blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Common talk (and just about every critique group and workshop) says a writer should never use a prologue because prologues are so often written poorly. But… first chapters are often written poorly, too, as are fight scenes, descriptions, character backstory, depictions of horses, near-future science, and final chapters. But we do not advise writers to avoid writing them. We instead advise them to learn how to write them well.

So it should be with prologues. After all, not knowing how to write compelling prologues results in lots of bad prologues, which reinforces the mistaken notion that prologues are inherently terrible.

I’m no widely acclaimed or best selling author. I’m just a workaday gal who has to spend more time than others figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and why. So take my assessments with all the salt you wish.

Personally, I suggest smoked paprika instead. Or tarragon. Or fresh basil and black tea with a nice smoky whiskey…


Go ahead and add salt if you’d like.


So… Why write a prologue?

Let’s get the backstory question out of the way right now because, while prologues certainly don’t need to contain backstory, so many of them do.

If I put a heading of, “Indianapolis, 2015” above my novel’s first chapter, I have just supplied you with a massive amount of historical, social, and cultural backstory. The same thing happens if the heading is “Rome, 64 CE.” The reader might need a bit more information if the chapter heading is, “Qusqu, 1532,” but a couple sentences will settle the reader in space and time.

But stories set in secondary worlds lack the support of (usually) common historical knowledge. Thus there are many, many methods taught to writers who face the task of super-secretly teaching the reader about the new world’s unknown history that’ll drive the story forward.

Characters sit down to eat and/or have a drink, which seems to naturally trigger a very specific and story-relevant conversation about historical events or mythology. Or characters just happen to be researching something in the library, underground archives, university records hall, or some such, and must have a detailed conversation about the purpose and/or stakes of the search. Or an authority figure happens to deliver a lecture to a class, to wayward (chosen) children, or an especially gifted person who now Must Be Told the Truth. Or the characters happen to take a stroll through an historical site, or attend an ostensibly boring yet info-laden meeting, or discover a hidden packet of revelatory artifacts while, coincidentally, in the company of someone who knows absolutely nothing, thus giving the knowledgeable character reason to expound at length… You get the idea.

I came across one of those during a recent read, in fact. It’s a great story by a respected writer that came highly recommended… and the “Backstory Supper” is plopped right in the middle of an early chapter. It comes complete with Educated Person telling New Person With Obvious Purpose everything the reader needs to know to make sense of the world. I sighed and skimmed it with more exasperation than I would have a mediocre prologue , truly.

Y’see, all those backstory insertion strategies can be just as clunky as poorly written prologues. They’re a common source of “the later parts of the story dragged” critiques and reviews, and yet, for some reason, they’re considered far more worthy of a learning investment than prologues.

In addition to the super-secret nudge-wink methods of giving a reader blocks of backstory beneath the obvious, yet agreed upon as proper, veneer of action or conversation, there is the craft of disclosing backstory one small phrase or inference at a time. The reader’s experience becomes one of constant and subtle mental readjustments over the course of the story, because every backstory disclosure alters the character’s relationship to and with the world and plot.

I do love that as a reader. I love that type of story. But not every story needs to be, nor should be, the trickle-backstory-reveal tale. And not every piece of backstory is made for trickling.

So yes, a prologue can be an important tool for relaying large-scale backstory, especially the kind of backstory that would instead end up in one or more contrived scenes of thinly-disguised information delivery. It’s a means of introducing meta-events that will influence, drive, control, and overshadow the entire story with the same depth and power as, perhaps, a chapter heading of, “Paris, 1942.”

But discussing prologues solely in terms of establishing a story’s scope does them, and those who might write them, a great disservice. That way lies encyclopedic entries masquerading as story. The standard advice of, “Just make it compelling!” isn’t all that helpful because it prematurely leaves behind the question of purpose in favor of method, and assuming prologues exist for the sole purpose of relaying backstory is utterly disastrous.


Years and years ago, I was fortunate enough to act in a production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone. It’s an incredibly awesome play about power, choice, justifications, and consequences, and it was the most challenging role I ever had the good fortune to take on.

