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This blog is my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

confluence notes continued
You leanr something new every day... I had heard the term but wasn't really sure what it encompassed: Fan fiction. Per discussions, it includes both parodies, inclusions, and attempts to follow up a fiction world/stories with imitations, popular on the web, sometimes increasingly shifted from the original. (There were wisecracks and comments about going in to sites that do a bad, sappy job and doing things to them to dissuade continuation in the new direction.) I’ve done a few in my time 9without knowing there was a term for it), but was told very early on that the way to go for serious writing was to create my own worlds. i note, however, that many good (and bad) follow ons to past t.v. series have been published...

The only early session at the conference was Writing Exercises. Not quite what I was expecting but the lady running it on Saturday gave us some good challenging free write topics.

The first was a Significant life experience from the perspective of the opposite sex.

The second was Friend, cousin, whatever, and you(?--not sure if that was intended but that's how I interpreted it.) Discover that they are omnipotent at age 12.

They were both good challenging things to try and the results varied drastically among the participants. The second was one of the few things at the conference that was specifically related to young adults and younger writing, despite the billed YA emphasis of the conference.

I participated in the writing workshop with Paul Anderson for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. he turns out to be mostly an author of short horror fiction, and not much better than me about giving out information about his online presence. He mentioned his web page but didn't give an address. I failed to give out the card with my blog address card at every turn, since we weren't talking about blogs... though no one would have been offended if I had simply offered them.

Anyway, the work shop was right up there with the best I've ever attended. Paul kept saying he would be a tough critic, that his group could be brutal as well as honest giving feedback, but in reality, he was positive and helpful with every thing he said: never a criticism, always a suggestion for improvement, usually specific enough to act on quite directly. A very helpful and encouraging experience.

When he listed the topics I was at first disappointed that they seemed so basic, but there was nothing basic about how he handled them. It was very concrete and helpful for all levels of experience.

Hook lines (which he kept calling hookers)

"Huhn?" is an okay reaction for a first line but every word has to be concrete, not vague and mushy in its obscurity. Huhn? should apply to what is going on and who are these people, NOT what did the author try to say.

--Don't use words like "different"; be specific, how different? Don’t say him or her, give a name.

--Active voice: passive tends to come across distant, detached; the hook line must be immediate to form a connection between reader and story.

--Action

--Indirect reference to the subject are okay (e.g., POV character) but be very specific about object.

--Clever descriptions are good.

--In a short story, especially, the hook line should give an idea what the story is really about.

--Don’t tease and then NOT explain at least some of it fairly soon or you will annoy your reader

If your story starts in the middle, be very careful because it is easy to kill a story with backflashes.

Descriptions

He advocates the write-alot then cut-alot approach. We wrote a couple of paragraphs, then a couple of pages, and each time identified what we would cut to get it down to half, in part just to get used to the idea of cutting our work, which can be hard for many writers. "Kill your darlings" with a new twist. (I'd heard it in the past because our favorite lines tend to stand out inappropriately). in this case, cute phrasing and fun metaphors tend to make for long winded descriptions of things that don’t need that much attention.

Description should give the reader enough clues that they know what they have to know and can fill in the rest from their own imagination and experience; they don’t have to see exactly what the author envisions except the pieces that matter to the story (including character, plot, mood, etc).

--Provide more specifics for important things, less for less important things. The weight itself can tell the reader a lot.
--All the senses (at least in a book, a scene, not necessarily all in one description)

--What pertains to the events of the current scene?

--Pace increases as description decreases.

--Cut adjectives and adverbs.

--Cut whole sentences if they don't pertain to the story; shortens the description faster if sometimes harder on the author than word by word.

Consider the perspective: omniscient or generic 3rd person is generally expected to be longer descriptions, more general, while a character POV (1sr or 3rd) should be filtered through the character, more to the point and specific to their attention and interests.

--People should not normally describe themselves or think about clothes unless they are really into clothes. (And often, clothes have little impact on the story beyond its basic indication of rank, job, social status, etc, not requiring great detail).

Showing vs Telling (Emotion)

Avoid describing emotion in emotional terminology. If the scene is done well, saying someone is experiencing an emotion should constitute stating the obvious and repeating yourself--don't do it. Don't worry about he possibility of a reader not understanding the mood precisely.

Most experienced writers understand this about action, but it's a little harder with emotion, but still want to express with dialog and action, not narration.

--Based on the reactions of the class, I encourage exaggeration in action (at least for those with restrained friends and family; if you know an expressive extrovert, use them as the model for your characters). Perhaps think of demonstrative actors with their broad gestures, not little hand flicks; subtle actions were taken by class members as coolness, or weaker emotion, e.g., irritation instead of anger)

More to come after Writercon, then the Writercon notes. That should keep me with more posts than time to post for the next few weeks. Enjoy!
30 jul 09 @ 8:39 pm

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Confluence notes and stuff
I've posted another scene from Mattias, and an essay inspired by my trip to Confluence. I have lots of notes from Confluence, both from the panel discussions and the writing workship by Paul Anderson, and observations about the state of Science Fiction in general. The following is just a start:

I could tell I hadn't been to a con in a while. I felt like I was walking through an alien landscape, with the sensation of not understanding what I was seeing and hearing for awhile. Some of it just a side effect of travel, which leaves me weary and, when I have to fly, stressed by all the rediculous security processes and finicky rules. But some was the references to characters and authors that people accepted as being well enough known that I shouldn't have needed an explanation. I have several references and authors I'm going to have to track down just to stay in touch with the SF world.

Hohn Scalzi was the Guest of Honor and also a member of several of the panels, known apparently for his success in using the newer social software with unusual success. He always had a handheld and occasionally read twitter posts to the panel attendees.

The first session I reached (in progress by the time I had dealt with airport and shuttles and all) was a panel on social networking tools. Panel members commented that twitter was actually commmonly used by the older generation. Others used for a variety of purposes included Facebook, Live Journal, My Space (less popular because it's "junkier". Use varies by function as well as the ages and groups of people who chose to use it.

Tips for use: be aware of what you are posting and the purpose for posting. Writers often post with the intent of a public audience, strangers of varying degree, to draw in a readership. For writers, the social software is, then, a public place, and the writer should use their public persona: fun quips, not complaints, not personal things that should only be shared among family members and close friends, especially not personal things about other people.

Being a public figure also has other effects, like other people posting as if they were the public figure, sometimes in jest, clearly not the real person, but not always. Mr Scalzi goes to every social software site as he learns about it to claim his own name. And rules are changing to allow people to reclaim their names if someone else wrongfully uses it. People also do much the same by using names associated with the figure: nicknames, characters, pets. Many readers familiar with the association will mistake it for the author or other public figure. Mr Scalzi's pet writes posts--but it isn't him, as many think.

Followers, friends, and other terms used in social software do make a difference in how people respond to handling them. Periodically "friends" lists need to be cleaned out, but it doesn't mean the host doesn't like the "friends" anymore. For one, they were not really friends to start with in many cases (just unknown readers of sharable posts) and for another, lists serve different purposes that may change over time.

For the most part, duplicating posts in multiple forums is probably a mistake, at least a misunderstanding of how to use the forum, as they all function different ways and work best if used in that way.

The panel members discouraged book sites from being just about the book. That comes across as pure advertisement and loses reader interest. Readers are interested in the author, just like other public figures, and it helps to have at least a little of other topics, like (happy) events in the family (with permission) and other stuff not related to publishing.

Being very regular is useful for drawing a regular readership but it can have unintended consequences like readers starting to query after the authors health if he misses a couple of days.

More to come.
28 jul 09 @ 8:20 pm

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blog tour wrap up, upcoming plans, comments
I seem to have survived my first participation in a blog tour and its associated book reviews. It was even more challenging than I expected. it is so easy to slide into editor mode, into how I might have done things differently, but I know from my own reactions to other people's reviews that it's a temptation that needs to be fought. It can be a good educational tool for other writers, but for anyone looking to decide whether a book is something they would want to read... useless. It will turn readers off--not off the book but off the review, and they'll go on to a different reviewer. it also makes a good book come across poorly, despite any number of caveates. It's also easier to focus on problems than the good stuff, because a well written passage is one that leaves the reader, and the reviewer in the story, paying little attention to the words themselves. I still did some how-it-could-be-better through I tried not to dwell on the wrong things, so hopefully I can do better another time.

It was also valuable to do a book review of the same book as several others, so that I could compare my perspective to that of others. We can read the book reviews others write at any time, but it makes a world of difference to go through the same process of reading the book and writing the review and see the very different results of others. some of the reviewers had similar opinions to mine on certain aspects of the story, character, themes, etc.; some had very different impressions and very different presentations, focus, etc.

I don't plan on doing a lot of these, but i will do so occasionally and encourage every writer and wanna-be writer to write at least one solid book review. Pick a book you're sure you'll like and see how it comes out. It will provide a unique perspective to the business of writing and a better understanding of audiences in the process.

I will be gone again for the following two weekends, so there will only be one new Mattias scen per week, but this time it means we may have a chance to meet. I’m attending Confluence in Pittsburg and Writercon in Minneapolis. Look for Emmalyn on the name tag, Evelynn on the artwork at Confluence (an old gaming name).

