Independence Day, Book Sales, Updates

My sons have been watching lots of YouTube videos, because that’s the modern state of summer daycare around here, and thus I feel an almost overwhelming temptation to start my post with, “Hi everyone, Chrysoula here!”

One day I might get around to posting more of my thoughts on current events in this blog. I DO talk about things other than books, but mostly on Twitter at the moment. But there’s definitely a lot to think about this Independence Day.

Or not think about! Here’s the book sale blurb! Matchbox Girls is 99 cents, down from 2.99! Citadel of the Sky is $3.99, down from $6.99. In the case of Citadel of the Sky if you don’t have it may I encourage reading it so you too can see what all the fuss* is about?

*The fuss: Citadel of the Sky tends to inspire strong opinions, some good, some bad. I had a review tour last month. It was… tempestuous.

As for Matchbox Girls there’s no better time to get started with the Senyaza series. The short story collection Etiquette of Exiles will be appearing in ebook form in less than two weeks and the 4th full novel, Divinity Circuit,  will be showing up in the autumn.

Ahem. I’ve been experimenting a lot with marketing, as you might guess. I’ll have a blog post at some point on the various services I’ve tried and the response I’ve seen. Some of my theories are not panning out. Other things are basically working. I would like to point out that Citadel of the Sky has a quarter page ad in RT Book Review, an actual print magazine, which is a small dream come true.

I’ve also been finishing up a round of revision on Divinity Circuit. After that my plan is to outline and generally do pre-production on a whole bunch of different novels:

  • Senyaza #5, tentatively called Hybrid Spirits and a direct sequel to Wolf Interval. I’d like to write and release this by autumn 2016.
  • Thrones #3, listed as Shrine of Summer in Citadel of the Sky. I’d like to write and release this in spring 2017.
  • Nightlights #2. I’d like to plan this extensively then write it slowly for Wattpad across 2016. We’ll see what happens. The toddler starts preschool so hope springs eternal!
  • Astromantica. Good old Astromantica. I meant to devote the whole year to you. Let’s see if we can at least produce an outline draft, eh?
  • High School Werewolf Unicorn Romance, possibly called Fangs 4 Flowers. This is an experimental book that I’d like to write and release fast. Although I’m not quite sure when…
  • Unnamed Space Opera. Sailor Moon meets Warhammer 40k. Another experiment, this time in finding out if I should be writing science-light SF. I’d love to write this one in November and December, for an early 2016 release, but we’ll see because it needs a lot more worldbuilding and thread-weaving than F4F will. On the other hand, my space-obsessed 8 year old is eager to help.

You’re thinking: Wow, that’s a lot! And it is, which is why I’m planning a good solid few months outlining. Honestly, I have three goals that all have to squeeze in together:

  • Continue on with my existing commitments. For Thrones of the Firstborn, that’s three more books. For Senyaza, it’s… a lot more books. Let’s call it ‘indefinite’. And Nightlights kind of deserves a sequel.
  • Experiment with writing a fast, emotional romance. One of the stories I wrote for the Senyaza collection was an attempt at mimicking the style of little kid chapter books. I found that the focus on clear, simple images and straightforward language was really addictive and quick to write. I’d like to see what happens if I do that again but with more adolescent subject matter. Also, romances sell better than everything.
  • See if I can find a niche where what I write is more in line with reader expectations. I… I can go into this more later in another post if anybody is curious.

My strategy for writing all these outlines will be a round-robin snowflake style. Very top-down, go through each of the projects for each design step. And I’m not quite giving myself as much time as I think I need, because you know what happens when I give myself plenty of time? I find ways to Not Work until I no longer have quite enough time. It’s ridiculous.

There’s a heat wave on here. It seems to be the new form of Seattle summers. We have no AC. And now it is time to take the children to a lake. So, uh, later!

I mean, not with a stick or anything.

I’m working on outlining a new story.

Well, I say ‘working on’ but the last couple of days have been exercises in cat-vacuuming. I’ve gotten a lot of the basics of character, worldbuilding, and theme down. I even had a sense of the ending, and the overall developing action. What I didn’t have was a plot to string all this together.

I mean, plot is hard for me. In this case it was even harder because I almost could have made a story out of meandering character development and world exploration, a sort of magic realism– and part of me wanted to. But the story is a direct sequel to a definite contemporary/urban fantasy, and I’ve read far too many complaints about sequels being incredibly different books from the original to want to tread that route by switching whole _subgenres_.