But the role I found most awesome wasn’t mine. It was Chorus.

Chorus comes on stage to deliver the play’s first lines, and proceeds to talk to the audience for well over a thousand words. Chorus doesn’t interact with other characters here. They just tell the audience about them—who they are to each other, how they came to be here, and what their fates will be. It is brilliant and breathless storytelling, my darlings, not because of the telling and the backstory, and certainly not in spite of it. Chorus alone holds the audience for nearly ten minutes with the power of their tone. Their voice. Their attitude.

The audience could watch the entire play and not miss a smidgeon of the plot—not even the backstory, really—without the Chorus expending so much time and energy telling it. Anouilh’s dialogue within the play, at one point or another, touches on nearly everything Chorus mentions. But the audience’s experience of the story, emotionally and intellectually, is rendered completely different by the attitude rather than the facts. The audience rides the ensuing tragedy the way Anouilh wants them to, at the speed he sets, at the level of dread he desires, and with the knowledge the characters themselves are denied. The audience has been let in on secrets only retrospection can provide.

In short, Chorus delivers a beautifully successful prologue.


So let’s break it down a little bit.

The first line Chorus speaks is, “Well, here we are.” In those four words, Chorus establishes we’re all in this together. That might not seem like a big deal unless and until you understand the play ruthlessly examines resistance and collaboration under an authoritative government. That “we” is a harsh invitation to examine one’s complicity.

Throughout Chorus’s opening monologue, they treat the audience as an insider, as someone who understands, as someone who will appreciate not only the information, but the bits of snark that go along with it. Chorus shows up again later in the play to expound on the comforting blamelessness of tragedy, to ask why dirty work must be done at all, to close the play with a short speech that brings us right back to the beginning with, “And there we are.”

The writerly equivalent to Chorus would be an omniscient viewpoint—an outsider’s voice who knows everything the characters have yet to learn—and it’s underscored by closing the circle with similar phrasings and audience-chat at beginning and end.

But the same critical pieces—voice, focus, and stakes—will ride as equal purposes with successful prologues of any viewpoint.

Voice sets the tone for the reader’s experience, and this matters regardless of viewpoint. Prologues cue the reader to expect a little extra information, so a viewpoint that’s a tad more inclusive, a tad more open to sharing details privy only to the viewpoint character, will be more successful than a viewpoint that might be a tad more miserly with its revelations. It’s the difference between eavesdropping on a conversation and having the asides whispered to you. Prologues are the latter.

Focus gives the reader subtle cues as to what will be important in the pages ahead. For an example that’s likely more well-known than Antigone, consider Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The first four lines tell us this is not a love story, no matter how much we might want to make it into one. It’s a story about the breakdown of community and family and civility, and the consequences of hate. After that prologue, we know there will be bloodshed even as Nurse lovingly teases Juliet, even as the Friar tries to manipulate a bloodless solution, even as Romeo awakes in their wedding bed. The prologue doesn’t spoil the story. It changes the way we experience it.

Above all, a successful prologue establishes stakes that are often barely understood by, or completely/mostly/partially unknown to, the story’s primary characters. These are the threats others don’t yet realize is breathing down their necks, the events that turn seemingly-rational decisions into noose-tighteners. These are the deaths Chorus tells us will happen because “When your name is Antigone, there is only one part you can play.”

Few prologues are so straight-forward as that, but they do lay out hints and inferences aplenty. There’s a reason A Game of Thrones begins with its deadly prologue. There’s a reason Shakespeare wanted to set out parameters at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. There’s a reason Shakespeare opted to implore the audience to provide “imaginary puissance” at the start of Henry V, and I’d say only about half that choice came from struggling with the limitations of the performance medium. (After all, the play’s “Chapter One” opens with a MASSIVE explanation of Salic law.)

Any of these stories without their prologues would be vastly different experiences. Better or worse? That’s for the reader to decide, my darlings. Some readers love the frame; some consider it an arrogant intrusion. Some readers enjoy the multiple purpose a prologue can serve; others resent it. And in the end, it’s up to the individual reader. Not the non-existent collective.


