Last weekend was spent in Asheville, North Carolina with That Wonderful Man. Fabulous food, great conversation, and cool outings. He and I both have exciting things in the works. I so enjoy hearing him talk about things he's passionate about. I came home feeling all warm and glowing and other cheesy things. I am already looking forward to seeing him again.
The dojo is growing so quickly I decided I needed help sooner rather than later, so I began training a woman who can help with some of the administration and sales. We're fortunate to have found someone who has not only the job skills, but the understanding of and passion for our program. In addition to the new help, we're reconsidering our spring and summer schedule because of the high number of new students coming through our doors. This is a good problem to have, as long as we continue to manage it properly.
The Storybundle launch has been pretty awesome. The rising sales numbers has put me in a marvelous mood. More on that experience as it unfolds.
Revisions for SAND are back on track, and I'm so very happy with the results. The changes are moving the plot and character arcs away from their formal residence, Rim of Melodrama. I am so much happier with the results, though still resigning myself to the fact I'll not be finishing these revisions until late March. I simply don't have the hours.
Dev achieved a solid, productive school day without me needing to prod and nag. That was, in truth, the biggest anti-stress event of the day.
Sword and Chant is included in the Storybundle's new Indie Fantasy Bundle!
"Fantasy has been one of our most requested genres, and we're thrilled to bring you these wonderful and exciting titles that represent some of the best epic adventures that you can find anywhere. Our authors have created expansive and sophisticated worlds that any reader would love to explore, with magical apocalypses and vast landscapes of history and legend. And whether you prefer dragon companions or djinn, supernatural schisms or looming evils, secret societies of thieves and spies or epic clashes between ancient rivals, this is the bundle for you."
So what is Storybundle? Like HumbleBundle, it puts the pricing power in the hands of the reader. You determine what you'd like to pay for the set of six titles. (If you choose to purchase for $10 or more, you'll get an additional two titles.) You determine what percentage of your purchase price will go to the authors. And you choose whether 10% of your purchase will go to one of the current charities.
All titles are DRM-free, and ready for Nook, Kindle, or Kindle-enabled device. You even have the chance to read an excerpt from each title before deciding on your purchase. You can even purchase gift cards for others, or choose a specific date for when you'd like the bundle delivered.
So go forth to read, discover, and enjoy!
I don't expect much more in the way of sales until two things happen. First, I must have more material published. Second, strangers must like the book enough to review it. The first I can control, and the second I cannot. That's why my expectations were, and continue to be, low at this time. Late summer is my target timeframe for having more fiction available, and thus the time during which I'll seek out non-annoying marketing options. I did put some feelers out for one option, and should hear back in a couple to three weeks on it.
Late next week, I'll be back on the fiction-writing wagon. This weekend, I'm planning to finish the first draft of a short wellness text on how to find quality supplements when the market is saturated with substandard products, artificial ingredients, and contaminated materials. Then I must make forward progress on the stress book as well because I now have an actual deadline: I'm teaching a workshop on the topic, and participants want the book, too!
This is fun: writers answer ten questions about a new or upcoming project, then tag other writers to do the same. sartorias was kind enough to tag me, and the writers I'm tagging will be listed at the bottom of the post. I'll link to their answers next week.
Here we go:
What is the working title of your current book?
Sword and Chant
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Different parts came from different places. The central characters and their relationships came from a horrid, derivative, pseudo-Celtic fantasy novel I'd written years and years and years ago. It was my first attempt at a novel. The characters and their relationships were interesting but everything else was... Ugh.
Worst of all, I actually sent it to a couple publishers. Once I'd learned enough to know how terrible it was, I lived in fear I'd someday hear it read aloud at one of those "It Came From the Slush Pile" convention panels.
Many years later, while writing four other novels that shall one day be revised, I became interested in the social and political dynamics of the Kashmir region, Afghanistan in the 1990s and the events surrounding Six Day War. Those ideas freed the characters of my first attempted novel from the prison of derivative plot, and I combined them with different elements of setting and culture. Some beta readers have said the setting feels like Turkey, and some say it feels like northern Africa.