Plus, I know what a solid plot adds to a story: it adds action, it adds pacing, and it usually brings a whole bunch of secondary character definition and scene ideas. Without knowing my plot in advance, my characters would spend a lot of time in the kitchen drinking coffee.

Anyhow, backstory explained: [Copied from Google Plus.]

Well, at least I got almost six hours of sleep before getting smacked in the face with a (relevant) idea about how to solve my plot hangup and a third of a novel unfolded before my eyes.

(Well, I say ‘getting smacked in the face’ but it wasn’t the ‘wake up out of a sound sleep with the Muse standing over me with a shovel’ variety. I’d woken up naturally, was having trouble drifting off again, and started the Hour of the Wolf, in which I chew helplessly on the problems afflicting me. I hate the Hour of the Wolf. But in this case, almost as soon as I turned my attention to the issue, I asked myself the Right Question about it. And lost all ability to go back to sleep.)

And, as is starting to feel suspiciously ordinary, it is the kind of idea that seems like it might get me into… trouble.

Plus, it breaks about half the guidelines I set out for narrowing in on a plot.

So now here I am, listening to the sun rise, thinking about all the work I have to (get to?) do now. I’m pretty sure I’ll do about a fifth of it before realizing ‘oh no, this idea won’t work!’. That’s just the way these things go. And it _will_ work. With some, er, work.

 

Oh so busy revising and writing and driving

Well, the Handy Small Child has started preschool, and I’ve started working through the Matchbox Girls edit notes in earnest. The lazy days of summer, when all I had to do was write a Nightlights scene a day and do chores, have drifted away like autumn leaves.

Of course, it’s the hottest weather we’ve had all summer right now. I mean, my tomatoes  don’t care, they’re still stubbornly staying green, because they’re conspiring against me. But still, hot weather.

Anyhow, this weekly post is supposed to be about Matchbox Girls. It’s my novel! It’s coming out in February! I’m going through it closely for the first time in at least six months. It hasn’t faded as much as I thought it might, but I did spend three years weeping tears of blood over it. Maybe it takes more than six months for those to fade.

Yes, okay, hyperbole. I don’t think I even cried salt tears over it. I did, however, reach the 3/4th point in the original draft, then decide it was All Crap and wrote it all over again from scratch. And it took a long time. Three+ years from start to finish, as I said (and for comparison, I’ve written 111,000 words since starting Nightlights in April).

A few scenes from the initial draft made it into the second draft mostly unmodified, but there were huge, huge changes, too. Characters cut, characters added, sub-plots expanded, sub-plots removed. Sometimes I run into brainstorming from before I even started the initial draft and it’s barely recognizable.

One thing I’ve noticed I do in the process of refining a story idea is that I strip information from the protagonist. In early iterations of an idea, the protagonist is often well-informed, with clear instructions and knowledgeable mentors. This makes maintaining tension harder, which affects pacing. So I throw out most of the information and make acquiring it part of the plot. What I do is probably a bit of a cheat, and I’m sure many excellent authors are able to provide a well-paced story without throwing characters in over their heads.

But it seems to be an effective cheat.

Okay, going through editorial comments and changes probably adds a lot of tension to the reading process for me. But while every scene is still laser-engraved in my memory, I still picked up this sense of growing anxiety and dread from the story, an awful sense of ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next?’ Ridiculous, because I know. I wrote it. Ridiculous and weird. A couple of beta readers mentioned that they’d read most of the story in one sitting, which I dismissed at the time as ‘they were trying to get through it fast’. (Sorry, beta readers! Please forgive me!) Now, I’m wondering if I maybe did something right.

Posts like this are hard for me. The idea that saying something good about myself or my work will backfire on me is deeply, deeply ingrained. But I also need to do lots of self-promotion to succeed in this new publishing world. Or at least– I need to do some self-promotion. I still firmly believe that quality should rise to the top, but I’ve grudgingly come to admit that it can’t happen if it’s hidden in a closet. It’s easier for introverted me to work on quality improvement over selling myself, but I’ve got to work on both.

So, Matchbox Girls. Every sixty pages or so, it changes gears, always going faster. I think people will like it. And you’ll probably be hearing more from me about it.

