Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Open Letter to Publishers on the Subject of Their Websites




Let me begin by saying I’m not calling anyone out in particular.  This is not a rant nor a targeted exposé, simply an honest, open FYI from one person in the writing industry to others.

As an aspiring author who’s been doing research into agents and publishers, I’ve read scores of publishing websites over the last several months.  One thing I've noticed a lot is the lack of clear information about what publishers accept for submissions.

I’d like to bring a few points about this to the attention of publishers in the hopes of making the nerve-wracking process a little easier on both authors and publishers and saving everyone some time all around.


Submissions pages


If you want writers submitting to you, particularly if you want to be pulling in the kinds of books you are looking to publish, you need to give them more specifics about what you are or not seeking in an author's work.

If you prefer not to publish books with overt Christian messages, please say so on the website.
If you prefer books that would receive a PG-13 rating instead of a PG rating, state that.
If you want to publish YA and not MG fiction, but all you say on your website is that you ‘like unique, fun fantasy’ then you’re going to have authors sending you manuscripts you can’t use.  This wastes the time of the author and your acquisitions editor.

Consider.  It takes between five and ten minutes to open a pitching email and read a proposal.  Then it takes between five and twenty minutes to reply to the author either rejecting them right away or asking for their manuscript.  Then, once you’ve read the manuscript and realized it’s not what you’re looking for, it’s taken you between two and six months, if you’re operating at industry standard.

Whereas if you had just put a line on your website that said ‘we prefer books closer to the PG-13 or R range than a PG range’, or had said ‘we prefer to publish only romance books or books where the primary plot is mystery, no matter what other elements your story contains’, the author can read that and immediately know that you’re not a good fit for their fantasy romance-with-a-hint-of-mystery book.

Depending on how long your Submissions page is, it will take the average author between three and ten minutes to read it.  Another five or so to re-read the list of submission criteria.  Another five to triple check it when deciding whether to submit to you or not.

Thirteen to twenty minutes overall that the author spends, which equals the publisher not needing to spend any time at all on a book that won’t fit them, thus leaving their time open for those who do fit enough of the criteria to give your company or agency a shot.

If you make sure that what you're looking for is crystal clear on your website, preferably with a concise list of 'yes, we want this kind of thing' and 'no, we don't want this kind of thing', you're not only making it easy on authors and yourselves, you're impressing anyone who reads the site with your professionalism and clear communication.  They'll remember that, and, even if they can't submit to you themselves, they're more likely to recommend you to others.


FAQ pages


‘Well, if we were to list every jot and tittle of what we are or are not looking for, the submissions page would be too long.  That’s why we tell people to look at our past catalogue.’

That’s a valid point and all very well and good… except for two things.

a) Taking the last point first, if you don’t have much of a back catalogue yet, authors can't go to that to judge.  Also, if you expect authors to actually read some of your back catalogue to see how much of it is like theirs, you're asking most authors to put too much time into trying out for your press when they can find another that has similar criteria but laid out concisely enough between submissions and FAQ pages that they don't have to spend ten+ hours reading enough of your back catalogue to try to figure out if their fiction fits your press.

b) And this is the more relevant point, this is what FAQ pages are for.  For the details, the questions and answers too long or numerous to make it onto the submissions pages.

Recently, I emailed a girl who is beginning her own publishing company to ask her several questions about what specifically she was looking to publish.  She replied with a lengthy, informative email, and then added that she was probably going to put the answers up into an FAQ page on the website for others with the same questions.

THAT is professional.  That is the easy, smart, sensible way to handle inquiries regarding particulars about your goals. 

No, you probably won’t have the time or space to list every single inquiry and answer on your FAQ page.  But the more common inquires and/or inquiries from one person that it seems like others might also have should be listed on a FAQ page.

If the author still isn’t sure if their book is a good fit for you after having read the submissions page, they can go to the FAQ and sort through the information there.

It isn’t a foolproof plan to eliminate anything you won’t be interested in.  That is why you have acquisitions editors.  But this can save authors and publishers/acquisitions editors a lot of time and trouble.


"But", you ask, "what if we don’t have the time or manpower to write detailed submissions or FAQ pages or keep them updated?"

Then, with all due courtesy, what are you doing in the publishing world?  Please step aside and make way for the professionals who will make the time to smooth the process out as much as is sensibly and reasonably possible.


Have a good day... and may your publishing companies thrive.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Legend...or History?




Recently, the trailer for a new Robin Hood retelling was released.  The movie will be directed by Otto Bathurst and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson.  If you haven’t seen it, go check it out.  It’s chock-full of dramatic, hilarious action and adventure.

For the last week, I’ve seen and heard a lot of hate—or at the very least, mild disapproval—for this trailer and upcoming movie.  The main objection from people seems to rest on one fact.

It’s not historically accurate.

Ironically, the favorite Robin Hood retelling for a lot of people is the anthropomorphic Disney Robin Hood, and I haven’t heard many people complaining about the unrealism of THAT one.  Its whimsically memorable representations of King John as a sniveling brat, Robin as a bold fox, and Little John as a lovable bear have enthralled hundreds of thousands since its release.

