Faction Leader Profile: Navid

Navid Quote

First, an update: over $5,000 in 24 hours! Thank you! Let’s keep the momentum up!

We couldn’t do this without your support, and you’ve helped make our first 24 hours a fantastic success. So let’s keep it going! Try to see if you can get one more person to back today – just one. Every individual backer matters, and we need YOUR help to make the goal.

Please post about the campaign and share with friends. You can follow THIS LINK to post to Twitter, and THIS LINK to post on Facebook! Every single backer is invaluable, and we are so glad to have you on board. The first 48-72 hours are crucial for Kickstarter, so it’s imperative that we keep the ball rolling!

Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the first of our Faction Leader Introduction Series! Let’s kick things off with Navid, leader of the Iskendrun priesthood!

-M

***

Navid

“Go forth, child, and fight for those who need you. Remember, by your deeds shall you be remembered on this earth, and not by your path to them. If you seek to aid the poor, the sick, and the weak, you must be prepared to take more than what is offered.”

Wise, trustworthy, and respected by all in Iskendrun, Navid leads the priests in a life of service to the city’s poor. Mindful of the source of the city’s wealth, Navid has never overtly criticized the nobility…though he is creative when it comes to his methods for securing donations.

As the city teeters on the brink of collapse, Navid looks only inward, to the pressures of poverty on the citizens, and to the exhortations of the gods that he secure the city’s prosperity however he can. Blaming the merchants for the peninsula’s collapse, Navid eyes their well-armed ships and builds a force of his own. Which begs the question…just how far would he go to end Azura’s reign in the peninsula?

——————

Finally, a big shout out to Children of the Zodiark! They were kind enough to tell their backers about City of the Shroud, and they have a pretty sweet looking game to boot. If you haven’t checked out their tactical JRPG + CCG/craftable dice hybrid, you absolutely should!

zodiark

52 Stories: Fairytale

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories! -M

***

Snow White

He had been watching her across the marketplace for a few minutes before she caught a glimpse of him. At first, he watched for the way the sunlight caught in her hair, for the graceful curves of her body as she bent to pick fruit. He considered telling his guards to bring her to him, but it had been so long since he had hunted…

The girl cast a glance over her shoulder, and her cheeks flushed pink with pleasure when she noticed his gaze. She dropped her eyes, then flicked them up to meet his once more; her blush deepened when he beckoned to her, and she hesitated, but she walked through the crowd to stand before him.

“Where are your attendants?” he asked her silkily, and she flushed, tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“They aren’t…they’re not used to the city.”

He had only then noticed the crest she wore, and he reached out to touch the clasp that lay against the pale skin of her throat. He felt her breath quicken, and felt his pulse begin to pound.

“Demmer,” he said. “What a very long time it’s been since your house has allowed one of its maidens to come south.” And what a treasure they had been hiding! Who could have known that old Dennion would produce a daughter so glorious as this?

“How do you…who are you?”

His black eyes flashed with mirth. “Ah, you would not know, would you?
Never you mind, my dear. Your father would find no fault with me.” Oh, he might complain, Dennion would – they kept the old customs in the house of Demmer, spurned the markets and clamor of the south.

But there was nothing the old man could do now to prevent it. The man felt his heart speed. Oh, he had wanted this for so long – her blood could produce an heir such as none had ever seen. When the priests were done with this son, the world would know the full power of the Empire.

And now, in a moment, she had practically fallen into his lap. How very fortuitous.

He reached out to stroke her cheek, and felt the denials and protests come to her lips, unvoiced, choked off. He reached out with his magic, let it flow deep into her mind, and saw the flash of fear.

Mine.

As he leaned forward to kiss her, he let his eyes drift closed with pleasure, the laziness of a hunt completed, and so he never saw how precisely her look of satisfaction mirrored his own.

*****

“Apple?” She held out a slice to him, and he caught her hand, kissed it.

“You’re bleeding.”

“I cut my finger.” She looked embarrassed, then surprised as he licked away the blood and pulled her close for a kiss on the lips. He felt he could drown in the innocence in her eyes. The apple was sweet, and the skin broke against his teeth as he chewed.