Between Serial Fiction and Serial Novels and Series Novels

I.

Around twelve years ago, I picked up the first three Harry Potter novels and devoured them. It was Prisoner of Azkaban that stuck with me the most, and I spent a lot of time after I was done reading thinking about the details and mysteries revealed in that book. What else did I have to do? There were no more books to read, after all.

Around ten years ago I picked up the Wheel of Time and read everything that had been published up to that point. I enjoyed it, and I picked up each new book enthusiastically. And when I was done, I had vague, positive memories and no ability to distinguish between the storylines of the different books.

There’s something magical about a series of stories. Nothing earns obsessive love like an unfinished arc story. I have theories about that! But first, a tangent!

At one point, long ago, I read somebody wise discussing why audiences bonded with mysterious male characters.* We had to work to understand them, their motivations, secrets and histories, and the more work we invested in a character, the more we cared. I took notes! This was an interesting tip!

I think the same thing is true of serials. And series novels. (Let me know when ‘series’ doesn’t look like a word anymore. I think I’m already there.)

An enforced break between parts of a story means the audience spends time thinking about the story. They invest themselves in it. They care. They really want to get more! (And in some cases if they can’t get more on a timely fashion, they make more.)

This is awesome.

One of my favorite authors only ever writes standalone novels. I love her stuff with a passion, but after I read it, I’m done. I don’t spend time thinking about her next book because I have nothing to think about. Another book will come out. It will be good. It will probably have an awesome Kinuko Craft cover. That’s all I know.

Another of my favorite authors has written 35 books in the same setting. Each book is a discrete story, but the characters evolve and grow over time. I’ve spent some time anticipating the direction of the character growth, but I don’t really know what direction the setting is ultimately going, only where it’s been.

Even though I’ve spent a lot more time rereading Discworld books than I have Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire books, I’ve spent far more non-book time thinking about the latter two series. I suspected Snape was motivated by love by the end of Azkaban and I knew it by the end of Goblet of Fire. And just ask me about R+L=J and Sansa and the Hound in ASoIaF sometime. (Have not read Dance with Dragons yet, no.)

A well-written story with sequel hooks and mysteries will grab my mind and not let go for days.

II.

I don’t think it matters if it’s a serial or a series.

Wait, you want to know the difference?

Can you remember what happens in each book, where it begins and ends for each character? Or is the whole story a mass of events, perhaps chronologically ordered?

Discworld is entirely a series. Harry Potter is a series, until the last couple of books where it develops a serial flavor. ASoIaF and The Wheel of Time (which I haven’t read since my binge a decade ago) are decidedly more serial.  Classic serials also show up in newspapers and daytime television, media that lend themselves to an endless exploration of a setting and the lives of a set of characters. Of course, the other sorts show up on TV enough but I don’t really watch enough TV to have any idea what’s what these days. Somebody can help out in the comments, maybe.

I’ve encountered a number of people who believe that there’s a fundamental difference between serial fiction and serialized novels. This has both interested me and made me knit my brow together. My observational experience is that while, certainly, the feel of a soap opera and the feel of Harry Potter are different, they both prompt audiences to say, when they get together, “How about that last story, eh? What do you think will happen next?”

Maybe I’m too focused on potential audience investment, and not enough on that feel? But for my own purposes, I don’t think it matters whether something is serial fiction or a serialized novel or a set of serial novels.

Still, it seems to be important to some other writers, and one day if I work hard, I’ll understand why.

III.

I think I’ve stated elsewhere what made me decide to put up a serial. (I mean, other than the possibility of attracting passionately interested readers, because that’s really the goal of all writing.) I’m not a clever blogger, so I wanted to put something of myself on the internet that would entertain in the only way I know how. And I wanted to experiment with having deadlines, and getting reader feedback while the story was still in production.

But I’m writing quite a bit ahead of schedule. I didn’t think writing each section right before I posted it was feasible for me. I like to let things sit a bit before doing an editing pass, and I needed a buffer against both discouragement and distraction, because I’m the mother of a little boy. I now have more of a buffer than I originally planned because apparently deadlines make me work even harder than I anticipated. But the story is still ‘live’, as far as I’m concerned. And planning it all out in advance, as I have, has simply made it possible for me to stick to my schedule far better than I ever have before. It’s the planning it all out that makes me feel like it’s a serialized novel, even though since I’m not finishing and polishing it before posting it, I guess I fall right in the middle.