Will any of these pieces guarantee a perfect and reader-grabbing prologue? Be not silly, of course not. They’re simply the guidelines I’ve tried to follow as I write my own prologues. (You can check the Look Inside feature here to assess if I was successful or not.)

But thousands of additional words could be written about successful prologues that do few or none of these things well or at all, but do other things with amazing triumph. And even if you create the most masterful prologue, some will say you suck. Some will say you’ve resorted to a storytelling crutch that no proper writer would deign to snort at in public.

Some will say, “Cool, there’s a prologue!”

But most readers don’t have a passionate stance on prologues. They want a good story, and prologues are simply another tool intended to tell a different kind of tale. Like every other tool, it should be used with deliberation and purpose, not because it was the first thing that came to mind.


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Over the last couple days, I've mentioned here and there I'm in the process of evaluating career options, and a subset of that evaluation is choosing the fiction projects that'll come up once Breath of Stone is launched in the coming month(ish).

The overall career stuff is... complicated. A matter of deciding priorities, time expenditures, current needs, future plans, and professional satisfaction. Some things are working wonderfully, but I'm not certain I want to keep working them. Other things are more risky and will require time investment, but I'm drawn to them nonetheless. We shall see. :-)

Anyway! It was suggested I share my Next Project Dilemma to see what y'all might want to see next. So! *drumroll* Here are the fiction projects on the horizon!

Books Three and Four of Desert Rising: These are the SheyKhala novels, picking up after Breath of Stone. These are long books—at least 125K words each. They take awhile. That said, Book Three is completely plotted and partially written. Book Four is partially plotted.

Tomorrow's Bones: Continuing the story of Sword and Chant. Chant was written as a stand-alone, but was always the opening to something more. This is a story that nags me often, but has a much smaller audience (at least at this time).

The Slaughterer: Something completely different! A stand-alone about a bounty-hunter pulled into his family's decision to run a kind of Underground Railroad for magic workers.

Suffragette Story: This one dropped into my brain, almost fully formed, during last year's Sirens Conference. It's alternate/secret history of the fight to gain women the right to vote, complete with magic and martial arts.

The new series I still struggle to describe: If I had to describe it, I'd say it's paranormal rural, but sometimes urban, contemporary fantasy. There are ghosts and small towns and historical sites and some city settings and sentient elements being manipulated as weapons. Each book is shorter than my usual tome, and I'd likely complete three of them before even publishing the first.

So... There are considerations that must be taken into account. Current faithful readers, market sizes, audience potential, variable time to be invested on each project...

But I'd love to hear what you think! The reader's perspective, the writer's perspective, your perspective.

Help me out here, my darlings! Talk about preferences as a reader, scheduling experience as a writer, knowledge, gut feelings, EVERYTHING.

Crossposted at Blair MacGregor Books.  Comment here or there.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

If I haven’t made huge mistakes in the trauma/recovery area, I’m thinking I can wrap up revisions on Breath of Stone by the end of the weekend. I’d like to say sooner, but I’ve perhaps a couple hours a day for it through the next seven days. (When I sell more books, I’ll get to do fewer non-fiction projects…)  Then I must draft cover copy, and that’s just… SIGH.

I’ll be posting a couple chapters for patrons over at Patreon, along with this month’s article on injuries and trauma and healing.

There is a second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off underway! I’m thinking of putting Sword and Chant in the mix. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Even some of the most complimentary reviews mention it’s difficult to define. And it’s written in omni viewpoint.  More than ever, the response will depend on the reviewer randomly assigned the odd thing.

I’ve found new places I want to camp!  Pawnee Grasslands, Toadstool Geologic Park, Paint Mines, Palo Duro, Bisti Badlands….  And of course these longings are strongest when over a foot and a half of snow sits outside my door.

Have you see the schedule for the Nebulas?  There is cool, cool stuff happening there, and the cost of the conference itself is, in my opinion, darn good.  Alas, the Chicago location is far too expensive for me.  Maybe next time.

I’ll still be taping my own NOTx talk on the most important aspect of self-publishing!  I was trying to set up a small audience, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas, so it’ll likely just be me talking to you.