At Confluence, I will be attending Paul Anderson’s writing workshop (I'd post a link but haven't managed to find out which Paul Anderson it is. I'm only sure that it isn't the one that died a few decades ago and suspect that it isn't the historian.) Writercon is one big writing workshop so I should come back with lots more notes to post and lots more ideas on how to improve my writing, which I'll share here.


Recent comments (Thank you for your comments!):

from Linda: URL: http://lady-ursula.diaryland.com/Book Recommendation for you-The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 AD by James Reston, Jr. Mr. Reston enjoys Norse Sagas and really draws you in to the history from whence they came. ISBN 0-385-48326-0 Doubleday 1998.

From: Rebecca LuElla Miller, re: The Enclave

Emmalyn, another great post. If you didn't see it, you might be interested in Elizabeth's second post which discussed the science and science fiction elements in the story.

I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts about the book. Thanks for taking part in the tour.

URL: http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/
23 jul 09 @ 9:21 pm

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Enclave book review, part 3
Featured book, The Enclave - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0764203282

Karen Hancock’s Web site - http://www.kmhancock.com/index.htm
Karen Hancock’s blog (note, she recently changed to WordPress, so be sure to use this new address) - http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/

I'm not used to theology playing such a direct role in a the story, but it works, and would have worked even better if some of the religious issues and Cameron's inner conflicts had appeared in small bites earlier on, and if the antagonists' anti-religious attitude had ever been explained.

The one consistent (but still minor--I don’t think most readers will even consider it a problem--is some sequencing issues, a few things that don’t seem to have been intended as surprises to the reader or shouldn’t be. I noticed it probably because I have repeatedly struggled with the problem myself: when to include information and how to fit it in. I always think that facts should precede explanations and opinions about them and references to them, doubly so when the reader is expected to have a different opinion than the characters in the tale. How can the reader notice that conflict, if they haven’t yet been given the facts, such as they are. Several times in The Enclave, an opinion or explanatory comment is made, and the information doesn’t come until a couple of pages later. If it was intentional, I’m having trouble seeing the purpose.

For example, on page 316 the bad guys are discussing a victim: "He was obviously degrading and would've only got worse" and on page 318 we get our first clue what they were talking about: "'smart', 'curious', and 'active' were not traits that inclined one to the docile unquestioning submission they clearly preferred." If these clues had come up in the reverse order, I think I would have been more irritated with the bad guys, and the scene on 316 would have had a stronger impact on building the story's tension and conflict. As it was, I was merely annoyed that I had no idea what the characters were talking about.

Another sequencing issue is the theology. Ms Hancock presents lots of good material to support the story line, but some of it comes rather late in the story in rather large chunks, as if it had been written independently of the story. If more of it had come earlier, when the characters are first starting to have doubts about their own roles in the zigurat, some of the characters could have been enriched even while the reader was given information they would need later. Interspersing it in small spurts, some in discussion, some in thought related to discussion or action would not slow the earlier, more thoughtful scenes significantly, and would pick up the pace of the action sequences by allowing merely small reminders of the earlier theological material.

For example, instead of standing silent, Cameron might have come back with a question (or just silently wondered) about how it hurt Swain or the others that he was a Christian? Do they expect him to just turn off his beliefs on command? He’s managed to be a great scientist, so far, what more do they want? Their answer can be crap, but he should at least ask a question or two along the way, and silently consider the theology he would rather discuss with an audience willing to listen.

Although the absence of other lines of discourse don't specifically detract from the story, the story could have been enriched by the inclusion of some of the social issues inherent in the characters, in genetic engineering, and in the origin of the genetic material. I can hardly believe that anyone in the field could fail to be aware of them.

Even a little research might have provided a few socially-based arguments that Dr. Reinhardt might have used to keep the arguments away from his personal beliefs. They might have been arguments that reflect the care and logic that is necessary to being a great research scientist, as he is supposed to be, or they could have been trite and thin, just to redirect the discussion for a while. With the potential for human cloning, there are the issues of population growth (already out of hand), jobs, the potential for inbreeding, slavery,... A few of the issues are used in the story but others might have been used as points of thought or argument. I recognize that this is more a story about the Christianty than any of those other issues, but their brief presence would have provided a richer background for the religious debate and a solid grounding in the reality of people who regularly avoid religious discussions in the work place.

Several other people have differing opinions about the many dimensions of The Enclave and I encourage interested readers to peruse them. A list and links to other blog tour members is on my Favorite Links page. Comments regarding this and my other posts can be sent to me via the comment box above or direct to my e-mail: wyverns at earthlink dot net.
22 jul 09 @ 7:09 pm

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Enclave, Blog tour review, part 2, try 2
Don't know what happened to my attempt earlier in the day, but nothing but the title seems to have made it to the web site, so here is a new version, followed by some comments that arrived via e-mail yesterday. In case I forgot to mention, you can read other views of the Enclave at the blogs listed on the Favorite Links page. A new scene from Mattias has been posted to Fantasy Explorations, and a poem has been posted to the Homeworld.


Try 2:

Ms. Hancock made an interesting and not uncommon choice regarding her POV characters, leading in with a strong presentation of Lacey, the primary female character. That was my first impression. The back cover description follows suit, as if Lacey McHenry were the protagonist.

I think I understand the purpose behind it. I have seen several posts recently indicating that women authors were expected to write about strong women characters, (accompanied by silly suggestions that men should not, as if authors of both sexes haven’t written about characters, even POV characters and protagonists of the opposite sex as long as authors have written stories) and that strong women characters were currently very popular. I am left wondering, however, if that was Ms. Hancock's conscious decision, the result of an editor/pulisher's push, or the authors instinct, born of the flow of the story. (The strong lead-in does make a great beginning.)

However, Lacey is not the protagonist nor, in many ways, even a central character. She might be considered a love interest, but mostly she's a victim needing to be saved, and save for the strong introduction and some courage in the face of fear toward end, rather flighty. The strong protagonist is expected to dominate the scene and to be better developed. It took awhile to be sure of her true role in the story after the misleading blurb and start, though I'm sure I would have found little problem with her as a character if I had not had a false impression at the start.

It is a very good story and gets better as it goes along. Ms. Hancock does an excellent job with the real protagonists, Dr. Cameron Reinhardt and Zowan, both well-developed male characters. Despite the odd assumption that women know women better, we rarely observe ourselves: we are far more likely to observe the opposite sex because that's who we are interested in, married to, work with, and an observer role is more objective, often more true than understanding of ourselves. Ms Hancock is a good observer. If she likes the male POV characters, I encourage her to embrace them and stick with them. Both men and women (and probably teens) will enjoy reading what she has to write.

Once I stepped trying to visualize Lacey as the protagonist, I was able to settle into the story much better. Lacey does well enough as a side kick and love interest. Her sometimes daffy behavior is ultimately explained, and is more acceptable in a side character. Some discerning readers will take objection to her victim role and the black-and-white, on-and-off decisions that she makes during the early-middle of the book. She, like the evil Dr Swain are left rather black-and-white, a little cartoon/comic-bookish until the grays come out further along in the story.

It would have been helpful to see some of the greys in Cameron's reasoning, too, a little sooner. I accepted and understood his choice to avoid arguing about religion, to decline response to Swain's prodding. We can all tell when someone is absolutely refusing to listen despite an invitation to speak. But I still thought he could have thought about what he would, could, should have said if he thought Swain or the others had been willing to do more than mock his beliefs.

Like many writers, Ms Hancock's tale gets better as it builds up steam. All of the characters develop greater depth as the theology and other issues finally appear on the scene, and it's well worth hanging in til the end.


Comments on yesterday's posts:

Karen Hancock commented: Well, even knowing your comment box doesn't have all the bugs worked out, I'll try it anyway. Thanks for taking the time to read The Enclave, Emmalyn and to write your review. I'm glad you found it worth your time to read. As for the speculative parts, Bethany House would probably be ecstatic if I would strip all that stuff from my work and just make it contemporary fiction! I just don't think I could do it.

URL: http://karenhancock.wordpress.com


Rebecca LuElla Miller commented: Emmalyn, I started out with an earthlink blog long ago and quickly changed to WordPress, also free.

You make interesting points. Since I'm not a sci fi person, I didn't think about how someone truly looking for hardcore sci fi would react.

But never fear. Since this is published by a Christian house, The Enclave will be shelved with religious fiction, whether it is light sci fi or traditional fantasy or 16th century history. That's the nature of the industry just now.

Becky URL: http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/


My response: Umm, hmm. I wasn't looking for hard core science fiction, just evidence of beyond-contemporary fiction in the first three quarters of the book. Speculative fiction still goes well with the mainstream fiction. If it's going to be on the religious shelves (I don't understand book stores, these days, and suspect that it's true, that may not matter.
21 jul 09 @ 8:07 pm

Blog Tour Book Review on The Enclave, Part 2
21 jul 09 @ 7:10 am

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blog Tour Book Review on The Enclave, Part 1

Featured book, The Enclave - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0764203282

Karen Hancock’s Web site - http://www.kmhancock.com/index.htm

Karen Hancock’s blog (note, she recently changed to WordPress, so be sure to use this new address) - http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/

This is the first time I've managed to participate in a book tour or done more than the briefest (or schoolroom) book review so bear with me as I work out how best to present it.  I am signed up for this one through the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association so imagine my surprise when they sent a book that is really neither science fiction nor fantasy.  Well, technically, it might be science fiction, but one very light on the science (little that half the population doesn't believe is already doable now).  It is much heavier on the personal relations, struggles between good and evil, and the theme of individual choices.

