Monday, November 26, 2012

Kindle Freebies Day!

Kindle Freebies is having the following giveaway.

They’ve surpassed the 1.5k fans mark via their Facebook page and would like to thank all of you for making this a great community. You've been phenomenal and they'd love to give something back.

These generous authors have donated the following books for this event. We thank each and every one of them for giving us their time and the opportunity to bring further knowledge of their books to you. Without all of you, none of this would be possible.


To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is follow the instructions listed on the form below. (Form will be added to the post soon.)

Contest is open to U. S. and International since these are ebooks that are up for grabs.

Good luck to all those entering!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nano, Day One

Yo dawg. I'm beat.

It be end of Day One of NanoWRImo and what you think I got? Two thousand of my own words and fifteen thousand of someone else's I edited an' tore down an' built back up again from the ground floor page one. Lotta time I coulda been writin' but sometimes the work just got to get done and you the only one sittin' behind that keyboard starin' at All. Them. Words.

That's when you know it's for real, son. That's when you know you be livin' the Author Life. 'Cause writin' ain't easy, but those Great 'Merican novels ain't gonna write themselves. Straight up.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Orpheus it is

Wrote a novella. Myth of Orpheus, but Eurydice is a guy, and it's set in something like Japan, and maybe it gets a happy ending? Anyway, that takes the "what next" question off the table for a short time, until I ask it again. I'm getting it read and edited by our dear friend Bev right now, and it will hopefully emerge from the smoke without too many holes below the waterline. But we'll see. I think it's pretty strong: not necessarily narratively, though that's not bad, but emotionally. I put a lot of feeling into it. I don't do that often.


Often, we'll say often.

It's a nice little piece of work, 27000 words, took a week to write, will take a couple months to clean up and get ready. I'm happy I did it.

Now, what next?

CAUTION: Work in Progress

Work in Progress Challenge

R.K. MacPherson hit me with the WIP Challenge, and after I assured him I was, in fact, his huckleberry, there was nothing for it but to make good on my boast.

1. What is the title of your Work In Progress?

Which one? Oh, fine, I'll pick just one: Marginalia.

2. Where did the idea for the WIP come from?

I had just put down The Hunger Games (yes, you may all gasp and flutter at me now - it was even my second attempt to read the thing) and I thought about what made good Dystopian writing. Eventually those thoughts coalesced into the core of the idea for Marginalia.

3. What genre would your WIP fall under?

Dystopian Young Adult. If that's not a genre, it should be.

4. Which actors would you choose to play characters in a movie rendition?

Good question. I don't really know a lot of young actresses. I can vaguely envision the main character being portrayed by a teenage Kate Beckinsale, but that train has sailed, alas. There's a role for an older man that I would want to be played by Steve Buscemi. Eeeevil.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your WIP?

When Alethea Three finds a beautiful, mesmerizing and utterly forbidden story hand-written in the margins of an official copy of HISTORY OF THE STATE, she is consumed with the need to find its author, even if it means she may never be more than a lowly subcitizen in her dystopic, totalitarian nation of a future not so improbably different from our own.

6. Is your WIP published or represented?

Still working on it, but I have no plans to shop it around either to agents or publishers. What for? I have all the tools I need to sell it on Amazon, CreateSpace, and similar venues of the future.

7. How long did it take you to write?

No idea. It's not done, after all. I did have to take several breaks when other, time-sensitive projects arose. At this point it would be hard to estimate.

8. What other WIP’s in your genre would you compare it to?

I'll sigh and admit some inspiration from The Hunger Games, but then I'll amend that and say it actually reminds me more of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a comparison I think much more apt overall.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

Suzanne Collins merits a positive mention here, and not a backhanded compliment either. She deserves her success, even if I didn't find her work to my particular taste. I will also tip my hat to Eric Arthur Blair - better known as George Orwell - for showing me the way.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest about this WIP.

Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, this is really a story within a story. By using the story written in the margins to contrast with Alethea's own story, I find a great deal of subtle commentary can be woven in through symbolism and careful choice of pacing. As a narrative device it works wonderfully.

11. Finally: Tag three other Authors and ask them to complete the above interview.

* Scott Roche

* John Ward

* Brooke Johnson

Friday, October 12, 2012

Free Books Are Next to Godliness

Julia Knox has a secret.

What if you had the power to disbelieve the supernatural away - reducing werewolves to embarrassingly hirsute guys, vampires into skinny goth kids, and ghosts into sheets with holes poked into them?

What if your father, the famous "Hard Knox" Harry - of similar fame to Mythbusters - had recently died, leaving you his Debunking business, a mountain of debt... and a supernatural enemy intent on destroying you by inches?

What if you came up against a power your disbelief couldn't dispel - and it followed you home?

Find out! Disbelief is now FREE for three days only. Go get yourself a great read while the getting is good!

Download Disbelief from Amazon.

Ain't gonna be no crumpets and tea

Ain't gonna be no crumpets and tea, coz.

Writin' ain't easy. Ain't gonna get no easier neither. Always gonna be hard. Always gonna be a struggle. Live that. Breathe it. Write it down, then go back and write it down better. You do that, you get better, you figure things out, you try new genres and new POVs and your protagonist makes Job look like he had it easy. You write novels, sell a few, people give 'em five star reviews and interview you like you know what you doin'.

And you still gonna feel like you writin' on the ragged edge of disaster. Every day, every word.

Don't be afraid to feel that - it means you're doin' it right. If you feel safe, if you feel comfortable then you ain't pushin' and you ain't bleedin' the words out onto the page. Look at your forearm and see where you stuck that pen in, over an' over an' over, until all those words bled out and made a picture that moved somebody to tears, or rage, or lust. Words so sharp and pointed they cut through the dead wood and got down to the real thing, the pick fence or the gutter or the highrise or wherever we live, and made us feel.

Once you got that feelin' - once you know you writin' on the ragged edge of disaster, that's when you know you livin' the Author Life.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

An even better idea

AUTHOR LIFE. It ain't all fast keys and fly writer groupies, coz.

Check this out. You got a great idea for a book, I mean War and Peace great, you feel me? You work that idea, work it hard, write your characters and get all their voices down solid, know their motives and tragedies and whatever. Then you work the plot over, polishing it until it shines like Patrick Stewart's shiny bald head. Dat plot arc be lookin' like a population graph, all exponential curves shootin' up to the sky. You got dramatic tension comin' out yo ears. This book gonna sell like it was hotcakes on fire and you can't wait to get that sucka done and onna shelf. You be workin' it all day and dreamin' it all night.

Just one problem. All the while you be workin' like a dog on this book, yo head be the thing on fire - tellin' you all about an even better idea for another story. That's what it means to live the Author Life, yo.

More straight tales later. I gotta get to typin. 'Cause writin' ain't easy, and nobody chooses the Author Life - the Author Life chooses them.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Next Project (Jason's first post in *how* long?)

I just finished writing a rough draft of another book a week ago. Typically, in my writing life, I've noticed that it takes me about 7-14 days after such an achievement to be up for doing any other creative work. Instead, I ponder what I'll do next. Ideas bounce around in my head, every one gaining massive amounts of traction and then fading to nothing when I don't start writing immediately. But it's been a week now, and I'm getting the itch again, and so I've got to get writing.

I'm thinking something shorter than a novel. I've got an agent to sell those now; what I want is something I can publish myself, put out and sell right away. (The money's nice on traditional publishing. The waiting isn't.) I've got a few ideas, one that I'm working on with Peter is to put together a pair or trio of novellas with a particular (perhaps secret? Don't know so won't say it) theme. I'm thinking it'll end up in the 15-20K word range. But there are other novella length things that I contemplate.