Lastly, the ankle is improving more quickly than I would have anticipated.  Just walking, there is nothing but a lingering tightness.  Going upstairs is quite workable.  Going downstairs happens slowly and stiffly, one stair at a time.  Side to side motion isn’t all that fun, and rotation doesn’t feel very good at all.  But progress!  It’s healing!

And if you haven't yet picked up your latest StoryBundle, please amble on over and do so. Our charity this time is Girls Write Now--a fantastic group dedicated to mentoring girls and improving their writing skills for success in all life endeavors. You'll also find in the bundle ten great reads from ten fantastic indie writers whose creativity, style, and craft is exceptional!

And now, back to work!


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

At last!

Sand of Bone is available for Nook through Barnes & Noble.

There’s also a great review by [ profile] sartorias at Goodreads.  (Cool news about her upcoming release can be found here.)

My favorite thing about the review?  She discusses her grimdark limits as a reader and where Sand of Bone falls on that continuum — information so important to readers choosing their story experience.

I want the folks who buy Sand of Bone to be GLAD they did so.  I don’t want readers surprised by a book that’s darker than — or not as dark as — their expectation.  As I’ve said before, my goal as a publisher is not to sell as many books as possible.  It’s to sell as many books as possible to readers who will enjoy them.

And folks have been buying Sand of Bone through Amazon and Smashwords!  Hooray and thank you!  (And it’s been nice to see Sword and Chant get a little bump as well.)  Now all you wonderful Nook readers can get in on the action.

Remember to sign up for the newsletter that’ll keep you up to date on my upcoming books,  convention travels, writing progress and more!

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
First: A very nice review of Sword and Chant from Marissa Lingen. After our conversation on this post on the visibility of women writers and reviews of self-published works, I queried her about reviewing Chant. I'm beyond delighted she had nice things to say about it. Really, there's always that voice in the back of my head telling me I should be grateful if I get feedback more enthusiastic than, "Well, it doesn't completely suck." And that voice natters at me even when I love a story and am confident others will, too. So the fact her review includes the word "recommended" without the word "not" in front of it had me singing. (Yes, I truly sang. No, you wouldn't want to hear it.)

The publisher side of me is just as jazzed about her acknowledgement of the good production values. Reviews of traditionally published books wouldn't make mention of such as thing unless it was truly awful, but it's so important for reviewers to include at least a passing mention of good production in self-published works. We all know there is crap out there. Reviewers do all professional writers a service by acknowledging decent work.

(And if you haven't read that post of women and reviews I referenced above, I recommend taking a look if for no other reason than it'll link you to Marissa's comments on her own review policies.)

Second: Revisions of Sand of Bone are still progressing despite the distractions of spring fever. There is still one plotting issue I'm not certain how to fix. I'm letting it simmer in the background while working on other sections in the hope a solution will reveal itself. If a solution doesn't spring from my brow fully formed, I'm not certain what I'll do.

Third: It's official! I am curating a fantasy bundle for StoryBundle.  I had such a positive experience with them on the author side, I'm excited to be working on the curating side as well.  We've talked about tentatively slating the bundle for a fall release, and I've already begun to screen submissions. If you're interested in submitting something, cool! Later today I'll put up an overview of what I'm looking for and how to go about submitting.

And a couple personal things:
One: I booked Dev's flight to and transportation in Italy yesterday. I'm grateful EarthWatch provides solid briefing material on what to expect every step of the way since I haven't been overseas in the last twenty years, and have never been to Italy. The next step is to coordinate his travel from Indy to JFK. We might opt to drive out together, if I can pull the time away from the dojo, and have him fly back at the end of the trip. Yesterday was the first time I felt nervous about sending him off -- which I don't think is unreasonable, even though he'll be less than six months from eighteen. If anyone has any additional do this/not that advice, I'd love to hear it. And I'll likely beg for it again as the date creeps closer!

Two: And yesterday I wanted to call my friend Patricia just to tell her how much I miss her. It was one of those weird moments of the grieving process. I didn't forget I couldn't really call her; I wanted to call her specifically because I couldn't.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The changes made to Sand of Bone were extensive enough I didn’t bother editing an existing digital version. I opened a new Word doc, set my handwritten scribbles of chapter overviews and notes and index cards on one side (more on those later) and a well-flayed printout covered in black Xs, arrows, and circles on the other. Then I started typing from word one.

