Category Archives: about writing

articles about writing and writing related topics

My Writing Process Blog Tour: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Obscurity

Folks who know me have heard already about the odd spot I occupy. I’m deep enough in to know the e-pub/self-pub indie process, and put several books out there. I’m coming up on three years in the business (anniversary announcement later), and know my way around an Amazon author page, online interview, or Smashwords coupon.

Most important, I have rubbed virtual elbows with terrific, successful and deeply gracious online authors ranging from complete and former strangers (met in the past year) to beta-critiquers (some over five years’ friendship, and already “old” friends in that sense) as well as best-selling “colleagues” I knew back in college (and who’ve had time to become strangers again). I’m the writing equivalent of a rock-band groupie who riffs a little guitar in his basement between concerts, and once in a while gets called up onstage to dance badly in the background during his band’s encore. I dream a lot, but not when I’m asleep!

So yeah- it feels a bit pretentious to be tapped for this writing tour (not once but twice! Thanks Kat and Peter). My keys to writing or publishing success? As if. But provided you have your salt shaker with you, read on. Actually, maybe one of those fifty-pound salt blocks you use for your water purifier, or the cattle herd…

 

1. What am I working on?

My WiP is well known to readers here, the third installment of the Shards of Light series, called “Perilous Embraces”.

Nicknamed The Forever Tale, Sub-Title How to Let Your MC Put You in a Sleeper Hold

I nudge the manuscript forward in moments of clarity, with long gaps between. The main character is without question the most difficult I have ever encountered- she sees the future, for one thing, all the time, so guess what happens to her grip on reality? But the feedback I’ve received on the first two pseudo-chapters has been quite encouraging. I cannot give a time-line for publication yet (this is NOT the anniversary announcement I promised), but I can tell you that fans of Justin and Feldspar, who have already seen a little bit of W’starrah Altieri, are in for a treat. Someday.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

“Differ”, bah, I don’t know or care really. After much thought, I’ll settle for the one word I was most moved to hear from others, to describe my work.

Heart.

I have seen this word used a couple of times and I treasure it. I think it means that I have been able to show the reader how admirable these heroes and heroines are, to peek into their lives and empathize, root for them, to curse their mistakes but not their intent, and rejoice with their victories in spite of the costs. Is this rare, does it stand out compared to other authors? Pardon me, but I think that’s a blind alley. How many times is too many to be inspired? If I can show you the situation they faced, and get you to agree with the decisions they made, I succeeded. To me the word “heart” means simply that you read about these heroes and were moved. Just as I was when I first saw them, and have been ever since.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Nit-Pick Department: I don’t “write”, I chronicle and it’s a very important distinction to me, because I saw and studied the Lands of Hope for thirty years before I started to take down the events in story form. This point will also no doubt interest the guys in white coats, when they arrive to fit me out for the lloooong-sleeved cardigan. But putting the Tales of Hope on paper (OK, you know what I mean) has become a vocation for me. As in the Latin, meaning “job you would do for nothing”, I feel called to chronicle these stories and I’m pretty sure that whatever my talents I’m the only guy for the job. But it’s not a job- I have a great one, thanks- it’s what I do by preference, for love of doing it. Which brings me to another Latin word, “amateur” and therein starts a tangled skein of temptation.

4. How does my writing process work?

No better or worse than any other contradiction in terms.                  :: rim-shot ::

The Lands of Hope on DVD is running in my head at all hours, frequently punctuated by the email pinging for work or the sound of my lovely wife saying “did you get that?” I spend every waking moment falling in and out of a daze, but it’s probably not as disorienting or depressing as I make it sound. You get used to the dual-view, after a couple decades… And on an infrequent morning or evening hour I can tap away another paragraph, or maybe just reverse the order of two sentences. I won’t lie- rarely, I enjoy a torrent of productivity, where the manuscript rolls forward during some portion of every waking hour. I write down thousands of words, usually fairly polished, and hardly any work gets done for job or family. But that’s a thin, short sparkler, and well before I can start to feel like a prolific writer, it burns down. I spend a day or so catching up on my life-obligations, and then it’s back to a half hour, a nudge.

Point is, I’m living here. If writers write to live, then yes I’m alive. And well. If they truly had to write to eat, I’d be starving, but I’m far more fortunate than that.

In a moment, the announcement. But first I must play Typhoid Mary and pass along the joy of self-description to three other folks. I’m tempted to escape via honesty, and just say “here are the folks to who influenced me most”, naming Stephen Donaldson, Ursula le Guin and Robert B. Parker. Of course, not one of them knows me from a hole in the wall, none blog that I know of and one of them has already passed from the world. So I’ll have to knuckle down.

How about Tia Nevitt, EPIC-award winning author of The Sevenfold Spell? I interviewed her in ancient times, further back than I dare to go in our archives, so it’s high time we saw her work again.Tia also has one of the coolest blog titles for a guy like me to admire, and I urge you to check it out- Anywhere but here, anywhen but now

Continuing down memory lane, Tracy Falbe is the prolific author of the Rys Rising series and others, another of the first indie/online authors I got to know in this genre and somebody who knows a thing or three about the biz. Check out Her Ladyship’s Quest while we wait for her turn.

And in the sleeper category- no, I mean it, she hasn’t written back yet and could be asleep- I call on Mary B Kaley, evil genius behind the rogue’s asylum at the Writers Extreme critique group and the owner/operator of I am Not an Editor blog, but also a tremendous author in her own right, featuring works of urban fantasy and the dystopian future. {Post-Script: Mary has just sent her regrets, but I’m stubborn and keeping her on the list.  Go to her blog and bug her to publish the story about Asia, which she’s had on the shelf for YEARS- it’s incredible.}

Now for the Funny Thing that Happened

At last (at THE last) my news. There I was writing through another long winter, minding my own business when the darnedest things started to happen. The weather got no warmer, but I’ve been invited WriteOutLoudto speak at a writer’s gathering and I signed a publishing contract, so it might as well be spring!

The invite comes from the Write Out Loud student group at the local university, who are sponsoring their first Reading Gala next month and asked me to speak. I am so jazzed! If you’re from the tri-state area near Newark Delaware, check it out, scheduled for May 9th. The publishing contract- I almost have to go look at the thing every time I think of it, just to convince myself- is quite real, a single sheet of paper that means so much to me I’ll have to blog about it separately. I can say this honestly- being “under contract”, as hilarious as that seems, makes me want to put in my very best effort ever, to promote my upcoming work and the cause of epic/heroic fantasy in general.

For now, I will say only:

This July,

The Man in Grey

approaches.

 

 

Guest Author/Character Interview: Louise Blankenship’s Disciple series Prince Kiefan

We are very fortunate to have a guest post this week from author Louise Blankenship, an interview with one of the protags in her “gritty romance” series. I say “we” are fortunate just as a courtesy- actually, it’s ME who’s the luckiest guy on earth, because this lady is hitting the target right on the little black circle thingy at the center. The Disciple series has already run three books, and the fourth installment just went live at the start of March. I’ve wondered how to get people cranked up if they only discover you in the middle of a series- I’m chipping away at one right now myself- and here’s a great answer. Louise has combined the first three books into an epic-value tri-pack called the Disciple Half-Omnibus (I took Latin in high school, Louise, I see what you did there). So now with a single purchase you can be all caught up. I’m thinking “yes!” (you know, loud and punchy like a cheerleader), but also “yyyeesssssss” (like the evil genius who’s just had another brilliant idea).

So to whet your interest even further here’s a terrific character interview with Prince Kiefan.

Interview with a prince

Prince Kiefan is the only surviving son and heir of the king of Wodenberg. Like his father, he has a reputation for discipline and stern expectations — and he’s eager to prove himself now that he’s come of age. I had some questions for Prince Kiefan at the beginning of Disciple, Part I. He’s about to leave on a vital secret mission to find allies for the kingdom.

L: You’re an alpha male in training and this secret mission is your most important command yet. Do you feel ready for this?

Kiefan: I trust the saints’ judgement. Though Father and I disagreed over the cavalry charge that I led some months ago, he cannot deny that it won the battle. The saints have judged me fit to lead and I will not fail in my duty to them or my people.  