He watched her lazily for a moment, enjoying the way the sunlight through the stained glass lit her hair red and purple. His head was fuzzy now, and he licked his lips—they were numb. He tried to bite them, raised his fingers to his mouth, and very dimly heard a crash; he must have knocked over his goblet. The world was disappearing in a haze, a ringing in his ears, and all he could see was her face: impassive, but strangely alight. She did not seem worried, and even as he felt
the seizure take him, she only sat, eyes fixed on him. It was not until he saw the rest of the apple and the stain of her blood that he realized what it all meant. And by then it was far too late.

When it was over, Caralla knelt by his body and closed his eyes, almost gently. She was shaking, her blood singing with the power of the spell, her energy terribly low. It had taken all of her considerable power to bind a poison strong enough for this. Even then, he would have been proof against it if he had known, if he had suspected.

It’s not over, she told herself. There is one more.

But carefully, it must be done with caution. The priests would be here soon.
Caralla drew a hairpin from her hair, dragged her fingers down one side to muss it, bit her lips for color, and knelt forward, her hands on the Emperor’s shoulders. Then, after a considered moment, she opened her mouth and began to scream hysterically for the guards.

*****

Caralla pounded on the door, her fist sticky with blood, and tightened her other hand around the little girl’s—the girl who was, at present, sobbing loudly.

“Be quiet,” Caralla snapped.

The wails choked off with a hiccup, and the empress sighed, kneeling to put one arm around the child. The girl had just lost her father, what could she be expected to do but cry?

Caralla pushed away the thought that the little princess shouldn’t have known. That there was a gleam in her eyes, now, that looked suspiciously like the madness Caralla knew all too well. Best to feed her an apple and be done with it, some part of her mind whispered at her, but there was still a chance the spells could be undone.

The sound of a cart out on the nearby road made Caralla hunch her shoulders. The midday heat was stifling and her heavy cloak made it no better, but she must not be seen. The emperor, that mad, power-hungry fool, had made sure everyone in the kingdom knew how beautiful his bride was. The bride the priests promised would gift him with sons. The bride he’d snatched from the market and married even before word could be sent to her family.

In that, of course, she had encouraged him with just the faintest resistance, hiding her smiles as he overrode her protests. It would hardly do for him to have found out who she truly was. None of them could know until the plan was complete. She had no illusions about what would happen then, and just for a moment, her fingertips drifted up the inside of her left arm, along the tattoo that held the spell to kill her mercifully before they could put her on a pyre.

The empire would be free. That was all that mattered.

She was raising her hand to knock again when the door swung inward.

“Caralla!” The woman fell back as Caralla pushed past her into the house, the girl in tow. Her eyes flicked to the girl, and Caralla knew what her cousin saw: behind the tears was a girl of rare prettiness, with thick black hair and skin as pale as morning’s first blush. A full mouth, with lips of a deep red, and black eyes. Behind the eyes…something unsettling.

“Eisa, my darling,” Caralla said. “Take a seat. I’m sure Avenine has some cider for you.”

“Of course.” The woman went quickly into the kitchen and took down two mugs, filled them with cider from an earthenware jug, and set one in front of Eisa. The other she handed to Caralla.

Caralla waited until the girl was absorbed in drinking the cider, rich and tangy, and then she looked over at the other woman.

“I need your help,” she said, bluntly, in the Old Tongue.

“Who is she?”

Caralla hesitated a moment. She wanted so badly to tell her cousin the truth. But in this, she realized, she could not trust even Avenine. The moment had come to lie; she pushed down her uneasiness and told a version of the truth. “I rescued her from the priests. She has…power, immense power, and…Avenine, I cannot tell you the things they would have done to her. The magics they practice are…I had to bring her here.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Someone will come for her, a huntsman. Until then…someone needs to look after her. Someone who can see her magic.”

“What sort of magic…” Avenine darted a glance at the girl, who looked back; Caralla saw her cousin hold back a flinch.

“I fear it has already been twisted.”

“You cannot possibly expect me to—”

“I need your help—she needs your help!” Her voice was high, attracting Eisa’s attention. “I’m sorry, love,” she soothed the girl, and then she drew Avenine further away, lowered her voice, superstitiously afraid that the girl would understand her purpose here. Who knew what powers lay dormant, or what small action could trigger the girl’s powerful self-protection?

