Monday, 30 March 2015

Weekly Update: March 22 to 28

Weekly Word count: 7200

This week I've been going through the first half of Metamorphosis and removing my troublesome subplot and replacing it with a better one.  It's been a lot of rewriting but the story is much tighter and flows faster now.

I also got a great 5 paw review from Happy Tails and Tales.

I've discovered that I am not skilled at keeping track of all the various moving elements of review requests and guest posts, despite my attempts to keep it all nicely organized in a spreadsheet and a calendar.  Hopefully I can find a system which works for me and then get things running smoothly but for now, I'm trying not to beat myself up too much for my mistakes.

In a couple of weeks, the Ottawa Romance Writers' Association is having a workshop on virtual assistants and making the most of opportunities.  The idea of having someone keep track of such things for me is very attractive, but probably not affordable for at least another few years.  Opal Carew praises her assistant, Laurie, all the time, crediting Laurie for a significant portion of Opal's success.  With Laurie taking care of managing appointments, deadlines, requests and promotion opportunities, Opal has been able to concentrate on writing and publishes several books a year.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Coming Out of the Closet for Fan Fiction

Fan fiction is a punchline in the writing world.  Self-published for free by enthusiastic fans, usually sexual, it allows fans to write their own stories for their favorite fictional universes.  Harry Potter, Twilight, X-men, Little House on the Prairie, Mad Men, House, you name it, it probably has devoted fan-fiction sites.  (Looking them up can be an amusing way to lose an entire day of productivity at work.)

I used to write fan fiction for the Marvel comic book and movie universes, particularly the X-men.  I probably still would if I hadn’t decided to force myself away from it to concentrate on producing original stories.  My brain still comes up with intriguing possibilities, like the story I would desperately love to write about the movie Wolverine: Origin, about what happened to Victor and Logan after they ran away as boys and before they became professional soldiers.

Sadly, one of the steps of becoming a professional writer is stepping away from work which might get you sued by a major corporation.  But I stand by my fan fiction career, even if some of it makes me cringe now because of the bad writing.  Writing fan fiction trained me for writing my own work.

1)      It taught me how to make characters sound different and how to ensure each character stayed consistent.  Fan fiction readers knew the characters I was using.  If I made Beast into a slobbering moron, they would quite rightly call me on it.  Staying inside a characters limitations is a challenge, particularly when having them act just a leetle outside of character could solve a potential plot problem.  But I learned to avoid those temptations and how to keep multiple characters in my head so that they sounded authentic in the page.

2)      It taught me discipline for world-building and plotting.  I needed to stick to the rules of the Marvel universe, like Daredevil works alone and coming back from the dead is apparently easier than making dinner reservations.  That limited what I could do but I found a way to make something interesting within those boundaries.

3)      It taught me how to finish a story.  Before I began writing fan fiction I had dozens and dozens of half-finished stories.  I would get excited about an idea, start to work on it, hit a creative dead end or get excited about something else, and then nothing more would happen.  The very first novel length story I wrote was fan-fiction.  Doing it gave me the confidence to try writing my own novel.

I still love the Marvel universe, though I’m glad to now be exploring my own.  There’s a little piece of me that still hopes they’ll call and ask me to start writing actual stories for them.  (In case any Marvel professionals are reading this, the answer is: Yes.  Yes, I would.  And please don’t sue me if you find any of my stuff still online.)

I understand authors who get upset about fan fiction.  They feel it infringes on the stories they want to tell and sometimes the fan fiction can take on a life of its own, becoming more authoritative than the actual author’s works.  There is no way to argue that it isn’t a form of plagiarism, taking someone else’s work and incorporating it into your own.

But at the same time, those stories exist because of readers.  Readers who thought and lived the characters and the stories until they became so real they took on a life of their own.  That’s something special and wonderful.  It should be part of the goal of every writer.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Weekly Update: March 15-21

Word count: 3100, all on the weekend.

As expected, March Break was not a productive time but I'm not too unhappy about it.  I did some work plotting on Metamorphosis in between taking the kids to the trampoline park and swimming and other activities.

