Blog Archives

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?

How Tales are Born

Probably, the number-one question I get when I meet someone at a party, and they find out I am an author is: “How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?”

Naturally, I tell them “I turn inward, using my keen introspective to dig deep within my soul for the story.”

After they ‘oww’ and ‘ahh’ over my artistic creative ability, I then tell them, “That’s not really true, in reality, I owe it all to Willow!

First the eyes go wide, and they want to know, “Who’s Willow?”

“My Muse of course.”

Their eyes narrow as the person glares at me like I just dropped out of the sky from the human-like planet of Torenlia (which is just a hop, skip, and jump over in our nearest neighbor, the Alpha Centauri solar system). I especially love it when their nose squishes up like a rabbit.

“But it’s true. It really is,” I tell them.

Then I get The Smile, and they say, “Oh, you mean your imagination. Cute.” It’s a bonus when they shake their heads and roll their eyes.

“But I actually hear Willow talking to me.” I have the story down pat and try to keep a smile on my face the entire time, hoping it will help my case, but I know my next words will only add to their disbelief. “And after I come up with the basic concept, the characters start to converse with me, though not nearly as often or as a clear as Willow.” After all I don’t want to seem crazy.

Oops, narrowed eyes again. “It’s just you using the right side of your brain versus the left, correct?”

I can see the look of incredulity, though it is somewhat difficult through the slit their eyelids have become.

“Yes and No.”

That gets me a frown.

“It is somewhat true in that the right side of your brain tends to look at pictures and events as a whole, opposed to the left side, which looks at sequential steps to make a whole come together.” I don’t bother to go in the study of right and left sides of the brain, but just continue, “But Willow draws from both sides to provide me the images and the flow I need to come up with a story idea. And I can actually hear her voice, the inflection and everything.” By the way, it has a bit of a southerly draw to it, like found in the deep south of the USA, with a southern California overlay.

“So it is just in your own mind?” Their face lights up like they proved a point, but then the lips twist or similar facial expressions appear that reveal their hesitancy. “There really isn’t a Willow is there?”

I have to smile myself now as I have them thinking, maybe, just maybe. “Let me give you an example of how I come up with a new story idea.” I don’t want to make it all about me (well yes I do), but after all, they did ask me.

Meerkat on Guard Duty“I was on a family outing to the zoo, and decided to take a break, just away by myself to commune with the animals. Actually, I was looking for a beer garden, but that really isn’t pertinent. However, while I was walking around (looking for the ‘commune garden’) I turned a corner and there was an enclosure of meerkats. Their little butts sticking out of dozens of caves in the ground, dirt flying behind them as their long claws dug further under the surface.” I take a dramatic pause; which works out nicely as I can also take a sip from my glass of wine.

The momentary break also gave me time to consider something that had always bothered me. What happened when the meerkats had created a honeycomb of tunnels that would cause the ground to collapse? Then I rationalized that maybe zookeepers came in at night and filled in some of the caves. But I digress.

I pick up the story, “What really caught my attention, and made me block out the zoo visitors and all the other meerkats, was the one meerkat sitting upright on its hind legs, at the highest point in the enclosure. Its head darted from side-to-side looking for a threat to the clan below. This one meerkat was giving up its favorite pastime, digging (which I still don’t get), to look after its family, its clan. After a while, another member of the clan took its place and the new meerkat continued the constant guard duty. “

I would get a lot of responses, at this point, from “I knew that.” to “Yeah, I’ve seen them do that. They almost seem human.” And this is normally followed with a well veiled comment like “Interesting.”; which can be translated to, “So what?”

Nevertheless, I push onward. “Like everyone else, I am amazed at the organizational instinct and loyalty to family and clan, but then I sort of zone out, and I can actually see someone. Well, to tell the truth, I don’t see them, but I can feel them as if they are standing next to me and I can tell you what they look like.”

I have to talk fast now, or I know I will lose them. “Then I hear ‘What if it was dragons rather than meerkats?’”

My educated response is ‘Huh?’

Dragon Guarding the Clan“The voice continues ‘What if there was a clan of dragons that lived in caves?’ This voice starts to feed my mind with images. ‘The caves could even be in the ground rather than on a mountain. And what if the older dragons took turns perched on a high peak, above the clan, looking for danger, so they could warn the rest of the clan?’ A landscape starts to fill my mind. I start to picture the concept — a desert or a forested area, with a lot of small hills with cave entrances cut into them, and a lone spire that rises above the hills, where the dragons stand guard. I’ve got the concept, and this is where my right brain would have done its duty, but then Willow gives me more.”