“I have a spell. You must help me with it; it will bind her magic down. I just need time, Avenine, I need to learn how to heal what they have done.”

Avenine looked over at the girl.

“I swear to you,” Caralla whispered, “I would not ask it if there was another who could help me.” She should not be asking at all. The girl should be dead on the floor of her rooms, her line ended forever. But somewhere behind those spells…was a little girl.

Avenine’s shoulders slumped. “Tell me what I must do.”

52 Stories: Rising to a Challenge

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories!

This week’s story takes place just before the start of City of the Shroud, a video game I am writing the story for that just went live on Kickstarter! If you play City of the Shroud, YOU will be the traveler – and will become a legend in the city of Iskendrun…

-M

***

Rising to a Challenge

The traveler grabbed at the flickering edges of the cloak, billowing away in the wind. It provided little warmth even when it was held shut, the old homespun being more patched than not, and with holes between the patches. The traveler resolved to leave it behind upon reaching the city, for who would hire such an ill-dressed worker?

Sand and rock crunched underfoot on the road. Once, this highway had been well-maintained. Iskendrun had been on the rise, then, and careful of its reputation. It maintained the roads well over halfway to Gayyan, in the north, and to the foothills of the mountains that separated it from Dahilah, though no one traveled them. The traveler had heard all of this from passing merchants. In those days, everyone agreed that it was wise: reckon they’re right, then. Can’t afford to look shabby. We’ll show them what we’re made of.

Then, of course, Iskendrun boasted of its grain and leather, oranges and lemons shipped south to Dahilah’s indolent nobles, iron tools shipped north for Tirwall’s endless statues and marbles. No one had any illusions about where Iskendrun lay in the hierarchy of the city states, but neither did they accept their place as fair. Did not Iskendrun’s farmers work as hard as anyone’s? Were their boulevards not as clean, their markets not as prosperous? It was old prejudice that held them back.

The traveler supposed that everything that followed was inevitable, then. Sixteen years old and kept well back from the road for fear of the draft, they had watched the army march north. Men and women looked ahead with determination, singing as they kicked up a cloud of dust that could be seen halfway to the city itself.

The traveler remembered, too, when it all changed. When the youths who were marched north looked younger every year, and even the youngest children of the outer holdings were hidden in the stables and root cellars, when the armor they saw no longer held the burnished rose of Iskendrun, but was patched and dirty. The armies no longer sang, and once or twice they raided the fields, and no one had the heart to stop them. No one ever came back from the north, and they all looked hungry.

It took a long time for the hunger to reach the outer holdings, where they made their own goods and sold only the excess. For a time, prices rose. And then the blight hit, for they had planted too many years of grain on the same fields.

And so the traveler walked, in a patched cloak and old boots that hardly deserved the name. It had been many months since the last soldiers went north; word was, the nobles were thinking better of their grand plans. Safe enough, then, for the traveler to go to the city and look for work—dockhands would be in short supply, there being few youths left in the city.

The traveler was just considering whether to stop for water and a bite of hard bread when the portal opened. Hanging over the road, shedding its skin in scraps of color that disappeared before they hit the ground, it held a deep blue glimpse into a world beyond, a world…dark, strange, and yet familiar. A road wound onward in the darkness, like the traveler’s path and yet terrible in its strangeness.

And from the mouth of it, poured creatures, shadows in the shape of acquaintances half-remembered, so odd in their appearance here that the traveler began to wonder what another might see, or if those acquaintances were like the fairies from the old tales, taking the shape of humans until it suited them to show their true form.

They stretched up, ghostly swords and staves in their hands, and the traveler fumbled for the hilt of the little dagger by their side. It was only days before the nursery rhymes would begin, and the whispered conversations in the taverns of Iskendrun: how a poor child of the outer holdings had defeated the creatures from a portal, with only their wits and a blade so dull it was hardly useful for cutting meat.