The Enclave  takes modern science in genetics and cloning a tiny step forward but delves very little into the science of it.  Also, the source of some genetic material is in question, but hardly more than questions, with potential answers based back in an interesting interpretation of biblical history.  In my view, it is about as much science fiction as Raiders of the Lost Arc, the Postman (it has elements that anti-utopian fans will find familiar), and less than many James Bond films.  (Q regularly supplies 007 with fantastical gadgets and the evil doers are often scientists that can do at least a little more than modern science is ready for).  So, my first recommendation to science fiction and fantasy fans who decide to read Enclave is to think of it as a modest and entertaining adventure story or an anti-utopian. Like pop fiction books that mention science fiction fans or recreationists, they will appreciate the references without high expectations about classic science fiction elements.

Looking for the fantastical/unreal features that typically define science fiction or fantasy, as I did for many chapters, will merely distract the reader from a good story.  For those who aren't science fiction or fantasy fans, but didn't object to the miracles of the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones and similar tales, I suggest just reading it.  You won't find Enclave objectionable, either.  Some minor elements near the end might slide it fractionally toward monster/horror fiction in the view of some readers, but more so if it were depicted effectively in a movie than in the reading of it.

I think the story would translate well and relatively easily into a two hour movie.  Despite the large size of the book, the print is nicely readable, which is large compared to many being printed these days, so despite the thickness of the book, it isn't terribly long.  A few scenes could be left out without losing too much of the flow of the story, and the story depends more on personalities--the acting and a few make-up jobs--and settings than on special effects, so it wouldn't be a super expensive movie to produce.

Knowing this, I think most readers will enjoy the story and not notice what seemed to me at first to be several flaws in the earlier chapters.  I kept looking for clues--and thinking I had found them-- that just weren't there.  (I was also looking for different character elements because both the blurb on the back and the first chapter mislead me about who the protagonist was, but more on that next time.)

As a writer more than as a reader, I wonder if Ms Hancock ever considered making it even less science fiction-y and leaving it on the regular fiction shelves, where it would certainly garner a broader audience.  I've written some stories and wondered if, in the end, they couldn't be put on modern (or historic) Earth just as effectively, but so far have decided that they required too much alteration to land them believably on Earth, especially now that readers know so much about geopolitics, so that large countries different from those we know can't just be slid in without being noticed.  The Enclave doesn't have that problem, at least.  Ms Hancock might not wish to tame it to a truly contemporary fiction, but she might not need to, either, given both the public's acceptance of science falacies and the biblical basis of it's premise.  Librarians might feel free to put it on the general fiction shelves just as it is.

Whatever genre it really belongs in, Enclave flows well, has several interesting characters, and is altogether a story worth reading.  More tomarrow.

20 jul 09 @ 11:11 am

comment and response

The comment box, as I feared, doesn't do what I hoped so I will have to do some more research - perhaps on getting another home for my blog with friendlier software.  The comment box e-mailed me a comment but doesn't seem to post it, so I have posted it here along with a response, below.  Thank you Annie for commenting!

name: Annie

 comment: Hi there Emmalyn, - sorry I am a bit dumb trying to find the  comments box attached to your posts - but this was the only one I  could get to come up. Many apologies for my tardiness on giving feedback I have been  without the internet for a lifetime a fortnight. Visitors can find my  FF for 3rd July here -  http://annieevett.blogspot.com/2009/06/your-essence.html 

I will read your latest FF and be commenting on you latest ones  shortly ( now I have internet back) In saying all of this - Welcome  to Friday Ficiton such a delight to have new people join. I agree it can be very daunting to publish a first draft of anything, but you will agree getting the blood on the page is one of the most difficult things to do most of the rest is mechanics.

Feedback on FF for 2nd of July

You wove a very convincing world and I am intrigued at the politics and to the characters bursting from your page. The formal languaging and terminology guided the reader to make assumptions about the characters without telling them or forcing images at them.  I enjoyed this and look forward to you submitting more.

URL: http://annieevett.com

 

Response:   Annie,

Thank you for the feedback. Not surprised you had trouble finding a comment box. I've only just added one (Earthlink/Trellix isn't the best blog software but it's free with my e-mail and internet account so I use it until I research better). This one seems to work, at least it sent it to me as an e-mail and I'll see what it does for posting next time I get on line .

The Fiction Friday things have been quite a challenge. So far I've used characters from my novels (in work or at least not yet published) and virtually all my writing is novel-length, so it's quite interesting trying to decide how much information is needed for readers to make sense of a single scene and to give it at least the sense of a complete tale, however brief. it's the opposite of my usual challenge, making sure I'm not explaining things repeatedly or explaining to the reader things that are better off being shown directly through a different scene.

I look forward to more of your comments

Emmalyn

20 jul 09 @ 10:38 am

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fiction Friday - Two Gold Coins
I was planning on not doing this one. I could think of nothing that would fit the challenge. But during the course of the day, the idea started to take shape, so here it is:


Nelly frowned at the two coins in her hand. She was sure she should have refused them, had even tried. Eventually, though, Percival had just made it a royal command and she had given in. It was, for reasons beyond her understanding, a thing of pride for him, that he should occasionally give his ward money, even if his status as her guardian was just pretend. He hadn't appreciated her point that out, either, nor been fully mollified by her belated acceptance of the unwanted gift.

His instructions had only further baffled her, while revealing that he understood what would tempt her. "The confectioner won't take gold," he had said. "So you'll have to buy something bigger and use change if you want to guy ginger."

Not that she had to buy candied ginger. Duke Jontrue made sure there was always someone hand since he'd noticed she like it. But it had been the first thing she thought to buy and it irked her that Prince Percival had guessed. She tied coins in tow corners of her scarf. A third coin already held a silver whose acquisition made her feel no easier. She wouldn't have had to tend the hawkman's bird's if he hadn't had to leave in order to guide Lord Begram's soldiers away from their unwanted attention to herself. But he, too, had insisted that she take the coin for her help, as if he felt guilty about an affair that was not his fault. She'd had no need since to buy a silver’s worth from the market. How then, could she spend two gold coins?

Aelron only grinned. "Has to be something at market you'll like," he assured her, waving her ahead. That made her uncomfortable, too. He and Doser were men-at-arms and Aelron knew perfectly well she was a peasant, but he accepted his prince's decree that she was a royal ward as easily as Doser. Doser was one of the guards their Drachene host had appointed as an additional guard for his royal, foreign guests. She was sure that he at least suspected she was not a lady born. They both trailed after her like shadows, or puppies, with all appearance of being pleased to do so, and encouraged to check out every shop. Thinking perhaps it gave them a chance to chat with the ladies on the street or do some subtle shopping themselves--though she never caught them doing more than lounge against the door--she reluctantly complied.

She looked at fabric in the dress shop, but only for ideas. She already had three dresses--more than she had ever owned at one time before--and Percy's magic made them change color and style on a whim. A leather store was little improvement as her boots were new and Percy had said not to get anything for him (her first guess had been that he only intended her to pick up something he himself had seen). Besides, the leather shop made her feel queer. If she let it, the lovely, supple leather would start showing her scenes of its life, or of its death if the butcher hadn't been quick, and sometimes it tried to cling to her hands. She carefully made sure none had followed her before hurrying out.

"Maybe they have lady's daggers at the sword shop," she said aloud, knowing Doser would know where it was. The big soldier, always dressed in black, traded glances with Aelron but nodded. Her guards stayed close as Nelly walked around the smithy, keeping between her and the other patrons, who mostly looked at swords. She eyed those as well. She'd been getting the Drachene soldiers to teach her to use one, borrowing one of theirs, but those would be more than two gold pieces, she was sure and the smaller knives available didn't appeal. Tired of the nervous exchange of looks between her guards, she soon moved on.

As the acrid odor of smoke and hot metal faded behind them, Nelly noted a more pleasing scent on the air, like a woods after rainfall. Curious and tired of shopping, she followed it a ways and discovered not a garden, as she half expected, but a shop down a side lane. She smiled. It wasn't a sweet shop; it was better.

A great drum stood in the doorway, stacked with drums of smaller sizes and topped with a tamborine. Her hand twitched, eager to feel the smooth hide of their tops but resisted, remembering the leather shop, and hurried inside. What she preferred would not be out here.

The shop keeper looked up reluctantly as her shadows filled the doorway behind her, but spotting her, he quickly set the instrument he had been repairing aside and stood with a bow. "Welcome, my lady. Are you seeking something special, today? Perhaps bells for the festival or the tamborine you saw out-"

"I'm not looking for toys."

"Ahh! What, then, does my lady play?"

"What do you have in the way of strings?"

--

"I see you bought some ginger candy," Percy noted, stretching his long legs toward the fire.

"And anise cakes for the guards and a wax candle for Cory for the festival of Fire, and a surprise. Close your eyes."

He eyed her warily. "I said not to buy anything for me."

"I didn't. I'm not giving it to you," she assured him, continuing to grin. "Close your eyes."

Percy sat back with his eyes closed, and she drew out her mandolin and began to play.


