New website is under construction.

Aug 31, 2010

Leviathan - Book Trailer

Here's the book trailer of the day. It's another fancy-schmancy one. Wow.

Aug 30, 2010

The Inadequacy of Emotions to Capture Words: Flash Fiction

Tobias suggested it, after Mark died.

"It's not crass," Tobias insisted. "And you need the money for the kids. You know Mark's life insurance and the money you're getting from Unemployment isn't going to enable you to keep the house. No one I know has had more tragedy in her life than you. You should share your feelings with people."

Still, she didn't do it right away. She nursed her grief quietly, inside, alone, until she thought she might burst of it. Then and only then did she admit Tobias was right. She needed to share this feeling with someone, or go mad.

She read about a call for feelings and showed up at the audition, feeling like a fool. Hundreds of people waited in the line, which she had somehow not expected. Many of them were weeping openly, or disfigured physically, something else she had never expected.

After two hours, she entered the audition office, a cramped, dark room divided by a wall of one-way glass. On her side, a single chair, resembling an old fashioned electric chair, rose from a metal pillar. She couldn't see the people on the other side, but a male voice said, "Hurry up, babe, we haven't got all day."

She sat down. Seven little plastic cups snaked out of the headrest and bit into her head with tiny prongs. It stung.

"Give us your feeling, babe," said the voice.

And it all rolled over her again, everything she had felt the night she answered the phone and found out Mark had been in an accident, the agonizing days when he was in surgery, the shake of the doctor's head. The months of loneliness and desperation. The guilt she felt that when her kids asked about Daddy, and she wanted to comfort them, all she could do was pour out her own selfish grief, until they comforted her. Tears streaked down her cheeks. The pain felt like nails inside her head, as raw as ever, and as unbearable.

A light flashed, and the cups snapped off.

"Sorry, babe," said the disembodied voice. "We're not going to buy this emotion. Not sad enough, ya know? We're lookin' for real rock-bottom grief here. Thanks for coming in. Next!"

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: the Book Trailer

I love book trailers. Not everyone does; I get that. But I love 'em. I've always loved movie trailers, and thought that books should have their own trailers...and now they do.

Now that I've finally learned how to embed a video on my blog, I'm going to share more book trailers. They won't all be as high budget at this one, but I will pick books or trailers that kick ass.

If you've made a book trailer or want to recommend one, let me know in the comments.

Aug 29, 2010

Upcoming Bloggery

Damn, I guess I should stop complaining in my blog about my family.... It appears that I have family members reading this blog. Please disregard all that stuff I told you about my sisters.


Me? Complain about my family? That would never happen.


I've started school again, so in all likelihood, I won't be able to blog daily. Unless you're all reeeeeeeally dying to hear about postmodern literary criticism, which I doubt. You might get some anyway, if I just can't help myself, but I will try to spare you.

Nonetheless, I would like to keep up regular blogging, say, once a week. And I had so much fun interviewing Michelle about Cinders, I've decided to do more reviews. I won't have time for a lot, one a week at most, but what I would like to do is especially highlight indie books and small presses. Because there are a lot of awesome small presses and indie books out there. Also, I'm going to invite more guest bloggers.

In September, I'm going to feature Chalet Publishers and a couple of their books, starting with Fins. Fins is about mermaids. Did I ever mention that I was once a mermaid? I had every attribute you would expect of a mermaid -- shell bra, shiny tail, long green hair, and fliers for a seafood restaurant. This was the first time my future husband saw me, and.... well, I'll tell the rest of the story when I review Fins. ;)

In October, I will feature Rhemalda Press. J.S. Chancellor will be a guest blogger to discuss her upcoming fantasy epic, which I haven't read yet, but sounds awesome.

For November, maybe I can convince Mercury Retrograde’s Barbara Friend Ish to come over and chat about her press and her book, and slow publishing and what that means, and other cool stuff. (I haven't asked her yet, just thinkin' out loud here, so no promises yet.) I'm looking forward to reading Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker and The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara herself, and... um, wow, all the books in their line-up sound good.

And of course, I won't ignore indie authors. I'm reading Zoe Winter's paranormal romance Blood Lust right now, and really enjoying it, so I hope to put up a review of that. There are a few other self-published books I have sitting next to me waiting to be read, so maybe I will do a whole month of indies.

I can see that the big problem with my bloggery plan is going to be not enough time to read all the books I want to. I apologize in advance.