To my great happiness, past feedback on the partially-revised chapters I’d sent to beta readers months ago was mostly positive, though some of the same going-forward questions were asked by more than one reader. First was the concern for the number of viewpoint characters. Second was my choice to open the novel with a certain viewpoint character.

Both are quite valid. I use seven viewpoints to tell this story. That’s plentiful indeed, and took much shuffling of Magic Index Cards to balance timing and interactions. But with a story that has five factions trying to meet different goals—and with those five factions rarely in the same place at the same time—five viewpoints would be the absolute minimum. A sixth viewpoint better defines what is at stake overall. And the seventh? Well, I could make an argument to cut it, but that’s the viewpoint bridging Big Plot with Internal Plot. And that character becomes very important in the next book, and the character is one of my favorites ever.

I think I made all seven work together. I think the story is better for each one. If I’m wrong, I’d rather work to find solutions than cut any one of those viewpoints.

That second concern… I struggled with it. I really did. Then decided to leave it as-is for this round of beta feedback. I’d like for it to work for readers because I like the way it works. But I’m probably the odd one out. We’ll see.

My real challenge in this round was integrated changes in world building. To me, some of those changes look as obvious as neon green patches stitched onto lavender calico. Is it because I’ve lived with previous versions so long that any change sticks out, or is it because my revisions skills are inadequate for the task?

And, of course, as I was falling asleep last night, I came up with a couple tweaks I could have made before sending for beta feedback. Notes have been written, but I’m determined to leave the danged thing alone until I hear from readers.

So… now what? Notes for the next book! Unlike Sword and Chant, which works as a stand-alone (though I’d like to write its sequel someday), Sand of Bone was always meant to be at least a trilogy, if not a five-book series. Plot and revision changes make it simple to edit and squish what was Book 2 and Book 3 into a single volume, but those same changes opened up the what-comes-next possibilities. Ideas I’d long ago set aside are now in play—not only for this set of characters, but other characters in the same world. I have my son to thank for that. He’s very good at listening to me lay out complicated plot and world building issues, then tossing out a simple, “What about this?” solution.

But first, I’m going to do the spring cleaning, and the spring seedlings, and the spring garden prep. After the winter we’ve had, I’m ready to air out the house and grow things.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm nearly finished with the rewrite of Sand of Bone. Hmm. Rewrite sounds to small. It's turned into more of a total remodeling--the kind that involves stripping off three layers of disgusting wallpaper so the walls can be patched, ripping up tattered carpet so the original wood floors can be restored, replacing the windows, putting on a new roof, and upgrading the plumbing and electrical. Then I'll set to revisions--new brass hardware, intricate moldings, so on and so forth. By the time it's done, about the only thing I won't have done is jack the novel from its foundations to put it in a new location. (Been there, done that, see Sword and Chant.)

That means I'm not really updating anything else online right now. Other than playing on Twitter--where I can drop in and out of chats when I have the time--I've gone a tad quiet.

What's quite wonderful is I have in hand a novel written by one of my Viable Paradise classmates. That means I have the perfect bridge between my own writing sprints!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

After hanging around writers in various states of publish for the last twenty-plus years, you’d think I’d have internalized the “Don’t read your reviews!” advice.

After hanging around me for not too long, you’d see I can be quietly and subversively hardheaded about certain pieces of advice.

I do indeed read my reviews (a simple process these days, since I don’t get that many).  And I consider what they mean, individually and collectively, about how I’ve connected with readers.

That phrase—connected with readers—is the foundation of my review-reading mindset.  It isn’t about judging “quality;” it is about understanding if what I produced matched the readers’ expectations.

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
... with feeling. Or different feelings. Or deeper knowledge, or better strategy, or greater confidence. Or hubris blind to incompetence. We shall see.