The challenge was: On the way home from work, your character stops into a music store and purchases an unusual musical instrument that he/she has always wanted to learn to play. Why today? Nelly doesn't work in the usual modern sense, but I think I got the other elements. What do you think? If the comment box doesn't seem to work, feel free to e-mail me at wyverns at earthlink dot net. -- Emmalyn

Other Fiction Friday offerings can be found at:

http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/fiction-friday-113/
17 jul 09 @ 9:13 pm

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Last of the HNS notes
Young Adult

In general, the young adult category was described as a growing field, with characters at the age of the intended audience or a little older, often focusing on the psychological or physical separation from the family (and far less on the status of the world than many adult books). They can have sad endings as well as happy but should always be hopeful. Publication of the sequels tends to be less automatic and writers often don't have the sequels written when they submit the first book

For trying to sell, panel members recommended first writing the book, then considering how to sell it. Some didn't initially set out to write a YA book, thinking only to please their own tastes (as did I!) but finding that feedback told them it fit a YA category. While YA is treated as a genre, in general, it has many subcategories and many applications, as well, and the end results will guide the sales approach.

For example, the historical novel that is quite close to the actual history might be useful as a history teaching tool, while others may be more useful for reading and English courses. in both cases, it may be as important to reach teachers as parents and librarians... The kids, at least the ones not yet in college, come later.

Because YA includes older teens and college students, the degree of sex and violence allowed/accepted varies a lot but may impact the willingness of middle and high schools to buy and your ability to market through some of the channels suggested below.

With young adult, publishers seem to expect a more leasurely sales rate, a longer investment time before the sales numbers reach the ideal, partly because it takes longer to get to the real customer base, especially at the lower grades. High schoolers are more likely to buy a book, but maybe more paperbacks than hardcovers.

Once published (or at least once accepted...) some things to look into include:
--find out the state standards, at least for the state in which you live, to see how your book might fit into the curriculum, whether social studies, English, history, language arts, etc.
--look into how you can provide added-value at schools and libraries, such as writing workshops for teens, speaking at schools; consider writing articles on creative writing in magazines for teachers and students; at least read such articles to be familiar with what they are currently looking for.
--There are many sites for home schoolers. Also consider orphanages, shelters for donations and activities... (besides being a nice gesture, their sponsors, organizers, and vulunteers may provide a network of further contacts)
--a teen audience is more computer savvy these days than an adult one as a general rule so the need for a professionally done web site is more critical: consider book-themed games that they can play and interactive features.
--parents also have an important role in YA book sales so reach out to them through: church fellowships, women's clubs, book clubs, where adults may be pleased to find a book appropriate for not just their own children but as gifts to grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc.
--as with adult books: be creative. If the story has a horse, go to horse book sellers and horse magazines and horse discussion groups on line.

One thing I thought interesting was that one of them mentioned some people considered it easier than writing adult books, but elsewhere I've heard people say that is the same as writing adult books only harder. So far, I have been like the one that though I was writing adult books, something i would be interested in reading, with mostly adult characters, like Onaline and her friends. But I too have received feedback that they were young adult. Certainly the vocabulary seems rich enough and all, but I do see the story theme: mine are mostly quests, and ultimately quests are about going elsewhere than the origins of the characters. Does that make all fantasy quests young adult, though? I wonder what other elements make it young adult in the minds of readers (and publishers).
16 jul 09 @ 9:33 pm

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

HNS Session 6 - Gender
This one had many changes in personnel and staffing: ultimately it came to be about male authors writing from the female POV character or protagonist and vice versa. (I specify the "or" because some of the authors had POV characters who were, essentially side characters to the primary historic figure they were writing about.)
--It's respectful to try to get it right
--in the past, or in stories about he past, male characters tend to have more freedom of action, which in turn gives more story line options and other forms of flexibility, whether they are the main character or a side character, so many women wrote about them, too.

Some of the session bordered on the metaphysical and was certainly one of the most entertaining sessions. Several of the panel members talked about characters tending to take over, male characters needing to be reigned in, female characters trying to take over... and sometimes it's just better to go with what the character seems to want. Don't let the character take charge without your being aware of it, but on purpose, a conscious choice to let the character steer the story line might be the right choice, even if it drives the story in directions the author didn't plan or expect. It will at least be a believable character, a true voice.

in the case of side characters, the other sex might provide a reality check, bring the protagonist back to reality occasionally (and also the author).
--choose a side character POV that is in a position to see the protagonist at their best and worst, to give the reader the fullness of the character
--a slave is more likely to have a more complete picture of the master than the master has of the slave.

At least one panelist likened writing to a form of exploration and experimentation, so writing about someone different than ourselves can be a learning experience and also fun, and sometimes it is easier to write about people we can observe if we can look at them fairly and honestly.

Ultimately, understanding a character is better than "liking" them though many misunderstand the publisher's common desire for a character the reader can root for. Rooting for someone is more a matter of sympathy than liking, and requires flaws as well as desirable qualities.

In some cases, the marketing department may care more than the reader about whether the author is male or female, in alignment with the character or not. Publishers see all kinds of prejudices and potential offense among customers and so are cautious and might do a shorter run if they accept it, but the percieved dichotomy can also add tension and interest value, which sells. There was much discussion of the issue, the good and the bad of crossing gender for POV, whether it would be worth waiting for another publisher, whether there should be a need. Many of the panel members were there because they had in fact succeeded in getting a book through with the opposite sex POV character, but many with some fight: making sure you have done an especially good job of it is key.

One side comment that really caught my attention regarding women characters in general was that men consistently have a direct relationship with power and that women have an indirect relationship with power. Even when they are on the thrown instead of being the power behind the thrown, their army generals are men and men support them to maintain their power (or fail to support them).
14 jul 09 @ 8:50 pm

Monday, July 13, 2009

HNS notes continued etc.
As you can hopefully see, i have finally found a way to allow comments, but it still doesn't quite seem to connect to the blog posts that are being commented on, so we'll see if it even works. Please comment, so I can see what happens and can add appropriate instructions or make adjustments to make ir more useful.


Session: Speaches and speakers

Several meals and other events included speakers doing more formal presentations than the panel discussions. A little less practical, if entertaining and interesting, but I did jot down a few notes, some of them on the format and nature of the speaches and readings, on the expectation that writers who get published often both advertise and share their lessons-learned through similar forums, and that writers sometimes need to speak aloud. I didn't take a lot of notes on what the speakers actually said, but took many notes on the ideas their words inspired, so I haven't tried to say who said what but will post a list of the speakers I know of or noted when I find the event flyer.


One of the speakers commented on the need to share/willingness to share, especially in an up-and-coming genre like historical novels. As writers in general, we tend not to be in competition, or shouldn't feel as if we are: trends help everyone who writes on a popular topic, building support and an aware audience for each other. (If we can get the attention of someone who didn’t think they would like fantasy or SG, maybe they'll pick up another, too. Also, look at the movies that come out: two or three on a single topic, even seemingly based on the same story. Audiences who like one realize that they may like the other, too.)

When looking for what defines a time (or place, or alien planet) think what you can use that will add interest to a tie/element/cultural feature that on the surface might seem less interesting. (This specifically referenced historical source material that might be rather dry, but I imagine the same is true when trying to incorporate science: it can just be science: it needs to be presented in an interesting way and should influence the course of the story if only subtly.)

Readings seem typically to be done by authors who are published or about to be published, but depending on the nature of the event, the reading may be from works still being written as well as excerpts from recently released books. Readings are never the book from the start, rarely just reading one or more excerpts from a book. They include free form talking, too. The best ones provide a brief summary of the background: not the background for the whole stories or the characters but for that particular scene. Why are the characters there, what do they want?

We should be able to say that about every scene: not just the series of events that brought the characters there, but what they would like out of the encounter. Would they just like to leave and go home? Did they want this and are pleased, gloating, enjoying the results of their efforts, enjoying the chance circumstances? Each of these should be reflected in the tension, emotions, dialog, the sharacter’s perception/awareness of the setting, etc, everything that make the scene.

For a themed talk, more of the hows and whys of the writing, or why they picked a particular scene might be appropriate as an intro to each excerpt or the group of scenes.

Tip from a past reading: you can't just open a random page and read. Much though we try to make every scene interesting, many in a novel are only interesting in context with what has come before. They are ultmately "on the way", in the middle of things, and make poor material for a reading unless that middleness is the point of the reading, a rare occurance. (At HNS, the late night reading is the opportunity for the romance writers to show off their ability to write hot scenes; they certainly don't want to spend the brief time paging through their own books trying to fing the right spot. They all come prepared with at least book marks to tell them where to start (they don't always get a lot of advance notice).

In reading, like stage, timing and pace is important. I thought some were just a little too slow, like it was over-dramatised, but some were really good at varying the pace according to what was going on, the desired intensity, and the overall reading--as if the scene was itself a story with a beginning, buildup, climax, and ending--

I suspect that is achieved only with plenty of practice. I've also heard people reading cold (in classes and the like). Not everyone can do it well, at least not cold, and someone who does it badly can be downright painful to listen to. If you decide to give it a try, plan and practice (and time yourself, if there is a time limit or a time block to fill. I've been to cons where readers were each given half an hour, and several ended after a mere fifteen minutes or less. In one or two cases it might have been on purpose due to a miniscule or non-existant audience due to a bad time slot. Some time slots are just going to be bad. But if there is an audience, there is no reason to go that short except bad planning.
13 jul 09 @ 7:44 pm

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Historical Novel Society notes cont.
Session 5 Dialog

Questions to consider when working on the dialog:

What do characters say in anger, joy, etc?: Factors to consider include time, culture, individual characters (would they swear?) What are common expressions?. Consider what words would be used often and which to use in order to convey the most extremes: the more different they are from current terminology, the more limited the usage should be as it will stand out as if it were an extreme emotion even it if is not intended as such.