L: You didn’t expect the master healer to send his apprentice, though.

Kiefan (frowning): No, I was told he would be with us in this, and then he brought Kate in his stead — but the saints affirmed her, gave her charge of our well-being. One must work with what’s given.  

L: It’s not because she’s a girl, is it?

Kiefan: (he laughs) I squired with Captain Aleksandra. Any who dares doubt her will be put straight on the matter of a woman’s strength and courage. But Kate’s no disciple of the sword. She’s a healer. It’s clear enough this will be no easy journey across the mountains — none have made it and returned, that any know of. The saints ask much of us, as it is.

L: So the problem is more that she’s — bookish?

Kiefan: Kate has never even been in the saddle before today. Surely she’ll learn it, but yes, she’s spent more time among books than —

L: I hear you’re fond of books yourself.

Kiefan: Father’s seen that I’ve studied tactics and —

L: No, I mean those philosophy essays you’ve been sneaking peeks at.

Kiefan (frowns): Father’s kept my days busy enough with serious matters.

L: There’s nothing wrong with a little philosophy, surely?

Kiefan: The king of Wodenberg must be a knight, firstly. He must see to duty. We’re at war.

L: Yes, it’s always duty for you. Including a political marriage someday.

Kiefan (gets up from his seat, impatient): The privileges of the throne have their price. I’ve a mission to lead. (strides away, armor clinking)

L: You’re not concerned about traveling with a cute, philosophy-reading healer?

Kiefan (circles back): Pardon?

L: Well, she is cute.

Kiefan (spreads one hand, confused): Yes, certainly she’s… cute. Philosophy?

L: Oh, yes. She’s been reading those essays too. Her teacher might’ve sent some homework with her on the mission.

Kiefan (doesn’t know what homework is, but he gets the gist): Why should that be troublesome?

L: I’m sure it won’t be, Mr. All Work And No Play.

Kiefan: Which books is Kate bringing?

L (shooing him off): It’s not part of your duty, is it? Go, you’ve got a mission to lead.

Thanks so much Louise- I really like Kiefan, though I can just TELL he’s headed for… eh, he is out of earshot now, right?

Let’s have you back in person- did I just write that?- to talk about the saga, the travails of marketing yourself, and other Herculean Labors. Until then folks, click on these links and get in now on a terrific-looking series right on that cusp of romance and fantasy.

Back cover blurb

War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Available at

AmazonNookOther major retailers

DISCIPLE, PART IV arrives on March 10th!

Get a reminder by joining L’s mailing list

Try PART I for only 99 cents!

AmazonNookOther major retailers

Disciple-PartI-cover-2000.jpg

Classics You’ve Never Read Part Five: Getting Better All the Time

First off, a quote I should have used to open the series back at Part One. But I didn’t know he’d said it.

“Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read” – Mark Twain

Now you know for sure I was right with the title of this series; you wouldn’t dare contradict the author of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a classic!

For the sixth book (trust me, I can count, we’re on book 6), I come at last to a deeply embarrassing confession. I loved the book, really. But not the way I expected, not as much as I hoped. And my expectations were set in this case, because I had seen the movie first! {Oh, the shame…} And LOVED IT! But that’s OK, because you probably haven’t seen the movie either (not the right one anyway- there has of course been a remake).

Now you need to thank me, because the easiest thing to talk about with this book would be, ONCE AGAIN, world-building. Or at least, society-building in its lowest common denominator. But this is a tale about how life continually improves, and why, when you land on … The Mysterious Island

You map something and it's real!

You map something and it’s real!

I heard that wise-crack- “enough with Jules Verne already”. Pipe down, you- do you realize all of his tales I could have used? And I will, if you don’t behave, you watch me. But I admit this is not one of his more famous novels, which is curious because he did what we’re all supposed to do as authors- went back to one of his most popular characters for a sequel. Even better, he hid him for half the book! Instead he follows more good writerly advice and whacks you between the eyes with a fabulous opening. Five remarkably-diverse but worthy men and one faithful dog escape a Confederate prison in the waning days of the war, by stealing a balloon Mys_Isl1which promptly gets caught in one of the most powerful storms of all time. Blown halfway around the world, marooned on an uncharted island… oh, you’ve heard this one before? Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson… guess what, Verne’s first draft of the tale was titled Shipwrecked Family: Marooned with Uncle Robinson. So, there’s some encouragement for you if you think the greats were never inspired by (read- cribbed from) what they read. Or never got rejected by publishers.

So yeah, it’s the whole we’re-alone-in-a-strange-place-what-do-we-do-now genre: at the bottom looking up. Ingenuity to the rescue- MacGuyver without phones, A-Team without helicopters: when you think about it, there’s a very  long standing tradition of we-can-do-without-almost-everything, one that can be really fun to contemplate. These five guys drop onto foreign soil with just one penknife and the scraps of the stuff that makes a balloon. No food, no orientation, no extra clothes or shelter or whiskey or  cigars. But they’re AMERICANS, by golly; once they create a fire, it’s all downhill from there.

Sure enough, they construct shelters (even becoming socially mobile and moving up to better and better quarters over time). They fire bricks, smelt iron, create explosives, herd cattle, determine their latitude and longitude- it’s the man-cave run wild. I kept waiting for them to make a toilet with no seat to have to put down. Which brings me to my first observation about this kind of story- survival and improvement tales are all about authority in your voice. If you do a ton of research about an historical period, or a scientific subject pertinent to your plot, you know you want to show it off to the reader. And that’s not wrong- it excited YOU, there’s got to be something there for them. But how?

Here’s how- the castaways are struggling for their very lives, and that’s an empathic situation for the reader, they wonder “what WOULD I do?”. Once you introduce an authority figure- in this case, the super-genius American entrepreneur Cyrus Harding- who starts to tell the others how to do a thing, it naturally translates for the reader. See that red earth there? Here’s what you do… and the reader is practically feeling like one of the workers now, going step by step, building it up and sighing with satisfaction when the job is well done. As the characters feel increasingly empowered, the reader is also carried along, thinking “wow, I could survive on a desert island”. If you get there, you’ve got them.

Lucky they teach guys so much as civil engineers! My credulity got strained when it became clear that Harding knew everything, like the combined reincarnation of Archimedes and Da Vinci. They build a boat, a serviceable sailing ship, and while discussing whether they could make it to civilization aboard, they get a mysterious message in a bottle from another castaway on a

Hey, sustainable.

Hey, sustainable.

“nearby” island. Me, I’m thinking “maiden voyage, nearby means I can see it from here!” but nothing scares these guys, and they duly depute a couple to sail over and pick the fellow up. Then comes the elevator, the telegraph- OK, now I can chuckle and relax into a more normal state of suspended disbelief. After all, what did Jules Verne know about “Gilligan’s Island”?

And that’s the second point- do you want to be a laughing stock with your story? Isn’t it kind of, you know, bad to portray nothing but uninterrupted progress throughout a tale? What about conflict, downturns, that terrific way you can play yo-yo with a reader’s emotions? Your sadistic cackle of satisfaction as you picture the reader alternately throwing the book on the floor with a scream, and then snatching it back up along with a tissue, to turn the page. Is that why Mysterious Island wasn’t a big hit, isn’t this something you should never do?

My unhesitating response is- let me get back to you on that. I can only speak for my genre, and even there not with authority, but I think it’s safe to say that epic and heroic fantasy are in a strong swing towards anti-heroes, deconstruction and morbidity right now. I’ve gone on and on about Game of Thrones, but GRRM is hardly alone and it’s hardly been just recently. We’ve become more hard-bitten as an audience generally, I think; all kinds of rather horrible things get lined up under the rubric of “realism”. Witness the incredible popularity of “The Walking Dead” on TV! There’s a point of view that your story needs to portray the world “as it is” which is to say, going to hell in a handbasket, in order to be serious or believable. So you certainly can’t afford to show the heroes constantly progressing, improving and having nothing but good times… right?

But there’s so much to be gained from a rise to triumph over circumstances, against all odds. All-time best survival-struggle-ingenuity tale in history- Captain Kirk, the 23rd century starship

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

captain, marooned on a worthless planet against a bipedal xenophobic gila monster, manages to cobble together a prehistoric shotgun that fires diamond ammo. Man, they learn almost as much at Starfleet as a 19th century civil engineer!