So, to be honest, I’m not really sure why this new Robin Hood is getting so much hate. 

This new spate of trailer-bashing reminds me of the negative reaction the BBC’s 2006 Robin Hood show received from a lot of people—mostly, I believe, historical purists or historicity snobs.

(Side note: can we bring back the BBC's totally fun medieval-style re-tellings of legends from that decade?)

This cracks me up, for two reasons.

Argue all you want to and cite as much evidence as you like for Robin Hood being a historical figure.  I will heartily endorse anything that supports that.
But.
There’s a reason it’s called a LEGEND.

Currently, (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think it can be incontrovertibly proven that Robin Hood was a historical person.  And even if it can, you’ll never find historical documents describing the band we all know so well from the legends: towering, faithful Little John, minstrel Alan-a-Dale, beautiful and feisty Maid Marian, brash Will Scarlett, loyal Much the Miller’s son.

Which begs the question... does historical accuracy matter every time a legend is retold?  Every time Robin Hood or King Arthur is re-adapted for the page or the screen, should writers make an effort to stick to historical accuracy?

I don't personally think so, no.

I think that the most important thing to remember in retelling a legend or fairy tale is that the spirit of the story matters more than the 'letter'—any supposed historical basis or fact.  The theme of the story is what looms larger than life and keeps successive generations coming back for more or giving the story their own interpretations to reflect the changing times while preserving the heart of the story.

Sure, there are some things you probably shouldn't mess with too much—like setting a King Arthur 'resurrection' story in America, since he’s essentially a British hero and the legendary prophecy says he’ll rise ‘when Britain’s need is greatest’ and newsflash: America isn't part of Britain anymore, see: Revolutionary War—but in general, the field for retelling a legend is as wide open as is that for retelling a fairy tale.

The spirit of a story is the core theme underlying it, not the strict facts that comprise it.  With Robin Hood, this is a band of rebels fighting the 'establishment' or government, waging a sort of guerrilla war on the greedy oppressors of the common people.  It’s the idea that good still exists and that there will always be found those who are willing to fight for it and fight for a better way of life.  It also contains the reminder that even in the darkest times, humor can still be found: Robin Hood tales abound in pranks being played on powerful people.

The theme underlying Arthurian legends overlaps this in the realm of hope, illustrating that when a group of people cares deeply about something and are determined, they can not only drive oppressors out, but also create a wonderful society in its place.  (Okay, so, it at least TRIES, though we all know how that turned out.)  It follows with a warning theme: beware greed, ambition, and betrayal because they can tear even the best things apart from the inside out.

And semi-sidetracking into classics, the Three Musketeers is all about brotherhood and loyalty above all else.  They’re maybe not always the most morally admirable guys, but the point of the story is that awesome things happen—including saving the country—when you are incredibly, almost fanatically, devoted to friendship.

The Scarlet Pimpernel showcases the idea that even if something is not your trouble or your problem, you can still help, and there’s little that a loyal band of people can’t do.

(Yes, it has not escaped my notice how similar the themes are in these stories.  There’s a reason they’re classics or classic legends, people.)

Incidentally, when retellings or adaptations of these stories have not been restricted to historical accuracy or the exact structure of the original tale, they've tended to pull in a lot of new fans, broadening the exposure to the original stories.

For example:
Robin Hood = BBC’s 2006 show + the Disney movie
King Arthur = BBC’s Merlin + the musical Camelot
The Three Musketeers = the imaginative, steampunkish, 2011 version + the new TV show
The Scarlet Pimpernel = the 1982 movie, which was mostly correct historically, but which jumbled together details from three different books in the series.
Pride and Prejudice = dislike zombies all you want to, but as far as story structure is concerned, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did a great job of maintaining the spirit of Austen's classic while giving it a new spin.


I'm not bashing all historical representations of the legends.  I have thoroughly enjoyed some historical or pseudo-historical adaptations of Robin Hood and King Arthur.  I'm also personally writing at least one historical fantasy Arthurian retelling.

I simply suggest that historicity all the time is unnecessary, else we'd never have any new imaginings of the tale.  I think staying true to the underlying theme in a legend, classic, or fairy tale is more important than strict historical accuracy.


I’m planning to give the new Robin Hood a chance.  It might be great.  It might stink.  But I’ll wait to bash it until after it’s had a fair trial.



(+ if I wasn’t already planning to give it a chance, my best friend would make my life miserable.  So, y'know, there’s THAT.)


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Uncle Merlin What?




No, I haven't forgotten about the rest of the reverse-harem-in-my-books posts I promised.  Those are coming.

In the meantime, have a snippets post, because a new story spilled out the past couple of weeks and it's been forever since I did a snippets post.

This story is so new that it doesn't have an official title yet.  It exists under the working title Pendragons and Pimpernels.  I can't tell you much about it yet, other than to say....