I have the start of a novella about the later years of Morgan le Fay, sitting at about 10K and needing probably 30K. That's too short for traditional publishing, too long for magazines, the perfect length to self publish. I love the Arthurian legends, and I've been meaning to finish this thing for a great many years. When I started it (so long ago was that date) it seemed like it would be a great achievement to finish it. I have advanced much beyond that point now, but I still want to get back to it and wrap it up.

Or I could write an interpretation of the myth of Orpheus that's bouncing around in my head. I think it's just a little too thin to be a novel length work; it would be a good novella, but just not meaty enough for more.

Or the sci fi piece about abandoned terraformers. Again, it's too thin for a novel, but probably more than enough to get to 20K words.

All together, those four would be about 80K words, or about the length of the novel I just wrapped up. So that wouldn't really take long, and it would be four pieces of work that I could do things with promptly.

I think I like that plan. I think I'm on it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sink or swim, it's raining ebooks

First, read (or at least scan) this:

Publishing Is Broken, We're Drowning In Indie Books - And That's A Good Thing - by David Vinjamuri

It's a timely and telling article on the state of the publishing industry with a specific question for indies: Is Indie Publishing Good or Bad for Authors?

It's hard not to think that Vinjamuri has his own ideas on that question. After all, one of the earliest points he makes is this:

"Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working [...] are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold. But this is demonstrably untrue."

The writer goes on to look at how the traditional publishing industry got into its current fix. The content of the article is good, especially when it comes to identifying where the current publishing system is broken and how the indie publishing movement has stepped up to fill in some of the gaps left by changes wrought by industry policies and market forces.

Where the article really shines, however, is in the quotes from indie writer superstars Hugh Howey and Robert Bidinotto. One of the most telling examples:

"No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published – and they don’t care. They’re interested in an experience that will educate or entertain them." - Robert Bidinotto, former journalist turned indie author

That's a powerful statement because it questions the traditional wisdom that New York publishing houses (the so-called Big Six which currently supply at least half of all books sold in the US) are the ultimate arbiters of content, style and taste when it comes to what the reading public - you - will have offered to them. The idea that they might not be is dynamite. And the Big Six are, variously, struggling to figure out what to do about it.

Here's another potent quote, this one by Hugh Howey, on how indie publishing is different from traditional publishing:

"I don’t have to compete with the price of mainstream publishers. They used to have the price advantage with economies of scale and the realities of large print runs. Now I have the advantage because I have low overhead. Where I once couldn’t compete with their physical price, they now can’t compete with my digital price."

What do you think? Do you buy a book solely because it is a New York Times bestseller? Do you buy a book because your friend recommended it to you? Or maybe because you know and like the author and his writing? What role does social media play in your buying habits? Would you be more likely to read something by an author who engaged with his readers online, or one who was reclusive, mysterious, and hidden behind the high gray walls of a Big Six publishing house?

Lots of good material for discussion here, especially because there are no clearly right or wrong answers. I highly encourage reading the article.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hawkwood's Folly: Old story, new honors

Almost a year ago, 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey was published.

It was a labor of love, and many hands besides those at Kindling Press contributed to that work. One of those pairs of hands belonged to Tim Reynolds, an author out of Calgary, Alberta. His story, Hawkwood's Folly, remains one of my favorites in the anthology. Not only did his submission really nail the theme and the genre we were looking for, but Tim was also easy-going, responded quickly and cheerfully to editing and constructive criticism, and proved himself a thorough professional when it came to meeting deadlines and producing quality writing on demand.

Naturally, we couldn't hoard him long.

Hawkwood's Folly is one of several short stories to be featured in the prestigious reprint anthology Imaginarium: Best of Canadian Speculative Writing (ChiZine Publications & Tightrope Books, published in August 2012 - ebook version here). Along with such luminaries of the field as Cory Doctorow, Tim Reynolds' work shines as a work of speculative fiction that challenges ideas of what it means to be human, and how far one might go to defend that definition. In the words of the publication's own description:

At their best, these pieces disrupt habits and overcome barriers of cultural perception to make the familiar strange through the use of speculative elements such as magic and technology. They provide glimpses of alternate realities and possible futures and pasts that provoke an ethical, social, political, environmental, and biological inquiry into what it means to be human.

