Thursday, February 11, 2016

Guess who wrote a porno?

A couple years back I got an idea in my head for an erotic short story. Some ideas are like cravings: you just can't rest until you indulge it. So I wrote it up. And one story became two, and then three . . . and The Collected Stories of Isolde was born. It's the story of Isolde, an orphan, who seeks a job at the castle to put a roof over her head, only to be chosen to be a handmaiden for Sir Rhys, the liege lord. Sir Rhys has a mysterious affliction that causes him to live in near-seclusion with his handmaidens--and now Isolde is about to learn his secret.

I didn't write them under my real name because I wasn't sure how my publisher would take it, if the company would think that it was harming my "brand". That was around the time self-publishing was exploding, publishing companies weren't sure how they felt about authors directly competing with themselves in the marketplace. Fifty Shades was hot as wildfire and many writers decided to try their hand at erotica. I didn't want to be seen as thoughtlessly jumping on the bandwagon.

Three years later, things have changed a lot: for me, my career, the publishing business. So I thought I'd come out of the closet on this one. From this experience, I learned a few things about self-publishing and how hard it is to market a book from a dead start, when no one knows your name and you have no presence on social media. At one point, I talked to my agent about selling it commercially but he didn't think there would be much of a market for it because it doesn't fit in any particular genre. My readers won't be surprised to find that it's not a romance. It's set in a high fantasy world, with explicit bits. A little BDSM, a little tongue-in-cheek with a nod to old-fashioned porno.

If you'd like to read it, it's only available on Kindle as an ebook. The reason is practical, not political: Amazon recently launched the capability to advertise on its site but it's only available if you, the author, join KDP Select, which is an exclusive deal: for 90 days, you can't sell it anywhere else. I want to see if advertising on Amazon is worthwhile. (Self-publishing is all about experimenting with marketing.)

If you do read it, could you do me a favor and post a review on Amazon? I'd like to get at least ten reviews before I pay for advertising. I'm asking for an honest review. And please bear in mind, it's intended for mature audiences so if you're under 18 years old or don't like that kind of thing, then please don't feel you have to do anything out of loyalty. 

Thank you for your patience. And I'd love your feedback: do you think this will harm my brand? Should I have kept this one in the proverbial box under the bed?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A different Taker

It took ten years to produce the published version of The Taker. Earlier drafts were quite different, including attempts with multiple third-person points of view.

That's right: earlier versions had chapters written from Jonathan's perspective. There were even a few scant pages written from Evangeline's point of view. For some reason, they were among my favorite and so, after the first book came out, I pulled them into a short story and titled it "The Marriage Price" to show that being married to the village's favorite son was no picnic.

I'm making the short story available on my website again for a limited time. Please take it for what it is: a different look into the Taker universe, for fans, not meant to be some kind of literary statement. I hope you enjoy it. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Is it that time of year again? NaNoWriMo

For those of you undertaking National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, I remind you of the daily tips I published (with the help of writer friends) in 2011. Please check them out if you need inspiration. There are tips and links to online resources and a list of good how-to books on writing craft.

I've been writing continuously since 2000 and published in 2011, and for what it's worth: like everything else in life, the longer you've been doing something, the more your practices are likely to change. It's not a bad thing but a natural thing. You learn from experience, learn to trust your instincts and to distrust your tendency to procrastinate. I still believe writing is mostly done by putting in the time, that it's like a muscle and after three days away it's awkward when you first sit down to type, but within three days you're generally back in the swing of it. Don't be afraid of a terrible first draft, if that's what it takes to get back in the flow. 

You don't know if you have a real story until you get into it, see where you run into walls, where plots fall apart; when characters really start to get interesting. Many stories are abandoned along the way. It's the natural order of things. The trick is to keeping looking for the next idea and to always work on your craft..

For those of you who are hoping for a career in writing, I thought you might find it interesting to know what's it been like for me since the last book was published. In the past few years, I've written one complete novel and started a handful of others. (The agent didn't think it was worth trying to sell the novel at this time, which tells me that it probably needs more work.) I've started one novella and have ideas for a couple more simmering in the back of my mind. I'm currently working on a project that I don't have the green light to talk about--yet. 

As tends to happen with blog posts, I'll end by petering out rather than with a strong point. Please feel free to leave a question or observation about writing in the comments.

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Capclave Schedule

Here in the Maryland-DC-Virginia region we're blessed with multiple celebrations of the book, and one of the most enjoyable is Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association's annual convention. Unlike many science fiction-fantasy cons these days, Capclave is literature-focused, not media focused, definitely heaven for writers. This year it's being held October 9-11 at the Hilton Washington DC North (in Gaithersburg).

My schedule at Capclave this year is extremely limited due to personal reasons (which the Capclave programming committee was so nice to accommodate). I'll only be there on Saturday, October 10th.  Here's where you can find me:

12-12:50 PM Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance
        Much, if not most, of urban fantasy are either mysteries with magic, romance with a paranormal, or combination of the two. Has paranormal romance completely taken over the urban fantasy subgenre? What effects has the rise of paranormal romance had on the fantasy field? Is this limiting the field? Is the subgenre in danger of becoming a self-parody? What authors and works should people be reading?

2-2:50 PM   The Epic Blockbuster
        In the 1950s and 60s, 200 page novels were common (and told a complete story). Today my bookshelf is groaning under Weeks (800 pages) and Sanderson (1000), and these doorstoppers are only part of a series. What changed? Do readers prefer long books and longer series? Are authors using these longer page counts to tell a deeper story with multiple points of view and better characterization? Or is much of this padding and a lack of editing? What books are worth the extra page count?

