Thursday, January 08, 2009

Best podcasts for writers, part 4: The Secrets Podcast for Writers

I apologize for running behind this week; I've been under the weather and working on paying work that never seems to decrease. I'll try to get back on track, but I have family visiting next week, so we'll see.

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A while back, I mentioned the Secrets podcast by Michael A. Stackpole and said that I'd get back to it to do a review. The time has come. This podcast is a companion to his Secrets newsletter, which is $1 an issue for new issues and $2 an issue for back issues. Why back issues should be more expensive when they're all just digital files, I have no clue. I also could find no mention on his Website,, of how often the newsletter comes out.

As with other podcasts I've discussed, you can subscribe to the Secrets through iTunes, although many of the earlier episodes don't seem to be available. The episodes I've listened to -- up to the most current one available -- included some general stuff, analyses of how he set things up in a couple of his novels, the "21 days to a novel" series, and his most recent ones ("Series Five") on the effect of changes in technology on publishing.

His earlier ones grated on my nerves quite a bit because he never seemed to acknowledge that his way might not be the One True Way to write. One of his pronouncements that really bothered me was "never edit before you finish writing." I had three problems with this:
  1. Some bestselling authors do, in fact, start each day by editing their work from the previous day. Not everyone works the same way.
  2. He said that one must write a novel in order to edit a novel. Many fine copyeditors and developmental editors out there have not written a novel but are doing marvelous jobs whipping other peoples' novels into shape. The ability to edit is not contingent upon the ability to write.
  3. He gave examples of how he went back and changed a story before he reached the end because "It was finished. It was dead in the water." Then he claimed that that didn't count as editing. Such semantic skullduggery will probably be lost on the neophyte novelist trying to decide whether to go back and change something because he doesn't know how to go forward otherwise or or the budding author who is trying to figure out where she should draw the lines between editing, rewriting, and revision.

(Yes, that particular one stuck in my craw a bit.)

On the other hand, I kept listening because he had some very solid bits in there phrased in ways I hadn't heard them before--for example, saying that if you can get the reader anticipating the future of a character (Will he wind up with the blonde or the brunette? Is somebody going to die this time out? If two characters have mutually exclusive goals, who is going to get their heart's desire?), the reader is emotionally invested and will keep reading. Except I think he said it a lot better than that.

He's also done two in-depth series on his books and why he made the choices he did in writing. He used A Secret Atlas to discuss how openings and world-building work, and he talked about plotting using Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. These sets of episodes make for very concrete discussions because he explains exactly what he was setting out to do, and how he did it. I haven't read A Secret Atlas, although he did say the discussion would make more sense with the book in front of the listener. However, having listened to his explications, I'm intrigued enough with the characters and the world to want to read it now.

His most recent series, on technology, is proving very enlightening. I don't buy his statement that printed books are going to, in general, go the way of the dodo. I personally believe we're moving into a time when a whole range of options for publications, including printed books, will be available for writers and readers -- just as people looking for visual entertainment currently can go to the theater (for a play or a musical), go to the movies, watch TV, watch a video in several different formats, or watch shows and clips on the Internet. However, his podcast does cover interesting ways to take advantage of technology to try to reach readers, and I highly recommend this series of shows if you're looking to market yourself as an author.

To sum up: a lot of his advice sounds as though it's targeted to someone just getting into writing, and if you've been working at it for a while, you, too, may find some of the things he says annoying. Be that as it may, he has a lot of good information in this podcast, and it's worth listening to. Just be aware that it is highly irregular in schedule, as he sees it mainly as a publicity vehicle for the newsletter -- and since he makes it available without charge, it's lowest on his priority list.

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