“So that is how you come up with a story?” They still don’t look convinced.

“Yes and No.”

Another frown.

“That is part of it, but there is more to it than that.” I always get to this point and find it hard to describe what happens, but I try nonetheless, “Willow takes these images from my imagination, if you will, and starts putting them in a sequential manner. Then she says ‘What if there were other clans, and the clans didn’t get along, just like meerkat clans? However, the clans must come together with the help of a small group of humans (got to have a group of humans) to combat some great evil that would otherwise devour both humans and dragons alike.’”

“That sounds kind of cool.” I can see a bit of excitement in their expression.

So I drop the bomb. “Then one of the main characters, a dragon, starts telling me how it wondered what these puny humans that had intruded on the clan’s nest wanted from it?” I think they thought I was maybe kidding earlier about characters talking to me.

At this point, I normally get one of two responses.

The first one is “Really? You hear voices?” And then I can count to myself, and before I reach ten, they will have to go refill their drink or just saw someone they needed to talk with.

The second one is “Really? That must be so cool!” And they will spend the next hour pumping me for more information about how I write and my stories.

But the bottom-line is that a tale is born. Or at least that is what Willow tells me.

How do you find inspiration and come up with the story line for your tales?

Are We Keepers of Suspense?

Book beginnings and middles give way to endings. If the beginning of your book doesn’t grab the reader, then she or he (usually) won’t read further. If the middles, and ending of your book are not satisfying to a reader, then you’ve lost that reader.  Simple wisdom? Yes, but how many books have you read this year that disappointed you?  I read several books a week and I have read several this year by writers that lost me as a reader. (As an aside here, I know that all readers will never be pleased with any book.) So how do we keep our story so readers stay satisfied?

According to my mental mentor-writer, Phyllis A. Whitney, suspense is one important key. That doesn’t mean you must have dozens of dead bodies strewn around in your novel. There must be a problem, there must be conflict, there must be a goal. Your main character must be actively involved in solving the problem(s) and in the conflict. If your character just drifts along, letting things happen to her, soon your reader may be yawning and putting your book down. Action is needed.

The more unexpected, unforseen, and unpredictable the outcome, the stronger the story interest, the stronger the suspense. Urgency–if possible, a time limit–increases suspense.  Make sure your main character’s purpose is opposed in nearly every scene.  What will it cost him if he doesn’t succeed?  If your opposition is only a misunderstanding that could be cleared up at any point, it isn’t strong enough.

(Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every romance I’ve ever read when a “misunderstanding” was the only thing that kept apart the main characters!  I really dislike “misunderstanding” in books.)

Books full of suspense hold onto a reader.  Surprise also helps, but writing about that is for next time.

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?

A Hit with the Aliens!

I think my writing is having a mid-life crisis.

WHY couldn't I have the usual kind?

WHY couldn’t I have the usual kind?

The dam first broke four summers ago- truly chronicling the Lands of Hope- and my productivity was very high I can tell you. Sure, Stephen King and George R.R. Martin do better. But not by much. And they make MONEY.

I'm telling you, I have to tweet about this!

I’m telling you, I have to tweet about this!

Plus I had other ideas, about how to support the work. Compendium material (right here on this blog), maps, a chronology- checklist items I ticked off to build the ever-desired platform. Starting with roughly the same knowledge of e-publication and social networks as the average survivor of the Black Plague, I’ve come to a point where I know some stuff. More important, I know some folks. Time is limited, I don’t need to tell you that, but I make a few rounds, read great entries, drop comments. I curate the odd bit of trivia to FB or G+, I review fellow authors with pleasure. And about once a month I come here and put in what I honestly think is some of my best material, alongside the splendid writers of the Independent Bookworm.

My writing has slowed recently, for reasons I’m well aware of (basically, the Lavender Lady intimidates me no end). I’ll start to roll the rock again soon. But meantime, I’ve dallied. And I’ve lost energy. I look around at the aggressive marketing and candid self-promotion others do. My honest reaction? Hey, I already have one rat race, why write just to pick up another?

My enthusiasm for marketing myself has fallen through the floor. My inner sap is whining- ‘Why aren’t I already famous?’

I can see the Lands of Hope in here!

I can see the Lands of Hope in here!