  • soldiers
  • spies
  • medical experiments
  • magic
  • kidnapping 
  • twins
  • sanctity of life
  • and
  • oh yes
  • Arthurian Legend


What do you mean AGAIN?
It's not like I actually have a fascination with Arthurian Legend.



“And how is training your illustrious team going, O glorious leader? Really, my dear boy, I’m not sure how you can ever accuse me of arrogance after this stunt. You’ve thrown any future advantage away in one swoop. The Pendragons? Really? That’s what you’re calling your team?”

He raised both eyebrows tauntingly. “And what else should I have called them? You set the bar by naming your team of super spies after an obscure but brilliant literary hero. What else would have beaten the Bloody Pimpernels?”

Morgan’s eyes widened, and her lips opened in a gasp. “I did no such thing, Arthur Griffin. What kind of lady would I be to call a team bloody anything?”

“At least in public,” he muttered.

*******


It was something of a tradition now; whenever the cousins were all heading off together, their mothers appeared unable to send them off without a full complement of admonishment. For some reason, these were usually directed to Arthur.

As if I could stop them from getting into trouble. He pasted on a patient face while pulling a jacket up over his shoulders.

“Don’t you let my brats stay up all night drinking!”

“Yes, Aunt Anna.”

“Don’t let Elgan break anything.”

“Yes, Aunt Elaine.”

“If you all have massive hangovers in the morning, don’t come whinging to us to help them!”

“We won’t, Aunt Georgia.”

“Keep the blackmail to a minimum. I don’t want to be bailing Niall out of whatever stupid thing he did while drunk that you lummoxes won’t delete from your phones.”

“Yes, Aunt Beverly.”

“Don’t let Justin blow anything up!” That was three voices: Uncle Ambrose Merlin, his wife, Brenda, and his sister, Nerys.

“I won’t.”

“And no tough girl contests, Morgan!” Imogene called.

“I’ll make sure she’s fine, Mum.” Arthur closed the front door firmly but waited to sigh in relief until the car door was closed behind him.

From the driver’s seat, Morgan smirked at him. “Sucks to be the golden child, doesn’t it?”

“I’ll give you golden child,” he muttered, leaning over as if to push her out and take her place in the driver’s seat. She smacked him, laughed, and gunned the engine.


*******



“Do we have to stay all through dinner?” one of the younger men was asking.

“It’s not like we’d really be missed if we skipped off to the pub for a few pints,” the person next to him said persuasively.

Arthur shook his head.

Before he could speak, Spencer’s deep voice cut in, “Unbelievable. A funeral, and here you two are arguing about skipping off to get drunk.”

“Mum would notice, and you know it,” one of the other men retorted.

“Aw, Glen, not if you kept her distracted,” wheedled the second speaker.

“How you can persist in thinking that still works boggles my mind,” Morgan interjected. “Aunt Anna never misses anything, especially not when we wish she would.”



*******


Her hand dropped inside of her bag as she faced him suspiciously. Judging by the coiled tension in her arm, she wasn’t reaching for a business card.

“I’m sorry, you are?” she questioned.

He frowned. “It’s my flat. I ask the questions.”

Your flat? Ah.” Her face cleared slightly. “You must be the mysterious Arthur. Do you know, I was beginning to wonder if you even existed at all?”

“I, what…” He blinked. Not a threat then. “How do you have a key?”

“Oh, silly of me. I work with Morgan.”

Well, that explained everything.


*******


Arthur waited, but Morgan made no move to talk about the day. “So,” he finally prompted. “What was Aunt Winnie working on?”

His sister shook her head, frowning darkly. “Whatever it was is classified. I’ve tried every clearance I have, short of calling in favors, and I can’t get anything on it other than a project name. Project Grail.”

“Grail?” Glen tapped his fingers against the bottle in his hand. “As in holy grail?”

“Is our whole sodding family Arthurian mad?” Elgan muttered.

“Watch your tongue. One of those is your captain,” Spencer growled good-naturedly.

“And I suppose his aunts and uncles and parents are less deserving of respect,” Glen retorted.

Spencer shrugged, looking as if he couldn’t care less.


*******

“What was so important that it got you out of command at this hour of the day?”

Morgan glanced up as Telyn sat down opposite her and took a sip from her cup of tea. Her friend was dressed in four shades of green and several small braids interwoven with grass-colored ribbons criss-crossed her head.

“How do they even let you in the doors looking like that?” Morgan gestured to the eclectic outfit, which somehow actually worked, instead of looking like it had been put together by a child of three.

“If decent dressing skills were a prerequisite for a doctor, none of us would have made it through our first year of medical school,” Telyn retorted dryly. “Except for you,” she added, rolling her eyes and wrinkling her nose at Morgan.

“How do you even have time to do your hair like that?”

The hand holding Telyn’s coffee briefly clenched.

“Not sleeping again?” Morgan asked softly. Her friend shrugged, all the answer she needed to know that the nightmares were back.

“Now what is this about?”

“Project Insane Myth.”

Telyn tried unsuccessfully not to giggle. “Is that what we’re calling it?”


