M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Archetype or Cliche or ??

The Reading Lesson:
All too often Archetypes turn into Cliches.  This is a major problem for fantasy writers and readers.  Like, who wants to read another vampire novel ... or zombie ... or fairy ... or ???  You name it, and you can probably come up with examples where hundreds of writers followed the cliche and still got published.  You also know why I laughed out loud when I encountered Alison Pang's leg-humping unicorn in A Brush of Darkness.  [Shades of Chihuahuas!]

I've often thunk that Disney & Company should be prosecuted for stifling people's imaginations.  Fortunately, writers' imaginations can still counter the commercial norms.  While we want to make some money from our books, many of us streeetch people's imaginations in the process.

Off the rant.  Pang creates a very credible fey-touched urban fantasy world with a no-nonsense hero --  acting as a gatekeeper between worlds for her boss who has gone mysteriously missing.  The plot centers on finding the boss and other missing people.  The love interest is dangerous [read succubus] and is looking for his sister who has gone missing too.  The peril is developed from the concept soul capturing.  The cast of characters come from faery, heaven, hell, and human, all mixed together in unexpected ways.

Back to the unicorn who remains silent after the hero rescues him from a demon and takes him home.  She even tolerates him sleeping in her underwear drawer.  While she protests, she doesn't kick his ass out the door but fixes him breakfast instead.  About midway, though the book, she learns he's more than a pet ... with knowledge of Faery that helps save her behind.  The beast gives a great example on how to handle a secondary character who makes a major contribution to solving the plot's major puzzle.

A romance?.  Not really.  Urban fantasy is how it's labeled, but it's a dark one.  The love interest disappears in a fit of rejection. Fortunately, I think the book's a trilogy.  At least, there's a second book.  Guess I should read Pang's blog more carefully ... besides checking out the pictures of hunky men. 

Web Promotion and Other Stuff:
Stumbling over query writing?  Jessica Faust at Bookends is running a query critique on Wednesdays.  Granted it only  one agent's opinion, but you might also take a look at Query Shark.  Between the two, you might find a way to improve your query efforts.  I've been printing them off to study, but it's too soon to know the results.  I haven't sent out a new query -- to agent or publisher -- in ages.

[These sharing agents should be at the top of your blog reading list.  I only wish they represented the stuff I write.]

Maybe this should be under "progress" but I finally got around to cleaning up the 1st Turning Point marketing blogs hanging in my email.  Here are a few ideas I thought especially useful.

1)  Hank Quense ran a series at the beginning of the year on making your book stand out in the marketplace.  Can anyone say Amazon or Barnes and Noble here?  This is the third article, but there are links to the first two.

2)  Misty Evans gives some great tips on marketing your series ... and maybe gives you reasons why you should write a series.  There have been a lot of comments in the stuff I read that you'll sell more if you offer more than one book.  Guess once you've made one sale and they like it, the buyer will come back for more without another hard sell.

3)  John Klawitter writes about your book blurbs:  "Blurb Right or Die".  Hey, you wrote the book -- you have to market it even if you have a traditional publisher -- so write a good blurb.  Again more and more traditional publishers are making the writer to more and more of the marketing.

Got a short, short story off to my critique group.  It borders on science fiction ... or at least uses SF parlance to explain the linch-pin situation.  Need to make sure I sure the vocabulary right.  Fortunately, one of critiquers is a scientist.

"Devil in the Details" started out as a flash fiction piece.  It made the first cut in a couple publications but didn't sell.  Thanks to an idea in a blog I read, I came up with an added danger and 500 words.  --  Next week I'll learn if I improved the story.
Bascially, I'm in revision mode.  Back to Emma ... plus I have Kaffy Anne waiting in the wings.  Then, I need to decide what to do with Britt.  I still have some agents I could send queries to.  Unfortunately the book straddles the line between YA and Tween.  Maybe I'll just try submitting it to publishers.  I'm very good at indecisive procrastination.