I definitely felt the roughness in having such a long separation between writing periods.  I made careful notes at the end of my writing day and it helped, but it took awhile for the words to start to flow.  That lets me know I'll need to work out something different for the summer.  I'll have to see if I can arrange to have the kids in daycare or something at least once or twice in the week to give me more time.

Things are starting to flow again for Metamorphosis but I'm starting to look at the calendar and wonder if I'll make my self-imposed July 1st deadline for my first draft.  I have 14 weeks to go.  If I can keep up my minimum of 4000 words a week, I've got a shot but it won't take much to derail me.  This must be what Bon Jovi meant when he said the pressure didn't start until his second album.  There's all the time in the world for a first creative project, but the second takes place in the public eye.

I've also been doing some calculations on my sales and realizing I may have been overly optimistic for potential revenue.  I'm still hoping to break even on what I spent to get Revelations ready before launching Metamorphosis but that may not be realistic for self-publishing.  My friend, S.M. McEachern, forwarded me an article on the math of self-publishing.  I knew the majority of self-published authors did not make much money without having to do a lot of work.  I liked the author's position that "Realistic expectations are not the enemy of hope, but they are the ally of wise decisions."

So I have to be careful with my own wise decisions and make sure I'm not putting the family at risk financially during this investment phase.  I still believe the quality of my work will draw readers, but it will be a slow process without the funds for advertising and massive marketing campaigns.  But that's okay.  I may not have flash and glitter, but I am stubborn and relentless when it comes to finding my way around obstacles.

It may not happen as fast as I might wish.  But it will happen.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Taking Some Inspiration: Fire Within

The blog Nadaness In Motion has a weekly image to inspire a short story, poem, whatever.
Photo credit: Stephanie Nehme
The smell of the sea was the first thing she remembered in life.  It permeated every moment of her awareness and crept into her dreams.  The waves soothed her with their endless shushing.  The shore birds calls were the music of her days.  She knew how to dash across the soft sand without it sucking at her toes and how to balance on the smooth rocks without falling into tidepools.
All these things she knew.  But she found her eyes lifting to the horizon, to the steep bulk of mountains carpeted in living greenery.  Beneath them lay a pulsing heart of fire, one which echoed in her own breast.  Both wore a disguising cloak of calm and verdant acceptance but the fire was never far beneath the surface.  It flashed in her eyes and bubbled in her veins, stealing her contentment and peace.
She spent long nights walking the beach, staring at the mountains which were only outlines of darkness, visible only by the stars they blocked.  Someday, she promised herself.  Someday she would burst forth from the confines of the cool stone of her life and create something new.  She would reshape the world around her, molding it in the crucible of her dreams and strength.
She did not yet know how she would do this.  What form would the fire take?  Would it be words of poetry and inspiration?  Images which spoke across languages?  Objects to be held in the hand?  An idea which would revolutionize entire ways of life?
For now, there was only the fire burning bright in her heart and mind.  Waiting for the perfect moment of creation.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Weekly Update: March 8-14

Word count: 4400

Next week is March Break and I'm anticipating low productivity.  With the kids home, I want to spend some time with them having fun.  I figure I only have another few years before they would rather be ridiculed in public than hang out with their mom and I intend to take full advantage of them.

I've been fighting a bit with a subplot of Metamorphosis.  It seemed like a good idea at the time (and I think it is still a good idea) but it's not fitting with the rest of the story.  I'm having to force it in rather than letting things flow.  So I'm looking at how difficult it would be to cut it out.

I've reached the halfway point for my first draft of Metamorphosis, which puts me on target to have it ready for beta-readers for July. 

I got another positive review from Taking It One Book At A Time: 5 fangs.  Sales have been holding fairly steady and I don't think it's just my friends and family picking it up.

I'd like to plan another promotional campaign but I'm not quite sure what to do for it.  I'll have to chat with some of my published friends and get some ideas.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

More Learning Curve on This Whole Publishing Thing: Mailing Lists

I keep running into these unexpected roadblocks.  Today's particular challenge: mailing lists.