*******

“Did Mum and Dad seem awfully eager to get us out of the way tonight?”

“More so than usual?” He considered it for a moment. His father had been closed off, though he did mention he was keeping a sharp eye on the progress of the team Arthur was training. That was normal, though, and as for being quiet, his father had just lost a sister.

Their mother now…when he thought about it, she had seemed less forthcoming than usual. He nodded to Morgan. “Mum perhaps. And Uncle Merlin.”

“Uncle Merlin what?” said another voice. Justin dropped down over the edge of the sofa next to Arthur. He snatched up a beer, twisted the cap off, and drank deeply.

“That bad?” Spencer snickered.

The other man made a garbled sound of disgust.

“Hello again to you too, Justin,” Morgan said pointedly, leaning around Arthur. “I assume Telyn is safely home.”

“That roommate of hers.” Justin shook his head and drank again. “Nothing chatters like that. Nothing. Can’t wait until she moves out.”

“It’s not like you’re ever here—or there—anyway,” Arthur pointed out and changed the subject before Justin had a chance to elaborate on his complaining. “What did Tel tell you about…you know?”

Justin sobered and set the alcohol down. “All she got was a name. Project Grail.”

Morgan muttered something under her breath.




What have YOU been writing lately?


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Soul's Strong Instinct of Another World




I have a deep hunger for unique, one of a kind, not-mainstream-sounding music.

I want more edgy poetry in music.

More songs themed on aesthetics.
The sound of a summer night's owls and bats, a spring morning's fairy bells, a winter midnight stillness, an autumn afternoon's beautiful stirring restlessness.
Sunsets and sunrises.  Twilight.  Midnight.
The beach in the early hours of the morning.
The contained excitement of deer and elk heading up into the mountains for summer pasture.
The calculating thrill of a lion on the prowl.
The snarl of a tiger turning to protect itself.

(Can I have an entire album of both instrumental and songs-with-lyrics themed on selkies, please?)

Old poems with updated phrasing for a fresh touch and set to indie-folk or folk-pop melodies.

Epic vocal music that truly has EPIC lyrics instead of sounding like a three-year-old wrote them.
(Epic vocal music is gorgeous, and I love it, but not when it consists of the same one line being repeated over and over with only very minor variations...SOMEONE HAND ME COFFEE TO WAKE ME UP.)

I want to hear good voices.
The kind that one has to describe with story phrases.




I want more world music of the likes of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt—turning stories into ballads with an international flair.  (Happy day! Loreena's dropping a new album next month.)

More relatable indietronica and synth-pop like Owl City and CHVRCHES.

More indie-folk/folk-pop such as Of Monsters and Men.

Epic music the quality of Two Steps from Hell and Audiomachine but themed on historical events.

Stirring songs the likes of May It Be, Song of the Lonely Mountain, Into the West, and The Last Goodbye.

Music re-imagining classic stories with a contemporary flair, such as the French rock musicals Robin des Bois, La Légende du Roi Arthur, and Les Trois Mousquetaires.

More rock like some of Nickelback's—songs that remind you to keep going, there's something in the world worth fighting for, even if you have to claw your way to it.

More songs like Enya's poetry in music.  Or like Svrcina's Battlefield.

Mythology, legend, and history made FUN, relatable, and interesting again through song.




I just want more music that is edgy without being depressing, fun without insisting I have to get drunk to experience life, and deep while still being relatable for a wide variety of people.


What about you?  What would you like to see more of in music?  What are some of your favorite songs?  Favorite musical artists?


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Reverse Harem: Innocent Women ~ Belleza




After last week's post, I looked at the list of stories in which I've written reverse harem and laughed, because one of those stories is not like all the others. 

Out of the six times I've written reverse harem, I've only written the Innocent Heroine once: Belleza Rivera, heroine of Queen Beauty and the Beasts, my 2016 NaNo novel that I'm now beginning to revise for publishing.

I'm most in my comfort zone when writing powerful women types: the thinkers, manipulators, movers, and shakers.  Less so when writing the more emotional and/or innocent heroines.  But Queen Beauty and the Beasts, a contemporary fantasy retelling of both Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, demanded the Innocent type, rather than the Powerful type.

Belleza wasn't just Belle/Beauty, she was also Christine.  Not only that, she was up against not one, but twelve 'Beasts', one of whom was also the Phantom, all of whose curses she's sworn to break.  It's her strong belief in love– a belief she firmly clings to even after seeing exactly what evil she's up against– that carries her through, as well as her hope that good will triumph over evil, that love can face down any obstacle and still win.

Because I set out to tell a story of love over lust, her being an Innocent type also gave me a large scope for symbolism.

Writing Belleza was a very interesting experience for me.  I don't normally write extrovert FMCs; they're simply not my comfort zone.  I also usually write logical, coolly rational, thinking FMCs, and Belleza was most assuredly not those.  Plus, she is Argentinian, which means she's even more outwardly emotionally demonstrative than say, an American heroine would have been.