Right now, I'm not going to plan anything explicit for December, because I expect to be especially busy. I have a tendency to overcommit myself and then go crazy. I'm trying to be realistic about what I can deliver. But if this works out, it should be a lot of fun!

If you're interested in guest blogging, email me.

P.S. Brandon Sanderson, I never said you have to be with a small or indie press. If you really want to guest post on my blog, I will struggle to find space for you. ;)

Aug 28, 2010

Expectations on Novel Sales

How many books should you expect to sell if you publish a…

Vanity book?

Self Published book?

Small Press book?

Another way of looking at it is that if you sell less than the average for your category, you will be considered a loser.

But you never know.

The numbers could be on your side.

1000 - The number of books in the first run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, half of which were sold to libraries.

$2,500 - advance for Stephan King's first novel

$105,000 - the US advance for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

1.3 million - number of copies sold on the release day of Breaking Dawn

15 million - number of copies sold on the release day of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

17 million - number of books sold for the entire Twilight series

400 million - number of books for the entire Harry Potter series

Yeah, yeah. We know. Mifty-gazillion books sold by I.M. Famous and thirty books sold through Publish America by Ikaint Ritegood. But what is a realistic expectation?

Medium Publisher or Mid-list book with a Big Publisher

Big Publisher

So if you sell genre you probably need to sell at least 5000 to earn out your advance, and preferably more than 10,000 to prove you should be published again.

How much money should you expect to make per novel?

Average Advance for a Category Romance Novel

Average Advance for first Fantasy or Science Fiction Novel

Average Advance for Fantasy or Science Fiction Novel by a multi-published author

Ok, thanks Google, but that's not what I meant. I meant per novel sold.

As far as I can tell, the average is about $1 per book sold. With a big publisher, you might receive less. Big publishers offer between 5% and 15% royalties, with 10% being common. That means a book has to sell for at least $10.00 for you to make $1. If it is a mass market paperback, I assume the author either is receiving 15% or else only makes about .80 cents on each book.

Small publishers, at least the epublishers I am familiar with, charge the consumer less for your books and pay you more, usually about $1.20 per book, or between 30% and 40% royalties. Large publishers want to charge a lot for ebooks, and give authors only 25% royalties, though this may change as a result of the Wylie fiasco. Amazon is apparently offering self-publishers an awesome 70% in royalties, though remember, this has to cover the upfront costs invested by the author/publisher. That means an indie author can offer books for half the price of a paperback, $3.99, and still make more than $2 per book. So, though an indie author may sell less books, she or he only has to sell half as many books to make the same amount as an author with a big publisher. (Correct me if I am wrong, indie publishers).

Just something to consider.

Jump in if I've missed something!

Aug 27, 2010

Handling Short Scenes

In film and television, a scene can be extremely short and still feel complete. The visual medium helps. The eye can take in the whole setting, while also tracking the action. But I'm having a hard time with short scenes in my novel. I don't want them to waste many words, but how do I make them feel "complete" -- not rushed, or sketched?

One trick I've tried is to think of the scene as a piece of flash fiction. Flash also can't be longer than 500 or 1000 words, and yet it needs to be even more independent than a scene in a novel.

Any other ideas? I'm scratching my head.

UPDATE: I was too tired to give examples earlier, but here's what I mean.

In a movie script you could have two short scenes in a row, like this:


A DARK FIGURE runs through the trees.



He's taken the bait.

Send someone to follow him.


But if you do that in a novel, how do you do it? It seems very choppy if you say:

* * *

A dark figure ran through the forest, keeping to the shadows of the trees.

* * *

A warrior rushed into the compound and knelt before the war leader.

"He's taken the bait," the warrior reported.

A grim smile spread over the war leader's face. "Send someone to follow him."

* * *

...but do I really need to go into the details about how the woods looked and smelled, or the compound, if I've described these things before? I kinda just want to cut to the good stuff....

If I were writing in omniscient, I could roll both scenes together.

That night, illuminated only by a sliver of moon, a dark figure raced through the trees. The swift and furtive motion of the lone fugitive suggested he did not want to be observed.

He was observed, however, and not long after his flight through the woods, a warrior rushed into the compound and knelt before the war leader.

"He's taken the bait."

A grim smile spread over the war leader's face. "Send someone to follow him."

However, I'm writing the rest of the book in Third Person at various degrees of Closeness.

Can you have a scene in a novel that's only one or two sentences?

Aug 26, 2010

Social Media - The Cult of You

Social media has been called "the cult of me." It encourages each of us to cultivate our own little cult, to gather around us a circle of "Friends" and "Followers", sometimes even "Minions." Seems like the ultimate in self-indulgence, doesn't it?