So I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. But I haven’t accomplished even more. The posts, the time-line, the tales themselves- there they are, but what does it add up to? It’s not just how many have paid to read my stories- I get it, I’m a drop in the ocean- but sometimes I feel like nothing I’ve written, even the free stuff, makes any noise at all. It’s falling over alone in a forest somewhere . We’re all busy: and  I don’t write SHORT things. Strike three and I’m still on deck.

Then it hit me. I need the aliens.

Must--read--Eath--books...

Must–read–Earth–books…

Remember that assignment in seventh grade, where the teacher said “think of ONE thing you can put in a room that will survive the nuclear war- aliens will find it and you want to put something in there that will tell them all about the human race”. I loved that assignment. Extra points if you can guess what I suggested- this was the 70s, so nothing that starts with a small “i”. Electricity yes, but not portable. Guess.

So just now, I had my own assignment moment- wouldn’t the aliens love me? No, stick with this- it’s a gasser.

Suppose some kind of bizarre magnetic pulse hits the earth, blankets the planet with radiation that kills all the people and affects part of that beloved Internet which is our modern record. All the content, things that anyone has ever WRITTEN, that stuff stays- web pages, the composition, art, video clips, etc. But

But- I was in 5,000 Circles on Google!

But- I was in 5,000 Circles!

EVERYTHING THAT MEASURES IT is gone- the page hits, the Likes, the buzz, bestseller lists and on and on- that’s poof. Google’s entire search engine with ranked findings is

ground zero- boom, atomized, no trace.

The internet is now level. Everything that’s written is there together. That’s what the aliens find.

So there’s Stephen King’s book, and GRRM’s, and mine, on Amazon- but no sales records. And their blogs, their pages, and mine, side by side in a cybernetic sense. Aliens would be just as likely to find me as either of them. Once they figure out our alphabet, I come first! And they’d like my stuff- there’s adventure in there, cool things that happen to great characters in amazing situations. And they’d be completely ignorant that I was ever just one of the faceless mass of indies who struggled to gain the slightest traction.

To the aliens, I’d be a bestseller.

As big as… as big as Robert Galbraith.

This is the kind of pathetic, cold comfort my imagination flees to when my spirits about writing are low. I’m blogging about it for two reasons. First and foremost I’m still scared of my MC, and can’t use my time the way every writer would want, not yet. But I also think this, the depths that an unknown author can feel, are worth recording for posterity. We keep doing this, despite feeling so empty, long months and years of shoveling sand on a beach and getting bupkis back.

Five Signs You’re Not a Success As an Independent Author

1) You set your preferences on Smashwords to notify you every time one of your books sells. You haven’t needed to turn it off yet.

2) You spend time thinking about how you can pump your Klout score higher than your age. Because of course that will make it better.

Feels like work sometimes

Feels like work sometimes

3) You wait as long as you can- maybe six weeks- before checking Amazon sales. You know there’s nothing. You’re still crushed. You check again every day for a week, to make sure there was no mistake.

4) The day after you leave two business cards at the local library you see an extra page-view on one of your books and you think “aha, it’s working”.

5) The “Reach” factor on your Facebook page slips into negative territory.

Let the pity-fest begin! Add to the list, append your personal gripes, share the misery (we all know it wants company). Or if you’re minded to spoil the paalienreadrty, a few tips on what gets you cranked up again, the encouragement you find even in the darkest hour. I might listen to that too.

But hurry- Optimist that I am, I think the aliens really are coming. So I will have to delete this page soon, else they start to suspect…

P.S.: Answer to the homework assignment-

pinball

Wisdom From Established Writers

Way back in 1982, a popular author, Phyllis A. Whitney, wrote a book for writers.  The title was Guide to Fiction Writing and it was published by The Writer, Inc. (It’s out of print now, but you can pick up a used copy online easy enough.)  At the time she wrote this book, she had over 60 novels published, some for adults and some for young adults. Her adult novels were romantic suspense and she sold many copies of them.  Her book goes into detail about both her writing methods and technique.  I’d like to share with you some bits of writing wisdom from Ms. Whitney over the next several months.  Here’s the first installment on writing beginnings:

Beginnings

Probably the best way to start any story…is to show a character with a problem doing something interesting.  The more quickly you can make what is happening clear, the more likely you’ll be to draw your reader into your story.  The old questions that have always been set down in books on writing are still necessary to consider: Who? What? Where? When? Why? It’s seldom easy to answer all of them quickly and gracefully in those first pages.  Long expositions, descriptions, philosophizing, may entertain you, but are unlikely to grip a busy reader today.  The reader doesn’t have to know everything right away.  Yet he mustn’t be left in a state of confusion either.