But she's not stupid or inane.  She's got a brain and she uses it.  Also, I didn't realize it at the time, but much of her character was unconsciously influenced by irritation that many introverts dismiss how smart and level headed extroverts can be, just because they don't understand them well.

It was also somewhat of a personal challenge to myself.  COULD I, in fact, write a non-Powerful type heroine without completely failing?  Could I write an emotional, extroverted heroine?

I could, it turns out.  And it was fun.  (Stressful, because I pushed myself really hard on that book, but fun.)  And I still love the story, even after it sat for a year.  I'm excited to begin revising it.


My comfort zone is still Powerful-type heroines, but after writing this book, I have a new appreciation of not only the more innocent, hopeful heroines in stories, but those kinds of people in real life, too.



What about you?  Do you tend to write more innocent or powerful heroines in your stories, (with or without reverse harem elements)?


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reverse Harem HOW Many Times?



Greetings, one and all!  I return from the fog shrouding my absence in mystery to once again and with delight take up this blog's pen.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how and why I write stories with many and complicated 'love lines': romantic attractions between a single heroine and multiple male leads, also known as 'reverse harem' stories.

Apropos of beginning a series yesterday on my creative writing blog that further elaborates how to write reverse harem without making people scream in rage, frustration, or disgust, I figured it would be fun to do a parallel series here exploring my own reverse harem stories.

So, without further ado, I introduce the times I've written reverse harem + WHY.


Story/Series: Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Why: Because I wanted to explore Beauty up against a whole 'castle' full of beasts.


Story/Series: Oath of Loyalty/Fidelitas
Why: This was 100% not planned and just happened.  More guys just kept poking their noses in and bingo.


Story/Series: A Certain Darkness/Stellumo
Why: Because a Julius Caesar retelling naturally involved a Cleopatra... and the rest is... history.  Ehehehe.


Story/Series: Wings of the Tiger
Why: Ha.  Because you do not drop this power-mad girl down in a power-mongering court and NOT have that happen.


Story/Series: Ebony and Aubergine/The Lion and the Rose
Why: She's a princess, trained to elicit information and profile people.


Story/Series: Venit Hora/Three Kyngdoms
Why: She's a Valkyrie and it's... complicated.


Essentially, my reasons for writing it so many times are:
#1 = BECAUSE IT WAS FUN.
#2 = Because it just kind of... happened that way in the story.
#3 = It was fun.
#4 = I do what I want in my writing, and the more complicated, the more fun I (usually) have.
#5 = Did I mention it's FUN?


Next week: a closer look into Queen Beauty and the Beasts and the 'innocent' reverse harem heroine.


Have YOU written any reverse harem stories?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Once Upon a Crime, an Introduction




Once upon a time...

...during one very busy NaNo, about which I've scarcely posted on here, but which was good, and yes, I did complete... I had another new story idea. 
(Isn't that always the way it works?  Hard at work on one story, and a cute little plot porg dashes through.)
[Yes, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Yes, I loved it.  Yes, I need a porg.  And a crystal critter.  Yes, I'll write a review at some point.]

I can't say exactly what sparked the idea.  I was in the middle of it before I knew I had begun.


Premise: WHAT IF.... the 'princesses' from fairy tales are actually the suspects in various white collar crimes??


Genre: fairy tale retellings, Ruritanian, mystery
Format: novella series
(Yes, this means me, the confirmed epic-novel-length writer whose only other fairy tale retelling to date clocked out at 172,000+ words is attempting to keep these books to 40,000 words or below.  So far, so good.)


Setting:
Country: Charion, a small, fictional European monarchy on the coast of the Mediterranean, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy
Capital city: Dynatia
Languages: Charion, English, Greek
Chief exports: haute couture fashion, horses
History: Modern day descendants of the Illyrians.  According to legend, they trace their descent back to Cynane, half sister to Alexander the Great and daughter of the Illyrian princess Audata and Philip of Macedon.


Characters:
Electra Penelope Shirin = white collar crime detective

Roxana Helen Antiope = white collar crime detective

Crown Prince Alexander Phillipi Illyroi = lawyer who takes on charity cases concerning his citizens because he doesn't need the money from taking paying cases.

Orion Pegasi = best friend of the prince, former Special Forces soldier, owner of a home security and private security company which has provided security for the upper class houses suddenly being robbed/etc.

Darius Xenophon = cousin of and head of security for the Crown Prince


I'm nearly 10,000 words into the first book, almost one fourth of the way.  It was too good not to plot immediately (I plotted it in 3 1/2 days) and then begin as soon as NaNo was over.


#1 in the series: 
The Iron Tongue of Midnight, retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses.

When the house of a Duke is burgled and a priceless collection of high-fashion shoes are taken, white collar crime detectives Roxana and Electra assume that it’s a normal robbery-for-money and arrest a soldier for the theft.

But then, the Duke calls in a lawyer to defend the soldier, copies of the shoes begin showing up on the black market, and the detectives discover that Duke's daughters go missing for five hours every night.  They're stranded on a hot case, taking pressure from all sides, and have no leads in sight.

