are poorly written, contain misspellings or grammatical errors, or make certain statements (which I will cover in the next section), I do not feel that you would take my writing seriously. 

When your guidelines contain statements like, oh, this:

We do not send rejections. If you don't hear from us, then we didn't accept your story.

or

Due to the volume of submissions … it is difficult for us to reply to everyone. … We can only do as much as time allows.

I decide that you are probably rude and inconsiderate, and I count myself lucky that I discovered this before I sent you anything. 

Unfair? Oh, yes, quite. Inaccurate? Possibly. And that is precisely my point, dearest publishers. I form my opinions and decide to send you my work, based solely on your cover letter–your guidelines–just as you would judge me. 

There is absolutely no reason in the world that you cannot respond to each submission. There is no law stating that you must give a thoughtful, thorough, reasoned critique of each piece that comes into your possession — it's a nice thing to do, should you take that time and effort, but any writer worth their salt doesn't expect one. (I certainly don't, and when I get one, I'm always surprised and grateful.)

Please, take a good hard look at your guidelines and your response policies. Get someone else to look at them, too. Clarify them. Create templates and spreadsheets. Your potential authors do; you can, too.

Sincerely,

I remain,

wanting desperately to love you.