In your opening, you will need to establish the immediate problem that faces your main character.  You will also make it clear why your character can’t solve this problem easily.  Expect to do your beginning over several times. I usually write a first opening in which I explain everything and get it off my chest.  Only then can I read it through and decide which parts of the mass of explanation are really needed right now.

Next month some tips on writing middles.

A Writing Challenge For You

Remember when you were in school during language arts class?  Or that writing class you took as an adult?  Your teacher gave a writing prompt to the class and everyone wrote a story using the same prompt. (In younger grades, they were called story ideas.)

When the stories were read aloud, even though they started from the same prompt, every story was drastically different.  If, for one moment, you might wonder why, only think about it.  Every person has different experiences, different environments, different thoughts.  Many of us have different values, dreams, and hopes.  Our writing comes from our inter-most being.  What we think and feel and what we believe comes through into our writing.

Writing prompts can sometimes be just the idea starter a person needs to jog the process of story telling.  It can be a welcome challenge to take the idea and turn it into your own personal story.

So, thinking in this vein, I have an assignment for you, should you choose to accept it.  Use the following prompt and write your own story.   Change anything you like to make the story your own.  (I’d love to hear from you and read what you come up with.)

It was time.  He opened the door into the blackness outside and melted away into the shadows.  Silently.  Swiftly.  Knowing he must not be noticed.  Must not be found.  Standing alone under the trees he waited, not moving a muscle.  Waiting.  Another shadow detached itself from the surrounding darkness.  Moved. Came closer.

Interview with Elizabeth Baxter, Author of “The Last Priestess”

I’m very pleased to host another independent author this week, Elizabeth Baxter, who either failed to read the warning signs or loves nothing better than a good torturous interrogation process. Join us now in the donjon as we prepare to wring every ounce of information from this unsuspecting victim. We’ll lull her into a false sense of security by asking her friendly questions first…

The writer, I believe, is on the left.

The writer, I believe, is on the left.

Q1: Elizabeth Baxter… I cannot tell you how familiar that name sounds! Probably I’m thinking writer-elizabeth-barrett-browning. But Baxter- was your father named Ted, worked in a news station? Or maybe your middle name is “Raven”? I know what A “baxter” is in a movie-plot, but we don’t want to go there. Are you as sensible and well-grounded as the slang term indicates?

A: Hmm. Sensible and well-grounded are not words normally associated with me (this is the girl who spends her mornings watching Spiderman on the cartoon channel). I think writers need to be a little bit crazy to do what we do. After all, what completely sensible person wants to spend hours locked up in a room with only a laptop for company? I’ve always thought my name sounds old fashioned. Or regal. Add my middle name and it gets worse. Elizabeth Katherine Baxter (sorry, not Raven but that would be kind of cool).

Q2: I’m a firm believer in choice during interviews. Choice One- is the protagonist of your upcoming tale more like Xena (Warrior Princess), Katniss (Hunger Games), Galadriel (LoTR) or Mulan (um, Mulan)? Are we talking “hear me roar” or something more hesitant from her?TheLastPriestessCover

A: Maegwin, the main character in The Last Priestess, is, as you’d expect, a priestess so I suppose she ought to be wise like Galadriel. But she’s actually more of an opinionated, kick-butt kind of girl. And yet, she is forced to be this way by circumstances beyond her control. So I suppose she’d be a combination of Xena and Katniss.

Q3: Do you clearly recall the moment you became a writer? I’d love to know whether one fateful day you squared your shoulders, took a deep breath and started, or if you sort of looked back and realized it had already begun.

A: Yes! I remember it clearly. I was six years old and spent one Saturday sitting in my bedroom writing a story. I don’t know why I did it – it was just an enjoyable activity to me. The story was called The Golden Pheasant and was about two friends, Fox and Deer, who set out to discover what this golden pheasant is that kept appearing in their wood. I even made a cover out of cereal boxes and illustrated it myself. And that was it. I was a writer! I haven’t stopped since. In fact, I’ve still got a copy of The Golden Pheasant somewhere. Maybe it will be worth megabucks one day! (I can only dream).

Q4: That has to be the coolest thing I’ve heard since I was six myself. Choice Two- would you say you are solidly in the “epic/heroic fantasy” camp, or have your plots so far started with real-world folks and crossed over? What do we call that latter sort of writing anyway?