I guess the only right answer is, sometimes. If readers believe their own  alleged-real lives are going in the hopper- first of all, they might be right or wrong about that. And second, assuming they’re right they might want to see it played out straight (fist-raised, rock-musicked, drug-smoked anti-war movies for the Vietnam generation) or to escape it (Astaire and Rodgers skating around a richly decorated ballroom for mass audiences during the Depression). We seem to  be in love with bad these days, the only reason the characters get a lift is so the next drop can be even deeper. Me, I get about five hundred pages along, and realize the latest bout of good fortune is just another dead-cat bounce, and I’m done. So a movie like Mysterious Island should tank. I gather the remake in 2012 did; I didn’t even get past the trailers. But it wasn’t about things getting steadily better- it was another thrill-ride with crisis after crisis, you can tell.

Um, does the CRAB know it's on the menu?

Um, does the CRAB know it’s on the menu?

The REAL movie, from 1961? Man, what a fantastic flick. Same survival theme, manly men scraping for their lives and making it better. But hey- giant crab for dinner! My debt of pure joy to Ray

Harryhausen is vast… And I have to admit, once in a while Hollywood gets it right. They put two women in- another shipwreck- and it was the right move. No big romance, but more of a balance to this miniature society.

There you go. It’s not necessary to have the tale’s tone be all-down, or only-up-to-go-down. But it does have to point to something else to Mysterious-Island-2really succeed. Swiss Family Robinson always emphasized the family above all; Robinson Crusoe found out a lot about what he didn’t need (and what he still did). With Mysterious Island there is a strong aspect of what it takes to be a society: Harding is elected leader and his judgment always prevails. The members of this tiny nation have their parts to play, and work hard to reap rewards with satisfaction, overcoming their differences in the process. Others can be admitted if worthy- the castaway is a wrongly accused pirate, and while the handling of the former slave Neb is still stereotypical, it’s a big step that he is accorded equal’s treatment. The group even domesticates an orangutan and raises him to near-human status. Oy, give me the English ladies in the movie, who make the point perfectly well that you can admit new members who merit our interest, but still decide to reject the pirates (who show up in both the book and

Ah yes- tonight's special.

Ah yes- tonight’s special.

the movie). Yeah, pirates with cannons, not exactly a fun development- and by the way, lest you think this tale is Sunnybrook Farm without the little girl, did I mention the volcano is going to blow!!

The book and movie have a second theme as well- the eventual discovery of the island’s former total population, Captain Nemo. Once again I found the treatment of his character and his

Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and-  oops wrong movie.

Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and- oops wrong movie.

part in the plot was better done in the movie- his heroic sacrifice stayed with me since childhood when I first saw the film, and I kind of realized that he wasn’t all bad, but it was better he wasn’t coming back to the world. Pretty serious thought for a kid of eight watching a movie- maybe things don’t have to get better all the time, for everyone.

In The Plane of Dreams, the main party of adventuring heroes starts out having ejected one of their members, and admitting new ones to their society. Along the course of their new adventure, they run into some serious trouble, not quite marooned on an island but nevertheless bad. The party is looted and beaten up, and it’s somewhat a wonder why they haven’t been killed. Still, things are not good…

Zoanstahr was certainly surprised to awaken at all. Twice he had been the special target of an attack, and this time he had already seen the rest of the party fall before him. But the unusual fact that he was still alive paled to insignificance when he realized that he was completely naked.

Wm. L. Hahn. The Plane of Dreams (Kindle Locations 870-872).

Starting from there with literally nothing, the party starts its climb back up- and they must redeem their reputations as well as their belongings. It was a long haul for them, but a fun and ultimately rewarding one to witness. (That’s all I do, by the way, just watch them in action) Even the party member they rejected at the start helps to save them all,  by sacrificing his life unknown to the world. The more I think on it, the more I realize how much I’ve drawn inspiration from the work of others (and we both know what THAT word means!). For me, it was the movie first this time- but then, they read the book, so it’s all good.

And I didn’t have to wait to be rejected by a publisher before putting The Plane of Dreams out there. I guess it is getting better all the time, for me.

Author Interview: Kristen S. Walker

To my ongoing amazement, we continue to lure aspiring authors to the Independent Bookworm for interviews. Even with the incontrovertible evidence of our perfidious cruelty right before their eyes, they come- driven by passion, by desperation or perhaps just a terminally short attention span. And who are we to complain?

Next up in the chair of interrogation is Kristen S. Walker, whose new novel “A Flight of Marewings” is debuting this month. Perhaps she believes her previous acquaintance with the eminent Ms. Gerlach will save her. Perhaps she is grievously, tragically mistaken… now where did I put that YA-sized strappado…

In the sky, behind her... are those wings?

In the sky, behind her… are those wings?

Q: All other questions must wait! What is Wyld about your world’s Magic, besides the spelling. And most important please, how soon can I start to use it?

A: Wyld Magic is actually the forces of Nature on steroids to fight back against the advancement of human civilization. It twists normal plants and animals into deadly monsters, from marewings to stranglevine, virtually all of which are hostile to humans and are actively trying to destroy farms and settlements. Humans in Seirenia have to band together in the safety of cities, or get the aid of priests to bless their fields and keep back the encroachment of the Wyld. As for humans harnessing that power for their own purposes, well, I will tell you that some of the characters in this book try to do just that. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens, but I don’t think you’d want to mess around with it lightly. The effects of Wyld Magic on human society will be an ongoing theme for the series.

Q: You describe the world of Seirenia and Marewings as epic fantasy. Does that mean it’s not YA? Can kids read epics?

A: Epic, high, or heroic fantasy are all terms used to describe a flavor of fantasy that focuses on magical quests or adventures with dangerous monsters. Some of it is written for the YA crowd (see Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels for a bestselling example), but A Flight of Marewings has almost entirely adult characters, so it’s not aimed at that age group. However, many kids and teens (including me when I was younger and my own teen girls now) read above their age group as well, so I wouldn’t say that my novel could not be enjoyed by teens. After all, the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered non-YA epic fantasy, but many people read it for the first time in middle or high school, and it’s often their introduction to the fantasy genre.

marewings-tour-banner

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference with trying to interest a younger reader- in any kind of story?

A: Well, the contrary thing about younger readers is that they often don’t want to read something that you’re “trying” to tell them to read. In general, YA, MG (middle grade) and children’s books are just those stories with younger characters who are also probably trying to deal with issues that kids of that age can relate to, from school bullies to first love. Otherwise, these books shouldn’t be written any differently than novels for adults, especially when you’re writing for teens—they can handle complex concepts and advanced vocabulary at that age, and they really don’t like to be talked down to. That means you can still tackle difficult issues and dark themes in YA, to some extent in MG, and delicately in children’s books. (I remember being seven years old and reading about one of the characters in the Babysitters’ Club when her grandmother had a stroke, and how that affected her family. This was two years after my own grandmother had passed away, so I was no stranger to those kinds of issues.)

 In the end, every reader is different, and they’re going to be interested in different things. I would say that my approach has been to talk to a few teens and ask what they think of my ideas or what they want in a story. I’m lucky to live with two of them who are very vocal in their opinions, and teen readers are also easy to find online.

Q: I see that you, madam, not satisfied with owning an entire fantasy world, need to invade the ARW (Alleged Real World) as well. “Small Town Witch” sounds pretty close to magical realism, yes? Everything’s the same except we have, um, a few thousand spellcasting monstrous beings running around in Northern California. I wonder if anyone would even notice! Did you have more world-building to do with a small town in this world, or in describing an entirely new one?

A: What can I say? I love world-building and I never know when to stop! I think that I did more world-building for Seirenia for two reasons: I’ve been working on that world since I was thirteen (although it doesn’t resemble its original incarnation much at all by now), and I cheated with my small town because it’s actually mostly based on a place where I grew up—in Northern California. It prides itself on being weird, so there’s already plenty of strange things running around, but I do think people would notice if magic suddenly started to show up. (There would be photos up on the community blog, like the escaped parrot that roosts in neighborhood trees and sightings of the alleged “ghost” in a certain hotel.) I don’t know if magical realism applies, though, because the magic is front and center without too much of the realism. I call “Small Town Witch” alternately Urban or Contemporary or Modern Fantasy to emphasize that it’s in our time and our world. (As a joke, I once said that it was the opposite of Urban Fantasy because it’s not in a city, and wanted to coin the sub genre of Rural Fantasy, but I don’t know how many other books would join mine in that category!)