The primary antagonist—the Chant—evolved from musings about the nature of sacrifice: the cost to the one making the sacrifice, the one causing the sacrifice to be made, the one accepting the sacrifice, and the willingness of all parties to participate in the sacrifice. (Those ideas will get more stage time in the sequel.)
What genre does your book fall under?
Fantasy, most certainly. Epic fantasy, I suppose.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
First of all—movie! Woohoo! Unless, of course, it's one of those horrid adaptations. Then it would be awful, and the actors actually playing the roles wouldn't want to admit their involvement.
In my mind, the characters look and sound like themselves, not actors, but I can come up with a couple ideas for the secondary characters. I could age Grace Park many, many years so she could play Nikala, one of the warlord-chieftains. Andre Braugher could to play Yasid Sword, and Joy Bryant could play his daughter. But for the main characters... I'm clueless.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Seriously, it took me months to write a blurb that was under 200 words, and even then someone else had to fix it. One sentence? Gah.
It could be: Jaynes will do anything to avenge his father's murder, but his triumphs as a warlord didn't prepare him to face the threat of civil unrest, foreign invasion, and the seductive promises of the exiled god of sacrifice.
Or it could be: Shala Sword emerges from hiding to prevent the god of sacrifice from conquering the tribes, but finds the most brutal battles are against mortals intent on exacting revenge for sins committed a generation ago.
Or it could be... Well, you get the idea.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I chose to self-publish, for reasons outlined here. It's currently available as an ebook through online retailers and in multiple formats.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Once I decided what I wanted to do with the old manuscript, I futzed with the opening chapters for about three months. Then 9/11 happened, and the last thing I wanted to do was write about asymmetrical warfare, insurgencies, and guerrilla tactics. When I was finally ready to face it again, I tore into it with a fury. It was the first novel I'd written from a detailed outline. I finished within three months, and came in at nearly 160K words. I later cut out enough words to make another short novel, had those chopped words not been so worthy of chopping.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Yeesh, I hate doing that. It's epic fantasy with a large cast of characters, gods who speak with mortals, battles and arguments, love and loyalty and loss, and a subtle form of earth magic. It's like other books with those things in it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My own internal debates. What happens when lifelong enemies decide they're tired of fighting, or when the leaders want to end the fight but those they lead don't want to? What are the personal costs of fighting a weaker opponent who refuses to give up? What are the moral implications of fighting an enemy who is weaker but more ruthless than you are? What are the moral implications of not fighting, if that choice enables the enemy to hurt someone else? When is it ethical to sacrifice your life—whether through action or death—and when is it ethical to use the willing sacrifices others make? When does the act of defending one's self cross the line to excessive aggression? Why do people insist on saying, "It's really that simple" when it obviously isn't?
Odd as it sounds, I think about these things a great deal. However, I very rarely discuss them because folks usually want to deal with real-world examples, and as soon as real-world examples are used, the discussion becomes one of politics. And once politics enter the picture, Someone Must Be Right.
Sword and Chant lets me explore what happens to a culture, and to individuals, when they can't find solutions that are good and right, and find themselves instead trapped doing what is ugly and necessary.
What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It's filled with women and men who have families and friends, who argue and fight, who fall in love and defend one another, who are sometimes proud and sometimes ashamed, who have to lead with confidence even when they know they haven't a clue what to do next.
And there is the Chant—god of sacrifice and patron of unfulfilled dreams. He controls a skilled assassin who has an attitude, who'd be a pretty cool guy if he weren't a god-enthralled killer who's quite good at his job.
Who did you tag?
I tagged two of my VPXV classmates--LaShawn Wanak and Stephanie Charette--and my longest-running critique partner and VPXVI grad Sandy Skalski. There are a couple others I'll be adding to the list, too.
Cool little things:
First: One of my favorite people from my high school years is my drama coach. As an actor, he taught me a great deal about how to be comfortable—and therefore be real—on stage, and one of my coolest high school experiences was acting as his stage manager when he directed 1984. We still chat on the phone now and then, and have managed to see each other in person twice in the last twenty years. I tell you all this so you'll understand how unbelievably awesome it was to hear him say he can see me in Sword and Chant.