It weird watching a family squabble over an estate when they were left out of the will...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stumbling Towards Publication

Went to New York City ... and DC ..., and the one thing I didn't expect was no internet connection.  Had access to computers but the signal was too weak to use where I could sit without my hip throwing a tantrum.  So, no blog.  Sorry.  Didn't even get much of a look at my emails ... so I didn't know what was happening with the WolfSinger cover art.

WolfSinger Publications has sent "Taking Vengeance" to an artist for a cover art!  It's enough to warm the cockles of a pessimist's heart.  I'm working with her now.  She has drafted an okay picture, but my Half-Elven are much darker than Tolkien's elves.  She drew Mariah as a "sweet young thing" ... which she definitely isn't.  [From the prequel partials, I doubt if she was a "sweet young thing" when a child.]  I'll be getting back to the artist today, once we finalized the last details of my nursing-home friend's funeral.

Also, the contract is in process for the trailer.  I've got to sign and send money.  I've read several comments lately on blogs and in forums that writing is much more expensive than it used to be.  I can remember when I only spent money on paper, postage, envelopes and miscellaneous.  

Now?   Having a computer is just the starters.  Where do the trailers, websites, editing, and marketing campaigns ... figure in your writing?  My hat's off to any reader who has landed a traditional publisher for their book.  {Of course, I don't wear hats.  Not since Vatican II and before that, I wore a mantilla.} 

Also, "Dark Solstice" came in at 76,500 words.  Probably, another reason it won't sell.  It's too short.  Novella, anyone?  --  I should have never removed the redundancies and passives and incomplete revisions.  Nothing like shooting yourself in the foot.

Last year sometime, I wrote  a review of The Ghosts of Crutchfield Hall, and gave the book to a step-grandkid after he said he like to read about ghosts.  He ignored the book.  

Two weeks ago, his non-reading, school-hating sister devoured the book.  When she started talking about Sophia doing this, and Sophia doing that, it took her mother a day to realize the kid, who doesn't read, had finished the book.  She immediately launched into Wind in the Willows, which she thinks is the funniest book ever.  --  Can this be an argument for giving free books to kids just to have them sitting on a shelf and accessible?       

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to Write a Looooong Book...

Fiction Lessons:
Do long novels intimidate you?  I alluded to measuring the length of , Elizabeth George's This Body of Death on the store book shelves for several weeks.  I enjoy Elizabeth George's straight mystery characterizations and plotting almost as much as Laurie R. King, James Doss, and Deborah Crombie, but her 1,000 page book intimidated me.  [OK.  950 pages.  It's still looooong.]

So, how do you write a loooooong novel that's publishable?  Believe me, it's not by adding a lot of description or walking your characters step-by-step to the action.  It's by complicating your plot with potential bad guys and giving your secondary characters a life of their own.  

So, how does George write a looooong novel without padding?  With these elements:
  1. a sub-plot where one villain's previous crime [a child murder than mirrors a real-life British murder] which impinges on the current London murder of a "missing person" in another part of Britain;
  2. the complications of Thomas Lynley, the major detective, returning to his old crime unit while still coping with his wife's murder and a new supervisor, who's auditioning for his old temporary position;
  3. a sub-plot involving his old partner, who the new supervisor is pushing to look more professional, and a change in the relationship with her ethnic neighbors.  [Dress is a point of humor for long-time readers of the series.]
  4. several possible villains, including three from the previous child murder, who are investigated by various members of Lynley's old unit; and  
  5. several people who add facts and observations about the murder, including several red herrings and a busybody who gums up the works.
The total gives the reader one long book without violating the various craft rules you keep reading in books and blogs. 

Other Stuff:
Rather than pull a bunch of stuff from the web together since I haven't been spending much time there, I thought I'd mention some useful articles in the May, 2011 issue of the The Writer.  Their article on 12 tips for an air tight contract hooked my attention, what with me being negotiating all sorts of stuff for the trailer.

The issue focuses on freelancing, but there are other topics of interest to fiction writers too.  Ideas on keeping your stories from bogging down, centering you story's emotional core, and creating/controlling conflict. 

I should mention that Writer's Digest did another best of the web section for 2011. 

Yeah.  I've finished my edits of "Dark Solstice", but haven't combined the chapters yet.  I'll learn the bad news tonight.  Then, I'll slap my hands if I try to make any more changes.

I did take a detour and turned a flash fiction piece, "Devil in the Details" into a short short story, thanks to E. J. Wesley's mention of some e-pub that likes stories about bugs.  The big light bulb in the sky flashed.  I added beetles as the imminent danger.  Now, I have to smooth the edges.

Almost got the critiques done for our next session.   Oh, there's a short piece on good critiquing in The Writer too.

Our lawn is filled with blooming violets, both purple and white.  Must say I like them better than the grape hyacinths.  Violets are tidier.  --  And, it snowed an inch, a rarity this winter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fantasy or Science Fiction: What's Your Genre?

Science Fiction or Fantasy?  Have you decided what genre your WIP is?  What happens if your idea straddles the boundary between science fiction and fantasy.  Of course, it could be argued that science fiction is really just another form of fantasy.  On that level, literary fiction is fantasy too.  It's all made up, even if some actual event is the spring board that launches you into the story.

The question came up at my last critique meeting.  One of my critique partners had a short story published by a regional e-publisher.  [Steven A. Benjamin:  Just Desserts, TWB Press]  It's a fun story about the devil and attacking desserts, and I'm a great-aunt of the story since we critiqued the holy heck out of it -- which Steve admits.  [So, the link]  

TWB Press does science fiction, supernatural, horror and thriller short stories.  Not, dyed-in-the-wool fantasy so I couldn't submit "There Be Demons" even though it has a supernatural element.  It's a novel anyway.  I did put it on my publishers list because I may write a short story that'd be appropriate.

In my mind, the question involves "Dark Solstice" after it gets rejected.  [Hey, I'll be pleasantly surprised if they request a full ... but I don't know how close the the target my premise gets to the publisher's sensibilities.]  The question:  Is "Dark Solstice"  science fiction or fantasy. 

The argument for science fiction, granted social science rather than hard science:  the effects of genetic drift on a mixed population with two distinct genomes.  In the "old days", I might have used the word "races" to discuss the genetic combining of elves and humans, but that's not kosher anymore.  What happens is that traits and skills get mixed in a population:  1/4 genetically the same in one population, 1/2 mixed genetically, and 1/4 genetically the same in the other population.  Half the population would have no magic, and the other half would have an over-abundance in basic Mendelian terms.  Of course, that's for just one gene.  The possible manifestations increase with the number of genes.

The problems of mixing gets more complicated because genes don't stay on their original chromosomes.  They jump [transfer] from maternal to paternal chromosomes and back again.  So, you never quite know which traits might appear in a physical individual.  "Dark Solstice" is set in a background where most of the population has mixed genetically ... while still being governed by the original mostly elvish population four hundred years later.  ---  Try to fit that into a query or snynopsis.

Other change thread concerns the economic structure:  from a feudal society to a mercantile one -- which doesn't have a hard science component.   [If economics was a hard science, the US wouldn't be in the fiscal mess it's in.]

The argument for fantasy?  We're talking about elves here, philandering elves, who abandon their offspring, at that.  I doubt if most American publishers would see beyond the elves to see the social science.

The bottom line?  I'll probably self-publish in a couple of years ... making another critique partner happy -- since she sees no sense in bothering with the traditional publishing scene.  I'm with Steve.  It's nice to have the imprimatur of someone who's willing to put their money where their mouth is. 

So, what's my genre?  A jumble of ideas, aka a mixed genre story.

It must be Spring.  I'm mixing sorrel and chives in with the store lettuce.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting the Most Out of the Short Stuff

Fiction Lessons:
Have had a couple short story collections sitting in the to-review pile [while I read a super-long mystery].  I enjoy reading anthologies for the mix of favorite authors and gaining new insights into characters I enjoy reading about.  1)  Unusual Suspects: Stories of Mystery and Fantasy edited by Dana Stabenow -- gave me a double fix of the two genres I read most.  2)  Songs of Love and Death edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois -- offered a potpourri of star-crossed lovers, all beautifully rendered by authors I seek out in the book stores.

One thought struck me as I read the stories:  how easy it was to watch the pieces of plot moving back and forth until the author resolved the problem --  happily or unhappily, as the case might be.  Sharon Shinn's short story, "The House of Seven Spirits" illustrates my point.  [in Unusual Suspects]

A lady, who was in the midst of a divorce, willingly moved into a haunted house since she couldn't see having a ghost hanging around was worse than living with a jerk while they tried to untie the knot.  Only she discovers the house contained seven ghosts, each with a different take on the murder/suicide that's the center of the story.  The clues lead you from one conclusion to another as the facts/interpretations are discovered.  You don't quite see them on the journey, but when the tale ends, you do. 

If you want to study how to develop plot twists, this story is a great primer.  It's short and, once you've read the story, it's easy to see under the magician's bandana.       

Web Promotion & Other Stuff:
Found a group blog about the intricacies of e-publishing from the readers/reviewer's point of view.  MarkG was looking for a e-horror to review without much success.  His adventures are an interesting read.  If nothing else,  his experiences gives writer's a heads-up on what not to do. 

He also made a comment about a beginning writer might have a salable novel if they removed the first three chapters.  I LOLed because I've done the opposite.  I removed the first three chapters and sold them.  The first Half-Elven novel still languishes.

A recent critiquing session spent a lot of time on description.  How much is enough?  Then, Mary Kole, an agent at the with the Andrea Brown Agency, did a blog on writing description.  If you're getting ready to revise, you might take a look to double check on some of the things agents look for.  As for me, I'm glad she sort of agreed with us.  --  No, we didn't cover all the same points but enough of them to cover the basics.

Then, while thinking of revising, you might check out Mac Wheeler's blog.  He gives a great picture that demonstrate the difference between "showing and telling".  It even puts "backstory" in its place.

What constitutes "progress"?  I work on my stuff every day, but I'm revising.  I'm starting to get the writing itch, though.  I'm wondering what will pop out when I actually let go.  I've several ideas fermenting in my idea files which keep nagging me while I give Wiggles his "morning lap time".

Another annoying part of writing:  studying the markets.  Just got through I bunch of market round-ups looking for short story publications that are interested in the stuff I write.  What a time slurp.  Finding out who they are, what they pay/etc., on to the AW Water Cooler to check the rep, and try to get an idea of what they prefer.  Fast response times are appreciated.  --  I'm still in the process of doing the same for small fantasy publishers.

Actually, my writing time is getting eaten by my life.  A good friend, without children, went into Hospice care, and I'm one of the legal care monitors.  While that's under control with sadness, I'm feeling guilty about the AZ challange.  I just don't have time to blog every day -- even though I asked at two difference places to be removed from the list.  If anyone knows how to get me off the list so I'm not "blogging under false pretenses", I'd appreciate it.  Hey, Steve ... are you out there?

The fruit trees are budding under the bedroom windows, and the old man was feeling so romatic, he left the first dandelion of Spring on my plate.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Pause That Annoys

The book trailer saga complicated itself again.  Thought I had all the pieces together so that I could start on the thing so it'd be ready to to place it just before the novella is published.  1)  The publisher hasn't gotten back to me with answers on book cover and publication date.  2) The artist wants royalties.

Simple enough on the face of it, but it just means more work.

I want to write.

In the meantime, I'm editing "Dark Solstice", yet again.  About half done.  I've delete some verbiage that slowed down a couple scenes.  Bottom line:  It pays to let a manuscript lay between revisions.  You notice the clinkers better.

Now, since I don't have any emergencies screaming to be solved, I'm going to read blogs.  I may even leave some comments here and there.