Category Archives: about writing

articles about writing and writing related topics

Pre-Order functionality for Indies

For a long time, one of the advantages of traditional publishing was the ability to get pre-orders. The soon-to-be-published book would be visible in online shops with a possibility to order a copy which would then be shipped upon publication. Trad-Pubs then had considerable time to promote their upcoming release. The good thing is that all pre-orders would count as sales on the day of publication, making the book much more visible to potential readers. So far, Indies didn’t have many shops where they could garner pre-orders, and of those that did offer it, not many made much sense to use.

Now, amazon announced a pre-order option for Indies. If that will benefit authors and small publishers remains to be seen. One thing is for certain. We’ll have to get better at scheduling our releases. It doesn’t make much sense to offer a book for pre-order if it’s all proofed, has a cover and is ready to go. But it will be interesting for ongoing series where readers often want to know when the next volume will be available. Of course that means that if you set a publication date, you’ll have to stick with it. There’s nothing worse then an unplanned delay.

I, for one, am really curious to see how well pre-orders will do once I know how to use them well. How about you? If you’re a reader, are you the kind of person who uses pre-orders? If you’re a writer, will you try out this feature and what do you expect from it?

What Makes a Story Unique / Original?

I’ve been doing some research / study on originality in fiction. Remembering the conventional wisdom that there are only so many plots in the world, and all of them have been done many times…and by the masters, how do contemporary writers have a hope of writing original, unique works?

One persistent response is “voice”, that elusive element that marks your work as your own. Something that an individual writer often can’t recognize in their own work, but that others read and say, “Oh. Of course. That’s a Deb Logan story.”

But more than voice, where does originality reside? Is it in a gimmick? Some little detail that no one else has thought of that an author can build their plot (which has been done before…and by the masters) around?

I decided to look at three of my favorite series and see what insights I could gain. Each of these three has a distinct gimmick…but is that the answer to their uniqueness? Let’s see.

  1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Colfer built an entire series of eight middle grade fantasy novels around an imaginative bit of word play: leprechaun = LEP Recon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance). I love that … wish I’d thought of it first *lol* I heard Colfer speak once and he revealed another bit about why this series is so original: he based the main character, Artemis Fowl—who begins the series as a 12-year-old criminal mastermind—on his older brother, thereby pulling in Colfer’s own emotional history. It’s a delightful series with a great character arc leavened with lots of age-appropriate humor.
  1. Storm Front by Jim Butcher – The first book of Butcher’s Dresden Files series introduces us to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a contemporary wizard living and working in Chicago. It’s the little touches that really make Harry unique – the fact that he advertises in the yellow pages under “W for Wizard”; his sidekick and helper, Bob, is a disembodied spirit who lives in a skull and loves romance novels; his cat, with the nondescript name of Mister; and eventually his dog, Mouse, a gentle giant with magic of his own – a Tibetan Temple dog (Foo dog). All through this series Butcher creates memorable and unique characters, giving them a life of their own while breaking traditional stereotypes. (His vampires are truly terrifying…and completely original.)
  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – this series could be described as time-travel romance, but you’d be limiting its scope. Diana’s gimmick is that Claire Randall, a nurse who has just survived WWII, is sucked back in time through a circle of Scottish standing stones. Doesn’t sound all that original, but her characterization is amazing. Diana writes really LONG novels, and there are eight in this series (so far) all centering on the passionate love of ONE couple: Claire and Jamie. I don’t know many writers capable of keeping me interested in the life and love of a single couple over that many words, but she pulls it off. Plus, her main characters jump from being in their late 20’s in the first book, to nearing 50 in the 2nd, and the relationship remains just as intense.

Interesting. A good gimmick is great to start the ideas flowing (LEP-Recon; Wizard for hire; time-travel), but what makes the story original ultimately is the depth of characterization and the author’s own emotional history woven into those characters. All of these books have characters that I love as well as characters that I love to hate.

Each of these writers has created characters so real, that I feel like I know them … and not just the heroes. Even the secondary characters have personalities so distinct that I can recognize them from dialogue alone.

Which leads me to conclude that originality, uniqueness, memorability, isn’t a function of the gimmick or the plot as much as it is a by-product of characters so real they leap off the page and drag you into their lives, loves, and adventures.

What do you think? What makes your favorite books memorable for you?