Initially I thought I would definitely have one, but then I heard how it's becoming more and more obsolete, especially in today's Twitter and Facebook oriented world.  Then I heard scary stories about running afoul of the anti-spam legislation and thought: this is probably something I want to avoid.

Since then I've talked to more authors who say their mailing list is invaluable.  Stuff gets lost in the noise for Twitter and Facebook.  Fans want to know when an author is having a contest or will be at an event or is releasing something new.

Ah, I said to myself (because I talk to myself a lot, I'm kind of like Gollum from Lord of the Rings that way ... even to the point of liking sushi and preferring the night to the day ... comparison is starting to freak me out ... back to mailing lists), this is one of things I should do as a Published Author.  Things which connect to fans are good.

I scrape together an hour of time and go boldly forth into the world of MailChimp, a company which manages the actual mailing list for you and keeps up to date on all those pesky anti-spam laws and opt-in/opt-outs for you.  I'm feeling pretty good about myself when I suddenly hit a patch of gravel on my toboggan hill of progress.  (For those who haven't had the pleasure of hurtling down a hill atop a tiny scrap of plastic, it's awesome.  Unless you hit gravel, at which point the sled stops dead and you go tumbling forward for the rest of the ride.)

Young Timmy is caught in my metaphor.

MailChimp wants an address to attach to the form.  An actual physical address where people can send mail to me.

Although I'm all for connecting with fans, I'd rather like to keep the actual place where I hang around in my sweatpants as something of a mystery.  (I'm sure a dedicated stalker can still find me, but I'd prefer not to make it easy for the lazy ones.)  Which means I now need to explore the fascinating and thrilling world of PO Boxes, tool of mass marketing pyramid schemes and spy-action dead drops. 

I wonder if they'll get annoyed if I hum the Mission Impossible theme song every time I go to check the mail?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Weekly update: March 1-7

Word count: 6300

I'm pretty pleased with myself this week.  I had one of those golden writing days on Friday when everything just flows and managed to write over 3000 words in a few hours.  It was awesome, especially since the week was pretty disruptive and I thought I was going to have to post a failure to achieve my totals.

I also got my first independent review from Tome Tender and it was very encouraging.  It's quite exciting to realize that someone I don't know likes my story and thinks it's worth sharing.

I've also been getting excited about Romancing the Capital which will be my first conference as a published author.  There's an Alice in Wonderland theme dinner on Friday night, which I am almost obligated to attend.  I'm trying to decide if I have enough time to make myself a Red Queen costume.  (It'll mean driving for at least an hour to pick up fabric to make plus finding time to sew ... but it would be so much fun.  And an excuse to wear a tiara, which is always awesome.) 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Case Study: Reversing Expectations with Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter Series

Okay, there are some spoilers here if you haven't read the series.  Read at your own risk.

There are currently 24 books in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series, all paranormal romance about a group of immortals fighting soul-sucking daemons under the watchful eyes of their leader, Acheron, and the relative indifference of the Greek Goddess, Artemis.

I love this series, not just for my continuing adoration of lovely lethal men, but because Kenyon is an amazing author for reversing a reader's expectations about her characters.  She will leave a reader with an unfavorable first impression and then explore the background and meaning behind a character's reactions.  It's impressive, especially since I can then go back and read the original books and see little hints that all were not as they initially seemed.  That's very difficult and speaks to Kenyon's skill with both characters and plotting.

I generally don't like reversing character impressions because it is often done badly.  Either it comes off as excusing bad behaviour because of earlier trauma or it ignores the original material, thus completely rewriting the character and the fictional history.  Kenyon manages to keep her storyline and history intact and it is made quite clear that the jerk-ish behaviour is a problem, regardless of the cause.

I chose three characters who manage to be completely turned around:

Valerius: He was a Roman general, which puts him at odds with many of the Greek Dark Hunters.  Introduced in Night Pleasures, he is portrayed as arrogant jerk, more concerned with proper bloodlines and lineage than with making friends.  He holds himself aloof, leaving readers to wonder if he can be counted on to aid the hero of Night Pleasures, Kyrian of Thrace, especially since they have a personal ancient history.  Many of the characters go out of their way to provoke "Count Penicula" and his icy disdain for all things plebeian.

