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Archive for March, 2012

Bumps in the Road

I was planning a different post for today. However, yesterday the main water line developed a leak–ours, not the city’s. Actually, the evidence suggests that it had probably been leaking for some time, it only got to the surface yesterday.

What I really need is to replace that whole line. Unfortunately, that just is not economically possible right now. So, instead, it gets replaced bit by bit where a leak develops. Thank heaven for my cousin and nephew who are willing to help out on this.

Right now, a good portion of the ditch has been dug, the pipe has been located. There’s more digging still to do before the length of pipe can be replaced. Meantime, there’s no running water.

This has sort of interrupted my plans, as you might imagine, not to mention seriously cut into my productivity. I’ll do the research and get the blog post I intended for today up next time. Promise.

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A theme is the central concept of a story. I don’t generally write a story with a theme in mind. However, it often happens that when I finish a story, I realize that there is a theme in there. When that happens, I can use that knowledge to inform choices that I make in the revisions to strengthen that theme, if I want to. Often, I don’t even ask myself what the theme is. I’m focused on telling a good story. Though, when I do, I can usually identify it pretty quickly. Sometimes, it surprises me.

For example, MAGIC’S FOOL, and in fact the entire series that starts with MAGIC’S FOOL, is about acceptance in various forms. (I really am going to have to think of a title for the series as a whole soon. Something to do with the two kinds of magic, I think.) In this case, though, it’s a little different for me because MAGIC’S FOOL and it’s sequels are rewrites of earlier stories with the unfortunate titles THE SHAMAN’S CURSE and THE IGNORED PROPHECY (TSC and TIP for short). Now that I’ve decided it should be a middle-grade story, the events of TSC with a little of TIP thrown in will be broken down into three separate stories. The fourth book in the series will cover the central plot that was planned for the end of the original trilogy, but never written. It’ll actually flow much better this way.

What’s different this time is that I recognized the theme in those earlier versions, so I could construct the story around it in the first draft of the rewrites.

In MAGIC’S FOOL, the theme actually comes close to also being the central conflict as the protagonist has to learn to accept the things that make him different from who he expected to be. That works, I think, as a good middle-grade internal conflict. My beta readers who have it now will let me know if they feel bludgeoned by it, I hope. But I don’t think it came off as that strong. The two critiques I have back so far haven’t mentioned it, at least.

Still, that conflation of the theme and the central conflict is not something I necessarily want to continue throughout the series. In this case, I’ll have to be aware, not of what theme is developing in my story, but of keeping the theme and the central conflict at arm’s length.

That’s a little different than my usual course, where I don’t even recognize the theme until I finish the first draft. In the long run, of course, that’s all to the good: a learning opportunity.

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When I look ahead, I’m feeling a little scattered, so it’s time to lay out a plan again.

E-Publishing:

  1. “Heart of Oak” is out. I’ve made four sales so far–two on Amazon and two on Smashwords. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but then I haven’t done very much to try to promote it, either. Actually, “Heart of Oak” is likely to be part of the promotion when I eventually get BLOOD WILL TELL out.
  2. “Becoming Lioness” is another novelette, currently out on submission. I should be hearing in the next week or so. If it comes back, it’ll be my next e-publishing venture.
  3. “The Music Box” is a novella I had shelved because it’s really much more romance than fantasy. The speculative element is very slight and, in fact, you could remove it altogether and the story wouldn’t be noticeably changed. But I’ve always liked it anyway, so I keep coming back to it. So, I’m halfway through a revision right now. I’ll probably try to get a critique or two. Then I’ll either submit it to the same market that has “Becoming Lioness” now or just e-pub it.
  4. All this leads up to e-publishing BLOOD WILL TELL probably at the end of April or the beginning of May. It’s ready to go except for the specific e-publishing formatting, but that’ll be more complicated than for the shorter works. One or more of the shorter works published in advance of this will probably then be used as giveaways to help pomote the novel.
  5. I’ll need to make the revisions to BLOOD IS THICKER, the sequel to BLOOD WILL TELL, so I can e-publish this sometime later this year.
  6. Then I’ll have to write the third book in the series BLOOD STAINS, so that I can e-publish it no later than this time next year.