I know that a lot of people who dislike planning a story out. It robs the story of energy, takes away the thrill of discovery. I’ll… I’ll have to write a post about my experience ‘pantsing it’ at another time. For now, I’ll accept that everybody works best in a different way.

So, let’s see. What are the benefits and burdens of posting as you write? You get a deadline. You get possible instant reader feedback (although probably best not to count on that). You get an iron-clad excuse to not get trapped in a revision loop. You can make sure your story fits with current events perfectly, if that fancy takes you. You can even abandon storylines that nobody’s interested in. What else am I missing?

IV.

I’ve also come across discussions of the goal of each serial posting. These vary just as much as the kinds of fiction:

  • Each post should be a good jumping-in point for new readers
  • Each post should be a complete bit of story
  • Each post should hook into the next
I haven’t seen a discussion of the length factor, but I do think that figures in. At a thousand words three times  a week, it’s not going to be possible to make each posting a good jumping-in point. 5000 words twice a month, on the other hand, could be a complete short story. Everybody seems to have a different ideal.
A confession: I’ve always had trouble with chapters. Maybe it’s because I read too much Terry Pratchett, and he disdains chapters in most of his books. Maybe it’s because the idea of what a chapter should be seems varies as much as the ideas of what a serial fiction posting should be. I admit I’ve never understood the point of chapters if you’re supposed to try and end a chapter in such a way that the reader doesn’t want to put the book down. Are they just a tool for deceiving yourself/your parent about when you’re planning on putting the book down? A legacy from an age of reading aloud when the readers needed some break point? Or are they supposed to be a discrete story chunk? I have no idea!
Ahem. Sorry about that.
V.

I think it’s possible to construct a whole story, with a beginning, middle and satisfying end, with a sense of structure and pacing, and then write and publish it as a serial. At the end, you’d have something very like a novel, although the pacing structure might be a bit different than the standard modern novel’s pacing and structure.

I also think it’s fine to not plan nearly as much, to jump in and start writing and discover where the story is going, as long as you are good at two things: drafting in a readable form and writing on a regular schedule. I think publishing that as a book will be much less like a novel, and much more like a month of recorded soap operas. Still, soap operas are addictive for a reason.

I also think you can write a whole novel in advance, and dribble it out to readers. Although at some point, readers are going to want to know why you’ve chosen to torment them in that way instead of just giving it to them all at once. I mean, if it’s all written. You’ll probably want to come up with an answer for that. They won’t like, “I enjoy watching you squirm!”

Even though that’s probably the truth.

 

Coda.

An outline and Roman numerals didn’t stop this post from getting crazy and disorganized. This is why I make sure I outline and edit and sit on my scene drafts! And now, just in case: series series serial serial series series.

Check in Monday for the first post of Nightlights! Or possibly late Sunday night, if you happen to be up. 🙂

 

* I think the actual discussion involved a double standard regarding reserved male and female characters, and probably came from Neil Gaiman or one of his fans in association with the reaction to various characters in Neverwhere. But I’m almost certain the aspect I mentioned above also came out of it.

Mid-Book Blues

You can’t imagine how badly I don’t want to write today.

I don’t have a good reason. I don’t have other plans. I just want to spend all day in bed, intellectually if not physically. I’ve been procrastinating for hours now.

And what could it hurt, taking a day off? I’ve only had one day off in the last 34 days, after all, and that was when I went on a family outing AND had a dentist appointment. I’ve written on days I had a broken keyboard.  I’ve written on days when I had 2 hour doctor consultations eating up my normal writing slot. Surely I deserve a break?

I can think of two reasons the answer to that is ‘No way!’

One is: I have a deadline. Deadlines, even. They’re self-imposed but they matter a lot to me. I’m pretty sure I can meet the first deadline, which is only important so I can meet the second deadline. And I’m a lot less certain about the second deadline. I’ll be asking myself to do more in four months than I’ve ever done before, and if I can squeeze even an extra week of time out of the current project, that could help immensely.