E.g., "May oiuuiou strike you down" might be a common way to express anger, with the oiuoiu being some appropriate Roman god.

E.g., "Dod's teeth" was a common Elizabethan expression of anger.

E.g., Shakespearean “Zounds” comes from "By God's wounds", considered very bad at the times, like an American F word or a British B word. (Apologies in advance to UK, but Americans need to be told: “blimey”, which American's like to use in playful imitation is NOT to be used in YA writing in England! They wouldn’t even say what it meant at the conference. For similar reasons, “Fanny packs” are “bumbags” in England.)

E.g., Criminy is also a Shakespearian expression of anger.

Further back in time (like on alien planets) equivalent expressions will generally need to be fabricated as they are undocumented. ( would suggest considering related themes: might be things of high importance (gods), references to low/vulgar things and activities, body parts, just plain dirt, and combinations of the above, but of course many other categories of words or made up words are also possible.)

Dialect is another big part of dialog, and one in some debate: how far from the primarily modern language can dialog be, should it be? To what degree should accents be conveyed (or left to reader knowledge and the movie version)? In general, it was recommended that it be used only to the extent necessary to convey the necessary message: e.g., to provide contrast to the POV character's norm, to show a change in circumstances (e.g. a character falling back to old ways in times of stress, nervousness, or high emotion), or to tell something specific about the character, such as class, education, or location of origins.

In general, dialog should try to achieve multiple things:
--provide (or at least hint at) backstory (an example was given from a scene from Crash, where one characters use of the word “you” was very specific and meaningful. Likewise the use of a carefully phrased request instead of a demand, clearly indicating past bad blood between them needing to be gotten past for survival's sake...). Historical references and comparisons can appear in dialog as well as in narrative.
--future inplications
--and always a forwarding of the story.

If inventing dialect, be careful, keep it a little softer for clarity and undertanding, and be very thorough so that the fans can get a good feel for it.
--a few different, distorted words, local slang, turns of phrase (examples were given from an author's visit to a particular town: "fell pregnant" "strike" for shriek) can make a big impact on the flavor of someone's speach and provide a reminder of the story behind it's use by that character.

There was mixed opinion on whether only those different from the POV character, or all the characters could speak in a (light) dialect, perhaps depending on the style of the writing and the circumstances of the story; certainly different effects will be achieved as a result.

Diction and more formal/proper speach will effectively indicate education and higher classes. Strong dialects often come across as less educated.

Similar issues apply when deciding to use “foreign” languages in a book, that is, languages other than the one in which the book is written. Most agree that the primary character should generally speak and think in the same language as the language of the book, not needing translation, so long as they are supposed to be in their home stomping grounds. The one exception would be when the POV character is specifically from a different country than everyone else, in which case it might be appropriate for the POV character to speak with an accent, and even throw in a few words in the characters native language, with or without implied translation. (I thought of a television.mystery book character, the Belgian detective Poirot, in London: he speaks with an accent. The English characters, for the most part, do not. If the English-language book were written from his POV, his thoughts would be in unaccented English.)

Besides speaking with an accent and using foreign words, a different word choice would likely be used by a foreigner than than would be used by a native speaker, a mix of formal and informal, perhaps, depending how common and generic the subject matter.

In general, the use of language in dialog can have a powerful impact on the depth of the characters, and as a means of showing changes over time, if it is used effectively.

(I took one of my finished novels and went through it just looking for how I might beef up the characters and realized that I needed a stronger difference between some of the characters. A peasant and a prince should not be speaking the same without a very specific reason if those titles are to mean anything to readers! i didn't have to change a lot, but found that a couple of words here and there, upping the prince's vocabularly and unpolishing the peasant's speach and grammer made a big difference without making it less understandable by readers. Give it a try for your characters!
12 jul 09 @ 10:18 pm

Friday, July 10, 2009

HNS notes continued
Session 4

I'm not sure what session I attended, or its intended focus. My notes seem to roam the gamut. I've tried to group it a bit by internal topics but its a bit scattershot still, with lots of little tips that caught my attention. It was getting later in the day, after all...

Large publishers might want a wide range of books in any given season in order to reach the widest audience (not necessarily with each individual book), so it's often NOT appropriate to give them something like one they have just released, even though it is often recommended that you look for publishers who like your type of stuff... A smaller press might use similarity to raise the attention to the subject matter for the benefit of the whole group.

Tip: check out Etymology.com for period word usage. If you question words for being too modern (for example, for a low tech fantasy culture), or the sourcing of common expressions, check it out. Concrete, for example, is actually a Roman-era word so okay for many old uses. (Concrete is the form of the material, not the material itself, so that doesn't mean cement is a Roman era content of concrete). Railroading (as in chasing someone away, as well as the actual act of railroad management, is 18th or 19th C, a comparatively modern and technology-specific colloquialism.

New trends and other matters to consider:
--electronic advanced copies can be cheaper and easier to distribute to reviewers.
--Fee vs royalties - wasn’t expanded on
--digital print-on-demand, not yet typical but is being considered by some as a follow-on to e-books that are popular and make up for reduced back-stock availability (the concept of being out of print could fade away if the quality becomes sufficiently high and consistent...)
--independent booksellers can specialize for their customer base as a counter to the trend toward generic in big stores (of all types, including grocery stores...) Digital books make it even easier to maintain a "gourmet" selection of books than a gourmet grocery can stock specialty foods)

Research what you think is a likely audience for your book and find out what they are interested in, buying. Look for fan groups on related topics: are Tolkein fans looking for more tales of elves and the like? Are Harry Potter fans buying other wizard and magic books? Are they connected to other, related fan groups? What age group are they? (Can you tell? I suppose following face book links, links on fan pages to other side topics...)

For selling your work and becoming a long time multi-book-writing/publishing novelist, the second book may be more crucial for long term success. If it goes flat, it can be easy to become seen as a one book wonder, making a sell for the third book that much harder. Publishers prefer to see sales go up but they always plan for them to go down; better by far if they are wrong.

There were some discussion and conflicting opinions about posting works that you are trying to sell on line. Some see it as essentially self publishing, so frowned on, but there is a growing acceptance that this is the way to go, replacing the old view that the readers of online posts won't buy. This is proving not to be the case. The online version thus posted is often essentially a draft; readers who like it are curious about the edited, improved version and want to own the book for themselves....

These days the recommendation is to tell the agent/publisher that you are an established fan base: this is coming to be seen as an established customer base of people more likely to buy than not. A popular site means a platform established to get advertising going and spreading quickly. On the other hand, this is probably less desirable for small presses who already expect a small audience and fear that only a percentage of those in a position to preread will buy.

Synopsis requirements are gradually becoming more standardized: check online for recommended formats: and add three pages of your story even if agents and publishers ask for "query only".

Because many small presses have a standard contract for all authors, and don't generally require an agent, it is often better not to bother with an agent, since they can't be of much help, but you will need to check out the small press information: many accept proposals only during a relatively short time frame each year. Do the research now...

Even Second Life can turn into real money sales, though they didn't go into a full explanation of how: probably a thing more for those already familiar with Second Life.

Title care: three words are preferred (or less) but beware "buzzwords" that have special meaning to booksellers. Using the word "blood" in a title is likely to get your book filed with vampire stories, whether it is or not.

Starting with the paperback: they don't pay as well, but can get more published up front with a chance to build readership, and can follow up with a hardcopy (usually a NICE one). Paperback's also tend to have a different customer base (I know my collection of SFF and F is mostly softcover, may art books mostly hardcover...)
10 jul 09 @ 9:48 pm

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fiction Friday - just a scene, not a complete story
This weeks Fiction Friday challenge is a misunerstanding between three people. I made two tries. The first went nowhere: a misunderstanding on one person's part, especially a misunderstanding about something with a simple right answer doesn't go very far. I've included it here:

"That's not what she meant."
"You wern't even there."
"I know Dragon. You're her candy, Dandy boy. No way she lets you aboard the ship except to visit her cabin."

A true or false answer misunderstanding can be a quick amusing bit within a scene, or a quick angry one, but doesnst seem to make an effective three-way misunderstanding.

My second attempt isn't a complete story by any means, but it comes to a scene conclusion and the challenge guidelines suggest not editting, so I didn't.


"What did you say?"

"They asked me questions. I answered those I felt like answering, and no business of yours to judge. I'm not a Commoner, Lieutenant, and they are not my enemy, even if they are yours," Candice told them sharply and quickly turned away, trying to regain her composure. That proved unwise. It brought the guards once again into her view and the too-familiar alienness of them after hours of interrogation was of no comfort. She shuddered and would have moved into her corner but Tilna'an laid his hand on her arm and the shudder changed to a tremble. The hand, too, was familiar.