The Old is New Again: Serialized Novels

Serialized novels have become a popular way to publish stories in the past few years. Some of the advantages of publishing as a serial include readers getting new parts of the story on a regular basis as it’s being written, instead of having to wait a long time for the whole novel to be finished; and authors can get feedback (and sometimes money) for their writing while they’re still working. But serial novels aren’t a new invention that happened on the internet.

In the 19th century, most novels in the U.S., Britain, and across Europe were actually published serially. Famous works like Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published with a new chapter every week or month in magazines and newspapers. When the story was complete, all of the parts would be collected in a single volume, which is how we read these novels today. But when they first appeared, readers would wait for the story in installments, which could be spread out over an entire year.

This method of publishing fell out of fashion with the invention of broadcast radio and television. Today, we think of episodes in a television series as multi-part stories, but written fiction comes out in books once every year or two. Only a handful of novels were published as serials during the 20th century.

But when the internet made it easy for anyone to publish their stories, serialized fiction made a come back. It started with amateur writers posting stories on their own websites, forums, and newsgroups. Then sites sprang up for writers to share free stories more easily, like Fanfiction.net. Now there are too many of these communities to name, where thousands of free stories are shared, talked about, and rated by readers and writers.

With widespread ebooks distribution, professional authors gained the ability to sell these serials online. Unlike printing where there are limitations on the length of stories that can be economically printed and distributed, digital works can easily be shorter (or longer) than the limited range of traditional novels. Now serialized novels, or series of connected novellas or episodes, are gaining popular readership in stores like Amazon and Smashwords.

After seeing how well serials work for other authors, I’m starting to experiment with serials. Last year, I posted a novel, Witch Hunt, on Wattpad for free at the rate of one chapter a day for NaNoWriMo. I did get some feedback as I wrote, but I found that most readers couldn’t keep up with that pace, and I’ve seen that most successful authors on Wattpad write at the rate of one or two chapters a week. I revised that novel and put it on sale—and surprisingly, even after I gave it away for free first, there are still readers willing to buy it!

miscreation-ep1Then this summer, Holly Lisle challenged writers on her How To Think Sideways site to write and publish a monthly serial as part of her How To Write A Series course. Following her advice, I’ve started a series of novellas using characters from my established Wyld Magic universe. The first episode, The Voyage of the Miscreation #1: “ The Voyage Begins,” was published last week. I’m excited to see how the series turns out as more episodes come out. Hopefully, I can engage readers who look forward to getting a piece of the story every month.

Have you ever read a serialized novel? How did you feel about having to wait for the next part of the story to come out? What rate do you think is good for new parts to come out?

Information about the history of serial novels from Wikipedia.

 

Thoughts on Genre

I’ve been thinking about genre recently. The genres I prefer to read…and the genres I choose to write.

I know the defining characteristics of genre. I can tell the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. I can even tell when they overlap (I’ve been reading a very good series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch which melds science fiction with mystery. If you haven’t met Retrieval Artist Miles Flint, I highly recommend you do so quickly :D ), but where in the story does genre reside?

Let’s look at the bare bones of a story: A character – in a setting – with a problem.

What part of that equation represents genre? I’m going to posit that genre resides in the setting.

The character has to be relatable to the reader, someone the reader can identify with and care about. Even if the character is an alien, s/he has to have enough “humanity” to allow the reader inside his/her skin. So, genre doesn’t reside in character.

The problem also has to be relatable. Something the reader understands and can identify with. So no matter the genre, the problem must be of a common enough nature to allow the reader to care whether or not the character solves it. Nope, the problem (plot) doesn’t represent genre.

Setting is where genre resides. Science fiction settings are vastly different from fantasy settings. Mysteries can take place in a sci-fi or fantasy setting, but then they aren’t classified as mysteries (unless the setting is so minimally sci-fi as to make it almost invisible – JD Robb’s “In Death” series fits this bill).

Romance is character-centric with the essential element residing in relationship, but romance also transcends all the genres. You name a genre, and there’s a romance sub-genre covering it.

So, setting, and how the character understands and interacts with the setting, is where genre resides.

In order to write science fiction, an author doesn’t have to be a scientist. S/he just needs to imagine a rich enough world (setting) for the reader to know that the characters don’t live on our planet / in our time / or within our current understanding of the physical universe.

Back to the bones of story:  A character the reader can identify with (thereby gaining access to the story) – in a setting (which determines the genre) – with a problem (which defines the plot).

What do you think?

Of Magna Carta and Magnum Opus

In just two weeks, give or take, my greatest chronicling effort to date will start to unroll before the world as Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance hits the internet equivalent of the shelves.