Q: Tell us more about the series (“The Fae of Calaveras County”) that you started with “Small Town Witch”, and particularly your decision to serialize the later volumes (available now on her Facebook page). Would you recommend that publication plan?

A: Well, I self-published “Small Town Witch” first on all of the traditional digital platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, but it’s been tough to get visibility with so many other books out there. I knew that my friend, Jimena Novaro, was releasing her novel “The Withering Sword” as a serial on both her website and on Wattpad—a website that lets writers share their stories for free. I learned from her and a few other writers that Wattpad is a good community to connect directly with readers, especially teens. So when I started to write the sequel to “Small Town Witch”, I decided to experiment with sharing the novel as I wrote it. Other than writing too fast for many readers to keep up with (I managed a rate of a chapter a day for the whole month of November), I think it was successful, and I’ve made some new friends and fans that way.

 I know many authors wouldn’t like this approach, because it means giving away your work for free. I don’t personally plan on leaving up my entire story there indefinitely—in the next few weeks, I’ll remove it from Wattpad and start revising the story to publish it as an ebook later. But for getting visibility, one of the major hurdles of a self-published author that doesn’t have the backing of a big publishing company or a huge marketing budget, I do recommend sharing at least some work with readers for free, on Wattpad, your own site, or any of the other similar communities. You get direct feedback. If you share the first part of a longer series, you can get people interested in later books. And not just self-published authors use this to find new readers—Margaret Atwood and Brandon Sanderson both have entire books on the site. Every author has to find their own plan that fits their work and their goals, so I don’t think it’s ideal for everyone, but it’s worth looking at as one option among so many available today.

Q: Are you a disciplined writer, with a regular schedule and habits? Notes, much? How about a Muse, did you pick up one of those along the way? And how are the two people inside your head getting along- Kristen the author and Kristen the marketer? Any fistfights, and if so who won?

A:I do try to keep up the habit of working on something every day. Sometimes I write a story, sometimes I work on outlines or world-building, other days it’s revision—but I keep my momentum going better when I do some kind of writing and my stories stay fresh in my mind. I’m trying to cut back on my massive amount of notes that I do for each project, because I can spend too much time planning and never get to the actual story. My Muse is a hyperactive child who gets easily distracted by shiny things, but when she’s focused she hovers over my shoulder to demand everything from explosions to unicorns.

 Kristen the writer has been a strong force since I was eight and started my first notebook (which was blue and had a unicorn on the front). It’s been much harder to learn how to be Kristen the marketer. I hate trying to talk about myself in job interviews or self-evaluations, and I’m very shy about asking for anything like “buy my book”. I try to approach it as I’m excited about my stories and I want to share them with other people, so I think about what I can say to explain why I think they are interesting. Marketing is still a very new skill for me, though, and Kristen the researcher has been hard at work to dig up virtually every article and book on the subject so I can learn more. But when it comes to any kind of decisions that I have to make, like what’s the best kind of cover art (something that follows bestselling trends versus something that I think represents my story), then Kristen the writer has been winning every time. As a result, I might not be making the best plans from a marketing perspective (I am giving away stories for free on Wattpad after all, and I don’t think the cover of “A Flight of Marewings” looks like any traditionally published fantasy book released in the last five years). That kind of stubbornness is probably not going to make me as much money.

Q: You seem quite open to sharing space on the web at your site and on your blog with other authors. Names, we must have the names for future interrogation purposes. What’s your theory about sharing interests with other authors- is it United We Stand, or I Am a Rock/Island? And BTW, is this strictly a Hear Women Roar deal, or is the Y chromosome set also welcome?

A: So far, I’ve hosted fantasy author Jimena Novaro, science fantasy author Nadine Ducca, superhero author Thomas Healy, and recently, fantasy romance author Juli D. Revezzo. It’s been a lot of fun to hear about their different stories and approaches to writing, and I hope to host many more in the future. (If you’re an author looking for a guest blog spot, please contact me!) Now, I think it’s much better for authors to work together instead of standing alone—we can all use the help and support, and readers benefit by finding more stories they love. After all, it’s not really a competition between us, where I have to fight Jimena or Nadine to sell more of my books. I know from personal experience that no single writer (even the crazy prolific ones that you hear about releasing a book every month) can keep up with the rate of an enthusiastic reader (I know people who read two or more books a week, and I myself read a four-book series in about two days when I was sick over Christmas break). Also, while I’ve only hosted one man on my site so far, this is simply because I know more women who write. When I offer to host someone, it’s because I like the kinds of stories that they write, not which chromosomes they have or any other physical differences.

Q: OK, before I work another 60s rock ballad into my questions, you may go for now- but don’t leave the, um, multiverse, we may wish to question you further. Let us know how we can get in touch with you and your work, and thanks again for your cooperation, Kristen. Sergeant, take off the cuffs.

A: Hey, I have no problems with 60s rock ballads! I love classic rock (along with a lot of other music). I have an eclectic music collection, and classic rock even features in my karaoke song rotation (when it fits into my soprano range). The best way to find me is through my website, kristenwalker.net, which links to my current books, has a blog for updates on future works, and also points to my Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad accounts. You can even contact me directly through blog comments on a form. Thanks for the friendly interrogation, Will!

Korinna’s life gets turned upside down when the ghost of her father suddenly appears. Her father was duke of Kyratia City and he wanted Korinna to marry his warlord, the foreign mercenary Galenos, and inherit his title–but the city’s Council has other plans. When the Council denies Korinna’s right to rule, she decides to join Galenos’s mercenary company and tame a wild marewing in order to take the city by force. But people whisper that the late duke’s untimely death was murder, an induced madness that forced him to dance himself to death–and now that madness is spreading. Can Korinna become a marewing rider and conquer Kyratia in time to save everyone?

A Flight of Marewings at Amazon

A Flight of Marewings at Smashwords

Author Bio

Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a princess with a flying horse, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new epic fantasy novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen’s world-building references, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk Sherlock, horses, and crochet with Kristen any time on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.

Re-

{As in, doing it again}

It starts with me up a tree. I was probably eighty feet off the ground in a spire-straight maple bigger than you could hug. I’d been up there for hours, and was going to keep doing it for weeks. I was eight at the time. And then more weeks again at nine, and another month or two at ten, and twelve…

Last week I had no intention of blogging on this. But one of my sisters actually requested that I write about it- and how many of you, fellow authors out there, have actually had a blog request? Since it comes at New Year’s, it’s quite appropriate to the theme of re-solutions (where we essentially try to solve our problems for the second-or-greater time). But I want to be honest with you- I would not have volunteered to write this.

Because this is a confession.

Picture me sheepish, my hands hesitating, trashing the first few drafts (was the first time really an accident!?) and looking furtively both ways before getting down to cases. That’s good news for you of course, because now you can drop any unpleasant impulse you had to think about quitting smoking or laying off the dark chocolate in 2014, and just bathe in the schadenfreude for another few minutes. All for you, dear reader. And here goes-

I repeat.                                                                     

Seriously, I do everything again- all kinds of stuff over and over. I seek the old. You?

How many kids do you know were digging into ancient history by the time they were five? My sister (not the first one, I have a whole set) taught me to read before school started, and I was into books about as soon as I could turn the pages. Ancient history, though? Made perfect sense to me- these people were not different from us, once you understand a bit about their culture, technology, circumstances, you can see right into their problems, the choices they had to make. And I couldn’t get enough. It’s ALL happened before- that idea didn’t bore me, it thrilled me. I wanted to see it in the first times, and then look for it again in later ages. I still do. “History repeats itself” is not an insult: it’s a promise.