"They are just concerned that you not tell the Cerel of them," he said as she turned back.

She shook the hand off, pushed the memories away, anger instantly returning. "And what have you are the other Commoner officers told me, governor-general, that they should care? Have you told me your excape plans? Likely the Cerel know more than I for you discuss them in my absence and they are military, too. They have some understanding of tactics, of escape and evasion, isn't that what the Major called it for the black player game? Should I guess your tactics from the way you play Bjinki?”

"A master player, I bet she could! Come on, tell us what you told them!"

"Sit down, Lieutenant!"

"We might have to call you govenor-general, sir, but you don't understand what-"

"Silence!" Governor Tilna'an hissed, with a quick glance toward the guards.

"Oh, let him rant. None of them can speak Commat but the long-nosed officer and the interrogators. I was keeping two of them occupied. See anyone in a puke green uniform?" Candice growled.

"He has no right to rant at you, Candice, and you... you are tired. As you say, there's nothing you could have said-"

You think I would have?"

"No, of course not!"

"Why wouldn't she? Like she said, the Earther's aren't their enemy!"

"Watch your tone, lieutenant. You think two years in their prison made her their friend? She's tired and being sarcastic. She is no more-"

"I can answer for myself, Govenor-General."

"You should rest. Do you enjoy arguing, or are you doing it out of habit because you have been baiting your interrogators with your word play, testing what, their rules, whether they are allowed to beat you even if not us, yet? Your sarcasm is lost on him, as you would know if you weren't exhausted and hungry."

She offered a small smile and her shoulders and neck lowerd fractionally as she relaxed, "Actually, I was hoping they would beat me to death," she said, and tucked into her usual corner of the common room, the bars to the interior rooms of the brig against one shoulder, the bare orange wall in front of her eyes, shutting out the voices that continued behind her with practiced ease.

Behind her, the lieutenant stared, his mouth pinched in a straight line wondering if he should feel insulted or afraid, in no way relieved by the words of the Earther. There were times when the purple-brown Cerel captors were easier to understand than that one. "She didn't mean that. She admitted to telling them everything."

"It would have been her right, but I doubt she told them anything at all. She only said that she told them what she wanted to, which means she told them nothing that she didn't, and I'm sure she's quite serious. Fortunately, she seems inclined to wait for them to do it, and they seem inclined to hold off."
9 jul 09 @ 9:58 pm

More HNS
I may be doing two posts again today--this with mostly HNS notes and another later with Fiction Friday ( see for this week's and the next several challenges: http://writeanything.wordpress.com/fiction-friday/) entry if I come up with one. This week's is easy to do SF or Fantasy, but the next few are all very contemporary if taken exactly as stated. Does a market really count as a store? Still, it doesn't take a far leap to see how some of the others could be retranslated for an alternative culture or world... For those who like writing challenges, they have plenty to keep you busy for the summer!

Tomarrow I'll have another scene from Mattias and hopefully an essay or poem for the Homeworld fans. Maybe on the theme "What should I put in my garden next and in what dimension can I possibly fit even one more plant?" Of failing that, some great summer recipis.


HNS Session 3 - Small Presses (from the POV of authors)

FYI, March is "Small Press Month" so next March might be a good chance to look for lots of info coming out on the state of small presses, advertising, etc.

They are still called small presses, but some, like Poison Pen (which publishes Mysteries) are not so much small as independent of the really big houses with all their subsections and brands. In general though, they are literally small wand publish only a few titles per year with small print runs (maybe on the order of 3500 books), They are usually more willing to take chances on first time writers. Often they focus on more esoteric, more narrowly defined topics, different approaches, and other niches, and focus on distributing books to libraries (as well as independent book stores).

Printing is a smaller, quicker part of the process than for a big press, and they tend to spend more time on selling, though they may do more publicity than marketing, they may do less to help the author with book tours and the like, and offer a smaller advance with which to work. For example, Dark Heart (a horror publisher) leaves the author even more on their own for publicity than a big publisher but they work more personally with the author regarding such things as covers. They also tend to be more flexible and if they have worked with an author before they may be willing to go outside their niche with that author. (But be cautious if going that route, especially if the new book is well outside their niche. They may have expertise in the niche, and none outside it.)

As start-up companies, some small presses are less reliable and the author ma have to play a more active role to make sure everything is done that has been promised on reasonable schedule. (On the other hand, big companies make mistakes too, including printing without an author's final review, full of errors, as well as spending only a couple of weeks pushing a book before moving on.)

Publish on demand was discussed briefly. It has the advantage of significantly reduced cost and less risk, but can be harder to distribute. Many print-on-demand services will buy back unsold copies sent to a store but many stores don’t know or trust that and so won't order them.

Most common problems included:
--cover design and print quality issues (e.g., some have been notably lacking, with poor cover art selection and insufficient attention to details: long titles wrapping into the spine or flap; the alignment of the text being off center; the text going all the way into the binding; and other printing problems. The author will have to watch this closely because a problem will be bad for current and future sales. Do your own quality control.

On the other hand, lots of large presses have been going for decreasing font size: if you have a younger audience, that might be okay, but if you are looking to be read by older audiences more certain to buy hardcopy, that could be a problem and you will need to work with them, too. Big presses may rush the job, too, being short staffed with lots of books to push out, instead of applying appropriate internal quality control...

Small presses can sometimes be used to convince bigger publications to consider more seriously your work if you are successful (second print runs, etc) but make sure your work is professionally edited (some very small presses are little better than vanity presses, or maybe self-publishing, with the writer finding an editor for themselves). If you are hoping for that, you will want this small press test run to be letter perfect. Most, however, seem to stay with small preses because they are really writing to a niche audience and the right small press will get you to that audience effectively.

Tip from the session: check out duotrope.com which has publisher info searchable by criteria.
9 jul 09 @ 6:59 pm

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

late night writing
Not this, not very late anyway for me, but last night. I don't know what my brain was doing but it wasn't sleeping and it somehow added 2 and 2 to get A,B,C and I just had to write, so I wrote or at least got about half written a children's story, which I don't do, and ideas for a sequel. A children's story. I plan to finish it and submit it to a publisher I came across that does children's and young adults (I was looking for publishers of young adult, which I do do. the children's story wasn't even fantasy or anything. I wonder if that's what they call channeling, and what children's author got into my brain.

I've posted another Mattias scene. I apologise for the block format of the last post and hope this one doesn't do the same. I'm not sure what I did that made all the paragraph separations go away. The Technorati thing did not work, again. I guess it just doesn't like Earthlink blogs.

More from Session 2 at HNS: Settings

How much to include in the way of details about the setting of each scene is of course the obvious question, a question that should be asked during REWRITE (either adding or subtracting...) In the past, it was typical to include much more detail than is the current trend, but we still need enough to give a feeling of the place (and with historical fiction, part of the alure is to have a sense of being in a different place and time, yet one that might still be sufficiently intact to visit.)

One step in the decision making for how much and which details is to consider the degree to which is matters to the story and the way certain details help give the impression of the place. Pieces that reflect the character's mood, interests are always welcome, as are pieces that are not their normal experience, so that they would notice and contrast them to their personal norm. A few pieces distinct to the time as well as the place, through its name (like davenport or torch...) help bring the reader there, but can be overdone if they don't contribute anything else.

Besides the physical features, a place can be conveyed through cultural elements such as anecdotes, local lore, superstitions, values (the Viking Saga’s, as stories told at or near the time, reveal much about their attitudes of good and bad, desirable and not, appropriate and not... They can be stories within the story, or they can be used as sources of research as valuable as artifacts, archeology, architectural drawings, and autobiographies and memoirs (such as those of Cassanova...Did you know he was real? I wonder how much he exxagerated his own accomplishments...).

Clothes are interesting, but the practical/functional provides better expressions of difference than endless descriptions of what is there to be seen (It also helps if the author has or acquires hand-on experience with accoutrements; swords, for example, are not as heavy as many people think to even a not-so-muscular guy...

(look for Erika Mailman's Witches Trinity on early medieval German. For the Celts, translated writings are available online for free). Also, many professors are happy to tell authors the facts, prefering that novelists get it right so that their students don’t come in with misperceptions (according to writings I have found on the matter, this is true of science professors, too, which may be handy for SF writers wanting to incorporate some hard core science). And experts in other fields, like boating, are often willing to help you get the ways and means right, but they may not all agree with each other on the "one right way", so don't feel obliged to take it as gospel. Knowledgeable people who help with information and advice in your acknowledgements in the book, send gifts (they may or may not appreciate a copy of the book...), and PAY FRIENDS who help you with research etc.)

if the setting is too generic (some unspecified village...), it is likely to come across as a fairy tale. (They have their place, too, but make sure that is what you are aiming for.) Places can be made up if desired (of course, in fantasy and science fiction, but in historical fiction, too, not all places are real parts of history), but include some details to give it substance, such as street names or buildings with characteristics, and avoid sterotyping too blatently. to make up for the generic narure of a place without such details, give it mood, characters to help define place (a not-so stereotypical mayor or shopkeepers...). It can be harder work to give a generic place substance that a specific place usually has more naturally as a result of its long history.