Traditional Publishing:

I haven’t given up on this.

  1. I’m still querying MAGE STORM, at least until I get FIRE AND EARTH (formerly SEVEN STARS) ready to query.
  2. I need to finish up the last little details to get FIRE AND EARTH ready to start querying, probably next month. I think the query’s good–for this pass anyway. Experience tells me I’ll probably do a revision or two during the querying process. I do need to polish up the synopsis. I’ve got some feedback coming in on the first chapter. I’ll need to give that a shine and also make one more pass through the whole thing before starting to query.
  3. MAGIC’S FOOL is out for critiques now. I’ll need to make revisions to that, too, when all the critiques come back.
  4. I’ve started work on MAGIC’S APPRENTICE, sequel to MAGIC’S FOOL, but I’ll probably be setting this aside, soon. It really doesn’t make much sense to devote a lot of time to the sequel before I even start querying the first book.
  5. I’m just about ready to start work on the first draft of THE BARD’S GIFT, my young adult alternate history (with dragons).

All right. No wonder I’m feeling a little scattered, is it? Now all I have to do is prioritize. For the moment:

  1. Finish the revision to “The Music Box” and decide what to do with it.
  2. Get ready to query FIRE AND EARTH.
  3. Start THE BARD’S GIFT.
  4. Revisions to MAGIC’S FOOL.
  5. Prepare BLOOD WILL TELL for e-publishing.

That ought to keep me busy for the next couple of months.

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This subject comes up for several reasons. The main one, of course, is that it’s something I’m struggling with myself. In another month or so, I’ll start the second draft of BLOOD IS THICKER, which is the sequel to BLOOD WILL TELL. While I complete the research and preparations for THE BARD’S GIFT, I’ve also been sporadically working on MAGIC’S APPRENTICE, which is the sequel to MAGIC’S FOOL. In both cases, there will be at least one more book in the series.

As I see it, both from reading and writing series, there are three problems inherent in sequels, in particular in the middle books.

The first is one I hope I don’t have in any of my stories because it annoys me as a reader: when the middle book in a series is just a bridge between the beginning and the end. These books often lack an identifiable story arc of their own. They’re just there to get you from the beginning to the end. It’s a problem most often encountered in trilogies.

The second is one of just maintaining reader interest, even if the book does have its own story (although this becomes much, much harder for middle books that don’t actually tell a full story). I have a theory about this that I’ve blogged about before. Particularly in fantasy, in the first book the reader has the wonder of discovering this new world, its magic and its rules, and the characters. The last book has the whiz-bang fireworks of the climax of the series. The middle book is, well, stuck in the middle.

This is where I think there’s a certain genius in series like HARRY POTTER. J. K. Rowling doesn’t show us all of Harry’s world in that first book. We’re still discovering new things well into the series. Yes, THE SORCERER’S STONE gives you the wizarding world, Diagon Alley, Gringot’s Bank, Hogwarts, and quidditch. But THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS gives you the flying car, the whomping willow, huge spiders, and the basilisk. THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (on the television right now as I write this) gives you hippogriffs, dementors, and the Marauder’s Map. I don’t think I even have to go into THE GOBLET OF FIRE. The point is, the wonder of discovering this world is stretched out throughout the whole series.

There’s a lesson in that, I think. Now, if I can just figure out how to apply it to my own stories.

The third problem is one that relates especially to independent stories within a series. To a certain extent in this kind of series, it shouldn’t matter if the reader takes the books in order. And there’s the problem. When I start to write the second (or, in this case, third) book in the series, I want to set it up so that the reader can plunge in even if they’ve never read the first book. But, and here’s the problem, I’ve got all these places and characters that I’ve already established. Some of the things that have already happened in the first book are going to influence the relationships between these characters and how they approach the problems presented in the second (or third) book.

So, the problem is to present enough of that background–and only as it becomes relevant to the story–without slowing the main story down to a crawl or overwhelming it with extraneous details. It’s a very fine line. And frankly, one that I’ve never managed to walk on a first draft.