I am inflicting more revisions on Sand of Bone. Once upon a time, repeated revision rounds felt akin to shaving away words and layers in an attempt to make my novel-peg fit into a proper slot. But the freedom of how I've chosen to present my stories, along with the reading and consideration of reviews given to Sword and Chant, have given me both a positive push and clearer understanding of my goals. It's made these last two rounds of revisions exciting and enlivening.

There are a couple big changes, both involving worldbuilding.* One is the transformation of Exile into Salt. The same behavior will get you sent to that gods-hated place, but the change of name and purpose fixes plot holes, and allows for all sorts of little one-lines from characters such as the unofficial and sarcastic "motto" of Salt cures.

It also allowed me to burn far too many hours checking out salt flats, and that was much fun. Quirky and random research topics are one of the reasons I love the work I do.

Also changed is the mortality of the ruling Velshaan. They've always been descendants of the creation gods, and they've always aged, been vulnerable to harm, and decidedly mortal. But now they can die only when one of their own bloodkin kills them.

Think through the consequences of that one, and you can see why I'm excited by the change. Yes, your own kin will be the cause of your death, but what about times when withholding that death would be worse than causing it? What rituals would be created to be a psychological buffer? How would it feel to grow up knowing no one but your family can kill you, and that you must one day kill a parent or grandparent? What happens when the bloodkin have a really, really big feud?

As you can imagine, those two changes alone create massive ripple effects. The revisions are line-by-line, word-by-word, with an eye to ensuring every choice, plot point, and character attitude is compatible with the changes.

But the bottom line is I'm so much happier with what the final novel is becoming. I'm newly excited rather than frustrated. I'm loving it all over again.

As an added bonus, the changes fit well with a tidbit of advice picked up from Brad Beaulieu's GenCon seminar this weekend: Plant fear of the solution in the character.

(And if you haven't read Brad's work before, I highly recommend it. Epic fantasy, flying ships, Russian flavor, truly awesome and complicated characters.)

Today, I made it through the first four chapters of changes. As long as life doesn't deal me yet another sledgehammer to the gut, I just might get these revisions done by the end of September. It's only, y'know, nine months behind schedule.

*For reasons why I'll blithely alter my worldbuilding, see On Worldbuilding, Changes, and Plot.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm handing today's Blog Challenge question--"What is the thing you most wish you were great at?"--to Jaynes from Sword and Chant. He wishes, more than anything, that he could be a great leader rather than a feared warrior.

His father, Maradek, first earned his country's respect leading his tribe to repel the invasion of warriors known for their brutality and skill. Then, after he succeeded his mother as chieftain of the tribe and ruler of the country, he conquered a neighboring land, believing it the best way to protect his own people.

Thirty years after, Jaynes is facing the consequences of that conquering and occupation. But he doesn't know how to negotiate or compromise with the enemy chieftains. He doesn't know how to deal with people he doesn't like--enemy or ally--and he doesn't like to be wrong. He does a great job directing those who agree with him. He has no idea how to convince those who don't.

Worst of all, Jaynes knows he's failing, and he knows people are dying because of it. Since force seems to solve the problem in the short term, he falls back on it when his attempts to actually lead collapse. And that causes more problems.

And Jaynes knows that, too.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
More on the 30-Day Challenge...

Benkil from Sword and Chant is one of my most favorite characters. Without getting into spoilers for the novel, I can tell you he was once little more than an average warrior from an average tribe of Calligar--able to sit a horse with a grace, handle edged weapons to give more damage than he received, and loyal to his tribesmen, his chieftain, and his Iyah. But Benkil succumbed to the Chant--the exiled god of sacrifice and unfulfilled dreams--and believed the Chant's promises of eternal life. So the Chant molded Benkil into an assassin of exceptional skill and ruthless intent. But the Chant didn't take Benkil's awareness of self (or his doubts and fears and hopes), and left Benkil with the constant reminders that he chose to become the killer that he is.

Benkil's primary passion is for living. For surviving. More than anything, his drive to survive will make all manner of actions, circumstances, and shames acceptable. It is his greatest fault. The Chant has yet to find the action or deprivation that would make Benkil prefer death over existence. "The vibration snagged on old memories of torment and indulgence, pulled out the remembrance of the day he'd agreed to be the Chant's tool because life--survival at any cost--had seemed a better choice than death. Such was the vice of youth."