Kindling Press prides itself on discovering and showcasing new writers of quality, so we are hardly surprised - though deeply pleased - to have contributed in part to this author's well-deserved success. It is a tremendous honor for us to have one of our authors recognized in such a prestigious publication, and Tim has certainly earned his place of honor.

Tim has also graciously given Kindling Press a short interview, talking about his work, Hawkwood's Folly, Steampunk, and his own future writing plans.

KP: How does it feel to have your work selected for inclusion in the prestigious anthology Imaginarium 2012: Best Canadian Speculative Writing?

TR: It's a real honour to be accepted into a 'Best of' collection, especially when it's the first "Imaginarium". It's also quite a feather in my writer's cap. I'm really just starting out as a published writer and, as you know, new writers can run up against roadblocks when trying to get publishers to notice them. "Imaginarium 2012" will help me get my writing noticed. It's all about having a solid resume, just like any pursuit.

I'm also extremely proud to be included in a 'Best of' anthology with a story first published by a 'young' company. Kindling Press did a terrific job not just on 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey, but in changing the way a publisher deals with writers. I'm seeing more and more young publishers grown tired of the old publishing model and I think Kindling was one of the ones who got the ball rolling.

KP: What is it that attracts you to Steampunk?

I love Steampunk because it combines elements of my favourite genres: historical, science fiction, and fantasy. Also, it's so wide open for interpretation that those who are writing in it now are able to take it just about anywhere they want. As time goes on, the Type-A personalities will try to impose rules galore on Steampunk, but we have to remember that half of the word is 'Punk' and punks don't conform to rules or play well with others.

KP: What gave you the idea for Hawkwood's Folly?

TR: "Hawkwood's Folly" comes from a couple inspirations. It had to be an underwater/nautical tale in order to fit with the theme of 20,001: A Steampunk Odyssey. I really just started the story from the doctor's point of view and let him carry me along for the ride. I wanted clanking automatons, a slightly mad man, and a doctor with a dilemma. Grigori is actually Grigori Rasputin and the story was written to take place during a time when we have few details of his life, so that it could be possible that this series of events really happened to him and contributed to who he became, historically. The first draft was not nearly as dark as the finished tale, and I have the Kindling Press editors to thank for that. Suggestions were made and then it all fell into place.

KP: Why did you choose that particular time period and location as your setting?

TR: I suppose in the long run, the specific time and place for the setting revolved a lot around the know facts of Grigori's life. I was leaning towards Paris anyway but with a few shifts here and there I was able to bend history a bit to fit. Also, Verne was French and I sort of thought a tribute to him should include either a French hero or villain.

KP: How much research went into this story, given your authentic use of language and Belle Epoque setting?

TR: I usually do a fair bit of research just to get one simple fact correct or at least sounding correct, so delving into a period of history took a lot of reading. I had done undersea settlement research for a far future sci fi novel and it came in handy when trying to realize how Hawkwood's submarine settlement could be done. I used to have a working knowledge of French so it was a simple thing to figure out what I wanted to say and double check it with online translators. I must admit that when it comes to research I absolutely adore Wikipedia (but always find another source to confirm!) and Google Maps Streetview. If I have a specific idea in mind, then Streetview lets me double check the surrounding area, even if it's a historical setting. My degree is in History, so I enjoy tapping into it and mutating it for my own purposes.

KP: What are you working on now, and how does it fit into your goals and interests as writer?