We learn his story in Seize the Night, that he was punished for showing affection as a boy by his cruel father, that his brothers killed a woman he loved and was trying to protect, drugging him and forcing him to witness her slaughter.  We learn that he has perfected his haughty disdain after years of being isolated and provoked.  He is trying to do what all our parents told us to do in the face of bullies, ignore them and they'll go away.

Beneath his exterior lies a caring man who believes his involvement with anyone, no matter how slight, carries a curse.  He has tried to help so many times and simply ended up making things worse that he now refuses to get involved.  He feels more deeply than anyone has given him credit for.

Zarek: He was a Roman slave, ironically to Valerius's family.  He is actively aggressive to everyone he interacts with, to the point of having been exiled to Alaska for most of two millennia.  He is introduced in Night Embrace as a psychopath, constantly on the verge of attacking the very people he is sworn to protect.  He is viewed as so out of control that many of the Dark Hunters make plans to take him out and have them ready to execute if necessary.

We learn his story in Dance With the Devil as he undergoes a trial to determine his right to continue to exist.  We learn about abuse so horrific it left him blind, scarred and barely able to move.  We learn that he has been forbidden to associate with anyone else and has spent most of his existence without anyone to speak or interact with.  He is so conditioned to expect abuse from other people that he refuses to interact with them, trying to help in secret as much as possible.

He is an artist, who creates beautiful sculptures.  He is tortured by his memories of having failed in the past.  He wants friends but is terrified of being vulnerable, and so adopts a "get them before they get me" attitude.

Styxx: Acheron's twin brother, the crown prince of Didymos.  He is described as spoiled and arrogant, continually demanding his sister's attention while Acheron is abused and neglected.  We see him in glimpses through many of the novels but the main story is in Acheron.  He is readily hated by all the Dark Hunters and the majority of the readership.  He is banished into permanent exile.

When I heard that Styxx was coming out, I wondered how Kenyon would deal with it.  Was he going to learn the error of his ways finally?  Instead, I found myself in constant brink-of-tears mode as we learned about Styxx's so-called "ideal" life.  The torture and abuse that Acheron suffered was also heaped on his twin, with even less recourse.  His idealized "banishment" was being left alone on an island without supplies or food for over eleven thousand years.  His wife and child were killed.  The list just kept going and going.

Styxx was never arrogant.  He had adopted a certain distance because a) his attention tended to bring severe reprisals from his father and b) after awhile, it was easier than being continuously rejected.  He wasn't a self-entitled prince, he was an abused child trying desperately to survive.

It's not explicitly stated in the novels, but there does seem to be a recurrent theme in Kenyon's work about not judging people until you understand the whole story.  Even her "bad" guys have tales of heartbreak and loss behind their decisions.  The adversaries of the Dark Hunters are the Daimons, who have a choice of feeding on human souls or dying slowly and painfully on their 27th birthday, the entire race cursed because of the actions of a few over eleven thousand years earlier.

This is the reason I come back to Kenyon's stories again and again.  Because she creates wonderful three-dimensional characters which always have some thread of compassion.  Over and over, we see the theme of being caught between difficult choices and having compassion for those who make them.

Those are stories of redemption that I can get behind every time.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Weekly Update: Feb 22-27

Word count: 4050

Just squeaked through for my total but it still counts.

I'm feeling pretty excited about how Revelations is progressing.  I've got some reviews lined up with different blog sites.  I'm trying to request one or two reviews per day but I'm finding it tricky since the only time I have available is after school or after the kids go to bed.  I'm just going to have to find a routine that works for me.

It was the monthly Ottawa Romance Writers' meeting yesterday and we had a great session on time management and when to ignore your inner voices (the ones that say it's better not to bother or that seven hours of playing Candy Crush is a useful skill-building exercise.)

I also signed up for the ORWA table for Prose in the Park in June.