But beyond thoughts, I was repeating deeds throughout my childhood. I had all the tools, I guess- that distinct scarcity of playmates furnished by life in rural Vermont, parents distracted with six kids and dozens of animals on premises. Most important, I carried an unparalleled ability to focus on the one thing I really wanted. Before I was twelve (geek alert), I saved up my precious allowance to buy those wargames (GEEK-GEEK!), the ones with the folded up maps and two or three hundred cardboard counters, and if you’ve never seen one of them you’re probably happy about that. I would get Mom to drive a friend over to the house, and we’d go in the basement, spread out the map and play for HOURS. Each game, two-four-seven hours: thanks for dinner Mom, and back downstairs. And we’d play the SAME game, for months.  I was always the Japanese playing “Solomon’s Campaign” against my  best bud Bill Michaels, and I swear to you I never won, not once: zero and probably a hundred and twelve. But we loved it. Over and over we planned when to launch the invasion, how many supplies we’d need to hold this island, where to hide the subs. Maybe this time…

And so it went: garbage-lid-and-broomstick jousting with my sister (another one, younger than me), setting up a black trash bag’s worth of little green army men on the hillside pasture (with inevitable casualties when it came time to gather them up), using the tree swing to run diagonally up the trunk like Spider-Man, and pose until gravity insisted. Barn-crawling through trap-doors, between stalls and across beams to find the absolute coolest way to get from any door to any other exit, and then timing myself endlessly for speed- parkour before Nikes. Keeping constant watch from the tree house for expected, if mythical enemies. You can read any number of articles about the value of unstructured play time- here’s one-and I recommend them to you if you had such a childhood (because you’ll feel smugly good), but not if you have kids (because you’ll feel like a louse). We all know today, let your kids run around loose and they’ll crate you off with irons on your legs and a raincoat over your head. But my experience was doused in repetition and ritual. Lord, how I loved it. I re-turned to it passionately, constantly, eagerly. And re-peatedly.

So, the tree. We had a half-dozen super tall maples on the property and the same number of apple trees. But this one, the furthest south of the pair in the sheep pen, was the best for getting high. The limbs started just above my reach, but that was OK because Jason the ram wanted to break the leg of anything that entered his domain, so you had to take a running leap anyway. After that, it was as easy as using your hands and feet to go upstairs (something I still do at times). In seconds I could be so high off the ground it gave me a jolt in the perineum to gaze down. Look it up, I’m on a roll here.

And there were limbs big enough to hold me right at the top, where the leaves thinned even in summer and I could see… well, everything really. All the lands thereabouts, mine and neighbors’ and open fields to the hill beyond the beaver-pond, which as far as I knew nobody owned. Higher than the barn roof, I could think about flying as the superheroes did (I expected I could fly far away and always get back home without help- surely the borders between states and countries would be brightly marked, like on my maps). I was so far up I thought the air was cleaner- and in rural Vermont, that’s quite a thought to have- but the limbs of that maple were utterly secure. I climbed like a monkey, and was safer up there than in many places on the ground- for example, within arm’s reach of anything sharp or flammable. And up there, safe near flying, I learned so many things. I learned that fear of heights is relative- most of my relatives have it worse than me. I found that birds never get quite used to you, but will eventually come a bit closer, and not fly away as fast. I realized one of the great truths learned by the stealthic Feldspar- that people almost never look up, even when you are speaking to them.

And the next thing I knew Mom was ringing the bell for dinner. She had to- we were all over creation. I went up that tree a million times, honestly- long past the point  there was anything new to see or think about. And if I wasn’t gathering wool up there, it was something else. Something I’d already done, time and again.

I read books over and over (and I bet some of you do too- but not like me). I read The Count of Monte Cristo about every four or five years. Here I am facing more than a half-year with no progress on my WiP: so naturally I went back to re-read the tales I’ve already chronicled (only one of which is unpublished, and took a little polish- for the fifth time). My lovely wife gave me the new fantasy book I requested for Christmas (Mortal Instruments, I wanted to check out the competition- hah, as if). What did I do? I continued to re-read, for maybe the fifth time, the first few of the John Carter, Warlord of Mars series. I stare at the maps I made and think again about the adventures I’ve seen in the Lands. I repeat conversations I’ve had, while doing the dishes, or playing a favorite computer game… again. Wherever I turn in life, I look to wrap myself in what I’ve already enjoyed.

After all, what’s a half a year? The main character of my WiP, the Stargazer preacher W’starrah Altieri, is fairly new to me. I spent thirty years looking at the Lands of Hope before that fateful day in 2008, when I finally started to chronicle what I’d seen. I must get to know this lady better, I think, before I go any further. And no question, there was something about Dejah Thoris (John Carter’s love) that reminded me of W’starrah. Gorgeous woman, sure, but something more… maybe I should read another one in the series.

Or maybe I could climb that tree again, and feel the breeze around me, hear Jason’s impatient snort of outrage below. Doing things repeatedly doesn’t just make you familiar with them (familiarity, by itself, leads- well, to contempt of course). Returning to something you love re-inforces you, and in the end I think it re-news you. Like I said, good for New Year’s. There are people who constantly move from one new thing to the next, and I salute them in all candor. I sometimes think that perhaps those scores of thousands of hours, in the end, will add up to a wasted life. And believe me, I’ve thought that before. But I’m staying here, and I’m doing this.

Again.

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part 4- So Wrong, They’re Right

This one took me forever. Not to read, but to figure out. How to classify this classic work?- and yeah, no shot you’ve read it, dear reader, none- that question puzzled me until, to use the words of the season, my puzzler was sore. The movies clearly ranked it science-fiction: of course, because they wanted to play with the special effects. A horror tale? I really thought so, because the main character is such a threat- but I found myself chuckling so loud and often as I read, I knew it wouldn’t be honest to say so. The  author’s opinion on the flyleaf subtitle calls it “A Grotesque Romance”, but being written in 1897, I knew full well that was only going to confuse people. Back then, neither word meant what it does today. The synopsis definitely doesn’t go “ugly-boy-meets-girl, etc.” In fact, for most of the last half of the book. no one meets the main character at all! Hence the chuckling, amidst which a realization fell on me like a bolt. This story is really all about the crowd- the others, the bit characters and how incredibly wrong they get it (while still being right).

That’s the theme that runs throughout The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

I’m not going to pretend there’s a vast trove of unknown lore you need to catch up on by reading this book. The plot would fit on the back of an airmail stamp.

Now you see him...

Now you see him…

Obsessed amoral scientist turns himself invisible, tries to get back to normal, can’t, hurts people and causes chaos, dies. With that title, there’s no whopper of a mystery going on! But that’s where the thread picks up. As with some of his other works, Wells chooses to describe and judge his main character to you through the eyes of everyone else in the story. A mysterious man wrapped from head to toe arrives at a small town inn, and never comes out of his room. So it’s not his thoughts, but those of the tavern-crowd we are treated to. Mrs. Hall the innkeep’s wife is thrilled to have a “gentleman” boarder, but of course insatiably curious, henpecking her indifferent husband to invent excuses for knocking on the door. The regulars at the bar look on, as the guest’s increasingly aberrant behavior comes out onto the landing or is shouted through the walls.

And what do they guess? These sleepy village folk, simple rustics with that classic stolid sense of “what’s right”, do they come close to figuring out what the title character is up to? Not by a country mile: an ‘arful accident, p’raps some nasty disease, that’s what brung him into those wrappings, surely. The story continues- the mystery guest becomes ever more combative and erratic. Windows open and close by themselves, the local prior is robbed, nosy landlords appear to eject themselves from the second-floor guest room. Still no one can make heads or tails of it- you’re screaming “INVISIBLE MAN, IDIOTS!” but it does no good. The crowd continues to bumble and guess wrong- yet somehow, they manage to flush out the IM, brilliant scientist or no. Because

Not this one!

Not this one!

he’s the bad guy- treats people arrogantly, never pays up (“put it on the bill!”), loses his temper. T isn’t right- and while the full population of the village can’t assemble one clue between them, yet there’s a kind of righteous tide, simple questions pile up and the villain is unmasked, forced from his rooms with some of his criminal intent exposed.

Wells is not faithful to any particular individual in the crowd- your PoV jumps from one stubbornly inane opinion to another, sometimes for the length of one line and never to return. A fair bit of time is spent with an unfortunate hobo, a poor fellow accosted as the IM roamed “naked” through the countryside (what are the odds?) and beaten, petrified into helping him along for a while. In the final third of the story, we settle in the house of IM’s former school-mate, another scientist fortuitously living in the vicinity, to whom he can at last begin to explain his progress.