There was some discussion tabout whether to include author/historical notes that comment on things that have been purposely changed (or a summary of the tiny bit that was known and used as a starting point), and including references to places that a reader can still see for real. There was only a hint that there might be issues regarding the state of much changed places over time: should the author go with what is there now or what would have been there at the time... at least comment on which the reader has chosen for purposes of the story but there was a leaning toward using it as it was if the information can be found, or not being too specific...

I wonder what a fantasy or science fiction writer would say if we suggested putting notes at the end about the current science and technology, or the real places or events that inspired our tales... I can't quite picture it, but might readers be interested? The making of part of DVD's is now standard, why not the making of a novel?

7 jul 09 @ 9:38 pm

Monday, July 6, 2009

plans and more conference notes
I've finally got my travel and hotel plans in order, for Confluence ( http://www.parsec-sff.org/confluence/ ) and Writercon ( http://www.writercon.com/ ). I expect to come away with lots more notes to share for those who can't attend or don't attend the same panels and workshops. HNS notes continued: Some observations I made along the way, partly a result of comparisons to past conferences of other sorts: Speakers come across better (more personable, approachable, encouraging discourse insteadof ust listening mode from the audience) when they don't assume that everyone in the audience of course knows who they are. They did a good job of that at HNS and all the speakers and panel members were very personable off stage, too. It may be that the nature of HNS encourages it: afterall, historical fiction comes in many genres as well as, to a degree, being a genre unto itself: alternative history, historical fantasy, time-travel science fiction, historical mystery, historic fictional world continuation (like the novels based on Jane Austin's writings that have, a couple spekaers indicated, become recently popular), as well as historical romances and novelized history. The latter two groups predominated both times that I have gone, but the rest are welcome, and I would highly encourage them to participate; it would be better still if agents willing to take on the others would participate in the conference but most of the agents and editors who accepted “speed dates” with writers were looking for romance or straight historical fiction. The one that would have considered fantasy, according to his bio had to cancel, alas. Session 2: Settings Panel members included but were not limited to "Solveig" who impressed me as speaking very artfully and having a musical voice (I wonder what her writing is like...) and "CW" wrote about past queens (I believe he was one of the ones on the gender panel as well). Some writers put more emphasis on settings than others and there was some debate on whether the setting could be a "character" unto itself. (I think it is more apt to occur in fantasy and science fiction than in, say a mystery or romance, where setting can help set mood but rarely plays an active role). In general, panel members agreed that people should be at least the lead characters, the most important element, and that while setting was important, it should be secondary to the story. (I’ve heard some suggest that setting, and the focus on it, are part of what defines fantasy, but thinking about the really good fantasies I’ve red, people and story did still clearly come first, the story being about people, even if it included them wandering through magical landscapes and other settings). The setting might still be considered a character if the story could not have taken place that way anywhere else (Could Sherlock Holmes have worked as well in another city than London? Could he have been BASED in a small town, even though his stories took him to those small towns on occasion?). It might also be considered a character to the degree that the setting itself drives the story, the interest (compare Tolkein and the role of geography on the story line, or Shogun--the setting including culture of the place). Regardless, the setting should be very present, a place to want to visit (or to specifically avoid, if it is intended to be frightening), but not so much detailed description that it takes away from the story progress. Place may be used for comparing and contrasting characters through their different relationships with places: memories (past and present views of a place through memory can add tension); is one character's home very different from another's?. Do characters have different attitudes toward the same place because of their own past experiences and perception? Place is part of experiences, as well as having objective characteristics, e.g., the views and understanding of outsiders versus insiders. An insider might understand the why of things if asked, but takes for granted the day-to-day norms, while an outsider is more likely to comment on the day to day that is different from their own experience, and to judge good or ill practices rather than merely accepting them as the norm. If the author wishes to point out the flaws and good things of the norm, it helps to have an outsider POV or an outsider side character asking questions. A special perspective is the character who is from a place but not raised or recently there, who is essentially an outsider but has a connection to the place. Being from a place brings with it past stories and resulting expectations or very old, distorted, idealized memories. Compare their experience to what they might have had if they had stayed..., ot to what the character might have been told about hte place from parents, etc. who informed them of their origins in that place... (Challenge: Follow a character who has always lived somewhere for a day, then send a character there that has only heard about it and have them experience it for the first time.)
6 jul 09 @ 8:33 pm

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Carching up on other things
I've posted a 4th of July essay on the Homeworld page and a new From Beyond the Wall scene at the Fantasy Explorations page. I've about decided that one of the things I need to add throughout the story is a bit more fantasy throughout, perhaps in the form of natural magic that might have been practiced in the 18th-early 19th century, which the Mattias culture is intended to emulate. Maybe an old woman making predictions, someone offering a potion rather than medicine to Addy to help heal her charge. I'd appreciate your feedback on the notion, also any sources of information? Not an piece of history I've delved into before... I also have to review my clothing history books. I recall some terms like wescit and I know pocket watches were around... I am still inclined not to include gun powder or tea though they are appropriate to the era: Mattias is too isolated for such imports.

Regarding Friday Fiction: it has several UK-based participants so contrary to my original guidance, I believe it is appropriate and even desirable for American's, at least, to post late Thursday rather than Friday, especially if, like me, you are most often on the computer in the evening. The UK folks I posted comments to won't see my comments until Saturday at least... nor will they see my story-scene unless they go out of their way to look for late posters.


Historical Novel Society conference notes continued:

E-books are still in debate, though a growing trend with many options to consider, but e-advertising, too, is still debated, too, especially for hardcopy books. The theory that has seen some success with some audiences is that many will try an e-book, significantly cheaper for an unknown than a paper book, if it has been handled right, then buy the hard book if they like it.

Audio books is another venue to try but it wasn't discussed in much detail, only references that indicated the author doing the reader was often considered desirable, although not everyone can read aloud effectively. (If you are unsure of your own skill in that direction: start practicing: readings are common means of advertising at SFF cons...)

They were hesitant to give numbers and pointed out that what was considered successful varied considerably with specific genre's and subgenre's, but in general it varies with the size of the print run, in the ballpark of:
--Ideal sales is 80% of the book run (It will never be 100% because of freebies and all)
--60% is still good but less not so much
If the advance is smaller, less sales is more acceptable.

The timeline publishers are looking for also varies considerably. A young adult author in another session indicated that young adult books aren't expected to sell quite as fast, and are expected to sell to more libraries over time (getting ads and reviews in magazines for libraries may be more important than for adult fiction).
Some ads and mechanisms will be slower (like Book movement.com and book clubs) but still worthwhile because sustained sales are important and valuable, too. (I suspect it means that the book is continuing to sell DESPITE potentially poor opinions of the initial set of buyers/readers.)

Discuss marketing strategies with your agent, too. They aren't marketers, but they know people and can help ensure that you aren't stepping on the toes of your own publisher in the process of your personal efforts. Also, make sure the publisher's marketing/publicity departments know the results of your efforts: maybe they'll pay for it the next time. They may also add links to your online work, increasing flow in both direction as interested audiences explore the links, and thus making the most of your efforts..

There is increasing debate about the value of book tours and some publishers no longer doing them, but most seemed to believe that they still have value, that even those that result in no line of fans coming to get your signature in person have long term value. They do better (immediately) if you first connect with book clubs in the area and let them know you are coming but also the books you've signed out of boredom for the bookseller's shelves may sell even after you've gone. (Chat and be friendly with the book sellers while you wait: generate sympathy and friendly relations, not animosity). Independent bookstores and libraries may make the better audiences for book tours.

Next time: Session 2 (not quite as many notes as Session 1 so it may take only one or two days to post)
4 jul 09 @ 10:42 am

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fiction Friday - A change of plan
I've apparently decided to spend the day confusing my avid readers, and to the notes on the HNS conference and the attempts to link to technorati (which still don't seem to have worked, ah well), I am adding a Fiction Friday entry, or an attempt at one. Free-writing, which is how I think of it, is not really my forte, especially with fiction but I know from my non-fiction work in that direction that it is a very valueable exercise and I encourage serious writer's to give it a try. There is a new challenge every Friday, (posted earlier in the week, so you don’t have to do the writing Friday, just the posting) so there are plenty of opportucities to join in the fun. http://writeanything.wordpress.com/fiction-friday/ go to categories and select fistion friday to get to the posts themselves.

This week's challenge is: Where your character is committed to a drastic or extreme change.

Here goes:

Percival swore and Nelly stared in shock. It was a phrase she had heard often among the soldiers but never heard him use before, even in the privacy of the pavillion with it's privacy-protecting walls. "What is it?" she asked softly, nervously, wondering if she had done something to anger him. She had only been prattling on about the day. The soldiers in what's-his-name's unit had included her in their sword lessons, but that was nothing new, nothing Percival hadn't been aware of, even if he thought it inappropriate for a lady. (He was always afraid that they might find out she wasn't really a lady, hadn't noticed that her new clothes had convinced everyone instantly and she would have to be covered head to toe in mud to make them forget or doubt her status.)

Percy had seemed to be only half listening to the chatter, part of their usual end-of-day routine, staring as he often did at the fire pot. sometimes, later in the evening, he muttered at the fire, just as he muttered at his stones, but usually before supper it was merely a matter of thinking about his own busy day, more demanding than Nelly's own. he was sometimes a student, sometimes a teacher, and always at Prince Dreymond's beck and call and Nelly suspected that the occasional magical tasks the prince asked of him were more tiring than all the rest combined.