5 PM-5:50 PM    Writers on Writing Style
        How do writers develop and refine their style? What makes one writer more literary than another? How can they improve? Did you deliberately work on your style or did it emerge naturally from experience? What sf/fantasy writers have the best style and what did they do to develop it?

If you've never been to Capclave and you love science fiction and fantasy, you're missing something special. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Outlander vs. The Taker

Outlander: Men in kilts
Readers, I'd like your opinion on this.

Are you familiar with Diana Gabaldon's series, Outlander? Historical fiction that goes deep into Scottish, British and American history, a romance that defies time, with a fantasy element running through it. I'm a fan.

I have a conundrum. As you probably know, Outlander has been made into a television series on Starz. It's about to kick off its second season. I'm wondering if I should advertise The Taker to Outlander fans. I've seen a lot of Outlander fans asking, "what should I read next?"  

On one hand, comparisons have been made between the two series by reviewers and readers alike. It's the combination of history and fantasy, I think. And while The Taker isn't time-travel, it creates the sense of it as the characters go back and forth in their own timelines.

On the other hand, fans of a series can be fiercely protective. They can see any approach to the series' audience as an attempt to poach and may want to prove their loyalty by driving off anyone seen as encroaching on their territory. I don't want to offend anyone. I only want to make potential readers aware of my books.

What do you think I should do? Should I try to approach Outlander fans or are the series too dissimilar? Is the Outlander TV series all about the men in kilts--in which case they likely won't see the similarities between the two series of novels? Do you have any suggestions from how I might connect with Outlander fans? Please comment below. Thank you!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Writer's process & tools: paper notebooks

Writers are obsessed with each other's process. We always want to know how other authors do it, capture lightning in a bottle. Why we're obsessed with it, I'll talk about in another blog post. Today we're going to talk about tools.

For a while, a presentation on online tools for writers was a staple at many writers' conferences. There are still classes on Scrivener, of course. And I once saw a great class taught by mystery writer David Hewson on electronic tools he uses to manage all the reference work and imagery he needs to write his location based books.

Today, however, I'm going to talk about paper journals. Not because I'm anti-electronics but because I grew up in the era before computers, when creativity was mostly paper-based. I took notes by hand in school and college and to this day, my memory is keyed off the act of having written something down. Even though I write all my drafts on the laptop these days, I think through plotting and character on paper.

And anyone who uses paper to capture a creative process knows that it is an unsatisfactory medium, because inspiration doesn't come in a linear manner. Before long you have handfuls of loose scraps of paper with a few words written down on them. Pages of meaty stuff but what you need is to take bits of meaty stuff off this page and that page and put them together, and jettison the rest. I keep scratch Word documents of notes and snatches of dialogue and descriptions on my laptop but then it becomes hard to incorporate them into the paper notes. What is a creative person to do?

I tend to use spiral bound notebooks but then you're stuck with the order in which the pages appear. Three-ring binders seem too clunky to carry around, and then there's the dreaded rings themselves, always threatening to grab your fingers.

For a while, I had my hopes pinned on this little thing, called a Sorta. It's a binder without rings that lets you reorganize pages. You can get different kinds of paper for it: blank, lined, grids. It really looked promising but the company that makes it suspended production, I've been waiting for months and months for the product to go back on sale and, alas, I can't wait no longer. Which led me to this . . .

I read about these notebooks on Design Milk. Designers are know for using journals and notebooks to capture their creative thoughts as well as to plan new products or keep track of things for projects. The Action Method was designed by the Behance design/promotion company. According to Design Milk, "In essence, it’s the process of breaking down a project into three primary components: action steps (specific tasks; “do this”), reference (notes, sketches, research, links), and things on the backburner (“for later, but worth keeping”). It’s a creative procedural and organizational system designed to navigate brainstorm sessions into executable tasks – the equivalent of wrangling a chaotic ant swarm into a focused line." It started out as an online tool for designers but now exists only in the paper form. See the line of notebooks here.

Then there are plain paper journals. There are a lot of lovely options out there: Baron Fig, Leuchtturm (I bought some of these a few years back while in Europe; comes in a lovely assortment of colors); Piccadilly (which are a less expensive alternative to Moleskins, I've heard); Fiorentina (bought one in Italy to give to an artist relation); not to mention Field Notes (cute but a bit skimpy for writers).

Okay, now it's your turn: do you have a favorite notebook?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day: What is love?

There was love in a hay field in The Taker, too.
Valentine's Day, that most peculiar of holidays. The day we celebrate the idea of being in love. 

I have said that The Taker is an anti-romance. One of the reasons I wrote it is because I was horrified by the way our culture overemphasizes the importance to being in a relationship. Young people are pressured to be paired off with someone before they even know what it means to love. I had young nieces planning their dream weddings, down to the designer dress and the perfect place to have the reception, without spending one-thousandth the amount of thought put towards the kind of person they would marry. I saw women turning themselves inside out to hang on to indifferent men. The price of giving your heart can often be high--few loves will never go untested. Love is a precious thing but we try to mass-produce it, stamp it out in red and hot pink plastic instead of gold, make it ubiquitous. 

Well, saying that sort of thing is like pinning a target to your back. Some people get it, but most accuse you of being a sour, joyless old thing. So once a year, I like to remind people that it's a writer's job to tell the truths of the world and that I am hardly alone in my view of love:

If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.
--Ernest Hemingway

Often it is just the most deserving people who cannot help loving those that destroy them.
--Herman Hesse, Gertrude

Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. 
--CS Lewis

What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.
--Fodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamozov

This month in 2012: my Italian book tour. A writer's career is a fickle thing, but they can never take this away from me.