Questions for me? Drop ’em in the “What Do You Think?” box at the bottom of the page or email me.
And now… on to the questions:
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Will you critique my manuscript /review my book?
I’m flattered when writers ask for my opinion! I wish I could do this for you, but I just don’t have the time to deal with all the requests I get, and I don’t feel right about agreeing to some but not others. So thanks for asking, but I don’t do critiques or reviews on request.
If you’re looking for writing advice and real-life examples of critiques, I highly recommend Janice Hardy’s “Fiction University” at http://blog.janicehardy.com/. She has a huge library of writing advice and she does critiques of writers’ submissions every week. If you read through her entire site, you’ll get an excellent writing education.
If you’re looking for reviews for your published work, your best bet is to find a compatible reviewer from places like the Book Blogger Directory at http://bookbloggerdirectory.wordpress.com/ or The Indie Book Reviewers List: http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/.
I hope this helps – wishing you all the best in your writing career!
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Do I know you?
If you don’t appreciate obscenity, profanity, or vulgarity, please stop reading right here. The Diane Henders you know never uses offensive language. At all. Ever. This is a simple case of mistaken identity. Don’t read my books. Don’t read anything else on this site. There’s nothing to see here anyway.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a Diane Henders who owes you money, that’s not me, either.
What, you’re still reading? Okay, then. You probably do know me.
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What’s with the weasel words?
If you know me well, you probably read the item above and thought, “WTF?!?”. Believe it or not, there are quite a few people in the world who’ve never actually heard me utter anything stronger than “crap” or “heck”.
Sometimes I restrain myself because I already know ripe language will upset them, and sometimes I hold back from sheer reflex because I don’t know them well enough to be sure (more on that here). I’m not really two-faced. Much.
I prefer to call it “considerate”.
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People frequently ask if my protagonist, Aydan Kelly, is really me.
Yeah, you got me. My novels are an autobiography of my secret life as a government agent, working with highly-classified computer technology… Oh, wait, what’s that? You want the truth? Um, you do realize fiction authors get paid to lie, don’t you?
…well, shit, that’s not nearly as much fun. It’s also a long story.
I swore I’d never write fiction. “Too personal,” I said. “People read novels and automatically assume the author is talking about him/herself.”
Well, apparently I lied about the fiction-writing part. One day, a story sprang into my head and wouldn’t leave. The only way to get it out was to write it down. So I did.
But when I wrote that first book, I never intended to show it to anyone, so I created a character that looked like me just to thumb my nose at the stereotype. I’ve always had a defective sense of humour, and this time it turned around and bit me in the ass.
Because after I’d written the third novel, I realized I actually wanted other people to read my books. And when I went back to change my main character to not look like me, my beta readers wouldn’t let me. They rose up against me and said, “No! Aydan is a tall woman with long red hair and brown eyes. End of discussion!”
Jeez, no wonder readers get the idea that authors write about themselves. So no, I’m not Aydan Kelly. I just look like her.
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I couldn’t help but notice—and admire!—Aydan’s impressive potty mouth. Where on Earth did you learn those words?
I wish I’d had Aydan’s Uncle Roger to teach me the good stuff, but sadly, I had to learn it all on my own.
Let’s just say I had various unsavory sources. And I’m a quick study – my mind seems to naturally retain filth. I can recite three obscene limericks about testicles without a moment’s hesitation, but classic literary poetry? Yeah, not so much.
I’d say I’m embarrassed to admit that, but you’d know I was lying.
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Robert D. asks: Why do you use such foul language and take the Lord’s name in vain in your books? Why don’t you clean it up so everyone can enjoy the stories?
I don’t use that language because I want to intentionally offend people (though I do realize some will be offended). That’s why I offer the first book in the series for free – I think people should be allowed to judge whether my books are for them without being forced to pay. I’m also careful not to use my characters’ language in ways that would denigrate the faith or beliefs of others, but some people simply find the casual use of “Oh, God!” offensive. That’s one of the main differences between the culture of Canada versus the United States – in general, our usage tends to be more idiomatic than religious here (though of course that’s not always the case).
At one point I actually considered publishing an abridged version of my novels. The sticking point came when I tried to determine what is ‘offensive’, and where to draw the line. Some people object to a character shouting “Jesus Christ!” or other such invocations. Others are fine with that, but find the F-word unforgivably offensive. Still others balk at any four-letter word. Then there’s the whole gamut of (in)tolerance for sexual content.
When I removed every potentially offensive bit of content, I found it left the characters of Aydan and Hellhound gutted because they express and present themselves in ways that are designed to hold others at an emotional distance. Without their shields of offensive words and their substitution of physical intimacy for emotional intimacy, their character arcs are fundamentally damaged and they become two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. So in the end I abandoned the exercise, though I may revisit it in the future if I can find a way to resolve that issue.