Benkil's next passion is for expertise. It isn't enough to do something right. He wants to do better than expectation, better than everyone else. It doesn't matter if the Chant is his only witness. It also doesn't matter if his expertise is the result of the god's tampering. So long as Benkil can feel the velvet ease of a dagger slash perfectly delivered, the smooth flow of turning an embrace into a headlock, the reverberation of a punch that comes all the way from heel, he's pleased. "He could outrace the swiftest pony to ever run the steppes, shatter walls of stone with the timbre of his voice, make warriors slash their own throats with the rhythm of his chants—by all the gods, he could fly."

Benkil also has a deep passion for sensory indulgences, though his recent circumstances have provided him only rough living in a stony alcove while dining on roots and snakes. If he were to walk into a grand festival, the first thing he would mark--in detail--would be the food and drink laid out for feasting. He doesn't merely bathe; he experiences the rub of cloth on skin, the warm-to-cool sensation as water slides away, the lassitude of soothed muscles. When the Chant wishes to convince Benkil of his next role, the Chant knows to use sensation rather than words. "...blood that washed down his cheeks, filled his open mouth, flowed over his tongue and gums as sun-warmed honey, infused and enwrapped him with swaths of gold-washed crimson..."

It's those passions--which seem so average when named simply as life survival, expertise, and comfortable living--that the Chant used to... "convince" Benkil to be the god's own thrall and, eventually, immortal assassin.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The deeper I sink into Sand of Bone revisions, the more trouble I'm having maintaining voice.  It's fairly easy in large sections where revisions require a simple rework and rearrangement of what's there.  But the places that require a bridge of new material--or an entire new chapter--I am struggling against the omni voice of Chant.

Writing in omni isn't something I expected to so fall in love with.  Chant was an experiment, my chance to try out what [ profile] sartorias spoke of with such excitement.  But as I settled into the flow--developed a better feel for narrative shifts, grew comfortable with choosing whose eyes and ears and mind would be shared with the reader--I indeed fell in love with its dual nature.  Omni is at once direct and removed, simple and complicated, rich and streamlined.  It's the broad focus of a panorama lens combined with the encompassing intimacy of a gentle kiss.

Now, with Sand, I feel as if I'm learning third all over again, which in some ways I am.  There is such a temptation to slip into omni, to re-write the entire thing in omni.  But shifting from third to omni isn't a simple thing.  The switch would require a complete overhaul of its structure, timing, character revelations, important plot notes...  And I don't have a storyteller--the behind-the-prose character telling the story.  Based on my experience with Chant, that lack is enough to kill the chances of omni working well.

So, no, Sand will remain third--at least until I reach the end of the rewrite, I suppose.  Then I'll beg some beta feedback to see if it works.  If not, I shall shelve it, work it on Chant's sequel, and Drunkard, and any other thing I can until I figure out what the heck I want to do with it.  Why not do that now?  Because I want beyond all wants to have the rewrite finished rather than aborted.  (And I'm so glad I get to make that choice.  Were I on an external deadline, Sand would never be what I want it to be.)

But the no-omni thing is indeed bugging the crap out of me.  I never thought third-person would feel so constricting and clunky!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
...but I do a little dance of joy when some random reader gives me four stars at Goodreads.

I don't have many readers.  (I've done no marketing whatsoever, and am not looking to do much until November, really.)  But I'm so proud--no, honestly, relieved--that strangers have given Sword and Chant an average now approaching four stars on Goodreads.  No two- or one-star ratings.  Whew!

Putting something out there without the endorsement of a third-party publisher is a nerve-scratching decision.  It's nice to know that at least a few strangers thought it a good decision.

And now that my happy dance is done... back to work on Sand of Bone.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I could hardly be more pleased with my first StoryBundle experience.