TR: I am finishing up 11 critiques for a 2-day Clarion-style workshop I'm attending this week and then am very involved in When Words Collide, a Readers & Writers Festival here in Calgary August 10-12. I'll be reading from Hawkwood's Folly and another story I have coming out this year, as well as leading a workshop on finding story ideas. Once the workshop and festival are done, I'm going back to editing down my sci fi novel from 150,000 words to 100,000, finishing my man-loves-ghost-of-dead-princess novella, and trying to sell my completed urban fantasy novel in New York. I'm also planning for a trip to World Fantasy in Toronto in November where we will be launching two anthologies I contributed to, including one which is a blend of Wu Xia martial arts and Steampunk set in 19th century Tibet.

Oh, and then there's my new fantasy novel percolating in my brain, sequels to both the sci fi and urban fantasy novels, novelization of my vampire screenplay (unproduced), editing of another urban fantasy, and marketing of the twelve short stories I still need good homes for. My goal as a writer is to publish stories (specifically novels) that people love to read. My interests as a writer cover just about everything. I love Steampunk, especially, so I will be finding as many different ways to write it as possible. Hawkwood's Folly was my first Steampunk tale to be published. Since then I've published one other and have two more coming out shortly, so my thanks go out to you and the crew at Kindling Press for getting me started in such a cool genre.


Looking for more about Tim Reynolds? You can find him on the web at: and

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Writer Retreats

We live in a black well of interconnectedness.

Does that sound like a contradiction? It's not. In our age of fast food, rapid travel, instant communication and limitless information, we place walls around ourselves that can be difficult to breach. With our apparent luxury of technology we lose touch with an inner world; we forget how to talk to ourselves - and, more importantly, how to listen. In that well we huddle, dazed by bright lights and glowing screens, unaware of how they blind us to the dim stars far overhead.

This is why writers go on retreats.

Being off the grid is a tremendously liberating experience. I highly recommend any creative person makes a regular practice of it. There is nothing like the absolute freedom of gazing from one side of the horizon to the other and seeing not a single living soul. The mind shrugs off expectations and shucks worries about social conventions and day to day responsibilities. Inner voices clear their throats and no longer whisper - they sing. And what follows is a burst of creative energy unlike any other you have experienced.

While in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to push back against it or hold it in, creativity blossomed. I came up with no fewer than a dozen new ideas for stories, and an anthology concept with which to frame them. I can't remember the last time I experienced such a torrent of new ideas in so short a time.

Now, not all of these story ideas may come to fruition. They may be flawed, they may not take shape the way I envisioned them. But that is unimportant. What matters, ultimately, is that in solitude from the world I learned to tap a hidden vein of creative energy inside myself. It was waiting there, patient as an underground river flowing through the dark earth of my subconscious. All I had to do was give it unfettered space into which to flood.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Problem with Fantasy

When I was growing up, I read only fantasy and science fiction, and science fiction was really more in the way of filler, to be consumed when fantasy wasn't available. It's not that I didn't like science fiction, it's just that my mind was shaped to fit Lord of the Rings by my obsessive readings of the same, and so I looked always for more of that sort of thing. The world is of course full of LotR knock offs and imitators, so I had no trouble finding them. In some sense, every writer of fantasy works in the building that Tolkien made. And that, I would say, is the greatest issue with fantasy.

Quick quiz: someone says they're reading a fantasy novel, but doesn't tell you anything else. What do you think about? Heroes going on a quest or fighting some evil, right? And what else? Kings and kingdoms, swords and horses, nobles in castles, grim forests and high snowy mountains. And all of that would be more right than wrong, because typically English-language fantasy exists in a very particular place: 14th century Northern Europe.

This is not exclusively or only true, mind you. There are writers like Guy Gavriel Kay who work with other settings (after starting as a Tolkien chronicler, no less). But most "innovative" fantasy involves twists and quirks on the 14CNE (14th Century Northern Europe) setting rather than something different. And the world is full of other inspirational options, from the very similar to the rather different.

Here's just a few very similar inspirations: Dark Ages Northern Europe with a rougher and more primitive feel; Medieval Space, sophisticated and complicated, warmer and sunnier; Medieval Russia, isolated and rural, superstitious and vast.