Second: A complete stranger gave Sword and Chant four of five stars over at Goodreads. I'm telling you this because... Well, because you're my friends, and I'm so ridiculously jazzed I keep giggling. :)
Our Christmas tree is up! This is an accomplishment. Last year, I put up a tree with a few standard glittery ornaments because I didn't want to pull out the special ornaments. Special ornaments hold memories—that's their purpose—and neither Dev nor I were interested in swimming in that ocean. We didn't put lights outside, either. We didn't do much of anything but get through the first Christmas without his father.
This time, Dev volunteered to help. There are only special ornaments on the tree. And since we have a much smaller tree (because we have a much smaller space for it!), those special ornaments fill the spaces perfectly. If it ever stops raining, or freezing, we will put up some outside lights as well. Nothing huge, but enough to reclaim the season.
Above all else, I am grateful beyond measure that my son still talks with me. One night last week, he brought up a very serious topic while we were driving home. I didn't want to risk losing the connection—when a teenager starts talking from the heart, the smallest thing can stop the flow—so we sat in the car, in the driveway, in the cold darkness for a couple of hours as he talked his way through missing his father, grieving for the carefree teenage years he will never know, and figuring out what he wants to do next.
A couple of days later, he went to his first employee Christmas party. He was, of course, the youngest there by about five years, but had a blast. His coworkers like him and treat him well. He said it was the first time he didn't feel awkward at a big party. I think it's because it was the first party he'd attended that wasn't geared to young teenagers.
In two and half weeks, I leave for California to spend a few days in a treehouse with That Man (who is still wonderful, awesome, handsome, and understanding), then I'll head down the coast to spend a couple days with dear friend Patricia in either San Luis Obispo or Carmel, depending upon schedules. As thrilled as I am with the ongoing enrollment at the dojo (two new people last night!), I could really use the break.
Since moving to the new dojo location about two months ago, my number of students has doubled.
Still working on Sand -- some revising, some new writing, and a great deal of checking for details that no longer apply and/or need to be altered to fit its new worldbuilding parameters.
Sword and Chant has now sold in the UK, a fact I find totally frakking cool.
That Man is still, to my great happiness, in my life. I'm so looking forward to spending New Year's with him.
I'm still looking for an extra two or three hours a day. If anyone finds a stash of unused hours, please let me know.
I've mentioned before my current considerations (struggles? issues?) with changing story viewpoint from the omni used in Sword and Chant to the multiple third used in Sand and Bone. It's akin to shifting from sparring to self-defense. Both use many of the same tools, but in different ways directed by a different mindset.
I'm working with seven viewpoints in Sand. There are very good reasons for this, even though it presents a pile of challenges. But if there is one thing I've taken away from a ton of workshop hours, critique sessions and conversations with successful writers and editors, it is this: a writer can get away with anything she wishes as long as it serves the reader.
I can choose to reduce the number of Sand's viewpoint characters—narrowing the story's scope, cutting out subplots, and changing points of tension—or I can find a way to make multiple viewpoints serve the reader. And I am nothing if not (selectively) stubborn. So if I've already established answers to the basic "which character has the most at stake" piece of writing advice, and I'm clear on the standards of changing viewpoints at chapter breaks and the like, what then?
Here are the first three tools I've used to make it work:
The no-brainer is first: each viewpoint must be distinct. The character must have his own voice and her own motives, his own reasons and her own needs. These are separate and distinct from the protagonist's/antagonist's plots and needs and motives. The protagonist wants to win the war; her servant wants to get laid. The antagonist wants to slay his enemies; his guard wants to get home to her farm. Then, those distinct character motives impact the main plot. The servant performs acts of valor for the protagonist in the hope of impressing potential bedmates. The guard feeds information to the opposition so she can see the war's end come quickly.
Certainly those points could be achieved without establishing the servant or the guard as a viewpoint character, if that's the sole reason for the character to exist. But there also lies the risk of convenience. A guard-turned-spy showing up with the right information at just the right moment can tilt toward deus ex machina in an instant.