The other reason is my motivation behind wanting to stay in bed all day: I’ve reached the first set of mid-book blues. It’s happened with every book I’ve written so far: somewhere near the middle of the book, I become convinced that it’s all a mess, and one of the worst atrocities ever committed to digital ink. My scenes aren’t cool enough, my dialog isn’t interesting enough, my characters are uninspired and my plot is too convoluted to be even remotely believable. Nobody sane could ever like it. It’d be better for everybody if I just gave up now.

It happens with every book. In a couple of books, the blues have won.  With my first major project, the blues actually convinced me to try to quit writing for a couple years. It didn’t last– how could it?– but it did prompt me to spend a lot of time studying storycraft in new ways. That was good, but I’d still like to return to that project someday. I found bits of it the other day and it wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought it was at the time, at least on a scene-by-scene level.

What I really wonder is why this happens to me? It isn’t a function of how long I’ve spent on the project. It isn’t a desire to work on something else. It may be a little bit of jealousy– I think the current bout was partially triggered by reading praise of a few lines in another book and wondering if I had anything that awesome.  But usually reading other books while writing inspires and invigorates me as I observe new techniques and get stuffed full of good stuff. So… it can’t just be comparison.

And it might be a little of the echo chamber of constantly trying to improve my work– when I’m constantly looking for ways to make it better, that can easily become only seeing what’s wrong. But I have a supportive alpha reader who offers both constructive and positive feedback (‘needs more particle effects’). So it can’t just be the echo chamber.

And it might just be a bad mood, and it might be the part of the story I’m at, which is supposed to be scary and emotional and wrenching– and how can I write that without feeling some of it myself?

All I really know is that I have to keep writing. Because if I let myself stop, it will undo the habits I’m forming and make it so much harder to achieve my goals. Nobody can enjoy what isn’t finished, after all.

ETA: I finished my daily writing, and discovered neat little resonances between the beginning and the end of the scene. Awesome reward!

 

Now or Later

I’m not as good of a writer as I’d like to be.

I’m really, really not. There’s all these stories I’d like to tell. There’s techniques I’d like to incorporate. And I can’t do it. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start.

It feels a little like trying to sing well. I know how I want my voice to sound, and the notes I’d like to reach but I just don’t have the control to do it.

This is not, I’m convinced, a matter of ‘gift’ or ‘talent’. I just haven’t trained the skills. I haven’t practiced enough.

Sometimes the knowledge that I haven’t practiced enough haunts me– usually when a scene I’m writing is falling short of my goals. Then I want to give up, tuck the story away and do something else: read a book on technique, or start a new project that won’t be so difficult, or take a nap and hope I wake up feeling better.

But books on technique don’t make up for practice and repetition, and one thing I know I need to practice is finishing works, and I can take a nap later. I have to sacrifice some of my ideas on the altar of self-improvement. If I don’t write, I’m not going to get better. And if I don’t get better I won’t ever be able to tell those other stories I want to tell, the ones that dance in my head out of reach because I haven’t climbed high enough yet.

If I want to write all the stories I dream of writing, I have to write. Now or later. Better to suck it up now, yes?

As somebody wise told me about the handy small child’s first attempt at making a peanut butter sandwich: good jobs often follow terrible ones.

PS: I don’t think NIGHTLIGHTS is terrible. But it could be. It’s probably not the astonishing work of unexpected brilliance I’d like it to be, either. You’ll have to let me know in July.

I beg to dream and differ…

Slowly but steadily I’m accumulating a pile of rejections. It isn’t the ideal situation but it’s better than not trying. I think earlier today I was planning on whining about this. Since then I’ve convinced myself to dive back into my new project and found something much more interesting to talk about.

I usually tend to worry a lot about how things work in my scenes and settings. Are characters behaving realistically? Are they using technology logically? My magic is always extremely well-defined, with rules and limits and origins and consequences figured out ahead of time. I like the kinds of settings that result from thinking about those details. And I sometimes get totally hung up on such details, unable to write more until I’ve answered some question and fully considered its ramifications.

Today I finished reviewing the zeroth draft for the New Project. I managed to write it without worrying too much about many of the technical details. And I didn’t get hung up on figuring out those details because the scenes they mattered in seemed pretty solid.

This felt really strange! But I’ve read plenty of books where the details were left unexplained, the ramifications unconsidered. So maybe this could work? Is anybody else this crazed about technical details?

I’m working on a small piece of fiction based around the ramifications of a certain bit of magical technology, by the way. It might be done in time for Friday Flash.