But the traveler did not know that yet. The traveler had learned only that hardship battered at every door now, that wolves would take the sheep from the meadows and blight would take the crops from the fields, and that there was no running from danger. There was a voice calling from the portal, strangely familiar. The traveler ignored it, and settled into a crouch, ready to fight.

52 Stories: A New Beginning

Inspired by this post over on Amanda Patterson’s tumblr, I will be writing 52 short stories this year. Some, like this one, very short, and some longer! If you’re joining me in this endeavor, leave a link in the comments so we can find your stories! -M

***

A New Beginning

She steps off the porch, because that is where the wild things are: the whispers in the wind and the soft curl of grass around her feet. She leaves the lights of the house behind her and she holds her fingers up to brush the sky as she makes her way home. The stars wheel above, as they do, on an improper axis. She does not look. If she does not look, she can imagine that her fingertips leave ripples across the Milky Way.

Her lips are stained with wine and she breathes heat out into the night like an endless sigh. The heavy air of the summer night is her cloak, and the runaway curls of her own hair are her crown. Her court is crickets and fireflies and the silent watchfulness of the trees is her castle. A stream carols to her with the low, slick rush over barely submerged stones and the burbling jump of the drops that fling themselves into the air.

How many nights did she feel the prickle on the back of her neck? The darkness watched her, she thought. Strange things lurked there, bears and spiders and half-remembered nightmares. How foolish of her, not to realize that they were her courtiers.

She smiles. The ground goes not hurt her bare feet, for it would not dare. The darkness is alive with green, creaking ponderously upward and stretching its leaves for an absent sun. Fog curls softly; the trees are dreaming.

She does not look back.

G is for Genre

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

*******

I never could read science fiction. I was just uninterested in it. And you know, I don’t like to read novels where the hero just goes beyond what I think could exist. And it doesn’t interest me because I’m not learning anything about something I’ll actually have to deal with.
James D. Watson
There’s a saying I’ve been taught since I moved to the American midwest: “some people’s kids.” You look out at someone doing something terrifically stupid or upsetting, and you sigh, and you say, “some people’s kids.” And everyone nods knowingly. And here’s where it gets wonderful: as far as I can tell, other than rehashing the story over the dinner table, the event is forgotten after that. Some people’s kids. What’re you going to do. Anyone want to go get ice cream?
Frankly, it would be great if we could apply this as a standard to the literary industry, where there seems to be some sort of universal license, as displayed in the quote above, to be a massive asshat about what kinds of books are Real Books, and what kinds of books have Value, and what kinds of books are Emotionally Compelling. We talk smack about adults who read YA, about any sort of genre fiction, about literary fiction writers being snobby and self-published authors being sloppy. In the end, we’ve managed to waste a while bunch of time…and make some writers and readers feel terrible about themselves.
For. No. Reason.
Originally, this post was about learning what’s in and out of style in your genre and why, being familiar with tropes, and learning to work with what your audience expects. To paraphrase Larry Brooks of “Story Engineering” (a book I heartily recommend, but maybe look at the reviews so you know what you’re in for before you read it), what is overdone and boring in one genre may be groundbreaking in another. I wanted to teach you to work with what you’ve got.

And then I got sidetracked. Which happens incredibly often. Ah, well.

Instead, this post became about something very dear to my heart: writing the book that’s in your head, that you are passionate about, that shows the characters you love. Damn the torpedoes genre naysayers, full speed ahead. To illustrate, I want you to try an experiment. Think of a book or movie that filled you with emotion, go look it up on a review site, and skip straight to the 1* reviews. You’ll see “boring,” you’ll see, “lacking characterization.” You’ll see reviews by people who were seventy kinds of un-wowed by this book, and some by people who hated it with a burning, fiery passion.

The reason I say to try this experiment is that it’s far easier with someone else’s work. You know how you felt when you read that book (or saw that movie). It’s non-negotiable; it just is. The experiment is still going, though: now I need you to realize that not only were there people who did not feel the same as you, there are people out there who think that the entire genre of this book or film adds nothing to the human experience.

They are clearly wrong. So we can leave that in the dust and move on.

So I’m going to lay out some truths for you, and these are truths I want you to cling to when people talk crap about your chosen genre – because they inevitably will, and somewhere in the raw-feelings wasteland of having published a book, you’ll stumble across this diatribe and soak it all up and get magnificently angry while kind of wondering if everyone else believes it. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.)