Second, all viewpoint characters must have a distinct view of the same thing early on, preferably when the reader first meets them. Think of the blind men describing the elephant. Or people of different ages watching Sesame Street. Or people of different cultures describing the experience of eating at a Chinese buffet in Oklahoma. What will be noticed, enjoyed, ignored, mocked? What will be pointed out as missing? (One of those most telling character details, in my opinion.) It's this integrated experience that not only distinguishes each viewpoint, but grounds the reader more deeply in the story. Continuity exists even though the viewpoint changes.
Here's an example:
A sees Purgatory as a horrid place certain to make B repent.
B, in Purgatory, sees it the safe place where A can't assert power.
C, with A, sees Purgatory as the place she'd go if she could because D is there.
D, in Purgatory, focuses on how to maintain order and discipline there.
E, who is D's friend, knows where to get the best damned moonshine in Purgatory.
Third, the reader's mind must be able to flow from one viewpoint to the other. Because I'm working with so many viewpoints introduced in very short order, the chop-chop method—titling chapters with distinct character names or locations—of changing viewpoints didn't work for me. I didn't want to tell the reader, "And now for something completely different!" five times in a row. So, in a variation of the integrated experience, each viewpoint has a thought/action/interaction that introduces an upcoming viewpoint character. It's all about the transitions.
A focuses on B, interacts with C, and mentions D.
B focuses on A, and interacts with D.
C interacts with A, mentions B, longs for D.
D interacts with B, C, and E.
E interacts with D, mentions A, B, and C.
Lastly, I'll know I have a major problem if a beta reader returns comments of skimming one viewpoint character in order to get to the next. Uneven tension is a surefire way to lose the reader's attention at best and piss her off at worst. More than once I've read a multiple third novel that makes me groan when I realize an awesome tension and buildup is being interrupted by a suspense-deflating scene in a different viewpoint.
Well. Hopefully I haven't bored anyone to this point. :)
Anyone else have tricks and tools for multiple third?
I'd made fantastic progress on Sand, until reaching a point where one change will require me to make revisions to everything previous. So it's still progress, these revisions. It only feels as if I'm going backwards.
Then, in a wonderful fit of words, I put down a huge amount of information outlining the sequel to Surrender the Past—the sequel to Chant. A major event I thought would happen near the beginning of Past actually occurs in the final third. That means the third in the series—Tomorrow's Bones—will start at a different place, and that might mean a fourth novel.
But today, it's back to Sand. Only after I reach its end will I permit myself to work any more on Past.
(Dear Gods of Creativity: You have blessed me with an abundance of ideas, for which I am most grateful. Now, if you wouldn't mind, could you put in a good word for me with the Gods of Uninterrupted Hours so I might put those ideas on paper?)
Dev and I made our annual trip to the International Festival today. It’s the first year we’ve been able to attend on Friday, and I’m so glad we did because we had the privilege of seeing scores of people participate in the Naturalization Ceremony to become citizens.
When we current US citizens spend so much time fighting amongst ourselves, it’s easy to forget the citizenship is the desirable goal of so many. It’s easy, also, to make jokes or snide remarks about it. What I watched today was filled with joy and pride, expressed with firm handshakes, wide smiles, long embraces, and more than a few tears. The first thing most of those new citizens did after receiving their paperwork was register to vote.
Pretty damn awesome.
Then we went on a culinary tour, which has become far more fun as Dev has decided to be more adventurous. We had food from Taiwan, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India and Turkey. Please don’t ask me what, exactly, we ate. I know something involved lamb, something else radishes and rice flour, something else rice and pork baked inside green leaves, and something else a pastry in sauce. But I clearly remember the boba! Yum.
A couple of our favorite vendors were absent this year, alas. But we did get another pair of origami flowers to add to my bouquet.
In other news... I'm kinda sorta totally jazzed about Sword and Chant. :-)
Despite yesterday's spectacular computer crash (repair still in progress)...
Sword and Chant is now available!
Barnes & Noble
Three decades ago, the ruling Iyah of Calligar brutally conquered the neighboring land of Kennem.
Five days ago, a Kennem rebel murdered him.
Jaynes, the Iyah's rightful son, spent years battling those rebels along the border. Bryas, the Iyah's half-Kennem bastard, advocated for a truce. Now, despite rumors that Bryas is to blame for their father's death, the brothers must keep Calligar's tribes united against both civil war and invasion.