A: I don’t write cross-over fantasy. Sorry, don’t know the correct term. I like my characters to be a part of the world I create. Having said that, some of my favorite ever books have been cross-over fantasies. Take Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. A masterpiece of the genre in my opinion. I’m not sure how I’d categorize my work. It’s epic fantasy in the sense that it deals with big, world-changing ideas but I also get into the nitty-gritty of my characters’ lives and the minutia of their everyday struggles, the things that really matter to them.

 Q5: Are your fantasy kingdoms unconnected? Or do you see many fantasy realms connect to our alleged-real world? If you create a new fantasy setting, how much do you try to think ahead and map it out, or is it more a driving idea that grabs you and things flesh out as you go?

A: Um, the last option. When I create a fantasy world I have a basic idea of the kind of laws that drive it. This informs how the world unfolds in the story. For example, in The Last Priestess, the world my characters inhabit is one of seven worlds that are interconnected. I like the idea that each world has its own natural laws that govern the types of creatures that live there – this idea formed the basis of how I created the world of Amaury and the six other worlds (or Realms as they are called in the book) it’s connected to.

Q6: Now that’s using your head- why couldn’t I have thought of that? Tell us something about The Last Priestess. Is it heading straight downhill like The Last Samurai, or are we going to see the world reseeded with next-gen clerics by the end… like the kids in Mad Max, only with incense?

A: At the start of The Last Priestess, Maegwin’s world has been shattered. She has two options: start anew or let herself slide into a downward spiral of bitterness and betrayal. The story follows this struggle. She faces many choices. She can choose to accept help or reject it. She can choose to forgive or take revenge. She can choose to form friendships or shut people out. So how will the world in The Last Priestess turn out? Well, that’s up to Maegwin.

Q7: They say marketing your own work is a job; do you have any leads on a person who’d be willing to do it for us? I guess you would have no objection to being handed fame and fortune by an agent and publisher! But assuming you’ve done the majority of your own legwork so far; was that an early choice, a voluntary one? And what can you tell us online authors about rolling this rock uphill?

A: I was offered a ‘traditional’ publishing contract for my first novel, Everwinter. After much deliberation, I turned it down to go indie. Why? Well, I did say the words, ‘sensible’ and ‘well-grounded’ couldn’t be applied to me didn’t I? I thought I could have more fun doing things my way. And I was right. I’ve enjoyed every minute, even though it’s been incredibly hard work. As for marketing? I’ve heard it described as throwing bits of popcorn at a wall to see what sticks. Try everything. And don’t give up.

Q8: … ‘scuse me, I was getting busy licking my popcorn… So I look at the artwork on your covers and immediately think, “OK, off to GameStop to play this one.” Is this CGI influenced art? Do you have the same artist, or how did you set about achieving the nice cover art you have?

A: I like to have characters on my covers. After all, they are who the book is about. The jury is out on whether this works in fantasy. Some people don’t like characters on covers. To each their own. I’m fortunate in that my other half is pretty nifty at graphic design. So I show him the images I like and he puts it together. Ta-da! I’d like to claim credit but I really can’t.

Q9: You married the help? My lovely wife did the same thing! {And it was our anniversary on the 10th, too.} Thanks so much for giving us a peek into your craft, Elizabeth. I firmly predict, anyone who likes Peter Parker and Thomas Covenant is going to be writing stuff I like. Be sure to fill us in with the dope on where to find your previous works, and when to look out for The Last Priestess.

A: There’s loads of places you can catch up with me on the internet. Here’s a few:

The Last Priestess: http://www.amazon.com/Priestess-Songmaker-fantasy-novel-ebook/dp/B00B9Z98SA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1360423888&sr=1-1&keywords=the+last+priestess

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Baxter/e/B007YTE5YW/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1360423917&sr=1-1

Blog (smallblondehippy): http://www.elizabethbaxter.blogspot.co.uk/

Have a great day, everyone!

Fantasy, by the Planets- My Faults are in the Stars

With a tip of the broad-brimmed hat to Ciara Ballintyne, whose wonderful post on the subject kicked my dusty brain into gear, I fell to thinking how to classify the various works of fantasy that I love so well. I’ve come to realize from posts at various sites, that my views are quite simplistic- also showing their age, frankly- but perhaps for beginners I can offer the following easy taxonomy. If it helps you to write, then it’s good.