But does social media really encourage selfishness? Is worrying about what other people think of you is a form of selfishness, or is it a matter of not giving enough consideration to your own self-integrity, obsessing instead over pleasing others?

Jane Steen warned in her blog post on 5 ways to make your twitter time more productive that the surefire way to make your twitter (or facebook) posts deadly dull is to tweet all about yourself (and your kids, pets, wordcount). Actually, I think posts about oneself, even about one's cat, can be interesting -- there are more pictures of cats on the internet than porn! -- as long as the poster keeps one motto in mind:

It's not about you.

This is the irony of social networks. You write about yourself, you post about yourself, you promote yourself, but it is not about you -- it's about what you can do for other people. Are you tweeting/posting something that will make someone smile or snort or sigh? When you read other peoples' tweets and posts, are you thinking, not, how does this help me, but, how can I help them?

And sometimes the best way to help someone else is to let them know that they have helped you. Because the good people on the web, not the trolls, are on the web asking themselves the same question, how can I help the people around me? How can I add value?

A lot of people do succeed in adding value, from a post that makes one think about a problem in a new way, to a comment that makes one smile, to even bigger things. I was terribly nervous about going on Facebook and Twitter because of the Timesuck Issue, and indeed, it's worse than I thought (and yet so much better) because I've also found out about wonderful books to read, events I want to attend, and people I want to get to know better. And chances are I won't have as much time to do those things as I'd like. But the problem is one of TMGS -- Too Much Good Sh... er, Stuff.

And of all the problems to have TMGS is pretty much the best of the lot.

Oh, and by all means, if I'm not following you on Twitter or Facebook, drop me a note and I'll remedy that. :)

Aug 24, 2010

Fantasy Titles

Courtesy of Orbit books:

Full Disclosure: I have a wip entitled, "Arena of the Dragons."

Yes, "dragon" is the most common word in fantasy titles. *grin*

Here's some other ideas for titles using these popular words (why not go with what works?):
Blood of the Death Dragon's Shadow God
Edge of the Dark Red Zombie Wolf
Bite of the Black Elf
Angel of the Sin Spells
Queen of the Iron Dragon Fire
Map of the Rising Ghost City
Tomb of the Seeker's Daughter
Kill the Assassin
Princess of the Silver Storm
Bound to the Witch Hunt

Cheesy? Sure! But look what happens when you try to come up with titles that don't sound traditionally fantasy:
An Accountant's Guide to Taxes
Things to Wear with Shoes
A Big Green Garbage Can
The Best Restaurants in South Carolina

Now, those may be great books, but if you were looking for sword and sorcery, they wouldn't be very appealing, would they?

How about the straight-forward approach:
Dudes With Pointy Sticks Kill Each Other
A Girl Grows Up Despite Being Chased by Weird Guys in Black Cowls
Hobbits Decide to Get Foot Wax
Farm Boy Makes it Big
Glowy Magic, Big City
Lifestyles of the Rich and Magical
Generic Castle, Unwieldy Sword and Winged Reptile
Elves By Any Other Name Would Have Ears Just as Pointy

Aug 21, 2010

Fiction After Marriage

Romances usually build up to a climax. And you know which climax I mean. Or maybe you don't.

The classic romantic story is about falling in love -- following the ups and downs, ins and outs, togethers and aparts, of a couple as they approach physical and emotional intimacy. They may have one or the other, but until they both lust for and love each other, the romance, for the novelist, is not "consumated."

I love romance, and I love this traditional formula for creating romantic tension and satisfaction in fiction. The formula is not just a part of the romance genre, but usually also helps structure the story arc of any genre fiction -- fantasy, adventure, espionage, action, mystery. I want to emphasize also that I love genre fiction and don't use the term "formula" as a derogative, any more than I would use the word "sonnet" as a derogative term in poetry.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I had a fight with my husband, whom I love. And, poor man, his foibles and mine inspired me, and I outlined a scene from Dindi Book 2.

Now, here's one advantage of writing a book/series over a long period. This tale is a braid of several intertwined plotlines. The main story line, which I wrote first, is a Coming of Age story. It follows a fairly conventional fantasy trope of a young person coming into her power and falling in love.

Another strand of the story, however, follows another couple (a generation earlier), and though their story also starts with them falling in love, I wanted to continue to follow them after their happily ever after. That isn't as common, though two books I've read recently which did do this are The Time Traveller's Wife and Michelle's Cinders (*cough* go buy it, *cough*). In genre, this is okay to do with secondary characters.