But the greater danger is yet to be discovered.
The Chant is the exiled god of sacrifice—sensual, seductive, exacting. He will no longer be denied worship. The Chant reveled in Calligar's conquest of Kennem, enticed Kennem to commit bloody retaliation, provoked the Iyah's murder—all so he could feed on blood spilled in pursuit of ambition.
The Swords stand against him—mortals bearing god-graced blades that prevent the Chant's return. But only three survive, and their power is weakening. Now the Chant possesses an assassin ready to sacrifice those Swords in his name, spilling enough blood to break the Chant's exile and prepare the land for his homecoming.
Then the Chant will dominate Calligar again, and blood will flow at his command.
Three central characters appeared, about twenty-five years ago, in one of my first attempts to write a novel. One of them has the same name. Though nearly everything else about them has changed, the dynamics of their relationship triangle have remained the same.
(Many of the gods' names are the result of me chopping up and smooshing together names of friends and family members. You'll find sartoris in there, btw.)
There will be a sequel. There may be a sequel to the sequel. There will not likely be a sequel to the sequel's sequel, but there will be novels set in neighboring lands.
I played with cover design for a variety of projects. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it. Learning some of the basics about fonts and visual elements helped.
I've begun the process of uploading and tweaking Chant. The process made me grateful I'd uploaded, in sekrit, smaller pieces as practice, and thus I expect the tech to hiccup somewhere.
Blair MacGregor Books has been updated.
Sudden Moxie Press now has the beginnings of a website. I'm not exceedingly concerned about this right now, but did feel the need to have, at least, something quite basic. My project over this week will be building it up properly.
Both sites have a link to Sword and Chant's opening chapter.
Revising Sand has been both fun and frustrating. Every time I think I have the plot issues solved, a worldbuilding issue rises. Once I wrestle the worldbuilding back into place, a character issue pops up. I will have something for beta readers tomorrow, though.
Hmm. I think that's it. For now.
I've been asked often why I've chosen to self-publish. The reasons are many, will likely be misunderstood by some, and be of interest to very few. The decision wasn't made lightly, quickly, or all in one swell foop. I thought about it. I talked with folks about it. I even charted options. In the end, self-publishing was right for me.
( Reasons and such... )
And--honestly--I mean that in the most positive and grateful way.
There are commas removed from places I was certain commas were required, and commas inserted in places I was certain didn't need them. There are "delete this silly word or phrase" curls all over the place. There are clear notes about awkward constructions and unassigned pronouns that are polite versions of WTF? I've found myself getting almost giddy when she lets me keep a word in italics (I'm guessing I get one for every ten I originally used). And I had no idea I was so damned obsessed with "then."
There are stylistic choices I'm having to abandon--am opting to abandon--because I must balance my choices against reader assumptions. The fact I'm self-publishing makes a huge difference. The more "rules" I break, the more likely it is readers will assume I don't know the basics of writing, and I'd rather the story stand on its own merits. Someday, perhaps, it won't matter, and I can let the stories flow the way I wish them to. But that day isn't today.
Really, it's bad enough I've chosen the omni viewpoint. I suspect to see plenty accusations of head-hopping.
So I'm down to my last fifty pages of copyedits. I may get them done before I must teach this evening, but it's more likely to be finished tomorrow.
I have an annoying penchant for overusing "then." How bad is it? Well, roughly one of every 230 words in Chant was "then". Yeesh.
I'm not a visual writer so much as an auditory writer. I'm blaming this on theater in general and Shakespeare in particular. When I'm plotting a story, the first pieces I get are dialog-heavy scenes. Conversations move my stories forward. That of itself isn't bad. The problem arises when I get too focused on making sure the reader hears exactly what I hear, and use way too many em dashes, ellipses, dialog tags, and odd constructions.
That auditory focus then bleeds into non-dialog prose, and that's where the Shakespeare kicks in. I like the rhythm of language, and love how rhythm and emphasis heightens impact. Lady Macbeth's "Make thick my blood" stirs a different emotional response than "Make my blood thick." But really, most of that impact happens only when the words are spoken. In a story, it too often ends up sounding archaic, or just plain awkward.