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Do you have a particular number of books in mind for the Never Say Spy series, or are you just going to see how long Aydan will keep talking to you?
I never intended to write a series, but every time I think I’m writing the last book, the next one starts banging at my mental doors. I really have no idea how many books there are going to be. I’m having a blast writing them, so I guess I’ll just keep going as long as the voices keep talking.
Everybody has voices in their heads, right?
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Aydan, in her late(ish) forties, is a bit older than many kick-ass heroines. Was it a conscious decision to go with that, or is that just how she came to you?
Definitely a conscious decision. I was having a major mid-life crisis. Everywhere I looked, the media message was that if you’re female and pushing 50, you’d better get out the Depends and hope you have children to give meaning to your pathetic existence.
And I thought, “Give me a fucking break!”
I went looking for some fiction featuring kick-ass, sexy 40+ women, and I found… nothing. Which is preposterous. Middle age is when we actually have the attitude and confidence to go out and find what we want, and kick ass to get it if necessary. So I wrote what I wanted to read.
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Are Hellhound and Kane based on people in your real life? If so, can you introduce them to me? *waggles eyebrows*
Oh, don’t I wish? I won’t say I’ve never encountered guys like them, but Hellhound and Kane aren’t based on anyone currently in my real life. It’s probably a good thing – it might complicate matters with Hubby…
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Aydan has some *cough* interesting clients in her bookkeeping business. (I’m thinking of a certain “adult toy” shop.) How much research went into your descriptions of the merchandise?
Bawdy Pillows and chocolate-scented leather are mere fig-newtons of my imagination. But if I ever find a four-foot-tall penis-shaped body pillow with an air bladder in it, I’m gonna buy it just for laughs!
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How can I stay up-to-date and get sneak peeks of your writing progress?
Check the Books page for a progress graph or look under the button for See All Books in the right-hand sidebar. If a book is currently in progress, the ‘click here for details’ link will bring up its progress graph.
Subscribing to this blog will give you a weekly post of whatever nonsense falls out of my brain, plus extra footnotes about book progress. If you want to have new posts emailed to you, enter your email address in the right-hand sidebar under ‘Want to subscribe?’. If you prefer RSS, use the ‘Subscribe via RSS’ link (also in the sidebar).
Subscribing to New Book Notifications will net you an email whenever I release a new book. Click here to sign up.
Welcome to the scary place that is my brain…
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Chickabee Nell asks: Why are your musical references all/most/whatever American? Shit, you guy’s have The Tragically Hip!!! And the Hip a’int no youngster thing, for those who might be in the dark… SO…what gives??? Love from Texas!
LOL! Oh, no! This is the part where I have to admit what a lousy Canadian I am. 😉
The truth is, I chose the musical references because the lyrics spoke to the theme/mood I wanted to create. I really wanted to include parts of the songs, but the copyright laws are so strict in the music industry, I couldn’t even include a few words. So I chose songs from well-known musicians like Bob Seger (I’m a huge Seger fan anyway) and the Eagles, hoping that lots of people would know the lyrics and ‘get’ the reference.
Sadly, The Hip didn’t make the cut. Nor Rush, nor The Guess Who…
Sure hope the Patriot Police don’t come and confiscate my beaver.
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el Tea asks: Would you please explain a bit of the process your books go through once the plotting and draft are done?
Thanks for a great question! After I finish the draft it goes through editing, beta reading, and proofing before being released.
There are a couple of levels of editing: Substantive (or developmental or structural) editing, and copy editing.
Substantive editing is a big-picture process that’s intended to improve style, clarity, and organization as well as catch errors in continuity. The substantive editor might suggest rearrangement of paragraphs or chapters, identify plot holes, catch continuity errors such as a character with both hands occupied doing something that would require a third hand, and so forth.
Next comes copy editing, which is more focused on grammar, spelling, style, and flow. This is where awkward phrases are smoothed out, run-on sentences are identified, and everything is double-checked to make sure the voice is consistent.
Beta reading comes next. Where the editors generally concentrate on ‘hard’ facts such as grammar and structure, the beta readers usually return feedback about the ‘feel’ of the book. They’ll comment on whether the plot moves too quickly or slowly, whether the story is engrossing, if there are flat spots that need to be pumped up, whether the characters are behaving consistently, whether they like or relate to the characters, and so on. Their feedback is generally subjective, though it sometimes overlaps with the editors in evaluating plot and clarity.
Proofreading puts the final polish on the manuscript after all the structural changes are finished and the work is as good as the author, editors, and beta readers can make it. The proofreader is looking for typos, missed words, formatting errors, grammar errors that might have been missed by the copy editor, and so forth.