And last week, following rare in-person meetings with my business colleagues in the UK, I took a completely uncharacteristic walkabout in the countryside north of London near the site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Think these two events are completely unrelated? How little you know me.

Business and Pleasure

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

Alleged Real World first. I was moping all the way to England for my business trip- no money, no way (I figured) to see any sights in a land of one hundred castles, and– this is the key– no idea where my business meetings were taking place. I  only knew Egham as the town that had my company’s offices, and also MI-6 (the British Secret Service) in it, somewhere. Turns out, Egham is the town next door to Runnymede. As in, the unknown field where King John had to put his Hancock on it eight centuries ago. My boss, unlucky fellow, was with me in the cab on the way in; I shout, “Look, there’s a memorial to the signing of the Magna Carta!”. He’s French, says “what ees thees magna carta?” No escape! I had him for ten minutes, poor devil, on and on about John Lackland and the barons, forced to sign a charter promising not to do naughty things anymore just to scrape up money. And over the years, that backroom deal between two dozen feudal lords somehow came to stand for the immutable rights of every British citizen, and on beyond that to all the rights of man.EuropeGoBargingB

My boss finally escaped the cab, but I was already determined- me, the guy who never exercises anymore, the dope who gets sore the day after playing golf ON THE WII- I was going to have my British sight-seeing vacation on foot. I went on a walkabout through scenic, charming Runnymede, got up close and personal with memorials to that famous signing and others. I walked for MILES. Me! Channeling Lewis and Tolkein, strolling through rural England and ruminating deep thoughts in search of historical markers. And the weather was perfect, I mean just cool enough, no humidity, bright sunshine, and a breeze that blew energy into you. I could have walked across the island. I stopped part-way along, folded my hands and thanked God for saving me from my own torpid idiocy.

So then, how is the signing of the Great Charter in any way similar to the release of another epic fantasy tale? Am I really going to try and convince you that my next book is some kind of milestone of world history?

My answer- it depends which world you mean.

Adventurous Times

In the Lands of Hope, I started watching a time where things were beginning to happen after a long period of peace and prosperity. The Age of Adventure was first signaled around 1992 (ADR, their SavillCt3calendar) with an incredible act of stealth unheard of since the days of the heroes millennia ago (see Three Minutes to Midnight). I spent a lot of time examining things that were going on in late 1995-6 when the curse lying over the Percentalion (the Land of One Hundred Castles in my world) was finally lifted. A band of despised adventurers was a big part of that wondrous deed, you meet them in this tale. So yes, history pivots on the events set down here, and all the other tales I’ve published come later, largely because of them.

But there was another character, just before that time, one everybody knew as The Man in Grey. I saw Solemn Judgement first, even before I saw the Lands of Hope. The image of this grim, erudite, reserved and skillful pariah was always clearly before me, more than thirty years ago. Everywhere that things went wrong, wherever adventurers argued about the best solution while “regular” folk moaned about the good old days, there he was; stalking briefly in and out again, a few words, a few blows, a miracle, and then gone. No hesitation, no explanations, and nobody sorry to see him leave, to resume his mysterious walkabout across an entire continent.UK_Windsor

But he never left my mind. Before I go any further, let me reassure you- my lovely wife is very knowledgeable about all manner of mental problems and keeps a close eye on me. If she ever says I need to put on the looonng sleeved cardigan, I will; just let me out for an hour a day to write some more, because that’s the only way Solemn Judgement leaves me alone.

My entire adult life I have worked in some way to placate him. Like him, every stitch of my clothing is a shade of ash, slate, charcoal or steel. Though much older than he, I feel a kinship now that my hair is coming to match the outfits. But these gestures do little to put him off, year in and year out- in my mind he is always standing there, not saying a word but only looking on me with that serious face that clearly says “what should be done”.

So I have done it. This is literally his tale, the story of how he came to the Lands and what drives him to be the way he is. Against all odds, against nearly everyone he meets, Judgement is determined to do what is needful. A mighty river of other peoples’ lives flows in one direction, but only he can swim, and chooses to fight the current. Nothing deters him; as he pressed on against undead and demonic foes, so too he bore down on my mind all those years. And as his story finally comes out, Judgement wins, over endless enemies and feckless friends alike. But if I know him, it will merely mean another task, more adventure that needs doing, and then needs telling.

Hoookayy then. What about the connection? You still don’t see it?