  • Sad-spectrum feelings and serious feelings are not the only important feelings in the human experience. Write a happy story if you want to. It does not lack merit.
  • There is no genre that has a monopoly on all the available reader feelings. Anyone who says that a particular genre can’t elicit serious feelings is wrong, full stop (and not so great at philosophy or logic, either). Your choice of genre says absolutely nothing about your skill as a writer. Your choice of genre does not lack merit.
  • It is almost inevitable that your book will share qualities with other books, and I only say “almost” for the sake of statistical accuracy. Your book will share qualities with other books. You will hit tropes. This does not mean you have nothing new to say. This does not mean you have not said it well. Similarity does not mean your book lacks merit.
  • If your book gets popular enough, there will be people who talk smack about whether or not your book is really whatever genre you’ve billed it as, and whether your fans are real [genre x] fans. Have some tea and ignore it. This does not mean that your book lacks merit. Some people’s kids, right?
  • Oddly, if your book gets popular, there will be a lot of people who find this a reverse-indicator of quality. I suggest reading Don Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” for an informed and unapologetic look at why books get popular, and then shake your head at the idea that people who read books are not good arbiters of what makes a good book. Popularity or lack thereof correlates with merit, but is not an indicator that your book either has merit, or lacks it.

So I will leave you with this wonderful quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and go back to writing. Happy reading, happy writing, and ignore the haters!

Madeleine Quote

F is for Failure

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

*******

Dear authors, you will fail at many things in the years to come. Just today, for instance, I have failed many times at writing this blog post.

Ahem.

However, and more to the point, you will fail at writing your stories, and that is more troubling to deal with than, say, a burnt quiche (depending upon how hungry you are, and how much you like quiche). It is truly a terrible feeling to sit down at the computer, your mind brimming with ideas and your fingertips fairly dancing, and spend the next hour feeling like your brain has been dragged backwards through a hedge, and you have nothing to show for it. You were absolutely sure you had this story down pat, after all. You were composing it in your head! You had come up with wonderful sentences, only now that you see them on paper the words are very, very wrong.

To be honest, I wish I could tell you that you would, from Day One, write wonderful novels without any typos or other flaws, publish them into a niche market upswing, win universal and international acclaim with well-deserved piles of money, and somehow still maintain your privacy. And if you do, in fact, accomplish this, I wish you well and will only be a little bit jealous. I know some people who have come really close to this, and they’re all fantastic individuals. Unfortunately, and I hate to blow their cover, these are people who have also known failure. JK Rowling didn’t start out rich, George R.R. Martin took YEARS off from writing after his career failed to go anywhere, Hugh Howey spent ten years working in bookstores. Even Stephen King didn’t start out with a bang.

So what about failure? What about the legitimately good aspects of failing? What do you learn from having one of your stories hit the market with a whimper rather than a bang – or having readers and critics alike hate it? Your stories pull the emotional guts out from inside you and show them off to the world – and there’s no hurt quite like someone looking at that and going, “eh.”

So let me tell you about failure. In my first ten months as an author, I sold two books. Two. They were $0.99, and I only sold TWO. And you know what that taught me? Sometimes you only sell two books, and the world keeps right on spinning, and you still love writing. Pretty reassuring, that. And not to spoil you on the process, but what happens after that is you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and write another book. And that next book is better, because you have more experience under your belt, and more confidence that you can write a book, and the daredevil thrill that says, “I’m going to bare my soul to the world and see what happens” – because that thrill is addictive. And lest you think that failure will dog you forover? Less than two years after that first dull thud, I had sold 20,000 books, which was something I wouldn’t have thought possible when I started out.

Failure makes you dig deep. Sure, your writing will push you to emotional lows and highs you didn’t know existed as you grapple with portraying the entire range of the human experience. It’s not only getting into your character’s head, after all, it’s finding the words and sentences that will breathe life into them. Writing is a fraught endeavor, one Robin McKinley aptly described by saying, “Every once upon a time for me is another experience of white-water rafting in a leaky inner tube.” Even more emotional draining than writing, however, is failing at writing, and you will inevitably do so. When you do, I hope you remember this blog post. I hope you think to look up JK Rowling’s quotes on failure. I hope you take solace in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I hope you clutch your mug of tea and realize, in some distant corner of your mind, that things will not always feel so awful. That you are going to love writing just as much tomorrow – and that you will know more about the process, and push gamely onwards.