It’s a very real challenge. To me, this is a place where it’s vital to have beta readers. In particular, two groups of beta readers: some who’ve read the first book and can complain if you slow the story down with too many details about what happened before, and some who haven’t read the first book and can tell you when they get confused because something that was explained in the first book was just assumed in the second.

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First an update: “Heart of Oak” is now available on Amazon as well as Smashwords. It’s still working its way through Smashwords’ review process for inclusion in the Premium Catalog which would make it available in other markets.

I’m considering two more short works that I might decide to e-publish in the next month. Another novelette and a novella I shelved for being more romance than fantasy. But hey, romance sells.

Then, at the end of April, I will most likely e-publish my first (publishable) full novel, BLOOD WILL TELL, a paranormal romance/urban fantasy. To be followed by its two sequels: BLOOD IS THICKER and BLOOD STAINS. I have a draft of BLOOD IS THICKER, but it’s nowhere near ready for publication yet, so that full slate would likely take a year or so.

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to seek traditional publication for my middle grade fantasy, MAGE STORM, and I’ll probably start querying my young adult fantasy FIRE AND EARTH (formerly known as SEVEN STARS) next month.

Now, on to future works:

I’m continuing the research for my young adult alternate history story THE BARD’S GIFT. The research is not only giving me the appropriate background for the story, but helping me to crystalize what the major conflicts–internal and external–will be.

The research is necessary of course to fill the place of world building. In an ordinary fantasy, I get to determine the various elements of the culture–what they wear, what they eat, what kind of shelter they live in, what the rules and mores of their society are, etc. In an alternate history, most of that should be as close as possible to the real historical culture. Of course, given the addition of dragons, some things are going to have to change at least a little.

For those of you who may be wondering, THE BARD’S GIFT is set against the failure of the Viking colony in Greenland. As far as history knows, the settlers all died, probably of starvation, during the cold spell known as “The Little Ice Age”. But there were at least three other things they could have done, if they’d chosen to, including sail to that part of the map marked “Here Be Dragons”.  And that’s where THE BARD’S GIFT will start.

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Heart of Oak Available

I did it. “Heart of Oak” is now available on Smashwords for $0.99.  I’ve even made my first sale. In the next few days, I’ll have to work on the Amazon edition, too.

This is a 9500-word novelette. Markets for stories of this length are slim, at least for those of us who aren’t established authors. So it seemed like a good choice for this first foray into the world of e-publishing.

I’m glad I started with something short and relatively uncomplicated. There were a lot of things I didn’t have to worry about, like chapter headings and a linked table of contents. Next time, or whenever I do BLOOD WILL TELL, I think I’ll get a little more daring and use a graphic as a page separator, at least between the title/copyright page and the text, as well as between the end of the text and the end material (author bio, where to find me on the web, etc.) We’ll see how that works out. There’s a possiblity I may do another novelette before that, though.

Formatting for Smashwords isn’t difficult. It just takes attention to detail and changing things from standard manuscript format to something more polished looking. Well, actually, the formatted file before upload looks less polished, but once it goes through Smashwords’s Meatgrinder, it comes out looking pretty good.

Heart of Oak:

There’s a large burl on the huge old oak at the heart of the forest that makes the tree appear to be pregnant. What will it give birth to?

Kerica is born from the oak tree knowing nothing of the humans among whom she finds herself. The tree had a reason for making her, but Kerica has to figure out what it was for herself before she can decide where she belongs.

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I’m still working my way through all the information on formatting a manuscript for e-publication. There’s a lot of it.

However, I am also seriously considering entering this contest and having e-published a novel would potentially be a disqualification. There’s no doubt it would be a challenge to organize things–Mom’s care first of all–in the unlikely event that I won, but I think I’d find a way.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with another cover art idea. This is obviously barely started. The dimensions aren’t even right, yet. I think it could be interesting, though.

Also in the mean time, I’m thinking of starting off with something smaller. A novelette titled “Heart of Oak”.  That might be a more manageable place to start, anyway. And then I could give the novelette away for free when I eventually e-pub BLOOD WILL TELL. Guess I may have to start on cover art for that, too.

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