More than They Seem

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

John got in trouble because he was supposed to be a king and was doing such a LOUSY job. Notice there’s no number after his name? Eight centuries and no queen has dared try the most common of English names, there will probably never

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

be another John of England. A few of his barons finally made him sit down and put it in writing before they’d leave him alone- the Great Charter was a private deal, just to stave off immediate rebellion, and only later came to be seen as this mystical guarantee of the rights of every English peasant, and every citizen of the Alleged Real World. Not to mention the whole bad-guy-in-Robin-Hood-thingie, which was a bum rap but too fun to correct. Safe to say the Magna Carta became a much bigger thing with time. But John didn’t give a damn- he was just out for some peace.

And so it is for me. A few heroes, one especially, have been pressing me day and night for thirty years because I’m the guy, the sole chronicler of The Lands of Hope charged to tell their tales. And I’ve sucked at it. William Lack-hand, until recently: it’s no accident I chose July 4th for my first publishing date back in 2011. Writing for me is about shedding chains. With this magnum opus, the work of my lifetime I seriously believe, I’ve made a bargain with the leader of the rebels. His story starts. You can read it for yourself. Perhaps history in later years will make much of this beginning, more than I or Solemn ever intended. Hey, they only made seven copies of the Great Charter, I should be able to beat that! But Judgement takes no notice of what others think of him. Soon now, like John my name will be on it, my debt to him discharged, and perhaps he will leave me be awhile.

Cover Reveal- Games of Chance

If you’ve followed the tour, you’ve seen the cover already. I love the elemental simplicity- a pen and a sword, I wonder if they will come into play at some point. And if you haven’t seen the tour yet… LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_front

 

The Games of Chance blog ride is in full gallop with original material (only one repeated post in the lot). If you haven’t seen it I have an itinerary here which I will update as the links go live. Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance will be on sale July 4th at Amazon.

Games of Chance Blog Tour Itinerary

LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_frontIn case you rode in late, here’s an updated list of the sites visited by the blog tour for Judgement’s Tale Part One: Games of Chance in June 2014. This tour preceded the release of Games of Chance on July 4th. It’s a who’s-who of cool fantasy authors and bloggers who are helping shape the internet and the indie publishing world- I’m privileged to have been a guest on these sites.

As they go live I will update the schedule with specific links: check back here if you missed a day or want to revisit a topic from an earlier post.

Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)

DATE     HOST           TOPIC

6-14-14             Tracy Falbe, Her Ladyship’s Quest

Chapter One Podcast- the first meeting with Solemn Judgement, in the chronicler’s voice

6-15-14             Karen Woodward

Being a Writer: What Does it Take and Where Will it Take You?- advice to writers? Maybe good for a chuckle!

6-16-14             Lori Fitzgerald, White Raven Writing

Introduction to Prince Gareth of Shilar- one of the main characters of the novel makes his debut appearance.

6-17-14            Katharina Gerlach

Introduction to Solemn Judgement- the title character, known to the Lands as the Man in Grey, on his first day an orphan and alien

6-18-14             Susan Stuckey, Kalieri Tales

Author Interview- the one and only for this tour, not for lack of trying!

6-19-14               Day Off, Resting the Tour-Horse

6-20-14             Daniel Marvello, The Vaetra Files

  Magic and Miracles in the Lands of Hope- a view of one background element of the world setting, for the enthusiast

6-21-14              Sher A. Hart, Written Art

An Interview with Solemn Judgement- or as close as anyone can get to such a thing

 6-22-14             Mathew Reuther

An Interview with (not About) Cedrith Fellareon- the tale’s principal guide to the mind of Solemn Judgement discusses his protege

 6-23-14                Matt Graybosch, A Day Job and a Dream

Technology and Despair- the bad guys don’t show mercy, and they’ve got better stuff!

 6-24-14                Robin Lythgoe, The Series that Snuck Up on Me- because all my stories are going to connect eventually

6-25-14                 Peter Cruikshank, Introduction to Treaman the Woodsman- one of the main protagonists revealed, and already fighting for his life

6-26-14                 Karin Gastreich, How to Write about Combat- you could say I struggled with this one…

6-27-14                 Mysti Parker, World Building on the Sly-a familiar topic for me, am I actually getting subtle in my elder years?