Two heads are better than one, but those two might not be enough this time.

(I apologize for the very slapdash blurb, I literally threw it together in five minutes instead of the usual hour of rewriting.  It will undergo rewrites later.)


Tentative list of fairy tales (in no particular order) coming to the series later:
  • The Wild Swans
  • Aladdin
  • Snow White and Rose Red
  • East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon
  • Snow White
  • Toads and Diamonds
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Ugly Duckling
  • Cinderella
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Peter Pan
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Rumplestiltskin
  • The Frog Prince
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  • Rapunzel
  • Bluebeard
  • Puss in Boots
  • Pinocchio
  • King Thrushbeard
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Cinderlad/Glass Mountain
  • The Princess and the Pea
  • Tam Lin



SNIPPETS:

    “No.”
    “Now, how can you say that without having even seen them?”
    The first speaker shook her head as they glanced both ways before crossing the street.  “Rox, girl, I did see them.  You know I looked them up the first moment you told me about them.  And the answer’s still no.  Can you see the landlord allowing it?”
    “Oh, you know that Melantha would convince him.”  Roxana drained the last of the coffee from the cup in her left hand.
    Creamy golden sunlight spilled down over the white columns of the building they were approaching, an old temple that now housed the police headquarters for the city of Dynatia.
    “How would we persuade Hannibal and Zenobia to leave it alone?  And how would Caliburn and Ariel take being displaced in your affections?”
    Her companion snorted and detoured briefly to throw the empty cup into a trash can before catching up to her in three long strides.  “They’d be fine.  Think about it.  Electra, really.  Tiny deer!  Tiny.  Deer.  Come now, you can’t tell me you don’t love the picture.”  Ruby lips curved into an enchanted smile at the vista she painted.
    “I have pictured it, and it’s everything adorable and precious, and I’d enjoy it.  Pity it’s not practical right now, Snow White.  A baby Groot on the other hand… I could really go for one of those.”
    Roxana snorted.  “Couldn’t we all?”


**********


    “He is a private investigator, so he has to protect client information, but… how are we supposed to clear him if we don’t know where he was?”  Roxana thumped her desk in frustration.  “Go do bad cop quickly, please, so I know what you think.” 
    “Eee, sig nai, that’s not going to happen.”  Dinos walked in and resumed his seat at his desk.  A homicide detective, he not infrequently gave them a hand on a case if he had no work of his own.  They had returned the favor more than once.  Here, everything was shared.
    “What do you mean?” Electra demanded, both she and Roxana coming up out of their chairs as though pulled by a magnet and turning to look through the window of the interrogation room.
    “He lawyered up,” Dinos said, jerking over his shoulder with his thumb.  “I don’t know about you, but arguing with the prince of my country wasn’t on my list for today.”
    “The prince?!” Roxana exclaimed, startled into near-hoarseness.
    “Which prince?” Electra asked, eyes narrowing.
    “The Prince,” another colleague breathed in a starstruck whisper, bounding up to them, having looked through the window into the room.
    “I don’t have time for games,”  Electra reminded her, fixing her with a stern look.
    The colleague gulped, but her eyes didn’t loose their starry shine.  She took a deep breath, the better to deliver her solemn announcement. 
    “The Crown Prince.  Alexander Philippi Illyroi, Sword of His People, Heir to the Throne of Charion.”


**********


    “See what we can dig up on the suspect,” Roxana added.
    “Legally,” their boss reminded them sternly.
    “Of course,” they assured her in unison.
    In the process of removing her badge and gathering her bag, their boss gave them a dubious look over her shoulder.
    Her detectives looked innocently back at her.
    “Get outta here.”  She flapped her hands at them.  “Go eat dinner or something.  I’m going to see my cousins.”
    “We need to go over the case again,” Electra said, and Roxana felt a prickle of disappointment.  If her partner thought they needed to review the case again right away, she would stay, but until Cassandra had mentioned it, she hadn’t realized how hungry she was.
    “No,” their captain said forcefully.  “No, no, no.  Nothing is more important than dinner.  Unless it’s the King,” she amended hastily, seeing both women open their mouths.  “Go eat, that’s an order.  Rox, get her out of here.” 
    “Kids,” she muttered as she brushed out of the doorway ahead of them.  “No respect for tradition or common sense.  Skip dinner indeed.   Like working on an empty stomach is going to accomplish something.  Or that work is more important than food.  What nonsense did they learn in their high falutin college?”  Her complaining gradually died away down the hall.
    Roxana looked at Electra, who shrugged.
    “We better get going if we don’t want her wrath on us.”