We closed out the Indie Fantasy Bundle with about 2350 bundles sold. That means Sword and Chant is in the hands of over two thousand strangers.  For a new writer like me, just starting out with a "platform" the size of soapdish rather than a soapbox, that's fantastic.  I didn't make as much per-sale as I would have selling those books independently, but StoryBundle allowed me to tap a new set of readers in a short amount of time.  That was worth it to me.  If readers like the book, they'll tell others and buy future works.  If readers don't like it...  Well, it's better to know now, yes? :)

By the numbers: About 84% of those sales were over the bonus mark--an awesome number for a pay-what-you-want strategy.  The income totals indicate plenty of folks paid more than the minumum bonus mark.  The readers chose to donate over $1000 to Mighty Writers and Trees for the Future. 

My share of the total income makes me very happy.  It brings me almost one-third of the way to my eighteen-month income goal.  It also brings me to about one-third of my unit-sales goal for the same time period.

The folks behind StoryBundle were great and easy to work with, and I look forward to keeping in touch with the writers who shared the bundle with me.  Payment happens within 30 days of the bundle's end--faster than any other platform.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Maybe it's the fleeting touch of spring in the air. Maybe it's the pressure to Get Things Done. Maybe it's a response to finally—for months, and without non-fiction distractions—focusing on stories. Or maybe it's a delayed rebound from the multiple years I chose to ignore all the ideas. Whatever the cause, I find myself beset night and day by the internal demand I get everything written NOW.

I'm blasting through the rest of Sand of Bone now, making swifter progress now that I feel more immersed in the world. Suddenly, this idea trotted in this morning that I should completely cut the middle book from the trilogy. I could do it, with the creation of a new set-up for what's now the third book, and I'm liking the ideas more and more.

The second book wouldn't be just lost words, though. On the heels of the above thought came the inkling of a different story that could be told of the characters and culture that fill much of the second book.

Grumpy Neb from The Drunkard keeps tossing me his observations about his young charge, smart and sexy Lin from The Slaughterer is forever just sitting down to dinner with his huge family because that's the scene from which the entire plot flows, and the narrator of the final book in the Chant series is whispering angry tidbits at me.

Three key scenes from Surrender run through my thoughts over and over. I drove home from Asheville with another novel idea rattling around, and had a rough plot sketched by the time I got home—one that will connect with the Indy book I still plan to finish, and the Charleston book I decided to write when I visited That Man.

Because I really, really needed another project. Because having ten novels in various stages ranging from "nearing final draft" to "collection of ideas and plot points" simply wasn't enough.

Sweet New Idea Muse, surely there must be a writer out there staring at a blank page who could use a touch of your inspiration. Truly, I will be just fine if you move along to the next gal. But if you're worried about how I'll do without you, you could leave your kind cousins Word Count and Revision to watch over me.

(Aside: That Man continues to be awesome and fascinating and kind and fun and someone I'm happy to have in my life. Hee.)

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I thought it was beyond cool to see Sword and Chant's cover as part of a Storybundle article at CNET.

Now, I'm tickled in the extreme to see Storybundle mentioned at the National Library of New Zealand's Library and Learning Blog.

ETA: Sales exceeded 1500 sometime last night.

blairmacg: (Default)
Here's the word cloud generated from pasting aaaaaaaaaaall of Sword and Chant into Wordle's generator:


The size of the words is supposed to indicate the words' prevelance in the text.  It's kind of a cool way to view one's story.

I had no idea I talked about Kennem more than Calligar.  It seems I have a penchant for describing what characters' hands and heads are doing.  Time is apparently more important to the text than I thought, as is enough and around.  But what's up with back and one?

blairmacg: (Chant)
To date, I can claim about 40 reported sales--which is about 30 more than I expected.  Those 30 sales are in all likelihood due to the wonderful review [ profile] sartoris gave the novel at BookView Cafe and Goodreads, and the support of my VPXV classmates.  (Where would I be without you guys? :)  The majority of sales came through Amazon, though it also sold through Apple, Kobo, BN and iTunes.  Readers made their purchases in the U.S., Canada, UK and India.  This pleases me.

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!

blairmacg: (Chant)

This is fun: writers answer ten questions about a new or upcoming project, then tag other writers to do the same.    [ profile] 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.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

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. 


blairmacg: (Default)

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