6-28-14                  L. Blankenship, Character Interview with Cedrith Fellareon- a major supporting character, talking about anyone other than himself of course

 

Fantasy Classics to Read: Part Two

My last post was about C.S. Lewis and his classic Chronicles of Narnia.  Today I’d like to talk about another excellent author that has stood the test of time: Madeleine L’ Engle.   The first book in her Time series, A Wrinkle in Time, won a Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Anderson Award. It was also rejected by at least 26 publishers!   When it was finally published in 1962, it  has been in print ever since.  The next four books in the series are: The Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

In A Wrinkle in Time  science and mysticism are twined together as Meg Murry and her brother search for their father.  He is a government scientist and has gone missing while working on a project called tesseract.  A tesseract is revealed to be a way of time/space traveling in seconds by folding time and space, hence the title. Meg must learn to fight evil with love instead of hate to rescue her father and her young brother.

L’ Engle has written this series of books with memorable characters, vivid descriptions, and through it all, she celebrates family, friends, life, and love.  Supposedly these are children’s books.  However, I highly recommend them for all ages.  If you love to read fantasy, try this series.

Author Interview with Lori Fitzgerald- The Dragon’s Message Blog Tour

I never try to hide my methods: the horror of my interrogation chamber is so graphic it should probably come with a warning. Yet the victims keep trooping in- thanks this time once again to the offices of my good procurer, the Magic Appreciation Tour, we have ensnared Lori Fitzgerald making the rounds for her latest work, entitled The Dragon’s Message. I have eagerly anticipated her arrival, not just because I have a new branding iron I’ve wanted to try out, but for several other reasons. My spies inform me that Lori is a devotee of Medieval Lit (sooooo close to Medieval History!), has excellent taste in books and television, and even frequents Ren-Faires (one of the only places in the Alleged Real World where I can blend in). No more delay, let’s get cracking… and I do mean that literally

:: whip-cracking sound :: confess, benighted reprobate, and it will go easier for you!

 Q: OK, first of all… a novelette, seriously? I was barely seated, just getting warmed up on this cool tale, and suddenly I’m nearing the end. Is this some new form of torture for your fans? Perhaps I should take notes! Or is there a devious method to this idea of yours. Tell us how you hit upon the notion of publishing something so bite-sized.

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

A: Finding a peaceful block of uninterrupted time during daylight hours in a household with two young children is quite the dropping of the gauntlet. In fact, can you untie me for a second so I can break up the light-saber battle going on in my living room? (Anachronistic, I know, but explain that to a 6 year old and an 8 year old.) Perhaps one day I’ll be able to concentrate on a lengthier work (I do have novel ideas), but right now I feel a great sense of accomplishment with my novelettes. I find snippets of time here and there throughout the day to write, in between errands or while dinner is in the cauldron. This type of “scheduling” I think lends itself better to a shorter form. Never fear, there will be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Message. I have both a prequel and a sequel in mind. I would love to bundle all three stories together in a longer form, perhaps even a paperback.

Q: I can name one tale there had BETTER be a sequel to! At the risk of spilling all the magic beans, there be dragons here. I want you to rank these creatures in your world, along the following Eat-to-Greet scale: Tolkein’s Smaug = 1, LeGuin’s Sobriest = 4, McCaffrey’s F’lar = 8. Where do the scaly ones of your world rank in their relations to humans? (Ed. Note. The dragons of the Lands of Hope rate about a 2. On a good day.)

A: I would say that my dragons are most like LeGuin’s Kalessin. Although the details of their backstory is for another tale, I can tell you that dragons are scarce and mistrustful of humans generally because they have been hunted for the magic in their blood. Out of necessity for survival and to share their true nature, they have bestowed their knowledge to one human of each generation. One special human. In The Dragon’s Message, this is Lady Rhiannon, and she is the only human who knows their secrets and can decipher the language that is written in the Dragon Tome. Here be dragons (and an excerpt):

 When Rhiannon was small and had just learned to read, her mother brought her into the hall one day when her father was on campaign, and led her to the large table upon which a great map of their lands lay. She instructed Rhiannon to read the words of the landmarks: castle, road, mountain, forest, village. The young girl touched words inscribed over a place where trees met craggy peaks. “What does that say, my love?” her mother prompted.

“Here be dragons,” Rhiannon answered, glancing up at her mother.

Her mother nodded, smiling. She knelt down in front of Rhiannon so they were at the same height. The lady’s hazel eyes sparkled as she whispered, “I have a secret to share. But I can only share it with a little girl with red and gold hair,” she pulled playfully on Rhiannon’s braid,” who knows how to read.” Rhiannon giggled. “Are you a little girl such as this?” Rhiannon nodded eagerly, and her mother laughed. She stood up and gestured at a tapestry on the wall. “Come, child, the dragon guards our treasure.”