**********


    In a cafe several streets away, Crown Prince Alexander parted from Konos with a firm hug.  “Remember, not a word to anyone else for now,” he cautioned.
    “I know, yes, sir.  Thank you, sir, for helping me.”
    Alexander thumped him on the shoulder.  “Nothing to it.  The detectives don’t have much to go on, and they can’t charge you.  You’re innocent in the eyes of the law.”
    Konos hesitated.  “Eeee, sir, they don’t look like the kinds of people to just sit back quietly and not try to net every dead fish in the shallows.”
    He considered that briefly, then shrugged.  “I said I’d handle your case, so don’t worry about it.  Get back to whatever secret project you’re investigating for the Duke.”
    Konos’s parting words were so quiet that the prince barely heard them as he went towards the door.
    “Thank you, my captain.”
    Alexander paused and then shrugged.  “Can’t lose a good soldier now.”  The final grin he sent his former comrade was a reminder.  Focus.  Stay on the mission.  I’ve got your back as much as you ever had mine.


**********


    “So, how much like the Greeks are you?” asked a third tourist at the table.
    “Well, we don’t swear as much as the Greeks do.”  Roxana tilted her head and sent a laughing glance at them from beneath long eyelashes.
    “Just almost as much,” Electra added.
    “The difference is really very slight, hardly worth mentioning,” said a young man at another nearby table.  One of the regulars, he roomed at the same boarding house she and Electra did.
    “Some of us have more to fill our head than swear words, Kovo,” Electra remarked dryly, quelling him.


**********


    “I approve of this Duke,” Electra said abruptly a moment later.
    Roxana paused with her water bottle half way to her mouth.  “And why is that, O Sage?”
    “Well, if you’re going to have twelve daughters, it is pretty handy to name them after the months.  Easy for people to remember.  Not very many people seem to consider sense when naming their children.  I really think more people should.”
    “Ew!  Who wants to do that?  Naming someone is all about aesthetic, Miss Common Sense.  The names need to sing.  To have meaning.  To flow.”
    “Hey!  I never said they didn’t!  But it also helps if people can pronounce them, too,” Electra countered.  “I think both should be combined for a harmonious whole.”
    “Mmmmm.  When I have kids,” Roxana said dreamily, propping her booted feet up on the corner of her desk, “I’m going to name them the most beautiful, aesthetically pleasing names ever, and if people can’t pronounce them at once, they can learn how.”
    “You would.”  Electra tossed down the file of one daughter and began on another.  “I’ll be around to give them easily remember-able nicknames which commoners can use.”
    “So practical,” Roxana sighed provokingly.
    “So lost in beauty,” Electra retorted with a smothered laugh.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Delights of Beta Reading




I don't have a long list of hobbies.  Mostly they revolve around words in some way.  My work is words and my play is often words, as well.  Houston, we might have a problem.  (What is play, Precious?  What is RELAX??)

Near the very top of that list is beta reading.  Through beta reading I've gained several friends– including my two best friends– and seen the deeper side of many people, the side not readily shown to the public.  I rarely have the time for it that I'd like anymore (it's called being an adult), but I still alpha read for my three favorite contemporary writers and occasionally beta read for others.

But why?  What is it about beta/alpha reading that makes me love it so much, even when I'm so busy with other things that I can only fit bits and pieces of it in for weeks at a time?

  What kept me going from offering to beta a ridiculous number of books one year to gradually whittling down the list to the people whose work I most love or about which I am most curious?

A love for stories and for storytelling runs strong in my blood, and I exult in releasing that through writing.  But there is a unique and powerful joy in watching others do that too.  Especially if the author is a favorite of mine.  

There is an indescribable wonder in being able to give an author feedback that will help them.  There is an elation in watching a book come out in full published splendor, knowing where it began and seeing how it has been refined to be shown now in shining glory.


It's not all fun and games and cheering someone on.  It's not all sunshine and rainbows and free books to read.  It’s actually a very serious charge.  Each book is a part of their author's soul.  So when they hand it to you, they are entrusting you with a part of themselves.  Handle with Care might as well be written all over it in red Sharpie marker.  Through their story, you see a part of them that is not always readily seen elsewhere.

It took me a few years to settle into a comfortable style that combined my preferences with what authors need.  Early on, I tried too hard and wasn’t honest enough.  I saw the flaws but tried to only focus on the good.  Feedback should DEFINITELY highlight the good parts, but if there are areas that need work, those should be pointed out too, else the beta/alpha reading won't be helpful enough.  It needs to be honest and yet encouraging.



Sometimes, especially with books that have a good core but the execution is sadly lacking, it’s hard to figure out how to be honest without being harsh.  It’s also hard when I love a book and know that it really is good, to make sure the author knows I'm not just 'gushing'.  There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about something I love, but for an author to know I seriously examined and analyzed the work, the love has to be backed up with specifics over what I liked and WHY I liked it so much.  I have to have rational explanations to be helpful.

It's also frustrating when the feedback you gave seems not to have helped the author at all, or worse and most frustrating, when you spent hours working on feedback for someone's book and the author never responds even to say whether they liked it or not/it was helpful/it wasn't helpful.  *cue irritated beta reader who privately declares never to read for that author again*

Above all, the thing I love most about reading or critiquing other authors' work is the sheer delight of helping an author see their work through the eyes of a reader, and then to watch them bring their work to completion.   