More distinct inspirations: Imperial China, scholarly and traditional, confident of superiority, rich with custom and with a viewpoint strikingly different; Medieval Japan, a nearly wild society with effete gentlemen and hidden ladies, derivative of other cultures but bizarrely innovative, poetic and beset by ghosts and demons; classical India, hierarchical and worldly, rich and innovative, absorbing other cultures.

And notions far-fetched from the 14CNE perspective: sub Saharan Africa, with tribes and chieftans, rituals and spirituality; pre-Columbian America, with so very many options, but an almost complete lack of the familiar domesticated animals and metalworks that help to define 14CNE; Tibet, a barely livable landscape of warring priests and demons haunted mountains, violent and vibrantly alive on the edge of survivability.

Taking any of those and building your fantasy setting from it would give you a notably different and much more unique starting point. Imagine, if you will, the Lord of the Rings taking place in pre-Columbian Central America; or Song of Ice and Fire in a world based off Fuedal Japan instead of Fuedal Europe; or Boneshaker set during the Taipeng Rebellion in China instead of the American Civil War. (Not that there's anything wrong with their current settings for any of them, mind you.)

The world's a big place. And while fantasy doesn't always (or even often) take occur in the world we know, there's no reason for it to stick so close to home as it does.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Process of Writing, Part 2: Research and Development

You've got your concept now. The idea that will let you play in the gardens of your own mind. That's just great, isn't it? A wonderful feeling. But an idea isn't enough; it's a nice beginning, but it's not going to suffice to make a book out of. Because an idea isn't enough to hang all those thousands of words on. "What if a white boy and a black slave escaped from their home and went on a journey" works just fine as an idea, but it needs context. Who are they? Where did they live, and when? Where do they go? This is where research and development come in, the first hard part of writing a book.

Ideas, you see, are easy. You can come up with a dozen in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. But you'll go through a lot of grounds and filters and cream and sugar getting those ideas sketched out.

Who are your characters? Clever or foolish, young or old, male or female, friendless or social, there are so many details to be considered that it can seem overwhelming. And where are your characters? In Chicago, or Australia, or on a plane, or in a magical kingdom? And when? Right now, or 1840, or "a long time ago", or the future? Is is winter with the snow falling, or the start of fall when the nights are just getting crisp but the days are still warm and lazy? Wow, that's a lot to think about, isn't it?

But as writers, we're all very fortunate. We don't need to know all of that. A writer can figure out much of this stuff as they go along, after doing just a little work to begin with. Your main character might be a 12 year old girl, generally good natured and a little put upon by her family, who lived in a little hamlet out in the country. It might be winter, and the exact time period might be vague: it could be the late 19th century, maybe? And then I can get started, as long as I know enough about those things that I've chosen to proceed. I don't need anything more.

Note that word, though: need. We may want to know more. In the example above, it would be good if I, as the writer, knew that it's not really the late 19th century, but instead the present day of an alternate version of our own world. It would be good for the girl to have a name, and a background, and I should know a thing or two about her family. But a lot of the detail work I can make up on the fly.

That's not to say it works that way for every writer, or for every book, even. Historical fiction will need much more research. So will a novel about sailing, or a pilot, or set in a city you've never visited. And this is where we get to research.

There are a number of ways to approach research. Some people (including me) are minimalists. It's possible to establish a veneer of accuracy and let the reader fill in the blanks. Get the basics down, and the rest will be good enough. It doesn't really matter if I know who the mayor of Savannah was in 1872, though if I'm setting the book there and then, I'd better have a decent reason if I don't use the fellow history tells us was in that office. However, if I do use him, I probably don't have to be too concerned with who he was meeting on the day of June 5th, if that's the day I want my main character to run into him. There are only so many details you need to care about. So I should find out who he was, a little about his personality and positions if I can, and that's fine. Or, as I'm really very much given to minimal research, I can just make up stuff as I need to.