Here the veil of humor drops away, and I must say the story of his experiments are not appropriate for all audiences. The IM coolly describes how, from his London apartment, he first tried his experimental process on the landlady’s cat- and only later discovered how agonizingly painful it was. “So that was why it meowed so awfully all those hours”- this more than anything coming before or after shows me what a beast he always was. It’s a dreadful scene: perhaps even his fellow scientist is affected by IM’s ruthless, sociopathic attitude. An attempt at betrayal leads to another rampage from the IM, who without clothes always has the advantage (or seems to). The ending is unimportant except for how it reinforces some of the themes I’ve been harping on- the many in the crowd, the entire district roused to action by the threat of an invisible menace who has declared war on mankind, and eventually they get him. In the process, they don’t do much that’s right, and some make horrible mistakes as usual (the laughter is gone from the tale by now- and I STILL don’t know what genre this really should be called). In the end, the IM reappears, which is to say, he dies.

I totally see Kevin Bacon

I totally see Kevin Bacon. You?

Good.

Hollywood seems to have followed the same general idea, both in the 1930s version with Claude Rains and the usual steroid-pumped remake (“The Hollow Man”) with Kevin Bacon. I haven’t seen all of either one, but it seems clear this theme of the common folk is preserved in the first, lost in the second. Without these untrustworthy narrators, without the gaggle of wrong-footed yokels to stare and puzzle and go off on tangents when they theorize, the tale loses a vital something.

This is something you see in epic fantasy all the time- on either side of the village’s only street as the strangers arrive, in battles and at church, and ESPECIALLY of course inside the tavern. They drink, they argue, and most of all they get it comically, horrendously wrong. Through their beloved bigotry and hackneyed catch-phrases I learned a lot about the world, the problems facing the heroes. One tavern scene I chronicled in The Ring and the Flag had so much going on, I visited it again on the same night in Fencing Reputation. {All different material, all still wrong!} And the famous Mark’s Inn of Wanlock sees repeated action in The Plane of Dreams. Some of the greatest heroes the Lands will ever know passed through its door and the regulars hardly noticed, yakking on about adventurers, crime, and the ever popular what’s-wrong-with-the-world-today. They’re totally off about who the heroes and who the villains are, much more often than not. But they get it right in the end. Things ARE going all sideways, and those adventurers (wherever they are), they don’t belong here.InvMan33

More than that; I realized from reading The Invisible Man that Wells was really double-casting the entire process of reading a great adventure. Get this, it’s brilliant. The main character isn’t really there, right? Because he’s YOU. The writer: struggling, trying for genius, losing it- and desperate to keep people from finding out your story until it’s done. And the crowd? The inn-folk, the villagers standing around and apparently too silly to guess what two and two add up to- they’re the readers of your tale. You WANT the reader to be just like them- not catching the whole thread, but very curious and grimly determined to find out more. They press you, they don’t get it, annoying yet persistent. They’re good people. And in the end, both crowds inside and out get it right. That famous saying about how often the customer is not wrong? It applies.

Whenever you hear from the crowd in a fantasy tale, you can see the readers right in their place- it’s a wonderful way to draw them in, make them feel as if they’re standing by the bar, or in the second row. None of them understand your main character, but they’re getting interested in finding out. The Invisible Man teaches a lot about people, the common character of what you might call human nature. And that’s really good news- unless of course you’re a bad person like IM himself, trying to spread chaos and evil with your tale. Then they’ll hunt you down and kill you. But that’s not your problem, unless you’re George R. R. Martin…

Where is the crowd in your story? Are you pulling readers into the book by using the masses?

The Haunted House in Jericho- a Thinning Line Between the Worlds

I thought a little Halloween tale would be appropriate for us in the writing tribes. You might call this an epilogue to the Supernatural post I sent in earlier, where your belief in the Alleged Real World momentarily breaks down. We pretend, at this time of year, that the elements of classic horror tales are “living” among us- and we pretend that we’re not pretending with each other. This is a tale of an older time- by which I mean, the 1960s- where let us just say the options were more limited. Maybe we were narrow-minded as well. I think with so much less choice around us, we pared down to the things that really mattered. Like feeling and inflicting terror.

You need to picture the scene. The mid-1960s in rural northern Vermont: Jericho at once quaint and Biblical, site of the famous Red Mill and birthplace of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, who between them populate two-thirds of all greeting cards exported from New England. More dirt roads, fewer TV channels, and simply acres of open space between houses. Less to do, more to imagine- snow on the ground by Halloween. Our house, a sprawling manse of bricks and white shutters, looms on a small rise just off the road where the first settlers came through in the 1600s. Nine people live inside- five sisters, two parents and “Uncle Don” staying with us in those days- and everyone knew the Hahns of Jericho. We decided- no, give credit, Uncle Don talked us into one of his many harebrained and hilarious acts of creation- to host a haunted house for the trick-or-treaters. No one did that in Vermont in the 1960s. It would be ten more years before any of those classic slasher movies came out (and then, only in the theaters, not on TV or your phone or projected on the wall by a kid with some snazzy new wristwatch). But late night walking on rural Vermont roads, holding hands and seeing your breath better than what was behind that bush: we were IN the movie.

Everyone had a part to play and honestly, any kid today old enough to walk would have just laughed at us. Again, remember it was the 60s- if you weren’t alive back then,  think of the Stone Age and add bad suits with thin ties. And one more thing- high school kids did NOT trick or treat like they do now. Slouching up to your door with their hands out, saying, “yeah- huhuhh, I’m dressed as a public school student, huhhuh”. Approaching the house in Jericho was a line of kids- and pretty soon a stream of them, and the next year a rising tide- all under 13. And it was the 1960s, and no one had ever had a haunted house. We used cardboard and tin foil, and lipstick and candle-light. And we scared the stuffing out of them.

Uncle Don greets you at the door, dapper and delighted, directing your attention to the closet opposite, where my youngest sister Frannie thrashes about under a wool blanket that felt scratchy and in the lantern-shadows looks reasonably like Cousin It from the Adams Family TV show. Guided to one side, they see my eldest sister Stephanie in a white gown, lying in state on the couch- while nearby the piano plays on its own, thanks to a miracle of modern technology in the form of our cassette tape recorder inside the bench. “Her last concerto” Uncle Don mournfully intones- and indeed she had played it herself. Suddenly up jumps the ghost, my next-youngest sister Monica under a plain sheet, running from the corner of that room into the next, when she simply hides behind the door and where not a single one of the dozens who come through ever thinks to look for her.

They are no doubt distracted by the dragon on the bed in there. Me, age eight I think, green pajamas, red work gloves with cardboard talons, and a painted box over my head with teeth and flames- but I roared real good, and some kids squeal. On into the bathroom that connected back to the main hall, where my sister Mary in a black leotard posed as a cat in the tub. So perfect! Just black tights and a few pipe-cleaners for whiskers, but Uncle Don says “oh no, we have to cross its path” and some kids won’t go unless older siblings hold their hands.

In the final room, my sister Michele flits past dressed as a harmless butterfly, on and up the stairs while next to the back door stands my mom holding a bowl of candy, dressed as the nicest witch since Glinda. I usually trail along behind the pack (without my box-head I’m just Billy Hahn), and I can see everywhere kids starting to relax.

Clump- Clump!- CLUMP! Booted steps on the basement stairs, a door across from the rear exit. Again, Uncle Don makes the mood, shouting that we have forgotten to chain him up. The last step, every kid frozen- an endless moment’s pause, then the door slams open to reveal my father- a strapping fellow around 6’2″, his arms thrust a half-foot through short jacket sleeves, and two bolts on his neck.

The panicked rout was audible for miles. In the country, everyone CAN hear you scream: they just don’t care. A wave of waist-high humanity, urged by the friendly vampire, ran from our back door, flooding past the queue waiting out front, thus setting the stage for their own visit. One group fled into the night where the line between worlds had been thinned to near-transparency. The others waited on bobbing feet, eager to have that barrier shaved for them next. Lather-rinse-repeat, probably forty times in one night.