"Nothing you've done," he said, finally pulling his gaze away from the fire. "It's the count."

"You said you hadn't seen him for days, that he left you alone."

"True, but the fire showed me. He's plotting something with that so-called aide of his. If I didn't know the count had sixteen grandchildren from two different wives, I’d... well nevermind what I might think."

Nelly grinned. "The soldiers just say it, you know."

"Doesn't mean I'm going to say it to a girl! Any way, if Count Silven thinks he can beard a wizard, the count needs a lesson in manners. I was hoping to avoid a confrontation with him, but he just won't let it go and I think that aide is egging him on. Every time I pull out one porcupine quill from Silven's temper, that aide prods him with another and I'm tired of it, not to mention if he does anything, Dreymond won't be pleased."

"So what if he's mad at Silven? He should be already., he's been so annoying about every little thing."

"Count Silven to you, Nell, even in here. Get into the habit and you'll slip and say it out there. No one'd stop him whipping a mere girl for that level of disrespect. Some of them have ideas you might make a good bride for their sons, but they want you tamed first, think you should have been beaten a few more times when you were young."

Nelly stared at him in. The practice among the nobility of whipping spirited girls to make them submissive brides was considered barbaric in Havallia, if not here, and she wondered that he would speak of such things so freely when he had been so coy about a minor thing moments before. But Percival went on as if it were no matter of importance.

"Besides, Dreymond needs him. Silven knows the supply side better than any of the others and with winter coming on supplies are more important than the training and horses combined. He's as likely as not to get mad at me for letting matters get out of hand. I've been avoiding using magic around Count Silven, since he hates it so much, but I think he’s forgotten what I can do and remembers only that he hates me. It’s time for a new approach."
3 jul 09 @ 3:06 pm

Ignore this one too
I forgot the thingy that needed to be included. sigh.

4k25byamxn
3 jul 09 @ 1:16 pm

Feel free to ignore this one
I'm trying again to link to technocrati in preparation for an upcoming blog tour and their site seems to be fixed (it was broken quite a while and I haven't tried recently), but the oddest processes are needed to make it work so here is the thingy the site said i should include in a post... wish me luck.
3 jul 09 @ 1:16 pm

HNS Session 1 notes continued
Larger publishing houses in particular spend only a couple of weeks trying to publicize a book. Two or three weeks is probably only enough to get it started. The author should be prepared to support and continue the publicity and marketing effort. The author’s willingness to put forth their own effort will also help ensure that the publisher continues to support the author’s effort in return. , and that’s true for small as well as large publishers.

Some smaller publishers are better, but some are worse: find out up front what they will do and what they expect you to do on your own, especially if the time you can take doing it yourself is limited. A small press is likely to at least be more open about your being on your own for a lot of the publicity: expect to spend a higher percentage of your advance, especially as it is likely also a smaller advance, and your own time on marketing and publicity.

The view of some was that marketing and hiring a publicist/marketer was what the advance was really for.
Sometimes this can be done as part of the original deal, or after, with the involvement of the publishing house: negiotiate on putting some of the advance toward additional publishing. Or plan for it on your own (with or without a hired publicist, depending on how much time and know-how you have to dedicate to the task. (Who would have thought as a writer that you would need to learn how to buy space for an ad...and who designs them? While wiating for replies to queries, it might be worth while to start researching in these directions...)

Those of us with day jobs may need to use a higher percentage of the advance to hire someone else to do it, then just check to make sure what’s needed is getting done, offer suggestions, etc. Or you may be able to do much of it yourself. some authors seemed to have fun with that, finding venues on and off line, thinking creatively about where to advertise. it helps to get information about sales from the publishing house folks, both to ovoid competing with their efforts and duplication of effort, and so that you have data on which to base choices. Getting data (e.g. sales numbers) can be hard to get because the publishers know the authors can get very emotional about successes and failures, but muster your control, explain why you need the numbers, and they can usually be persuaded.

Several more specific suggestions were also made by the panel:

Get a professional to set up a full-blown web page
--with your blog and space for others to post
--with links to other bloggers
--a book sellers page
--book clubs page
--invest time in responses, on line or off, especially if blog tours are done for your book: go through the posts and respond to both questions and implied questions during the blog tour to make it as interactive an event as possible. (I made a note to myself to use phrases like “I wonder why the author... to imply a question and invite a response. It would be better on a blog that allowed posting comments directly, but an e-mail will do...)

Several things require an investment of time instead of money to work effectively. (Five your time a monetary value and track how much time it is taking you away from other things so that you can decide whether it is worth hiring someone for at least part of the work, though some of it does have to be done by the author directly).
--if free books are going out as part of a blog tour, or even if not, check up on it; make sure it happens as scheduled and that those who have signed up play their part. E-mail reminders if they don't.
--speak to book clubs (virtually or in-person)
--post answers to questions you have received to show that you are willing to be responsive (but expect this to generate more questions, so don’t if you don't have the time to continue.)
--internet ads cost money, too, but they don't have to just be book seller sites: be creative. Many historical fiction readers are women, so a historical fantasy might do well advertised in a fashion or decorating magazine. If you have a catlike alien, try a cat-lover site (the example in class was Egyptian history: a hit with cat lovers, not so much with dog lovers). A good marketter will be similarly creative; encourage it rather than being shocked, and look for another one if they aren't.

Look for friends of libraries/librarian venues and advertise books in their magazines: (and share what you find: sharing information as you find it with fellow authors isn't giving away to the competition, it helps us all by building awareness of the genre among new audiences.)
--E-mail libraries and send them ads, especially those in driving distance. They may not only buy the book (local celebs always being popular) but might invite (even pay) you to come visit. Also, keep libraries in mind when you are booking tours especially to major cities where you can combine library, bookstore, and other events in the same area.

In general, do things you are comfortable doing. Most writers enjoy writing, so that blog-writing comes fairly naturally (although I still am not sure I'm doing it effectively: there is obviously more to it than just writing a post). If, on the other hand, you hate the phone and tend to revert to one word sentences, it may be better not to try to do phone interviews. There are other things to try.

Try to find out who your audience really is. Surveys, as well as games, on the web site, survey questions posted to other venues including purchase forms can help. Speaker events are good ways to find out if you can get a decent attendence. Find out what they like and don’t like about your stories so that the next one can cater even more to their tastes. Also try to be aware of public tastes and to cater to it, especially if you are a quick writer or can make a lot of revisions quickly, or if you have a lot of books waiting to find a publisher. Note a trend that fits one better than another and push that one a little more aggressively to agents and publishers as soon as the trend becomes apparent.

More to come.
3 jul 09 @ 1:03 pm

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Session 1
Well, at the moment, among the notebooks, travel paperwork, handouts and a mountain of free and purchased books, I can’t find the program and my notes on speakers, so I don’t even know who the panel members were, but will post that when i relocate the program.

The first session I attended (there were three choices for each block of time) was on getting published (and more about what to do if you manage to get that far).

Getting published turned out to be the smaller part of the discussion. Some things that seemed to have worked for writer panel members:
*Find the appropriate section of the writers guide and write to everyone (make a note of who you have written to, along the way)
*Include a three page sample of your writing (typically the first three pages) even if agents don't ask for a sample. Many will read it and be persuaded even if the query letter didn't strike a great note.
*Don't be afraid to go back to the same (agent or) publisher again. One of the authors went several times to the same publisher before they accepted a proposal.

Even before being accepted, some recommended planning for sales and considering the author's role, if only to knwo what you are getting into as a published writer. Also, though, some preparations can be started in advance, that will help both eventual sales and the writing process itself (like this blog, if I can get feedback: what are people looking for in a good book? Can I give my potential audience what they want? It also helps to sort out what you like to do or could learn to do better. If i can learn to do a good blog now, I'll be ready to go with a more advanced one on a book web page or an interactive blog sponsored by a publisher. Also, it helps to be prepared so that the work involved in selling doesn’t turn the joy of success into a disappointing shock!

When dealing with publishers, who will usually provide at least some basic publicity and marketing but the author will need to participate and probably provide some of their own. To effectively coordinate and provide complimentary efforts, it helps to know who is doing what. This level of communication works best with a little face time, but not all publishers will even suggest a meeting, and it may be up to you to pay to travel to meet them. Spend the money and meet them: publishers, editors, marketing, and publicity (they didn’t say, but I presume make an appointment through the people who contact you regarding the acceptance, possibly your agent to get things started...). It also shows the authors interest in keeping sales efforts going, even if and perhaps especially if the deput is a dull thud. (Which happens a lot).

There are some standard roles easily confused but important to learn, so that you know who to talk to about what, who has the answers to which questions.
*Publicity department/person: free stuff like book reviews and interviews. Work with them, let them know what you are willing to do and what you feel uncomfortable with. Not every author does well in public settings but there are many options.
*Marketing: purchased stuff like ads and promotions. Don't compete with them, look for other places to market. Feel free to make suggestions to both but make the suggestions to the right one if you want a response. Be aware that big ads in important magazines are expensive so don't expect them to just do it because you suggest it: they may have a book they consider more likely to succeed in that venue, and genre fiction doesn't always make it in a pop fiction venue.

More to come on session one.
1 jul 09 @ 9:06 pm

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