(After I wrote most of this post, I discovered that Courtney Milan had blogged about how to to this in the Romance genre, by having a previous hero/heroine show up in a new heroine/hero's book.)

Since the after-happily-ever-after story is so unusual, it opens up a lot of possibilities. One choice is to make it all about falling out of love, which leads to a dismal story, unless the protagonist is saved by falling out of love with the wrong person and falling in love with the right person. But in that case, it's really just a story about falling in love, isn't it?

The other possibility is tragedy. Of course, in many dramatic traditions around the world, a love story is always a tragedy. You realize you love each other and are finally together -- thanks to the motherlovin' sword piercing you together like pineapples on a shishkabob! *Wipes tear from eyes. Sniffles.* So beautiful.

And so not for me. Sorry, I just don't enjoy dramas ending in divorce or death.

So what does that leave? Comedy, as always. Almost all sit-coms are about married couples and/or families, aren't they?

Nah, still not what I'm looking for.

What I wanted to write was the opposite of the Coming of Age/Falling in Love story, but not a simple (depressing) opposite. I wanted to write a Coming of (Older) Age/Falling (Deeper) in Love story. Dindi, the heroine, has to learn to transcend her limitations, to find her own power and to realize that the man she loves is better than she has been led to believe. Vessia, the other, has to learn to live with her limitations, to sacrifice some of her power, and to accept that the man she loves is only human.

I promise it doesn't end with a shishkabob. I don't promise it won't be bittersweet.

Aug 20, 2010

Bad Morning

I am not having a good morning.

I've been working on updating my website. No big deal. I should have done it a long time ago, but I was quite busy last year. All the more reason to get it up and running before school starts.

Rrrrrrr. That is me growling. For some reason, this resulted in a big fight between me and my husband. He's furious with me, I'm furious with him, it's just not pretty.

UPDATE: Marital discord successfully channeled into a scene in Dindi Book 2. Woohoo! Suffering = Inspiration.

No wonder writers are prone to manic-depression.

Aug 19, 2010

Too Artsy?

My first born is also available for human sacrifice. Just give the word.*

When I started this blog, I had no readers, so I was free to treat it as my diary, and just jot down whatever I liked. I think I once wrote a post about swine herding in Papua New Guinea. I found it fascinating, anyway.

Now that I have huge numbers of readers (eight? twelve? depending on whether you count the people who googled for the soft porn, "Kama Sutra," and got me instead) I have to treat it as a professional thingymabob and sound all grown-up and stuff. Agh.

The catch is, I would like to share my ongoing career (ahem) as a writer, but I'm not sure where disclosure crosses the line into unprofessional. No, I'm not going to inflict TMI about my bladder, or my cat, or my cat's bladder. (Although if I had a cat and that cat had a bladder, you'd better believe I'd be blogging all about it.)

I have my book out on submission with a publisher I am very excited about. (And by "on submission" I only mean they haven't rejected me yet -- I have no idea how close or far I am to acceptance.) Is it a good idea to blog about how nervous that makes me? I've been feverishly working on (a) the sequels, (b) a promotion plan for the whole series, and (c) counting the chicks sure to hatch from those eggs in my fridge.

I suddenly panicked, for instance, about a "literary" technique I use at the end of Chapter Three in Dindi. I have a few paragraphs where I use -- wait for it --Second Person. I call it a literary technique only because I don't think you'd blink if you were reading a literary novel and a chapter or two in Second Person, or Present Tense or whatever weird shit, suddenly popped up. But will Fantasy readers be Able To Handle That? Or will they scratch their heads and go, "Huh? Why is the author talkin' to me?"

I think fantasy readers can handle it, and I think it works. But maybe the editor will disagree and reject my book because s/he will think, "What is wrong with this author? Did she forget she was writing in Third Person Past Tense? Goddam writing n00b." Or maybe, "Wow, how pretentious. Who does she think she is, Khaled Hosseini? Gimme a break."

And honestly, although I'm fond of the Second Person scenes (there are only three, I swear, to emphasize three key turning points in the novel), I'm not so attached to my Second Person scenes that I wouldn't consider dropping them. Which maybe makes me a wimp rather than an artiste, but there you have it. I'd rather have my books be accessible than artistic, but if possible, I'd like them to be both.

Any thoughts, blog world? Anything too artsy to stomach in a book? Does it depend on the genre? How much of your novel would you be willing to change if asked by an agent or editor?

