Warning, Social Commentary Ahead

M’kay, for anyone confused or complaining about the different reactions to the Trayvon Martin shooting and the recent murder of Christopher Lane, let me explain why the comparison is a false equivalence.

First, no one is saying that white-on-black crime is more serious or less forgivable than the reverse. Anyone who thinks this is the root issue here is missing the point entirely. Any death is a tragedy, regardless of race. But what made the Trayvon Martin shooting different from the murder of Christopher Lane wasn’t the race of the shooters, but the reaction of the police.

When Christopher Lane was killed, the police came and immediately arrested the three suspects. Then in a very short amount of time, the DA filed formal murder charges against them. That’s how this is supposed to work. Someone is killed, the person responsible gets arrested and charged.

That didn’t happen with Martin and Zimmerman. In that case, an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a man who had been chasing him in his car. When the police arrived, they performed a perfunctory investigation, asking only a few questions, then simply left. Zimmerman killed an unarmed boy, just as Lane was, but instead of being arrested on the spot, he was let free. It was over a month before public pressure mounted to the point that the police and DA did their jobs and arrested and charged Zimmerman.

THAT is the difference, the perception of unequal treatment by the police on the grounds of race. When you understand that, you understand that the public reaction to the Christopher Lane shooting isn’t an example of some double-standard, but simply confirmation that white victims and suspects receive preferential treatment from the police in this country.

And that perception is born out by everyday reality. In every meta-analysis that has been done, blacks are arrested at a far higher rate than whites, charged at a far higher rate, and convicted at a far higher rate. When making direct comparisons when the same crimes are charged, whites are more likely to have charges dropped, more likely to be offered favorable plea-bargains, more likely to be acquitted, and when they are convicted, are given more lenient sentences on average. Whites are also far less likely to face the death penalty, even for the same crimes.

These are the facts. Our Justice system has a race problem, and right or not, the Trayvon Martin case became a rallying point for many generations of frustration and anger. That’s the difference between these cases, so please stop pretending they are in any way equivalent.

After the Draft: Episode II, The Beta Factor

Okay, my day of celebration is over and it’s time to start polishing up this manuscript. The first time you finish a novel and go back for a read-through can be a little strange, at least it was for me. There were parts of the story that I hadn’t read for over a year. Enough time had passed that I didn’t even remember writing some passages. It’s important at this stage not to get distracted.

In the first read-through, you’re looking for the obvious errors; spelling, missing words, punctuation, sentence structure, and blatant errors of continuity.  You’re also trying to cut out unnecessary or redundant words, sentences, even paragraphs. When a professional editor gets their hands on your book, it’s not unusual for them to red-out ten or even twenty percent of your word-count. Help get that process started.

At this stage, I try not to get into major restructuring of plot, characters, etc. Before that process starts, it’s been my experience that fresh eyes need to take a crack at it. We call these folks Beta Readers. The job of a Beta Reader is to read through your draft, taking notes and making corrections as they go along. They are your first editors, and they are your first impressions of how your manuscript will read to your audience.

Therefore, selecting the best people to be your beta readers is important. First of all, immediate family probably isn’t a good bet. Chances are, they have emotional attachments to you, and some investment in the book itself because they want to see it succeed. This makes it difficult for them to have the distance to judge your work dispassionately.

Instead, try to find 2-4 people who have experience as writers, editors, etc. People you’re close with, but who don’t have a vested interest in the manuscript. I’ve lined up three people as Betas for Any Port in a Storm. All of them are professional authors, and one of them also works as an editor. Diversity is also important. You want a spread of backgrounds, age, gender, etc in your Betas. This will make their viewpoints closer to that of a real audience. My pool includes people from different parts of the country, two men, an honest-to-goodness woman, varying ages, two parents, a single guy, etc.

Beta readers almost always do their work on a volunteer basis, so be patient with them as they take time out of their lives to help your manuscript. Often, this can be a long process, but then, so is everything else in this business. Often, writers find a handful of good, reliable Betas and stick with them for years, creating a little circle of support. If you ask another writer to be a Beta for you, it’s very likely that they will ask you to return the favor later on. Do it, not just because it’s polite, but because editing the work of someone else is one of the fastest ways to learn to identify the same problems in your own writing. After doing the process a few times, you’ll find your own manuscripts come out cleaner, saving you time editing later.

And for the love of God, do not put all your Betas in one bowl. Beta Readers are extremely territorial. It doesn’t matter how big the bowl is, they will seeks each other out and fight to the death almost immediately. Keep them in separate bowls and out of direct sunlight.

After the Draft: Episode I

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of a high-fantasy novel I’ve been working on titled Any Port in a Storm. Hooray me! This draft came in at 107,324 words, and took about eight months to write in total, not counting several long breaks I took to write a pair of unrelated novellas and several short stories. This is a big improvement over my first novel, which took eighteen months to write. Still, it is never an easy task cranking out a couple hundred pages of text, and the overwhelming response I received from my non-writing friends was (along with several rounds of free drinks) something along the lines of, “Well, the hard part is over.”

While I understand what they’re trying to say, the truth is, finishing a draft is just the start of the journey. Now that there’s a book to try to sell, the real work begins, the part where other people step in. This is the point where forces almost entirely outside of your control determine the direction and ultimate fate of this little manuscript you’ve been slaving away at in the privacy of your head for so long. This is the part where opinions other than your own carry enormous weight, especially early in your career.

However, do not fret. As with everything in life, there are steps you can take to maximize your chances at success. And so I’m starting a new, ongoing blog feature called “After the Draft”, where I’ll do my best to catalog all the steps Any Port in a Storm goes through on its quest to land in a bookstore near you. I’ll report on the process of revisions, finding beta readers, writing query letters and synopsis, and the inevitable march of rejection letters, all with the goal of getting that elusive “Yes.”

Along the way, I hope to find guest-bloggers in the forms of other authors who can relate tales of their debuts, agents who took a chance on an unknown writer, and editors who took the red pen to someone’s first novel. I have no idea how long this series will go on. For comparison, my first novel, A Hole in the Fence, has been looking for a home for more than two years.

I hope you’ll come back to witness this little book’s epic journey, come what may. As for today, I’m going to go wash and detail my car and motorcycle, because I’m all written out at the moment. Tomorrow, however, it’s back to work.

Coming Attractions

It’s shaping up to be an exciting month around here. Next week, I’ll be performing at GenCon as the opening act for some very talented friends of mine, The Damsels of Dorkington. They are an improv comedy group of three hot girls and a man in a dress, with a predilection for the very nerdy. They’ve given me ten minutes to warm up the crowd for their Thursday and Saturday night shows. I’ve been busy writing and practicing the geekiest set I can think of, so buy your tickets now!

And for those of you who didn’t know I abuse myself on stage, here’s a taste of what’s in store, albeit with a set written for a more mainstream audience:

Comedy Cafe Open Mic 7/31/13