Hand in hand they walked to the tapestry of the sleeping dragon. “Your great-great grandmother wove this tapestry when she was an old woman. It took her a long time to complete, with her hands gnarled so, like the twisted oak by the drawbridge.” The dragon was curled up in front of a turret, with stone dolmens in a semi-circle behind it, interspersed with trees and a mountain peak in the background and bright blue sky above. The dragon’s scales were crimson and woven through with glittering gold thread, and its curved horns and talons were gold. As they paused in front of the large tapestry, Rhiannon looked closely at the eyes of the dragon; she thought perhaps she could see a slit of gold, as if the dragon were only pretending to be asleep.

Rhiannon’s mother stood on tiptoe and moved part of the tapestry to the side, revealing a slit in the stone wall. With her free hand she reached in and drew out a large leather-bound tome. She motioned her daughter to come sit with her on one of the benches that lined the walls. “Look and listen well, my daughter,” she said, and ran her fingers along the smooth cover, “this book is our special treasure, and it contains many secrets within its pages. I am going to teach you how to read them.” She opened the book as Rhiannon snuggled closer to her, her mother’s loose red-gold hair falling over the girl’s shoulder and brushing the crinkly parchment pages of the book which she turned until she came to the picture of a girl.

“The first secret is a story…”

 Q: I was very taken by the unfolding liaison between your two main characters. It’s an April-October relationship, quite touching- the girl who long ago gave a knight her scarf as a favor is now grown. We see a lot through Rhiannon’s eyes- what can you tell me about the knight Gwydion and his feelings? And importantly, how old would you say he is now? I wonder that he stayed unmarried in this society, especially as renowned as he’s become.

A: Gwydion is about my age…and no amount of torture gets a lady to reveal her age! In my head I have Gwydion around 15-20 years older than Rhiannon. When he takes the quest to bring Rhiannon to

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

safety he is simply fulfilling his liege-lord’s orders, although he has a fondness for Rhiannon from when she was a child, as readers will see from a flashback as well. However, on their journey Gwydion quickly realizes that she is not a child anymore and (luckily for him) is also quick to change gears and respect her as a lady. Once he sees her more as a peer he allows himself to fall for her. Sir Gwydion is the champion knight of Rhiannon’s father, basically his general, and so between fulfilling his duties to his lord and also running his father’s estate as the eldest son, he has had a lot on his trencher and thus never got married. And there’s also the dragon’s actual message to consider…you know, destiny and true love and all that written in flame can’t be ignored. It’s a scorching hazard.

Q: Yowch! Quite correct :: sucks fingers :: You’ve already given ample evidence of your guilt in this writing-fantasy matter. But now we come to the most grievous of crimes- you help to spread the word on the internet! Tell us more about your involvement with Once Upon a Fan.

A: I’m so proud to be a Staff Writer for the website Once Upon a Fan, the top-rated fansite for ABC’s show Once Upon a Time. One of the popular features of our site is the Origins articles, where we compare and contrast literary characters with their portrayal on the show. I’ve written Origins articles on Sir Lancelot, the Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, among others. I’ve tried to show how the symbolic landscape of the medieval mind comes into play in various aspects of Once Upon a Time as well. You can find the Origins library here. I really owe my publication to the show and the fandom. Once Upon a Time inspired me to create my own worlds again after 20 years (oops, is that an inadvertent clue?) in which I stopped writing to focus on my teaching career and having a family. The website and all the writers, artists, and crafters I met in the extremely creative Oncer fandom encouraged me that my lifelong dream of publishing could become a reality.

Once Upon A Fan Logo 1000px SquareQ: Aha, confederates, we shall have them arrested shortly. Where does all this leave you for your writing schedule? Have one, much? I see evidence of two children in my spies’ reports. Egad. Do you have a sacred space with a locked door? Set times to jot your thoughts? If I could take away any money-trouble with a wave of my wand- no wait, that’s my cat-o’nine-tails, hold on- there, supposing you COULD devote full-time to writing, would much change about your writing life?

A: I would love to have a sacred space, but alas, my laptop and I are wandering minstrels. Sometimes I write at the kitchen counter, sometimes in the attic, on rare occasions in the dungeon where the library and playroom are located. I would prefer to have a set time and schedule to write, maybe a few hours every morning, but that just doesn’t fit with my lifestyle right now. Sometimes the kids wake up sick and the actual storming of the castle has to wait a few days (after all, that’s what sieges are for).

Q: If I had to use the old infiltrate-through-the-garderobe trick, a mother of little kids is the one I’d send. I suppose that will have to suffice, for now. So many instruments, so little time… You may go. But be certain that you leave ample contact information here- your book and web links for reader-interest, should we need to drag you back for further interrogation. Thanks, Lori!

A: Thank you, Will…I think! But it’s never truly torturous to talk to a fellow medievalist.

The Dragon’s Message, a Dragon Tome Novelette, is available on Kindle and Nook for $1.99.

A dragon writes a cryptic message with its ember breath in the evening sky…

Lady Rhiannon watches from the turret wall with an ache in her blood. She’s the only person who can decipher the message as the sole keeper of the Dragon Tome. When an old enemy threatens the castle, her father charges his knight with escorting her to a safe haven—the same knight Rhiannon had a crush on as a girl. But she must now convince him to change his plans, for she has her own sacred charge to fulfill…

So begins a journey to hidden ruins where magic slumbers in the stones and love lies in the heart, waiting to awaken. As Rhiannon and the knight face seemingly insurmountable odds, only the dragon knows if they can fulfill their destiny…

 Here are the magic links:

Amazon: http://www.amzn.to/OCTcq9

Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1epYuBC

 

My blog http://www.whiteravenwriting.blogspot.com

You can also find me on Twitter @MedievalLit and on Facebook at my author page White Raven Writing.

 

Rafflecopter Link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YzZiMWJiNDVkMzNkOGZhZDZjMjQzNmEwZTJjZDFlOjE=/

 

Getting to the Third Level of Writing

The writing I love. It’s literature I can’t seem to get along with.

In 10th grade, the final essay question on our test for “Catcher in the Rye” directed our attention to the final passage where Caulfield speaks longingly about his desire to serve as a kind of life-guard for children playing in a meadow- literally, the title of the novel. The question posed to us was “What did Holden REALLY mean?” I wrote a full response arguing simply that he didn’t mean anything- it was a job he had thought of and he really wanted to do that. Because hey, that was a great job! The teacher and I got into a rather furious argument- I know for a fact, she told me exactly what she thought about the true underlying meaning of the speech, but I couldn’t remember one word of it an hour later. Still don’t.

That stuff never meant a thing to me. I still struggle to get there, this third level of writing. Coming up on six years of formally chronicling the Lands of Hope, I begin to see, just dimly, a distant… something. It’s not something I do particularly well, or on purpose. But at least now I think I see it.

One more time, it bears repeating for those who just came in, I’m merely a chronicler. I have less control over what happened in the Lands of Hope than a first-time student driver on an Alpine ski slope with the brakes cut. Make it up? Puhleeze- it happens, I take it down. But no question, I can improve the way I describe it to all of you. You’ve done this yourself, right? The Lands of Hope are like a movie that you’ve seen but your friend hasn’t. There’s a way to describe the thing- concise, evocative, fascinating- you’re working uphill because every picture is worth a thousand of your words. If you get them interested enough to go see it on their own, give yourself a prize.

First level- the Plot

You need to put the events in order, they must lead to something, make sense by the end. Stories with plot weakness simply can’t work; the suspension of disbelief fails and there’s a chance the reader stops, never to start again. When I spot a loose end, or a lovely piece of description that doesn’t point to anything, it’s not fatal but I usually feel disappointed, or a bit impatient. Nowhere is this more of a danger than in epic fantasy- the world-building train so effortlessly becomes a runaway locomotive, taking the reader down a steep siding about magic forces, or the adolescent growth cycle of a gryphacorn, the alignment of the northwestern sky-quadrant… hey, where’d everybody go? Of course, fantasy carries a balancing advantage because you can have the most incredible things happen to sustain the interest level (at least temporarily).

Pretty much everyone does plot- I’ve read a lot of harsh editorials about how all indie pub is garbage, but I couldn’t have been this lucky in the stories I’ve downloaded. Personally, I have a lot of experience with story-telling: I’ve never thought that History was anything else, frankly, and I told those stories to high school students five days a week for thirteen years. I didn’t have any control over what happened in the Alleged Real World either… but I flatter myself that I got pretty good at putting the facts in the right order, having it all make some sense.

Second level- Character

Yeah, we’re going in ascending order here, this is substantially harder than Plot. You have to convey the tale through the vehicle of beings whose lives and choices the reader comes to care about. I bet there is isn’t a bad character on the internet- we authors often don’t introduce or describe them well enough, is all. That’s partly because there’s more wiggle-room: your character doesn’t have to have clear set goals, the conflict can hit them in differing ways, they don’t even have to be protagonists or antagonists in the traditional sense. But in my honest assessment, the biggest problem at this level is that the author assumes too much and shows too little. I’ve read halfway through a book before exclaiming to myself, “oh, really? This guy loves his country? That explains a lot!” or something similar. The patriotism was assumed by the author, but now as a reader I have all the work of thinking back, reconstructing everything that happened from that perspective- and I don’t want to do that, it’s already ruined.

When I try to assess my own craft, I would say again that Character is harder than Plot, but I believe it’s the part I do best. I love and admire the heroes of the Lands, and I believe I can bring a certain depth-perception to describing them within the plot that helps inform, entertain and move the reader. In The Plane of Dreams, the intrepid stealthic Trekelny has taken it upon himself to open a cage in the enemy camp, freeing a wild tiger to roam in the nearby woods. The rest of the party catches up, and when one of them tries to reproach him for it, Trekelny coolly responds “I happen to like cats.” There is an entire story- Three Minutes to Midnight – from nine years earlier in his career to reinforce this one fact. And that’s just an example I can point to in publication. Time and again, I benefit from being able to back up a preference, or a love of something in my characters like that. I could tell you a whole story about it. Don’t challenge me on this- I will bury you.

This far I’ve been able to go on my own, by chronicling. And it’s made me rather happy, I won’t scruple to deny. Before I was telling these tales, setting my notes and memories to narrative, my brain was tenser, life less settled this past decade. The vocation of teaching gave me such great personal joy I didn’t miss out. But having a new life course, where I teach only as a pinch-hitter, plus the lack of contact with the Lands in other important ways, just made me miss it  more. So the telling has helped me tremendously.

And I think I always knew, I wasn’t getting where the really good, much less great writing went.

My daughter is home-schooled, so I overhear her mother talking to Genna about The Great Gatsby these days. And that’s what really pushed all these thoughts I’m having around the bend: I think to myself, “how could your writing ever be treated like this guy’s?” I say again, I never liked literature. The English teachers in school would gather to one side of the faculty room discussing books, even books I had read, in ways that made me feel stupid. Yet they were so engaged- gushing, really- over the deep meaning of it all. Those books had something I wasn’t noticing, a level of appreciation that maybe I’m not built to “get”, and if so, then I’m a poor guide to describe what it is to you. But a distant, misty glimpse is still something seen.

I call the third level, for now, Theme

It’s another entire strata tying the tale together, like Plot and Character, and I only guess from the clues of others and my inchoate vision, it’s the level that makes everything mean two things at one time. While all the stuff is happening, as the characters are displaying their virtues, vices and quirks, there’s just another THING that it all means. I can joke about it rather easily, even in my ignorance: pull my glasses down my nose, mimic holding a brandy snifter and say, “of course, it’s man’s struggle against himself”. Or nature, or the futility of breathing; or maybe it’s all of those things all the time, I just have no idea. Theme is the word one of my close friends advised me to consider, in the second year of my chronicling (2009). I was drafting my beloved opus, the work closest to my heart- and coincidentally the tale that’s coming out beginning this summer, at long last a trunk novel no longer. Judgement’s Tale means more to me than I can readily say, so it’s fair to describe my state as constantly heightened these days. But my close friend urged me to think of the theme of any longer work like this- what is the one thing it really means, he asked. And I could tell then he was onto something, I knew it. But I also knew that if I made any part of my work beholden to it- if I refused to continue before I answered the question- I would stop altogether, and probably for good.

Looking back, now that the novel is done and I’ve polished it seriously twelve times, I think I have an idea or two about what it means. There are some themes that run through the book. I know it would be better if I had noticed them from the start, worked them in and not settled for just letting things happen or for characters to grow and deepen in (my) ignorance of them. But not to put too fine a point on it, that’s what writers do. Not me. My tales will either have deeper meaning for you, or they won’t. I pray for the former because I’m vain and because no one wants to do something less well than possible. But trying to describe the themes I see to you, as if some exciting movie I’d just seen, that’s where my train stops and I get off. I shall keep my counsel, for a change- but I am eager to hear your feedback around Theme especially, as you discuss the way you analyze tales.

Do you get to the third level in your writing?

 

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.

 

 

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