* But better read the The Ransom of Red Chief by O Henry before you try. ("IT LOOKED like a good thing: but wait till I tell you....")

Aug 16, 2010

Sketches of the Hero

Here I've attempted, rather poorly, to capture the hero, Kavio. I'm not very good at guys. Also, I still need to master the art of drawing crackling lightning.


Puddlepaws, Dindi's kitten. Because every book should have a kitten.

Aug 15, 2010

Sketch of Dindi and a Pixie

Busy, busy, busy! Writing. Facebooking. And sketching. Here's a doodle of Dindi.

Thanks to faestock at deviantART for the stock photography. I think she really is a faery.

Aug 13, 2010

The Duel Between Plot and Wordcount

The nemesis of plot is wordcount. Their epic enmity plagues all my stories.

First, plot is ascendent, racing ahead, leaping, punching, kicking ass.

Then wordcount pulls out the secret weapon -- "You can't get that published unless you get it past me! Two hundred and fifty thousand words? Are you mad? I spit in your face! Bwahahaha!"

Then the bloodletting really begins, what with the slashing and slicing, until plot has lost both arms, a leg, and occasionally a head. (Plot often has many heads, so sometimes this is a good thing.) Wordcount cackles, sure of the last laugh.

But plot is not dead... bloody fingers rake the grass, dragging the torso forward.... Plot throws a hidden dagger, and wordcount topples over one hundred thousand words.... with more and more words gushing out all over the page all the time....

It's ugly.

Aug 11, 2010

Imminent Death Inspiration Flashes

My Summer of Fiction Love is running out. *indescribable sadness* You know how right when you think you might die, suddenly you have all these flashes of inspiration? I am having Imminent Death Inspiration Flashes right now. I've been moping about, blaming some reject letters from earlier in the summer on the fact that Paranormal and YA are Trendy and Adult Epic Fantasy is not. (Lame excuse, but we all gotta lie to our ego somehow.)

But I am not a Trend Chaser, I told myself.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against Trend Chasing because I loathe people who write only out of their grubby greed for money and fame. Long live grubby greed! Naw, it's just that it doesn't work. You can't cage moonlight, no matter how much it would sell for on eBay. So I didn't bother trying to think of a Paranormal Young Adult story.

I guess you can see where this is going.

Yeah, I flashed on a cool idea for a Paranormal. Two actually. Young Adult... I'm not sure. One I envision involving college students. The other I would like to have two protagonists/antagonists... a married, fortyish mom who also happens to be some kind of magic law enforcement agent, and the high school age girl she is hunting down. And the uber-hot guy they are both crushing on. "The Fugitive" meets "Twilight." (Except no vamps.) The cool part is I had one strand of this story hanging around my head FOREVER. Okay, a coupla years. But I didn't know what to do with it, because it seemed more like something for the Horror genre, which I don't do. (I couldn't even read Stephen King's On Writing because it was too scary.) Then I thought of the perfect plot, even gentler than "gentle horror," about as scary as the last Twilight movie. Yet still true to the original creepy idea. Woohoo!

The other reason I'm excited is because I now have a story to put to my demo-cover with the blue hair! (What, you thought that was a self-portrait? Ha, I only wish I were that cool.) You caught me. Amy Bane is not the author, but the name of the character.

I am so excited about this. You can't see it, but I'm twirling my office chair around.

Of course, it's all for naught. Because:

1) I have to stop writing fiction in one week.
2) (therefore) by the time I actually sit down and write this story, Paranormals will be Yawn, So Yesterday.

Trend chasing never pays, not even when the trend chases you.

Many Bothans Died to Bring You This Video

So. Very. Wrong.

Aug 9, 2010

Hopelessly Devoted to You, WIP

It's been ten years since I started writing Dindi.

I'm in even worse shape than Susanna Daniel, who wrote on this a while ago in Slate.

This means that the time from my novel's conception to its appearance on store shelves adds up to a staggering 10 years. An entire decade. Between, I graduated and spent a year on fellowship (during which I wrote a lot but only half of it was any good); then there were the teaching years (during which I wrote very little, hardly any of it good); then there were the Internet company years (during which I barely wrote at all).

Stiltsville is in good company, which is reassuring. There are oodles of novels that took a decade or longer to write—including some famous examples, like Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Díaz spoke in interviews about his own decade of active non-accomplishment. He said that five years into the process, he decided to give up on the novel and start a graduate degree (in what, he didn't say). He said his life improved: no more torture, no more fights with his fiance. Oh, Junot, I thought when I read this, I understand! Still, something pulled him back, and another five years passed, and then he was finally done.