Good luck. May you fail often, and succeed gloriously!

E is for Editing

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

*******

You knew we’d get here eventually, right? Right?

Right. So here we are, and this post could be pretty short. If you DO need to read and dash, here’s the condensed version:

  1. Editing is a thing that needs to happen
  2. You should edit the crap out of your own work (in all senses)
  3. You can’t do all of your own editing

If you’ve got a bit more time, we can go through all of these points a bit more thoroughly.

Editing is a thing that needs to happen. You’re really proud of your manuscript, and I get that. It is a thing of beauty and grace, and I am super happy that you’ve completed it, and I’m proud of you. Finishing a manuscript is not easy! It is really, really hard work and you deserve a cup of tea (or a glass of wine). In fact, please don’t think that we’re passing any sort of judgment on your manuscript by saying it needs editing, because we aren’t. You could write the most beautiful novel in the world and there would inevitably be a few typos and one or two paragraphs to move around in editing – but in point of fact, the most beautiful novels in the world got that way because of editing. Editing takes your glorious concept and distills it, rearranges it, takes out the jarring bits.

Editing takes your manuscript from, well, a manuscript, to a novel. You don’t even have to take my word for it – just set your manuscript aside for a few weeks and then look back over it. You’ll notice some areas you want to flesh out, some sentences you might not actually use. You might shift a plot point earlier or later. Editing is like washing a car – you’d never assume there was something wrong with the car because you needed to wash it.

You should edit the crap out of your own work. Edit like mad! Edit until your fingertips hurt! (Or your red pen has run out of ink!) It will hurt. It will be exhausting. You will realize how much you need to change and you will think, “I cannot cope, I must go take a nap.” But as with writing discipline, you must forge ahead. Edit, copyedit, edit some more, shriek in frustration, keep editing. Then send the manuscript to your beta readers. Then have a nap.

You can’t do all of your own editing. Every once in a while, a seasoned writer will say that they don’t need an editor anymore. This is usually a sign to run for the hills (or at least wait for reviews on their next book before buying it). The truth of the matter is, while you will undeniably get better at writing as you continue to do it, putting together a novel is DIFFICULT. Copy-editing ten words? Not so big a deal, but what about a hundred thousand of them? Checking a 1,000 word story for continuity? Again, hardly as difficult as a novel. And there’s so much more an editor can bring you – perspective, suggestions about moving bits here and there, showing you where you made a leap and they couldn’t follow. You’re too close to your work to see everything. Please, please, find a beta reader (or ten) and an editor.

One last piece of advice… If you hire an editor, stick to a few basic rules for one. First, make sure it’s clear from their website (or first email) exactly what they do and how much it costs. It’s a very good sign if they link to a professional organization for standard rates and so on. It’s ideal if they have references online. Do a web search on their name and see what comes up on sites like AbsoluteWrite and Preditors & Editors.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment!

D is for Discipline

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

*******

Almost all writers love writing. This may be partly a learned love, given that they have a compulsion to write and should try to enjoy themselves as they bleed stories from their fingertips, but they love it nonetheless. Even in the throes of writing-induced despair (or the even more common and maddening search for That One Word Come On You Know the One I Think It Starts With T), no writer I know would consider giving up the craft.

Unfortunately, love and compulsion can only bring you so far. Sometimes, gloriously, it will carry you through a story in one long, continuous burst so that you fall out of the world for several months and return to a bewildered family and a stack of unread mail, but this is rare. Far more often, the compulsion will carry you to your desk chair and then go on its merry way while you stare at your blank page and consider writing a book composed entirely of “flargle,” which seems to be the only word you can now remember.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have discipline on your side, and that if you don’t yet have discipline on your side, you can. Discipline, it turns out, is not so much a thing you either have or don’t, but instead is a habit. Pretty cool, huh? And you can get it in little baby steps.