But if you like a little more authenticity, you can follow a great number of options. The internet is full of material, of greater or lesser reliability, ranging from lowly Wikipedia (great if you like to play and loose with your details, bad if you want certainty) to Project Gutenberg's library of scanned documents and books, to scholarly articles and city websites and a great many other things. But I think most of us writers being book people, in the end we fall back on books. Library books, reference books, other novels, travel guides, any number of things. A tall stack of such things really establish that you are Quite Serious about this research thing, as do note cards, flow charts and the like. I am not, in fact Quite Serious, so I can't tell you much more than this: figure out what story you want to tell, and extract about 10% more information that you could ever think of using in the story. Then actually use (as opposed to thinking of using) only about half of the total. The fact that you, as the author, are aware of more than the reader means the world/setting/scenario/what have you, that you're constructing will feel more real. Every story is better when you know there's more to it than you're being shown.

There are other resources that can be brought to bear. Maps, of real or imagined places, of house and work spaces and trips taken by your characters, can be of use to you for descriptive purposes (it's good to keep the kitchen always in the same relation to the living room and the hallway). Some can even make a visit into the book, common for fantasy novels and historical fiction, but occasionally popping up just about anywhere. Family trees can be handy for multi-generational sagas, and again, for historical fiction and fantasy. Drawings of your characters and settings, if you're artistically minded (lucky duck, you!) or have a friend who's the same, can be a great tool.

So now you've got your research notes, your books to reference later, your maps, index cards, genealogies, and flow charts. You've pretty much almost got a book already. Isn't that exciting?

Except for, you know, the writing part. We haven't done that yet. But at least now, we're pretty much ready to do so. And in the next post, I'll talk about getting started on the novel: where to begin, how to begin, and perhaps more importantly, how not to.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Process of Writing, Part 1: Concept

In which the author discusses how one comes up with a book.

Writers always get asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" It's a really good question that, unfortunately, we all hate. Ideas are strange and mysterious things, you see. They can come from events that happened in your life, from dreams, from another book, from a random Wikipedia search.  Most writers, I think, have far more ideas than they will ever use. We go through scores a year, some so thin and wispy we can't make them work, some so bulky and meaty we don't dare try them at all, and some just perfect for consideration.

For me, at least, the best way to describe an idea before it's written is often with a question. "What if?" something is a good one, or something very similar, like "What would happen if?" Since I write mostly speculative fiction, what if questions are probably the best way to work. But such questions can work for mainstream fiction as well: "What if a white boy and a black slave escaped from their home and went on a journey?" (for example, that being the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

So for my books, the questions that could be asked to sum them up might be: What happened to the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony? What would happen if Michael Darling from Peter Pan was a real person? What if God decided to end the world with a whimper not a bang?

I didn't really think of them in exactly that fashion. Ideas aren't often that neat and tidy. They slouch about in the head, sprawling over one's mental furniture and making nuisances of themselves and a mess of the place. But those questions adequately express something of what the books are about. I will say that in the case of Daughter of Cleopatra, the question of what happened to the children was in fact the cause of the novel. The other two came about a bit more vaguely, one from a notion of updating fairy tales, the other from one image: a snowbound house, and a girl inside it whose mother was dead under the kitchen table.

That's my experience, then.

As to another writer, a person who might think they could tell a story but isn't sure what story to tell or how to tell it, the question is a good way to go about it. Try to find that question that sums up the story: What if Queen Victoria had devoted the resources of her Empire to achieving immortality? What if D. W. Griffith had continued making films glorifying the KKK after Birth of a Nation and then ran for President on an overtly racist platform? What if two people met and fell in love on the day that one of them died; how would the other's life progress?

With varying degrees of difficulty and probabilities of success, any of those could be a book. And all three were conceptualized just this moment. Any idea, any question, can work. Even a thin slip of a question can turn into a novel, though there's more work to be done to get it to that point.