There are always some mistakes that slip through despite our best efforts, but that’s where feedback from readers like you is so important. The nice thing about e-books is that as soon as I find out about an error that was missed in the process, I can go in and fix it so subsequent readers don’t have to deal with it.
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How can I make sure I have the latest version of your books?
If you’re reading on Kindle: If you log onto your account at Amazon and click on Manage Your Content and Devices, you’ll see that there are three tabs available under the main heading: Your Content, Your Devices, and Settings. If you click on the Settings tab and scroll down, you’ll find a heading for Automatic Book Update. If you toggle that to ‘On’, you should receive all the updates automatically through Whispersync. Updates are free.
If you’re reading on Apple: Your device will tell you if a new version is available and you can download it to replace the old version. Updates are free.
If you’re reading on Kobo or Nook: Sorry, I haven’t a clue. Your best bet is to contact their support team. If you find out, please let me know.
If you’re downloading from Smashwords: Go to the book page and click download. Smashwords will always have the latest version available for download, as well as all older versions that have been issued since you first bought the book. If there are no new versions, you’ll only see one download available. Updated versions are free as long as you bought the book directly from Smashwords in the first place.
If you’re reading paperbacks: The print version is listed at the bottom of the front matter that includes the ISBN and publisher information (it’s a little notation that says v.1 or v.5 or whatever). If you email me your version number, I can email back a document telling you the current version number and listing all the updates that have occurred since your version. I’ll do that for free, but if you want an updated paperback version you’ll need to buy another book. Sorry about that…
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I’m not sure whether you’re asking about becoming a beta reader in general or about becoming a beta reader for me in particular, so I’ll answer both questions.
In general, beta readers don’t need specific training or qualifications, but authors depend on them to flag potential problems in a manuscript. The beta reader’s feedback can be as detailed as noting spelling and/or grammatical errors; and/or more general: “Something about this scene just didn’t feel right… here’s what bothered me”.
Here are some qualities that make a good beta reader:
1) A basic understanding of the structure and expectations of the genre (for example, romances have a happy-ever-after ending; mysteries start with a crime and the protagonist amasses clues to solve the mystery; thrillers have a fast pace, high stakes, and a deadline).
2) The ability to identify and express what bothers them (or what they love) about a scene or storyline.
3) A good understanding of human nature and the ability to spot when a character isn’t acting realistically.
4) A good ear for dialog and narrative and the ability to point out when and how they don’t ring true.
5) The ability to differentiate between story/character flaws and dislike/discomfort caused by their own personal preferences.
6) Having the time to read thoroughly and the discipline to note all potential issues and respond to the author in a timely manner.
Just a cautionary note: Becoming a beta reader can permanently alter your reading experience. If you enjoy identifying structures and tropes and paying attention to details, then focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing can be fun. But if you love reading for the sheer joy of reading, then getting into the habit of analyzing and picking stories apart can destroy their magic even when you’re not wearing your ‘beta reader hat’.
I have a small team of beta readers who have been working with me since the inception of the Never Say Spy series. They’re indispensable to me, and I likely won’t expand the team unless I lose a member and need a replacement – having too many readers would complicate and slow down my production process too much. If I ever do need another beta reader, I’ll put out a call on my blog and Facebook page.
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Shirley asks: When you wrote Book 14, you said it came out of your mind in 600 pages but the beta readers cut 11,000 words. How do they know what to cut and why? Are those lost thoughts and words? Can you say no to beta readers?
I don’t have to act on any of the suggestions or comments from my beta readers — if the book is the way I want it to be, I can go ahead and publish it that way. That’s the nice thing about self-publishing: I don’t have to answer to anybody’s preferences except my own.
I’m too close to the work to be objective. My brain is crammed with the story-world at all times, so what makes sense to me might not make sense to a reader who only sees what’s on the page. Beta readers’ feedback is extremely valuable to me, and so far I’ve never disregarded it.
Beta readers give me general feedback about how they feel when they read the manuscript, but they aren’t editors. They don’t tell me, “You should cut this scene”. Instead, they might say, “This part of the book felt slower”, or “I had to stop and try to figure out what you were trying to say here” or “I don’t think it would happen that way”. Beta readers report their feelings about the book, but it’s up to me to figure out what’s causing those feelings and fix the problem.
In the case of Book 14 and its 11,000-word cut, one of my betas flagged a slow spot and I decided that the story would move better without some of the scenes. There was nothing wrong with the scenes themselves; it’s just that they just weren’t contributing to the forward motion of the story.
But I never truly “delete” a scene! Whenever I’m going to rework more than a sentence or two, I cut it from the manuscript and paste it into a separate file that contains all the deletions. That way if I change my mind later, the words are still there; or sometimes I end up using the scene in a different book entirely. And hey, who knows? Maybe someday I’ll publish a “Never Say Spy Deleted Scenes” book! 🙂