And the following two years we did it again, with variations in theme but not budget. When we finally stopped, we still got more door-ringers than anyone in the village, disappointed the way only rural folks without Sci-Fi channel could be.

This is the life we are still living, I firmly believe that. We look around this Alleged Real World, eagerly seeking places where the line is thin, and just another step, or a turned page, takes us before the heroes of the past, or monsters from another planet, or nameless horrors crusted in grave-dirt and longing to drag us back with them. Someone goes to a little trouble, like Uncle Don- my godfather and one of the most creative influences in my life- a bit of effort recruiting us to his mad scheme of terror, and what happens. We eagerly assist, letting his mind guide us to the same master plan; and little kids practically beat down our door to get in and be sent forth screaming- no really, screaming their lungs out- a few minutes later. I could see them back on my bed through the side window, as I waited for the next crew. No laughing, no rib-pokes of “gotcha”, just throats and feet at full throttle. After reaching our driveway, a few split off from the rest, did a hairpin-turn, and came back to wait on line.

We write fantasy, and science fiction, romance, horror, mystery- for those kids who turned back for more. It’s a noisier world; I’ve been in a mood to complain about the competition this summer (and hey, no writing on my WiP- coincidence? I think NOT). But I still believe there are many- maybe most- who really enjoy being carried away, across that thin line between the worlds. We don’t have the flash-paper, the CGI, the crowds of extras. By comparison to movies and the internet, we writers are working with cardboard and tin foil. But a book is not unlike a rural road, right from the first page it brings a separation from the comfort zone of the world’s noise and choices. And once you get them alone, or in small groups, your pen or fingers on the keyboard are like a plane, shaving that line between this Alleged Real World and the one that’s yours.

They want to go there. Do it well, they’ll come back. Stop and they’ll miss you. But if you just sit and complain, eventually there will be other choices. And THERE’s a scary tale, if you’re in the writer’s tribe.

Happy Halloween!

About Book Middles

This post was a long time coming.  I wrote about novel writing beginnings way back on May 4th!  Ah, well, sometimes life intervenes.  I’d like to share with you more writing wisdom from Phyllis Whitney.  Today I’ll talk about middles.

Starting a story is fun and exciting.  Everything is new and the idea is fresh.  Then, about 100 to 200 pages into the book (depending on how long the story is), often the bloom fades.  Long ago I used to teach a night school creative writing class to adults.  I had several students who had 3-4 books started, about a 100 or so pages into the book and they just stopped.  They put the book aside and started another one.

Middles are hard.  The ending is far away and most of the pages have yet to be written.  Many times enthusiasm wanes and self-questioning starts.  Voices in your head start telling you:  Maybe this book is no good and I should start something else.  Maybe I shouldn’t even try to finish this.  (Never listen to those ugly voices, and never, NEVER delete or throw away any writing while you are in this mood.)

One way to keep from having a pile of unfinished manuscripts is to do more planning before you start the book.  But what if it’s too late for that?  What if you have the middle-of-the-book blues?  One solution is not to constantly re-read your story.  With each day’s work, only re-read the previous day’s work to recapture the mood of the scene and regain impetus to move ahead with the next scene.  If you are stuck on your story, go through all your character sketches again.  Plan new chapters.  Ask yourself some “what if” and “why” questions about your story.  Jot down any new ideas for scenes that come to your mind. If your mind stubbornly refuses to come up with any new ideas, try my “jump-start” method.

Jump ahead and write that special, exciting scene that you are still 25  to 50 pages away from.  That may be just what you need to get going again.  Then you can think of what might lead up to that scene and write it

Remember that “No scene should remain static, without movement or action, however small it may sometimes be if people are sitting in a room conversing.  There should be movement of plot, even if not of people, and a furthering of, or setback to, the character’s present problem.”  You should have small climaxes through the middle, with your character solving or defeating a problem, and facing new problems along the way to the end of your novel and the big climax.

These are only a few ideas to get through your book middle.  Do you have any special tricks to help you through the middle of your book?

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part Three- A Whole New World

It’s not what you think.

"Not another post about WORLD-BUILDING!!"

“Not another post about WORLD-BUILDING!!”

True, we’ve hit on this theme before at the Independent Bookworm: I vented in the spring, and Debbie had a great post in 2012. Hey, sue me, this is what we do in fantasy. But don’t forget the series title, dear reader- this is about the classics, and I don’t mean Tolkein. Once again, you’ve never read it (be honest); a name as famous as Justin Bieber (now THERE’s another world for you). Everyone “knows” it, but not on paper. Hollywood and Broadway each took a swipe at this incredible tale: you ask me, they both missed by a mile. It’s not a horror story. It’s not merely a drama or a mystery and it sure as shooting is not just a romance.

No, Gaston Leroux built a world for you when he wrote… The Phantom of the Opera.

Never mind that condescending “sure, it’s all semantics” nod you’re making. Fantasy has to build a world for the reader, not just point at it. You can’t bluff world-building- so you wouldn’t normally expect a tale set in the Alleged Real World to need it. But as authors of historical fiction know, today’s readers are a spacy race, and anything before the assassination of Kennedy is formally classified as ancient history. Maybe before Lennon. Even so, you can assume gravity, taxes, the nuclear family- billions of “normal” things in many tales. And plenty of other instances, like the calendar of days, don’t need explanation even if they’re not important-  the author can just write “on Tuesday” and everyone’s fine. Think about what it means to have Conar’s Day (your Sunday) instead- when do you stop to explain that?

Phantom_soapOK, I’m off the soap box now.

But this is the genius of what Mr. Leroux did. His tale is set in Paris, late 1800s. He draws on a wealth of worldly knowledge you already have- the gentleman caste, police procedure, what an opera is- but even so, he takes you into an entirely different world.

Where? Inside the Opera House itself!

The Craft of the Tale

I don’t want to spoil this pleasure for you, so at the top I say- read the book, it’s marvelous. And since you haven’t done so before, take note of a couple of things I’ll point to here and illustrate with examples:

Where it (practically) all happens.

Where it (practically) all happens.

  • Leroux dovetails history into fantasy with seamless precision. The Opera House really was that big, the cellars truly were that many, and the fantastical underground lake is rooted in the constant pumping the builders had to undertake to drive the foundations of this massive edifice so deep. I’m not talking about the author’s mind- this is what really happened. When he “creates” an account from newspapers speaking to these facts in the building of the place- he’s practically plagiarizing! The world is almost completely there to begin with: just add Ghost.
  • Leroux compounds the believability of this tale with numerous “accounts”- which is a classic device of the period, you see it in Dracula and Frankenstein. A set of “facts” gains credibility because the author doesn’t rely on omniscient third person, but uses a character’s diary, or a policeman’s report to “back up” the story. He adds another layer- of complexity admittedly, but also of interest- with the terribly confused goings-on during that climactic night when the Ghost’s plans come to fruition and ruination at the same time. Folks in the Opera House are all pursuing their own mysteries, and colliding with, not understanding each other- it’s a meticulous description of bedlam. One person’s “account” takes you away from the story thread you were just reading, and into another. You may be vexed for a second- but this new tale generates its own interest. Meanwhile behind your back, the suspension of disbelief goes from strong to impregnable. It’s genius.Phantom_chandelier
  • Finally, Leroux achieves painless world-building through a wonderful vehicle, one I have had occasion to adopt myself: the ignorant narrator.

As the story opens, the Opera sees the arrival of two new managers- nice enough guys, who like the arts and love the idea of being managers. But they know diddly about how the place actually runs. So you get a box seat on the action, as everyone steps into the office to whine about something that’s gone mysteriously wrong- and in the process, fills them in on how the Opera works. At one point, the Ghost (Erik, the Phantom- you know, HIM) steals a white horse so he can carry off the lovely soprano Christine to his palace in the underworld. How do we find out? When the stable-chief goes to the bosses to complain. I want you to fire all these dishonest stable-hands, he shouts. The managers blink and respond- wait, we have a stable? Oh yes, twelve horses… and now you’re hearing about grooms, and the different operas this matched pair and that black horse get used in, the chariot… None of that directly informs the plot- but you begin to sense how incredibly LARGE this operation is.