So now there's a concept. In the next post, I'll talk about ways to flesh out the concept by looking at things like setting, genre and style, and by thinking about outlining and doing your research.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How to Be Slightly Inaccurate, Historically; and Why

I'm spending a lot of time trying to be a good person as a writer. I'm trying to make sure my writing is at least a little representative of the world as I'd like to have it. Stronger women, gentler men, more minorities, that sort of thing. It's not very hard to do, and not something that is often out of place. But there are moments when I grow a bit concerned, as with my current work in progress.

I'm writing historical dark fairy tale stuff, set in 16th Century rural Austria. Women had rather limited roles there and then, and so I'm reasonably limited in what I can have my female characters do. I know of course that women in real history did all sorts of remarkable things all the time: ruled countries, fought in battles, ran their estates, things that are often overlooked or forgotten. So I can have all that happen, but it doesn't seem like quite enough to me.

Then of course I think about the writing of the last century or two, by men especially. Where women seldom appeared in anything but a moral or supporting role, and did little or nothing of note for the story. Only in dramatic pieces could women be real characters, and then their actions were still strongly limited and curtailed. They might feel real, but they were just as evidently trapped, caged by society. And while this is predominantly historically true, it wasn't always so.

So I think about it, and I realize that if I just keep the characters interesting, and on the edge of the "historically" possible, I'm doing pretty well. I'll do more in other places, other works. History sets limits that can't really be contravened entirely, and I'm not going to. But I will make every effort to step right up to the boundary, and possible slip a toe across now and then. I'd feel bad if I did anything less, and like I was failing as a writer. It seems a small thing, but I have a platform, and I'd rather use it to try to change attitudes than to support a worn out status quo.

Friday, January 6, 2012

We Are Shaped By Where We Are

It's winter in my writing. The current project, I mean, not always. But as I look over my body of work, I do notice that there's a lot of rain, a lot of snow, a lot of cold weather and unpleasantness. It's not always the case, but it's winter far more often than it's summer. I don't know if it's because it's more dramatic than summer (which in general it is) or if it's just because of Seattle.

Not that it snows here much or often at all. But winter, as a concept, just keeps on going. From some time in October, most often, to some time in April, give or take, not much changes. It's chilly and wet and grey, and in general stays that way through the whole period. And I can only think that my writing mindset has been shaped by that, by the notion that it is always winter, that summer will be a brief and wonderful thing that vanishes completely and is almost forgotten.

So it's winter where I'm writing. And almost always will be, I think.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Novel Experience

I wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month, which I'm having read by people just now. That's not new: I pretty much always write a book in November, and most of them are complete, and read, and in many cases ready to go for publishing, if not already published.

All well and good, but that seems to be a bad habit to have gotten in to. I seem to be fixated on the notion of writing books in November: while I can do short stories, and editing, and that sort of thing, I have had very limited success in writing novels at other times of the year in a very long while. But I'm feeling a little confident right now. I'm about half way through another novel that I started eighteen days ago, 34000 words almost, and I think that I'm liking it, and that it's a pretty decent thing as well. With luck, with good effort, and with positive feedback I might finish the thing, which would delightful.

Another new thing, this one completely new, is that I'm having people read the book as I write it. I don't do this. I don't ever do this. Every time I've ever done this, it's resulted in me not finishing the book. I don't know why. Possibly it's because I like to talk, and like to talk about what I'm writing, and don't like to know how things I'm writing will end up. That's a bad combination, because I'll talk, and then talk about the book, and then tell people how I think it will go. And then I will stop writing. This time, though, I'm managing to let people read it, and even field a few questions, offer a few hints, and not completely lose the interest in work.

It's a new feeling for me. I needed to get used to doing it, though, as I'm about to start editing my novel for my publisher, and when that happens, I'm going to need to not lose interest in the work because someone's reading it. So this is good practice.

It's also kind of scary. The book, I mean, not the process. Though there's some of that, too.