  • I’m following a rule of three, split by Stakes and Mood, for a total of nine sub-Genres. Yeah I know- too tidy, old-fashioned, unconvincing. Sue me. I have simple tastes, and believe that many things folks call genres are better described as flavors.
  • Among those things you won’t see reflected here by name are Urban, High/Low, Historical, Dark and most likely others you’ve come to like. My, I’m being grumpy today. It’s just that I prefer a few categories, and then one can speak of works that split-the-distance, or bend the genre. That strikes me as the greater compliment than to give every great work that comes along a category of its own.
  • My model is a solar system- in fact, ours. The planets represent centers of gravity that define something qualitatively different about the writing, and of course the reading experience. But plenty of room between the heavenly bodies, and most of what we read doesn’t nestle down precisely in one atmosphere or another. Most planets have moons, and there are uncounted millions of asteroids: I know what you’re thinking, the literary genius goes on and on.
  • And here’s another point, before I lay the figure on you. It’s a solar system, which means there’s room outside it as well. Maybe you’ll find the stuff you really like is off beyond Pluto somewhere, and that’s cool. Say hi to Kirk and Luke for me. I know that some of my works to date have spicing from other genres such as Horror, Mystery, and Romance: if Fantasy writing was a country trading with its neighbors, I would say imports outweighed exports by about 10 to 1. Might be cool to consider that in a future post.

So I’ll give the graphic representation here, which I hope is pretty self-explanatory (thousand words and all that). I hope you enjoy it, and then if you like scan as many of my notes as you want. I’m a heroic and epic fantasy chronicler, so believe me, this IS the short version! But stop whenever it’s not helping you anymore. I’m very happy as always to hear your thoughts too. Click on the image to see it bigger.

One chronicler's suggestion

One chronicler’s view

I’ve suggested three major genres of fantasy- Epic, Heroic and Sword and Sorcery (down the middle)  with variations of Mood (across the top) from Cinematic to Morbid, and a second spectrum of Stakes (along the side) from Casual to Crucial. At each “planet” I installed a title that pretty closely fits the location: most of my selections reveal my age but I think they will still be familiar to many. One word of warning; these planets are not arranged in the same order as you might expect by the presence of the “sun” in the picture. More explanations than you could ever want follow here!

EPIC Fantasy is defined by Crucial Stakes; the main character is called upon to Save the World. Combat is rare, humor limited and every act reeks of consequences. Things happen for a reason, it all ties together.

HEROIC Fantasy involves some kind of quest within more limited boundaries, to Save the Kingdom. Heroes fight more often, there can be humorous moments and even mistakes before the (usually happy) ending.

SWORD & SORCERY sometimes identified with “Low” fantasy, has the smallest, most Casual stakes; for the protagonist, the job  is literally Save Your Skin. Fighting and action ranges from frequent to non-stop, and nearly any vice you can imagine is on the table (sometimes takings its clothes off) while mistakes are common (and mean less). By the end, there has often been little or nothing accomplished. Except you’ve enjoyed a great story.

But these tales are also qualified by a tone or Mood which puts them in definable categories. The CINEMATIC (or Light) mood generally carries more humor, a higher level of action and suspense, and often brings more misadventures whose purpose either distracts or relieves tension derived from the main plot. Not surprisingly, fantasies with a Cinematic Mood make good movies. The Stakes are the same (a Cinematic Epic Fantasy is still a quest to save the world), but you can laugh along the way, there’s more of a campy flavor. There’s also less doubt that the world/kingdom/skin will, in fact, be saved. You don’t spend sleepless nights wondering how it will turn out. On the opposite side of the spectrum, fantasy tales of all three genres can be Morbid (or perhaps Dark), bearing not just on death but on a much grimmer prospect regarding the Stakes. You can certainly doubt whether “it” will be saved, or you might be uncertain if you want the main character to succeed. Many works hailed as deconstructions of fantasy, in another view, are Morbid.

THE BOOK TITLES: In case you were interested, some notes on the choices I made. I spotted my own works with initials in purple (TMM- Three Minutes to Midnight, and so forth). I think I have them in the right orbits, but let me know!

Epic: Lord of the Rings is the obvious call, hard to see how any work could displace it. I also include SRD’s Thomas Covenant series as a later, but still seminal example of the Stakes involved. Ironic point- Middle Earth is lost unless Frodo refuses to use the Ring, and The Land is done for unless Covenant decides to use it!