Now that I'm comparing Chant--written in omni--to Sand--written in multiple third--I can see how writing in omni exacerbated all of the above because omni feels more like oral storytelling (to me, anyway). And that led me to wonder if the preference for third over omni was prompted by the transition from oral tradition--with the storyteller interpreting the story as it unfolds--to written stories--with the reader providing her own interpretation.
And now, back to editing.
That's most of the text of one big story I broke into three novels. A couple hundred pages--not consecutive, but scattered about--are missing. I'd guess I pulled them to make edits during one of the crazier times of the last few years, got sidetracked, and misplaced the pages. I'm sure they are...somwhere. Oh, well.
I've started calling these my teething novels. I gnawed on all the pieces in order to discover my stories, my characters, and my quirks (good and bad). They need work.
Opening the dojo set back my schedule profoundly. I did almost zero writing and editing through September, and I suspect October will be devoured by Chant preparation. Since I'm finding it impossible to focus for the blocks of time I need to re-imagine that big stack of paper, I've been tweaking and expanding The Drunkard--my go-to when I just need to have a little fun. I got a couple thousand words added to it today.
In the meantime, I'm off to pick up Dev from work, then change for karate tonight, then dash home later because Dev will be babysitting both my nephews and likely at the end of patience by that time.
The weather reminds me of mornings at Viable Paradise. Truly, I think I've entered the season when everything will remind me of Viable Paradise. Cool mornings? VP. Rain? VP. Documentary about Italian crime families? VP. Ukes, whiskey, and kale? Yep, VP. Not for the first time, I wish Martha's Vineyard was on the way to some feasible destination that permitted me to just drop in during that week October.
I'm not saying I want to go through the workshop experience again right now. Much of what I learned is just now settling into place. Workshopping again will just keep it all stirred up in my forethoughts. It needs to become an intrinsic part of the process instead. But I'd love to just hang out!
The pieces of Chant's sequel, Surrender Past, is coming together in bits and pieces. Until Chant, I was solely a seat-of-my-pants writer. Chant was the first novel I wrote from an extremely detailed outline. Looks like I'll be writing Past the same way. I wonder if that's a byproduct of the omni POV, needing to see the whole picture before setting out.
Now, as I shift over to the revisions for Sand and Bone, I'm looking forward to making progress. I'd reached the point of revising in response to rejections so much, that I stripped out the sense of immediacy and and excitement. I'm done with that. No version of the novel got a better response than the first "final" version. Trouble was, I didn't really know how to fix the problems, so ended up exacerbating the faults instead. I forgot it's a story, not a collection of writing techniques.
Today, I tried to think of the cover blurb in the context of cooking. The novel is the recipe--specific ingredients and measurements, a required order of events, a designated set of techniques. Change any of those pieces, and the result is a different meal.
But the cover blurb is the meal's scent. Not even the taste--that requires too much detail--but what aromas the recipe creates.
Let's say the meal is a pie. If I say "warm nutmeg," that not only tells the reader the scent, but gives the reader a chance to deduce and imagine other things about the meal. And those deductions and imaginings will be distinctly different from "cool lime" or "rich gravy."
And the person looking for the right recipe isn't going to care, at that moment, what temperature the oven must be, whether wet and dry ingredients must be mixed separately, or how many servings are in the recipe. That's to be discovered later. The recipe has to make the reader say, "Wow, I bet that'll taste amazing!" and then deliver a meal that matches the description.
It's that old sales line: sell the sizzle, not the steak.
Not that I'm any good at it, mind. But the notion mostly prevented me from falling into explaining too terribly much.
And a HUGE thank you to all who offered comments and reactions on the blurb! I think I'm close to finalizing a version that both incorporates the most common comments and makes me happy. :)
My intended go-date for Sword and Chant is August 31, so I should probably lock myself in a closet about now.
In the meantime--
( Here's the cover... )
The notion and potential of self-publishing is what rekindled my interest in writing. Viable Paradise bolstered my confidence and clarified my goals. Now, finally, I'm within days of putting those two pieces together.