...The thing is—one-day-at-a-time is the most painful way for active non-accomplishment to happen. It's the psychological equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. A painter I knew told me once that she'd reached a point when she said goodbye to painting, much the same way Junot Díaz considered doing—she said it was the kindest, most generous thing she'd ever done for herself.

... I woke one night in the midst of a minor panic attack. It wasn't unusual for me wake in the night, anxious and scared—and I always knew the source of the panic right away. But it was rare for my heavy-sleeping husband to wake at the same time. And instead of reassuring him and letting him get back to sleep, I told him the naked, humbling truth. I told him that if I didn't finish my novel, I thought my future happiness might be at risk. He wiped his eyes and yawned and said, "OK. Let's figure out how to make this happen."

Oh, WIP! (Wipes tear from eye.) I dedicate a this song to you.

(Bad karaoke begins.)

Guess mine is not the first heart broken,
my eyes are not the first to cry I'm not the first to know,
there's just no gettin' over you
Hello, I'm just a fool who's willing to sit around
and wait for you....

My head is saying "fool, forget him",
my heart is saying "don't let go"
Hold on to the end, that's what I intend to do
I'm hopelessly devoted to you.

But now there's nowhere to hide,
since you pushed my love aside I'm not in my head,
hopelessly devoted to you
Hopelessly devoted to you,
hopelessly devoted to you.

Aug 8, 2010

Stop Calling Me, Newspaper Phone Spammer!

For nostalgic reasons, we received a print newspaper for a long time after we bothered reading it. Finally, we tired of putting unread newspapers straight into the recycling and cancelled. Ever since, the newspaper has been phone spamming us three to five times a day, begging us to renew. My mom, who cancelled the same newspaper, found that they continued to charge her credit card for months afterward.

Finally, frustrated after months of this phone spam -- we asked them politely and officially to stop calling us several times -- I answered the phone by snapping, "There's this thing called the internet. Look into it!"

Not really fair to the phone jockey at the call center, but I was super annoyed.

The discussions I saw about the move of Dorchester to epublishing were all negative, as if moving to epublishing were a sign of shame and failure. I guess, if it was brought on by financial difficulties, that's true. But I wonder if we aren't seeing the beginning of a process that is already unfolding for newspapers, a cascade of falling print sales that will force publishers to move to digital. Dorchester might be a canary in a minefield.

I would rather Dorchester move graciously to epublishing than call me during breakfast, lunch and dinner begging me to buy their books.

Not. Goofing. Off.

I'm not goofing off instead of writing. I'm SOCIAL NETWORKING.

Instead of writing.

Damn. I better get back to work.

Tech stuff

LiveJournal will not let you make a comment without making you watch an ad. What's up with that?

I went back on Facebook. I had sworn off it for a while because of the privacy scandal. And sure enough, this time, when I signed up, it knew all my writerly friends. How did Facebook know the names of my friends? Huh? I specifically DID NOT let them access by email. Anyway, of course I friended everyone.

Creepy, but convenient. The story of our age.

Aug 5, 2010

Three Questions for Michelle Davidson Argyle about Cinders

Michelle Davidson Argyle's beautiful novella debuted recently, and I invited her to answer three questions about it.

1. This story works on two levels -- as a fantasy, it has magic, sprites, elves (O Kale, you sparkly elf hunk!) and fairies. In a lot of ways, it follows a fantasy story structure. Cinderella has to find three objects to make a spell work, for instance. However, it is really a literary story in the guise of fantasy tropes. Were you conscious of writing a story with a theme? There are several, ahem, men in Cinderella's life. Do the different forms of love she feels for each of them relate to the theme? Do you see the men as representing different choices not just Cinderella, but any person, could make?

You're right about Cinders parading around as a fantasy when it's really a literary story. It's almost entirely character driven, although there is also some fun outside action and tension. Yes, I was conscious of doing this, and I was conscious of writing a story with a theme, as well. My main idea for creating Cinders was to create a "fairy-tale-feeling" story that addresses certain issues I have with most fairy tales. First and foremost - love. I get bristles on the back of my neck whenever I read a truly happy ending where nobody seems to sacrifice anything important in order to get the love of their life. Many chick flicks fall into this category, and that's kind of what Disney Princess movies fall under...and that's an issue for me. Why? I like to keep things real, and I hate sending the message that love comes without sacrifices on both ends.

Cinderella finds love...three different versions of it. For me, true love never happens spontaneously. Cinderella learns this, I think. Or at least I tried to show that. I tried to use the three different men in Cinderella's life to represent three different types of love, or choices, I guess you could say. There's the fairy-tale love governed by magic, lust inspired by mystery and kindness, and learned love in two cases. Although the second case isn't shown in the novella, merely hinted at possibly happening in the future.

2. Your writing is extremely well-crafted at the word level. In addition, though, you have a number of motifs that run through the novel -- the white flowers, for instance. Or the way Cinderella thinks of her mother, vines and her nickname. The motifs are subtle but evocative. Did the motifs emerge accidentally during the writing, or did you consciously weave them throughout the story? How do you see the motifs playing to the theme?

It's interesting how I bring motifs into my writing. As I'm sure anyone who has read my writing knows, I focus a lot on details, but I've always believed in making sure each and every detail I provide is important to the story. I never once describe Cinderella's hair color or what her eyes look like. It doesn't matter for this story unless it's important to someone in the story, if that makes sense. Rowland's nose, for instance, I describe many times as long and straight because it's one of his features Cinderella notices and admires. As for the flowers, I believe those came up early on and I liked what they could represent, so I ran with it. Same with the vines and the shells. This is why I knew I couldn't design my cover until the book was fully developed. Things happen during the writing that shape everything else!

So to answer your question, my motifs happen on both a subconscious and conscious level. My motifs often go hand-in-hand with the themes, as well. For instance, the flowers are white and pure, like Cinderella's feelings for Rowland, although she doesn't see this until later. I love to play with motifs and symbolism and themes. I think that's one of my strengths in writing.

3. How do you see the Cinders working with or against the original Cinderella? (Or, since there are many versions, the theme of the Disney version.) Specifically, I would like to ask about the issue of power in Cinders. In the Disney version, Cinderella does not have much power, but what she does have she uses to protect those even more helpless than herself, for instance, tiny animals. In Cinders, she has much more power, but power is wielded more ambiguously all around. The prince, the fairy godmother, the queen, Cinderella, all have power, and in many cases, the reader is not sure that power is being used for good rather than for selfish purposes. Was this deliberate? Is it part of writing a Cinderella AFTER the happily-ever-after? Do you think the original fairytale of Cinderella sends a message? Do you think Cinders sends a different message?

As mentioned earlier, I have issues with Disney fairy tales. I think they're fine for children. They're watered down and simplified. That's fine, I guess, but not for any type of fairy tale I want to tell. I wanted something real and down-to-earth.I wanted something that showed Cinderella as a selfish person like most of us are, but are too afraid to admit. I wanted her to make mistakes and learn from them, and I wanted to show that magic can be messy and complicated.

I love the idea of power in my story, and I love showing how much it is a burden to Cinderella and how much she longs for the simplicity of her earlier life - even though it meant pain and suffering. There are different types of pain and suffering in our lives, and I love that my story shows those layers and different types.

Thanks for stopping by, Michelle!

Aug 4, 2010

Overly Poetic

I'm editing. Again. Joy.

It's funny. The first time I edited the draft, I found prose which was lifeless, stilted and dull. I added a bit of poetry, a touch of spice.

This time around, I'm toning some of that down. You could call it purple prose, but that's not specific enough. It's more like odd twists on words. I love to turn verbs into nouns, nouns into verbs, play on puns, throw in alliteration and even rhyming! Sometimes it works (in my opinion) but sometimes I think it detracts from the story by calling attention to the words. I'm trying to find the happy medium. My goal is simple, clear, translucent prose.

Aug 2, 2010

Chronological Out Order Of

I believe the structure of a story should reflect the theme. Sometimes that means not telling events in chronological order. Instead, events are fitted together like pieces of a puzzle, where they best serve the story, and time lines are plaited like hair in a braid.

I may have mentioned before an excellent example of this is Ursula LeGuin's Dispossessed. The story is about a scientist raised in an anarchist utopia who becomes disaffected with his homeworld. He travels to another planet where his genius is recognized and applauded, though eventually he realizes this society, too, has a dark underbelly. He is a physicist who has invented a device -- the ansible -- which makes timespace both simultaneous and sequential, thus allowing instantaneous communication across lightyears.

What's amazing about the book is how the structure mirrors this theme of events being both simultaneous/sequential. There are two story lines, told in alternate chapters. One tells of the main character's childhood and decision to leave his homeworld. The other tells of his gradual disillusionment with the other world and his eventual decision to return home. The book thus ends with him both leaving home and arriving home, simultaneously yet sequentially. More importantly, the reader appreciates how the past makes us, but the possibilities open to us in the future make us too, past and future are plaited like a braid that crosses in the present.

Another book I've raved about recently is Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro also tells his story out of chronological order, although he is subtle about it. (He's pretty subtle about everything, so is that a surprise?) That is, except for the fact that the story starts in the "present" and then begins a series of reminiscences about Kathy's growing up in an odd institution, the story appears to be in chronological order. Look more closely. It's not. In fact, the narrator jumps from incident to incident based on what the incidents have in common. It's as though Kathy is having a conversation with you, and although she is trying to relate the events of her life in chronological order, every now and then she forgets herself, or else suddenly she remembers one other thing that happened earlier, which she forgot to tell you before.

Ishiguro makes all of this look artless and natural. But he is in absolute control of what is revealed when, and his timeline is solid. Frankly, I don't know how he keeps his threads from getting tangled, but at the end of the book, Kathy's life does not look rambling after all. On the contrary, it has been charging straight forward toward a horrible, inevitable crash, like a train headed for a broken bridge. Even after you see the bridge coming, you can't turn left or right. There's no where to go but off the cliff.

The method I employ in the Dindi series is more similar to LeGuin's than Ishiguro's. In my notes, I keep a chronology for every character in the story, as well as for the world itself. (Dindi's people don't have calendars, because they don't have writing, but they give each year a unique name and symbol, which allows them to mark their years by carvings in a totem pole.) I could just start the story at Point A and plod along to Point B, but that doesn't reflect the theme of how memory and forgetfulness, knowledge and ignorance shape how one sees the world and others. The intertwined chronologies reflect how our views of the past alter our views of the future.

Behold My Invention, the Wheel

You know what I've just discovered?

My manuscript doesn't have to be perfect the first time. I can start out with this thing called a "rough draft." Get the main shape of the plot down on paper. Then go back with a finer brush and paint in the details.

Whoah! Did I think of that all by myself? Man, I'm a genius!

Ok, ok, this is Novelwriting 101. I am a big dork. Sometimes you have rediscover basic rules for writing over again. As the saying goes, "A fool can be told something 1000 times and never learn it. A genius need be told only seven-hundred-and-twenty-six times."

* * *

Speaking of trying something 726 times, I have again re-arranged Dindi (the series). Quick history: The project started as one 200,000 word book with 7 sections. That was too long, so I thought, what if I make each section into its own book? I wrote an additional 90,000 words for book one. Then I decided that I wanted the series finished, whether Book 1 has sold yet or not, and 7 books was too long. I played around with a quartet.

Inspiration: I have 300,000 words written and a complete series arc. How about a TRILOGY? See how I do that? First I invent a wheel, now a stone ax. I amaze myself.

Seriously, the reason I dismissed a trilogy before was because I couldn't figure out how to divide 7 by 3. Math, not my forte. (See the post on this topic on The Screaming Guppy.) Then I had a BRILLIANT idea. This time I'm not being sarcastic. Yes, a little bit self-mocking, just to pretend I'm being humble, but mostly I am serious. I re-arranged the order of the seven sections!

Now I have one (hopefully) polished mss (Book 1) and two virtually complete but extremely rough drafts. The word count aim for both is 100,000-110,00 words. As they stand:

Book 2: 102,000 words
Book 3: 88,000 words

I'm a happy camper.

* * *

Back to work on my wheel.

Or I could think of it as writing a 300 page synopsis.

Aug 1, 2010

Losing the Details

I've noticed something about how I write.

When I begin a book, I pay loving attention to the details of the setting and the poetry of the language. However, as the story begins to grip me, I start chasing down the action or dialogue so fast, the setting becomes a blur. The language also grows clunkier and clunkier. Soon, my nuanced, delicately painted world is dashed out in broad strokes of primary color. Beta readers have complained that middle chapters in my book feel like they take place in empty space compared to the earlier chapters.

Does this ever happen to you?

Synopsis, My Ongoing Loathing Of

I have to write a synopsis, and I am squawking and squeaking about it like a rusty bike in a rainstorm. I know I shouldn't be such a big baby, it's just one more petty curse authors have to put up with, but ugh, I would rather lick toads.

Why, synopsis, why must you be so hard to write? Why must you be as dull as dust? Why must you somehow forget to mention major plot points, thus making it seem as though the ending makes no sense? WHY? WHY?!