Cinematic Epic: I chose the 1980 version of Flash Gordon for two reasons. First, even though it’s about as silly and campy as anything ever put on film, the Stakes are unmistakably Crucial: Ming is moments away from destroying Earth and ruling the entire galaxy. It’s technically science-fiction, but the lasers and mind-probes are pretty soft-pedaled especially in this movie: the best moments like the stump-of-death and the tilting-floor duel are pure fantasy. Secondly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who was at Camp Dudley YMCA in 1983, when five hundred boys trooped to the movie-hall after four days of torrential rains, expecting to see another boring baseball series recap film. Instead, the pulsing drums of Queen preceded Max von Sydow sneering “Foolish Earthlings, who can save you now?” The cheering echoes up in the Adirondacks to this day.

Morbid Epic: I think Stephen King’s Dark Tower series stands well here, because of the grim tone, the gruesome moral choices made and the severe prices paid. I’m not sure who I want to win, nor whether anyone will. And the Stakes once again are the entire world (no matter how small). Should I have yelled “Spoiler Alert” a few paragraphs ago?

Heroic: I personally put Ursula LeGuin’s series on a pedestal just as high as Tolkein’s or anyone else’s, and the first book I think is a splendid example of individual heroic activity for big (but not yet universal) Stakes. There are two kinds of readers on earth- those who need to read Earthsea and those who need to read it again.

Cinematic Heroic: The book is better, yet the movie of The Princess Bride brings out the Cinematic mood just as well. But the book is better.

Morbid Heroic: Here’s where I would stash GRRM, personally, and for emphasis I laid him alongside Elric of Melnibone. I think Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch can also be classified here. The struggles going on in Game of Thrones et al will not bring the world down to darkness (most likely)- and with most characters showing a gleam of virtue already dead I’m not sure anyone would notice if they did. Heroes are saps. Even some of the bad guys are suckers, compared to some of the other bad guys. I count down from the top of my list of characters who are a) somewhat good and b) still alive, and here’s my top 3:

  1. The brave bastard (no really) who’s still alive because he lives at the polar ice-cap so none of his enemies can be sure where he is
  2. The girl who’s hoping to become an assassin
  3. the blonde guy who actually said no to boinking his sister for a change, and who might be getting a tad weary of being so evil all the time

Can you tell I don’t like Morbid fantasy much?

My choices for Sword and Sorcery are all nearly as old as I am and I cannot see into the darkness far enough to make out a Morbid choice. Perhaps you have some suggestions to fill in my star-chart?

Speaking of that, let me wrap up (this IS the short version) with a run-down of the various planets.

The SUN brings “light” of course, so the three planets closest to it are Cinematic and the furthest are Morbid. But that’s not strictly a distance thing.

Arranged to fit my own fantasy

Arranged to fit my own fantasy

Venus is where you should expect to find her, both the lowest and most light-hearted spot suited to the pursuit of, ahm, venality.

Neptune occupies the Cinematic Heroic spot because like many tales in that sub-genre, it’s turned on its side.

Pluto is Cinematic Epic because its very survival (as a planetary body) is at stake. Despite being so far away it is at least solid, and remarkably bright for its small size. So a nice combination of light and far-out.

Mars is the home of Sword and Sorcery and if Conan wasn’t so cool I’d have put Jon Carter there as a title in a heartbeat.

Earth is the home of heroes. Full stop. Keep looking, they’re there- and my Lands of Hope are the proof.

Epic Fantasy is the King (I know, the planet I used has rings, but it’s a great color). And Jupiter has many moons, lots of tremendous titles we all could name in its orbit.

Morbid S&S needs a planet where things are cold as hell but can move quickly and dangerously. Mercury, remember, doesn’t spin- the dark side temps drop to -350 F or lower. In a Morbid S&S your life could be over in fewer seconds than the days of Mercury’s orbit.

Uranus is appropriate for Morbid Heroic because it’s so large and full of gas. Deadly gas. Fortunately for me, it’s also far away. Did I mention Morbid is not my favorite?

And Saturn wishes it could be Jupiter again but will have to settle for second in size, still slow of speed, lots of material in its orbit too.

If you’ve made it this far, I should give you a reward. Why not download The Ring and the Flag from Podiobooks? It’s free to listen, and the hero spends lots of time staring up at the stars for answers. Sincere thanks for your patience, I’ve enjoyed the rant. Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,321 other followers

%d bloggers like this: