Lessons from My Reading

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.

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Simplistic vs Tangled Plot Structures

Fiction Lessons:
Most of the books I read have linear plot lines.  Many consider such books simplistic even if the relationships among the primary and secondary characters are complicated.  Must say I rather prefer events to flow in one direction ...  with maybe some time outs for flashbacks.

Then, I read a book that a couple book-group friends praised:  New York Times Bestselling Author Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden.  The book started out with a lovely hook -- a small, pre-school English girl stranded on a boat heading for Australia and the ensuing events when she tries to determine her origins after she grows up.  In other words, a what-happened book instead of a who-done-it.

Most writers would use a nice linear structure to solve this mystery piece by piece, and the character would live happily or unhappily ever after.  Morton hops around in time like a skitterbug.   The time line jumps from pre-WWI to the 70s to the mid 2000s and back again.  In the end, it's the granddaughter who solves the true identity of the abandoned little girl [after she dies] and the dysfunctional family relationships that sent her on her voyage. 

Different sections explore the motives of each of the major characters  How did the writer do it?  With chapters written in different viewpoints in different times and "hatches" [#] to indicate breaks in the action within the chapters.

This all may sound rather lame, but I found the book a satisfying read ... though I doubt if I'd ever write anything that jumbled events [in an organized way] so often.  One thing bothered me though -- the curriculum questions at the back of the book.

Web Promotion and Other Stuff:
Cliches:  Ideas to avoid while writing.  So, why do I have four of them in one book manuscript.  {There Be Demons}  Whatever, I picked up a blog on Twitter by Elizabeth Briggs on major YA/MG cliches.  You might be interested in looking at it since it also applies to adult SF/Fantasy.

Got a lecture recently on how e-self-publishing is the way to go.  Amanda Hocking was given as one of the arguments why.  So, when Writer Beware had a link on Facebook,  I had to look.  You might like to look at her blog too, so I've included a link to her recent blog on her thoughts about self-publishing -- after she just signed with St. Martin's Press, one of the big print boysSounds like she's a writer instead of some icon.

Of course, if your going to promote you have to have something to market.  You have to create something real enough to engage the emotions of your reader.  Nancy Williams did a blog on the elements of Revenge recently.  It's not as simplistic as many writers construct it.  So, take a look at Nancy's comments and see if your characters measure up.

Last but not least, I just discovered why I get so confused about all the publishing possibilities.  Again thanks to Writer Beware, I found a link to a blog by Lynn Price, of Behler Publications, on how the various definitions in publishing are changing.  So, the next time you think writer's have it hard, publishers are in the same boat.  I don't think anyone really knows what's going to happen very far into the future.

Progress:
To add a discussion to e-publishing:  I've submitted "The Noticing One" to Untreed Reads.  Yeah, I totally expect a rejection.  The piece is probably too short [... even though they want short stuff ...] and maybe not written well enough.  It's been out only a couple of times ... and got a long explanation why the editor didn't buy it, so maybe there's hope of a sale. --  If so, that means I'll have two publications up in the e-o-shpere.  Why submit as a short story stand-alone?  Well, in the e-publishing it seems that if you have more than one offering, you get more sales.  [I assume that's if you've told some good stories.] 

Also got "Dark Solstice" out to Angry Robot books.  In case you hadn't heard, the British publisher was taking unagented manuscripts during the month of March.  Guess I'm sort of at the bottom of the heap.  Did re-edit the submitted chapters and was surprised at how well they stood up.  Made very few changes.  Maybe they'll ask for a full.  [That's the height of my ambition.] 

Can't wait to get back to revising Emma. [Psst.  I'll tell you my secret fault.  I downplay my VP characters' emotional reactions to the action, which means I add rather than delete.]

Trivia:
 Nothing much different is going on.  I'm just a little squirrel running in her wheel.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Trailer Progress

How's the book trailer progressing?  I think it is.

Yeah,  I'm still sweating the making of my first book trailer.  Sweating, not because I'm worried, but sweating because it's hard work ... and time consuming.  But then, book trailers seem to stay on YouTub forever so it should be worth the effort, someday.  

Did get the music part nailed down ... though not "done", but it's nice to know what I want is possible.

From what I see on AW Water Cooler and from searching "making book trailers", the things seem to be a popular topic.  If you are interested in seeing what the "big boys" are doing, you might check out:  In Search of the Ultimate Children's and YA Book Trailer.  They've got some interesting examples. 

On the personal end:  I'm getting quick responses from a book trailer maker ... who likes my daughter's harp music.  Granted the elf and Celtic harp music is sort of a cliche.  But then, my daughter's playing isn't the usual stuff most harpists pluck from the strings.  [plug:  You can get free samples of her music.]  Funny thing, though.  In my various Half-Elven stories, no one plays the harp ... that I can remember.  Drums.  Fiddles.  Whistles.  No harps.

Has anyone had a positive or negative experience with book trailers?  I'm doing this to increase name recognition ... and hopefully, to sell some "books".  Who knows how successful it'll play out. 

[Books is in quotes since what's being published is a novelette since I think it's too short to be classified as a novella.   Have you noticed that quite of few e-publishers do short stories as singles?]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moving Your Plot Character by Character

Fiction Lesson:
"The characters are cardboard.  The plot's so simplistic," people have complained to me for years about the fantasy I read.  I've never apologized for reading fantasy.  I enjoy it.  Never joined a literary book group either.  Maybe I'm a reverse snob, but I thoroughly enjoyed my private Anita Blake book fest the last week.  [I took a break from serious reading after attending the Northern Colorado Writers conference.]  

The books I read came from what might be called Laurell K. Hamilton's middle phase before Blake become an all out "sex machine" and where she's learning to control the various vampiric skills infecting her.  The books:  Blue Moon, Burnt Offerings, Cerulean Sins, and Incubus Dreams.

Sterotypes are difficult to remove from people's  minds, but I can't see where Hamilton's books are simplistic on any level.  Even some of her sex scenes take three chapters.

Let me count the ways the character groupings that interact with Blake to move Hamilton's plots forward:
     --  the main triad of Blake, Jean-Claude and Asher, who keep the vampires of St Louis safe from the big bad Vampire Council in Europe;
     --  the were-panther pard with Blake, Micah, and Nathaniel living together with others of the group wandering in and out of her house and Jean-Claude's businesses;
     --  the triad of Jean-Claude, Blake, and Richard Zeeman which is close to non-functional because of personal issues over loathing of being a werewolf, differing sexual parameters, and proper relationship roles among other things;
     --  as Jean-Claude's human servant and as her powers grow, Blake forms her own triad [vampiric servant - animal to call -"dinner"] with three other characters.

Each book develops aspects of these relationships as it progresses.  The different characters grow in each book.

You also have to add various friends and family who pop in and other of Hamilton's plots to complicate things.  Granted Hamilton has a series featuring the same character so there is a time line involved, but she has complicated Blakes these situations in each book she completes.

As if that's not enough, Hamilton develops other relationships that add texture to Blake's life.
    --  the animator business that supports Blake and the people involved with it;
    --  the miscellaneous vampires that form Jean-Claude's empire as the Master of the City of St. Louis and the various weres that guard them;
    --  the cops -- local, federal, and private [including Edward, the arms supplier] -- where Blake acts as the Executioner in her role of solving preternatural crimes;
    --  miscellaneous bad guys passing through St. Louis;
    --  various trips outside of town where she encounters new complications;
    --  the local werewolf pack where Blake has performed various roles through the books;
    --  an organization to protect the 'furry challenged" of St. Louis from hate crimes;
    -- the Vampire church that's run by a master vampire not affiliated with Jean-Claude; 
    -- and last by not least various members and servants of the European Vampire Council who show up regularly to cause consternation and mayhem.

Is Hamilton's fantasy world an anomaly?  I don't think so.  I think I could go through the same process with Karen Marie Moning, Patricia Briggs, and Charlaine Harris among others with the same results.

How does the structure of your books stand up to this standard?   I think the bottom line is that you're most likely to sell if your people live in a real world and interact with the other people within it.  The huge sigh of relief you heard was me.  I write middle grade ... so my world isn't as complicated as the adult world ... but it still needs to be real.

Promotion and Web Stuff:
I'm pulling the bags forward.  Don't have links today since the above was so long and I've been running out of time ... every day.

Progress:
I'm just about to combine two chapters of Emma to make the plot move faster.  Now my guilty conscience is wondering if that'll count as one or two chapters completed.

Got my short story, "The Noticing One", rewritten but still have to dink with it at least once again.  Then there's the pain of submitting it ... somewhere.  ...  Don't mean the rejections are painful.  It's going through the list of the various publications for their current requirements and deciding which one to send it too.

Trivia:
The Christmas cacti are blooming again.  Nice to have them joining the daffodils, squill, tulips, and crocus, even if they stay inside. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chasing Book Trailer Makers

On to the next step in promoting "Taking Vengeance" ... the book trailer.

I've been looking for someone to make one for me after my daughter told me her learning curve was going to take too long.  [She'll still help me with the music.]  There are all sorts of links on Goggle and Yahoo telling how I can do my own.  Read enough of them to be tempted to try my hand at doing a trailer.  But, I should hope I'm not dumb enough to use my first effort to promote my book.  If I do decided to waste my time learning, you guys will be the first to know.  Windows actually has a movie ap or some such thing waiting to temp me.

Did turn a little growlly when I emailed ten trailer makers and only two responded.  Guess that's all I need ... but still, there's such a thing as having a professional attitude.  Good news?  One of them was in my price range ... I think.  We're still talking.

One thing is certain.  Researching stuff on the web is a major time-suck.  I had three of them going on at once ... and wondered why I wasn't getting any revising or the update on my projects done.  At least, I think the trailer thing is out of the wheel-spinning stage.  Now, I'm still researching publishers and weird-fantasy agents.

Believe me.  Agents, who've paid their dues and lined up contacts in the industry, are worth their weight in gold.  Even with e-publishing I think this is true.  Has anyone else noticed how the ebook rankings in the New York Times mirror the print book ones?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's Your Flavor of Fae?

Fiction Lessons:
Finally read Patricia Briggs' Silver Borne.  The book concentrates on the fae this time around, though one of her werewolf friends has problems with depression caused by a fae.  Must say I enjoy her complex rendering of the subject.  Not only does she give her fae unusual attributes but she also gives them different nationalities.  If you're stuck in the Celtic rut, you might look at how she puts her fae characters together.

After paying her dues in other worlds, Briggs is proving herself a master writer with the Mercy Thompson series.  I still enjoy the fact that a weak little coyote shifter bests all the big bad guys ... in a realistic fashion.  [Meaning: the solution flows from the action.]    

Web Promotion and Mostly Conference Stuff:
The Northern Colorado Writers gave their usual excellent conference last weekend.  I listened to author's/agents/publishers give seminars ... and chatted with writer friends.  Met new people.  We may have even recruited a new member for our fantasy critique group.  All together, a great conference, but I had expected that.

I spent a good share of my time at the promotion and market sessions rather than craft sessions.  The big result from all the information I received was I combined my two blogs again.  To me it makes sense in retrospect since it was mostly about promotion anyway.  It's not like I have this huge fan base, panting for my deathless prose.

Did get a decent grade on my writing progress.  I pitched and submitted the first page of Emma to an "Agent Reads the Slush Pile" session. 

A small e-publisher attended, and I pitched because they did coloring books.  Or, had done a coloring book.  Just so happened I had a "Color-a-Comic Pre-primer", called "Pat the Pet", in my files.   My pitch resulted in a request for a full manuscript.

Kay's formula for a successful writer's pitch:  Present the basic info in a sentence or two, including the problem needing to be solved.  Sit back and let the agent ask questions.  --  Anyone care to share their experiences pitching?

My conference glow came when the slush pile readers said they'd continue reading more pages of Emma.  Even got some good suggestions for revision.

&&&&

Print books are dying.  Print books are dying.  Maybe not.

The kind people at Writer Beware linked to an article by Felicity Wood at the Future Book Seller.  Her conclusion after looking at the figures?  E-books are selling more and more with more people willing to pay for a reading device.  The kicker, though, is that the whole market for books, both e-pubs and print, is growing.  Can anyone think opportunity here?

Writer Beware also recently linked to Carolyn McCray at Digital Book World.  Her blog on "The Best Practices for E-Book Sales" gives you more bases to check on promoting your book.  A continuation of N. R. Williams discussion of increasing your traffic.

Granted, e-publishing is giving writers more opportunities.  At the same time, writers must step in and take on the duties of the marketing department if they want to sell more than ten books.  Thus, my obsession with promotion.

Progress:
Still revising my Emma chapters. 
Go, snail.  Go.

Got my Pat the Pet manuscript out to the the publisher.
Now, I wait.

Trivia:
It's been a busy celebration week.  Monday was Pie Day (3.14). Tuesday was Buzzard Day, when the buzzards returned to Hinkely, Ohio.  [We ate over-aged leftovers from our refridgerator.]  Wednesday was St. Urho's Day, when the saint chased the grasshoppers out of Finland to save their vineyards.  Today is St. Patrick's Day, when the saint chased the snakes out of Ireland.  Friday?  It's Recuperation Day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gaining Marketing Smarts

At least, I hope I'm gaining some marketing smarts.  Time will tell.

Half-Elven Marketing Stuff
Spent most of the week-end torturing my hip and learning writerly stuff at the Northern Colorado Writers conference.   I spent most of my time in the marketing/promotion sessions and talking to people.  Learned lots.  Now, I have to put it into practice.

First, change ... as you see ... is that I've combined the writer's blog with the Half-Elven blog ... again.  [Yeah, I'm something of a worm on the end of a hook, but I'm learning, I think.]  Seems I was diluting the blogging audience.  The URL link to the Half-Elven Blog is gone.  It's now "Half-Elven News", of which there is precious little to say.

Other than that, I'm still dinking with the website after combining the blogs.  Translation:  I have to get on the phone to bug the GoDaddy customer service people.  Tried for a couple hours to change my URL navigation link to a page where I give "Half-Elven" news.  Yeah, the klutz struck again.

Marketing Example:
I've been watching Nancy R. Williams marketing her new book, The Treasures of Carmelidrium,* which came out recently on Amazon.  Her blog, N. R. Williams, Fantasy Author, recently gave some interesting information on meta-tags and marketing.
    
      Insight 1) She asked friends to tag her at Amazon to increase her rankings.  I didn't know you could do that.  So, if you have a book on Amazon, you might study what she did.  I'm giving this info to my harpist daughter.  It's well worth studying ... and maybe adding some tags for Nancy as a thank you.  I know I did.

     Insight 2)  The tags look suspiciously like metatags.  You know, the do-hickies that help you rise or fall on the search engine pages.  So, it might be a good idea to look at your websites and blogs to see how you can improve the pesky things.

The time would be well spent if it gives your writing a marketing boost in the search engines.  Of course, if you're already a metatag marketing wizard, you probably skipped this.

Have you written any blogs on how your marketed your books.  Why not mention them with the results in the comments?

*Hope I spelled it write.  The name's so long the letters keep jumping around, and I never know which syllable I read is correct.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Which Character Do You Like Best?

 Fiction Lesson:
As much as I hate admitting not buying the last couple books in the Otherworld series about the adventures of the D'Artigo sisters,   I bought Yasmine Galenorn's Blood Wyne.   I just realized that the other books didn't feature Menolly D'Artigo.  That's the vampire sister.  Now, I'm wondering why that character motivated me to buy a book and the others didn't.  It wasn't because Menolly is the shortest of the sisters.  Being a vampire, she shouldn't engage my interest since I usually don't care for much for vampires.

So, why?  Galenorn's action is in top form as the sisters fight to save Seattle from murderous ghosts ... and a more murderous vampire with an original twist.  She solves a couple of the sisters' problems.  But, she also complicates Menolly's life with two new hassles:  one a dangerous love interest and the other a new terribly dangerous possible nemesis who she owes a debt to.  [Fae are interesting in that way.]  The only reason I can come up with to answer the question "why" is that I perceive Menolly has "trying harder" to pull her weight in the team.  

Guess I think of vampires as being handicapped by any thin stray pieces of wood flying around.  Plus, she's out of commission while the sun shines.  The other two sisters just get sleep deprived.  What makes you latch onto a character in an ongoing series?

Useful Promotion Info and Other Stuff:
This week's gem comes from Justine Musk of the Tribal Writer.  Basically, she takes on the question of should you blog or not and says it depends on what you want out of it.

She also gave a useful link for gathering an email list for my Half-Elven promotions MailChimp.  A link I am suitably grateful for.  You can learn more about my thoughts on the Half-Elven blog.

Am really looking forward to this year's Northern Colorado Writers conference.  I'll be pitching a Color-a-Comic pre-primer a friend and I did years ago.  We sold a few hundred even though we knew zip about marketing.  Maybe that's one of the reasons I feature how-to-promote  info so much?

Progress on My Writing Journey:
Producing words as been as painful as pulling teeth around here.  The silly idea that I could draft a new novel and revise a previous draft got knocked out of my head.  

Why did I think I could?  After all, there're tons of blogs out there of people who write 1,000 to 5,000 words a day.  Why couldn't I plog along at my usual 500 words and revise too?  ...  Tried it.  I can't.  Have given myself permission to only revise ... and jot down weird wisps of ideas as they drift through my brain on the other WIPs.  [Yeah, there's more than one.]

When I look at what needs to be done with Emma Kloken, Reluctant Hero, it's obvious much of the revision will be like drafting a new novel.  I took a class from Trai Cartwright at Craftwrite and learned a lot about scene setting and flow.   Now I done got ta do the work to make it happen in my manuscript.

Do you design your goals too big to chew?  I find I work best with flexible goals, broken down into small bites.  The pesky things are easier to cross off that way.

I should mention my Far Isle Half-Elven blog.   Yeah, I blog twice a week.  One here [on Thursdays] about general writing stuff.  The other concentrates on building building my writer's platform ... which I do kicking and screaming and not very effectively on Mondays.  --  Last Monday, I wrote about submitting my website -- The Far Isle Half-Elven -- to 1st Turning Point for a critique.

Trivia:
I hate it when I make a comment, proof-read it a couple times, publish it ...
then, discover a typo ... or two.     

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where Authors Get Ideas

 Fiction Lessons:
Everyone wonders where author's get their ideas -- readers and writers, alike.  Fantasy writers probably make people wonder more than mainstream types.

Imagine my delight when I read the back notes in Laurell K. Hamilton's Flirt where she discusses how discovered and shaped an idea into a novel She also blew my mind.  Hamilton has written 29 books in 15 years, probably more since I think she's finishing one now and has another at the publishers.  --  Makes my 500 words a day [sort of] anemic at best.

Any way, to quote Hamilton:  "Flirt is my twenty-ninth novel in about fifteen years of time and space.  I know something about writing and about how to treat it like a career.  It takes a lot of hard work and a very thick skin so all those early rejections don't crush you.  But first you need an idea."

Flirt is basically a novella like Micah ... and an engrossing read.  My measure?  It kept me reading beyond 11:30 PM.  If you try to dissect novels to see what makes them work, you might use this book as a "primer".  The shortness makes it easier to see the elements that make the story ... and Hamilton's comments makes it easy to understand how she put the story together.

For us beginner types, it also emphasizes the need for revision -- however many it takes.

Useful Promotional Information:
While working to get my Half-Elven website up to snuff, I discovered a useful tool -- a site that helps you determine the rank of your website and/or blog.  No, I didn't do too well.  I hope you do better when you run the Web Grader free diagnosic.  Truth in commenting:  HubSpot uses the grader to gain business.  [This blog ranked fairly well.  The website was dismal.]

In case you're wondering.  Someday, I hope to sell enough to actually make sense to run a professional website rather than the thumb-in-the-wind I have now.

Awards and Social Networking:
One Lovely Blog Award
I've gotten awards before but never figured out a way to get the picture on the page so I more or less ignored them.  Anyway a critique partner, Jennifer Robinson, gave me an award and thought I should mention it.  Her YA blog is well worth reading.  Check it out:  Hanging on to the Wonder.  I find it a nice reminder when I'm feeling my cynical self. 

Another problem with networking is the time it takes.  At this point, I strictly limit the time I spend on Facebook, Twitter, and here.  Otherwise, I wouldn't get any writing done.

Progress:
I'm collection rejections ... and wondering why publishers often send
personal comments and requests for more.
Agents?  Form letters.

Need to organize my computer files ... and clean off my card table desk.  I thought I cleaned it off but it's piled higher and deeper.  It's completely covered at the moment ... including the old thesaurus since I recently bought a newer more recent one.  --  I'm keeping my old dictionary.  It's got a listing on when words came into usage, a handy bit for writing historical stuff.  Surprising how much 100 year old slang is still used though.

Writing?  I'm been doing some of that, but it's mostly revising.  The queries.  The first pages.  Adding a new first chapter which contains something exciting to start the draft novel off with.  Guess the new chapter could qualify as new writing.  Have decided to concentrate on revising at the beginning of the year.  What?  Emma Kloken, Reluctant Hero.

Need to think of updating this site too.  [A writer's work is never done.]

Trivia:
I've been spending lots of time traveling back and forth to a nursing home visiting a friend.  It feels good to be able to escape and go back to my house ... and computer.