First, find five minutes every day. Barricade yourself in the bathroom, retreat into the bedroom to “change,” take a few minutes when you arrive at the store but before you go in – this time can be anywhere. But remember to take it every day. Bring along a trusty notepad or computer, and brainstorm, or write a few lines. About what, you ask? Whatever comes out. There’s some sort of wild misconception that you must have four hours to spare in order to get anything done, but that’s simply not true. Five minutes seems like an amount of discipline you have, right?

Step two: make it into a hobby. Hire a babysitter, get up an hour early, do whatever you need to do, but set aside a larger amount of time at some point the week. Think of your writing like you would think about exercise, or kickball, or violin lessons: a legit hobby. Every adult gets hobbies. They help keep your life wonderful.

Now set a goal! No, no, not a crazy goal. Just a little goal. You want to finish a short story, maybe. Perhaps you want to write until you get one sentence you’re really proud of, each time (it takes a few, let me tell you). My first goal was getting a chapter done each week. It could really be anything, but the point is that you have one. It gives purpose to your discipline.

Now hold the line. You and your manuscript will proceed to have some real knock-down-drag-out fights. You will sit down and stare blankly at an MS Word document for three hours while not a single word gets written. Or perhaps you will get some words written and you will get back the next day and discover that they are crap. Your brain will give you several very good reasons that writing is a Stupid Idea and that you should take up baking or tap-dance instead, but don’t stand for that crap. Hold the line. Get in your writing time.

Become completely obsessed. Frankly, after goal-setting I was completely lost. I vaguely remember googling what I needed to do to publish a book, and then there was an unpleasant period of querying agents, some depression and tea, and the encouragement of my friends and family to self-publish. More googling. And now here we are and I’m not quite sure when 30 minutes per day turned into 3-4 hours, and most of my weekends. It just…happened. So, you know, remember to eat and hydrate and so on. Get some sunshine. This stuff can take over your life if you let it – the problem isn’t really so much acquiring discipline, as learning how to stop.

Authors, anything to add? Readers? Comment below!

C is for Clarity

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Clarity is a tricky subject. It’s highly lauded, but after all, one can have the most clarity in the world around what one is writing, and then see the reviews and find out no one seems to see it the same way. Hazard of the trade, that (if it can happen to Bradbury, it can happen to any of us). And on the other hand, there are stories in which one wishes to mislead and obfuscate. So what’s this about clarity? Like an anti-hero, do you actually need it?

Sometimes.

I’m going to start right up front with where you don’t actually need clarity: theme. Having now ducked under the desk to avoid the howls of writing instructors everywhere, let me explain. Theme is great. You want a theme. You want to know what your theme is, and write to it! I agree. Unfortunately, I’m going to go ahead and warn you that not all of your readers will agree with you about what the theme is.

And there’s no way to avoid that. Some authors try, and go way overboard attempting to ensure that no other meaning than their intended one may be taken from the book – and frankly, those books suck. The author explains the theme, again and again and again, and the book winds up heavy handed, with a lot of readers that fled for the hills as soon as they saw what was going on.

So if your story’s theme is why puppies are inescapably, entirely evil, for the love of little green apples, structure your story to convey this without any extra help from you. (Also, what have you got against puppies?) And no matter how well you’ve structured it, be prepared for someone to take you aside and tell you how wonderful it is that you wrote about the ingenuity and heroism of kittens. In fact, prepare for someone to take you aside and tell you that they’re so glad you came up with the perfect metaphor to describe globalization.

The first rule of clarity is that people may not agree with you about the Big Picture of what you were trying to say, and this is generally all right. Try to roll with it.

There are times, however, when you absolutely do need clarity, and these times are the smaller, more immediate matters than theme:

  • You want your readers to know who’s undertaking an action (tap-dancing, stabbing, flying, etc)
  • You want your readers to know who you’ve just modified with an adjective or adverb (withering, secretly, moose-like, etc)
  • You want your readers to know what, in fact, just happened (if no one knows your protagonists turned into pandas, the rest of your book will just be confusing)

As perhaps should be clear from the above three, you also need to know for yourself who’s doing what, who’s being modified, what just happened, and probably where everyone is at the time (especially if you’re writing a book with a mystery). In fact, you’ll have an extremely difficult time providing clarity to others without having it yourself. So, the second rule of clarity is to know what you’re trying to say.