How large? I’ve already told you- it’s an entire world.

There are 2,531 doors and 7,593 keys; 14 furnaces and grates heat the house; the gaspipes if connected would form a pipe almost 16 miles long; 9 reservoirs, and two tanks hold 22,222 gallons of water… 538 persons have places assigned wherein to change their attire. The musicians have a foyer with 100 closets for their instruments.

How the Story Changed

I look awful in the mornings! And the rest of the time, yes...

I look awful in the mornings! And the rest of the time, yes…

Look at what Hollywood has done with this epic- pumped the horror.  See Lon Chaney wrestling with his organ, and the poor girl fainting dead away? Great imagery: Beauty and the Beast, minus the happy ending. But a trip to Erik’s underground palace is usually given short shrift on film. The underground lake, so Stygian and remote, is a great element: people die there. But that’s below FIVE cellars- where do you see those? The second level, where those horses are housed; the third, where the poor scene-setter supposedly hung himself, his life forfeit to hide the existence of its secret trap door; the fourth, where the rat-catcher evokes a scene from Hades itself- THAT was spooky! But you can’t see it on film, evidently- because there is no world there.

Love Never Dies- at Least not Until Phantom 3

Love Never Dies- at Least not Until Phantom 3

What did Broadway aim for? Duh- romance of course. Christine is beloved of the rash young Viscount de Chagny, but the Opera Ghost poses as her Angel of Music- let the tug of war begin. This is also fine- but in the book, Christine and Raoul flee to every corner of the Opera for a few whispered speeches. She suspects Erik is listening in wherever they go. Finally, they ascend up above the vaulted ceiling into the rafters of the roof where stands an enormous golden statue of Apollo, until she finally feels safe enough to tell her lover the truth. But even there, a shadow flits between the god and heaven… from the sky to the underdark, the Opera House of Paris is a colossal setting that launches the reader into an Phantom_roofexperience so complex and far-flung as to need tons of explanation. Is Erik a charlatan, a mystic, a sorceror, a monster? You can’t decide- because YOU’RE NOT IN THE REAL WORLD ANYMORE. This setting was too vast even for film or the stage, so its directors cut away nearly everything to do with that other world and focused on just one aspect of the tale. Only in the book can you get the full picture: mystery, farce, the supernatural, all of it.

Reading The Book

Phantom_ApolloThe free Kindle version of Phantom had a few glitches- the author uses footnotes to reinforce that “real-world” feel which is great, but Kindle doesn’t distinguish the break between the end of the note and the resumption of narrative. I’m also pretty sure there are issues with translation here (as Steve Martin pointed out, “it’s like, those French have a different word for everything!”). No way I’m learning French- but there may be a better translation out there worth paying for. And of course the two-page drawings were sadly absent. I’ve substituted some in this article, providing dramatic proof that there’s no accounting for taste.

I could tell you this story has terrific characters and I wouldn’t be lying. It’s pretty rare for me to feel any empathy for the villain- usually I see that the heroes, though admirable, have flaws that can make me angry with them. And Phantom has all this- Erik is horrifying and pitiable, Christine can evince the pity but cannot insist on her own happiness; Raoul is impulsive, the Persian shrinks from what’s needful. But hold on- the most true thing I can tell you, going back to my theme, is that these characters come to life in a fully-realized, beautifully described and completely believable WORLD. Ninety percent of what happens takes place inside the same building, and you’re never done exploring it, meeting its denizens and understanding its culture. This is a kingdom of its own, where old stage crewmen are pensioned with the job of just walking about and shutting doors (to keep out drafts that could harm the singers); where Box Fido believe in spooksve holds its secrets through all manner of frenzied searches, and the gas-man needs two assistants just to keep the furnace going. I’m telling you, read about the encounter with the rat-catcher, and you WILL believe in spooks.

Lessons Learned

Writing epic and heroic fantasy means you catch hell from all sides about world-building: like a flu shot, your readers have to have it, but they complain whenever they detect the smallest pinch. We amuse them with a distracting joke, promise it won’t hurt, and try to get it over quickly. Your book is better for it- but don’t hold your breath waiting for appreciation. Gaston Leroux brilliantly points the way to building a world within a world; this is the most highly recommended of the classics I’ve reviewed so far. In Judgement’s Tale I make use of an ignorant narrator of sorts, in fact two. The sage Cedrith is determined to befriend the taciturn, driven orphan Solemn Judgement despite the shock and embarrassment his company entails. He knows nothing of the boy’s mind and tries to tease it out. By the same token, Judgement- like the reader- knows nothing of the Lands of Hope and Cedrith squires him from church to library and theater in an effort to educate him. How well it works I don’t yet dare allow the public to decide- but I’m mindful that a world can be as small as one person’s soul, and the story of it takes you through straight fantasy to mystery, horror, whimsy, erotica, in short, all the genres of literature.

All the writing in the world, because in the end you are writing about an entire world. A little spooky, truth be known.

Leroux, Gaston (1994-10-01). The Phantom of the Opera . Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Guest Post from TC Southwell- Tips for New Writers

 Here’s a timely point-counterpoint to balance out the gloom and silliness of my last entry, we are privileged today to hear from a guest author, brought to the IB by Dan Marvello at the Magic Appreciation Tour. And her work must be great, I’m such a sucker for cool covers…

We welcome TC Southwell,author of several fantasy books including her new Demon Lord series; in her life TC has seen much of the alleged-real world from Sri Lanka to South Africa. Her blog tour wraps up this week and I hope you’ll take the opportunity soon to visit her sites and view her work. For now, let’s sample her—

Tips for New Writers

 First and foremost, follow your inspiration, and secondly, don’t give up. Find your genre, which should be the one you most enjoy reading, and be inspired to write original stories that utterly captivate you. If you find them engrossing, so will your readers, and your passion for your story will translate into your writing. Write for your personal pleasure, and never for what other people might find interesting. That’s a recipe for churning out more dross based on existing stories. Find something new, or, better still, invent it, and avoid McGuffins – plot devices used solely as motivators, in the form of sought-after objects or goals – like the plague. Let your characters’ decisions, foibles or situations drive your story.TCSouthwell

 Love your characters; you’ll want to write about them more, and your readers will pick up on your feelings for them and empathise. Ensure your story is fast-paced and engaging, with never a dull moment, even in the descriptions. Everything should be worthy of reading multiple times without becoming boring. If it does bore you, it will definitely bore your readers, so cut it out or sum it up and get on with the story. Long windedness is the bane of some writers, who can’t seem to help becoming side tracked by long explanations of things that really don’t need explaining at all. By the same token, don’t be vague. Ensure your story is easily understood, with little margin for error, lest your readers get the wrong end of the stick and totally misunderstand what you’re trying to say. Then again, don’t repeat stuff; it’s annoying! Say it once, but be clear.

 Edit your book while you’re writing it and after you finish it. Hire a professional editor if you don’t feel your prose is up to par and you don’t have the skills to improve it, but make sure you get it as good as you can before handing it over. Writing can be a lot of fun, depending, of course, on your method, but editing should be a huge part of your process. Bad grammar, typos, spelling errors and logic issues are off-putting, and info dumps, stating the obvious and repetition are irritating. Don’t confuse your readers by trying to find a unique ‘voice’. This is a mistake new writers sometimes make, thinking they need to have a fresh style, while all readers want is something that’s written clearly and concisely, and that keeps them turning the pages.

TCSBanner7-6

Thanks so much, TC! As part of her tour, TC is making a special offer to all Independent Bookworms, and I urge you to take full advantage.

The new series is Demon Lord, and Book One is available FREE. Plus, she’s offering a 15% discount on Demon Lord II, Dark God for 2 days, 13 – 14 August!

Promotional price: $2.54 on Smashwords, where you can use Coupon Code: JX99Z

And if you need to get in touch with TC, here are some options that will cost you less than a first-class ticket to South Africa. Which I have had, once, and I assure you if you get one, use it! But meantime…

Where to find T C Southwell online

Website: http://www.tcsouthwellbooks.com
Twitter: TCSouthwell
Facebook: Facebook profile
Blog: http://tcsouthwell.blogspot.com/

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