Note that what you’re trying to say may actually be intended to throw your reader off the scent, or simply create enough relevant-sounding white noise that a reader can understand what’s going on in the moment, but not how it relates to the whole. Four of the best examples I know would be Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, The Devil in Music by Kate Ross (actually, that’s the last in the series, and the first is A Cut to the Quick), and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. They show the third rule of clarity, which is know what you want the readers to think has occurred.

The trick, with clarity, is that the reveal must be somewhere. Whether your readers come out of the story believing that its main theme was genetic engineering, or the importance of potassium, or whatever, they should at least be able to identify what events took place. And here’s where the truth gets hard to hear, authors, but you had better believe that it will set you free nonetheless: readers are the final arbiter of whether or not a book had clarity. This is why you have editors and/or beta readers. I really do recommend beta readers (well, I also recommend editing, but I’ll get to that in two days, when we hit E), and furthermore, I recommend taking their advice around clarity.

But my way was more elegant. If they don’t know what happened, does it matter? But they should understand, it’s clear as day. They didn’t. Well, maybe it’s not for everyone. No book is, but limiting your market with an intelligence test of your own devising is a recipe for disaster. Spelling it out ruins the whole book. Almost certainly not true. Brainstorm, revise, re-beta.

So there you have it, readers. Clarity. Authors? Readers? Anything to add or contest? Comment below!

 

B is for Bookkeeping

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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It can be so remarkably tempting, as an author, to take shelter in the trope of the vague, creative genius. The truth is, however, that it’s a very rare person who finds accounting fun – and on the flip side, almost everyone finds crushing debt un-fun. Therefore, let’s look at some really, REALLY easy ways to manage the expenses of being an author…because those can get a bit less clear-cut than one might think.

Keep track of advertising expenses, and weigh markets against one another. If you ascribe to the idea that one should try to reach new readers via advertising (and for what it’s worth, at least one very successful writer doesn’t think that), it can be easy to drop hundreds of dollars without seeing much return. With that in mind…

  • Take some dedicated time to research all of the available marketing options you have, including book-of-the-day email lists, book review blogs (double whammy here, as some email lists require a certain amount of reviews), facebook groups, and banner ads. List them all in a document, with the cost and estimated reach (if you can’t find this on the website, it’s actually a pretty good sign that you shouldn’t advertise with them). Then go hunting for reviews from other authors, making note of relevant genres (for instance, maybe mysteries tank on one list, but fantasy gets great results).
  • Keep track of what you’ve spent and when the promos are running so that you can remember your OWN results. This will help you with your next books.

Make sure you know when you’ll be paid. Relevant to any project, indie or traditional. Many marketplaces pay each month, on a two-month lag. Smashwords, however, pays quarterly. Don’t commit to new contracts until you know just when your royalties will be coming in.

Make sure you know where all the money is coming from for each book. Below is an informal list of expenses I use to keep track of just how much I’m intending to spend:

  • Copyright fee – $35
  • Cover art
  • Editing
  • Formatting (not one I use, but many people do)
  • Pre-release and first-week promos
  • Any giveaway copies (paperback or ecopies – it can help to gift things through Amazon so that the reviews are verified) and shipping costs

Consider setting up special bank accounts. One of the weirdest-feeling parts of starting a career is that it helps to act as if you’re wildly successful, just in case. Setting up a facebook fan page before you have fans? Ridiculous, but worth it. Likewise, setting up an LLC or SP, and getting bank accounts for this, can be insanely helpful. It lets you know exactly where your money is coming from and where it’s going.

Also consider hiring a tax preparer. See above. It may seem unnecessary, but it’s definitely something to consider. Put all your authorly receipts in a folder, and at least track down a few phone numbers. If you get wildly successful overnight, wouldn’t you rather be reveling and eating bon-bons than panicking about taxes and trying to find receipts? Yes. Yes, you would.

Authors! Any recommendations? Comment below!