That’s what started me on the road of beta reading, and then alpha reading.  (It's also what prompted me to transition into the world of critiquing [more analytical and technical than beta reading] as one of my editorial services.)

It's hard work sometimes, and definitely a challenging balance to try to walk most of the time, but the work is more than repaid when someone tells you that your feedback was invaluable, when someone comes BACK to you and specifically asks you to read something else they wrote because what you did before helped, or when you hold in your hands a book you first saw as a half-feathered first draft, and it's fully feathered now and ready to fly.

That's when it's time to grab your friends by the throat and tell them, ‘YOU REALLY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.’


That's honestly the best part of it all.


Do you beta or alpha read for authors?  What's your favorite part about it?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Is It Really 'Just A Story'?




"It's just fiction, what's the big deal?"
"It's just a story, why are you being so critical of it?  Give it a break."
"It's a made-up world, you know, why is it irritating you so much?"

All are questions I- and my close friends- have heard multiple times.

People approach fiction differently.  Some see it as mere entertainment, to be enjoyed for a few hours and then left behind.  Some see it as escape, either from stress or from a darker life.  Others see it as a vehicle of social commentary.  Still others see it as an expression of a society, a weapon and/or a tool. 

For some people though, it’s something more than just an art form.  It’s a lifestyle, a passion, a great mirror that reflects the world– and themselves.

Without judging any of the other viewpoints, I’d like to expound on the last one and why I hold it.

Stories can change lives.

Once we read or watch a story, it becomes a part of us.  Whether it's only temporarily– for the duration of its being read– or whether permanently, something that we'll remember even when old and gray.  Fiction can inspire us to become better versions of ourselves, alert us to problems in the world we weren't aware of before, help us process our thoughts and opinions on an issue, assist us in dealing with a rough situation/grief/a hard life, or just make us draw a long breath and soak in the beauty of the story for a minute.  Beauty is vital to a balanced life.

Writing fiction is a craft.  True, it is an art, but it's also a craft in which there are standards of what is good writing and what is bad writing.  When a story has a good plot but is badly written, or when the writing is good but the plot is ridiculous, it falls short of the mark.  Yes, that irritates me, it even disgusts me at times, when it's plain that the author didn't care enough to put more time and effort into a story.  It's even more frustrating when authors perpetuate bad fiction, either because it was published by traditional houses and found a market or because with the rise of self publishing, literally anything can be published nowadays.

A good story doesn't just have some snarky characters, witty dialogue and a few unusual worldbuilding elements or relationships.  A good story is one that unites a unique plot (or an original handling of an old trope/story) with characters who feel like they could be real people, were you to walk into the pages of said story, enhanced by a setting that is vivid in its appeal to the senses, and all of it told, if not brilliantly, then well.

Granted, achieving that takes work, and I'm not at all implying slurs against amateur authors or their work.  I'm just describing why I take such a critical approach to evaluating literature.

For some people, they can read books, class them as entertainment, and turn away with a shrug.  But for myself and my closest friends, it’s never JUST fiction.  We don’t consider each and every one of the books we write to be a lightning bolt message from God or some social cause, but at the same time, it’s not merely a story to us.  Besides being a part of our souls, stories can change the world, one person at a time.  We write them with the hope that they'll live long in the memory of the readers, even if only because they're angry with us, the author.  (Hey, all the best books make at least one person mad.)

The good books, the ones I actually finish, and the ones I eventually re-read, those are the reason I read fiction.  And I look for the same quality in what I read that I strive for in what I write.

If there is no standard for which to strive, there is no bar to inspire us to reach higher.   If we're going to write and read fiction, let it be good fiction.  Let it do something to make our day brighter, not harder.  Let it give us something to take away and keep with us for the rest of our lives.

As Leo McGarry once said, in Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, "And let THAT be our legacy."


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Every Author Should Have Some

A couple weeks ago I made a post on Intuitive Writing Guide about where to look for cover designers for your book.  In this post I said "Having artist friends is great, BTW, in case anyone was wondering, every author should have some artist friends."

HERE'S WHY having artist friends is so great for an author.

Artists see the world differently from anyone else.

They are intensely visual people, naturally.  It is their passion (and often their job) to vividly picture something and then visually create it (as opposed to verbally creating it with words).

They look at a scene and they see colors, they see harmony and disharmony, they see aesthetics, they see 'vibes' from characters often embodied as colors or concepts (one reason I love them so much).

As someone who thinks in 'vibes' and designs characters based on 'auras', I adore this about them.  I especially love how they can distill a vibe or an aura down to a 'single encompassing element' so to speak, making me sit back and go, 'Wow.  I didn't see it like that but YOU JUST NAILED IT.'  And that comment can revolutionize the way I see a scene or character.

[You know you've been spending a lot of time with artists when an artist's wife hears you describe something to them and says, 'Y'know, you kind of see things the way an artist does'.]

My artist friends have helped me improve my visuals in writing, because of the inspiration they send, the feedback they give, and how they constantly talk about and 'live in' a mood of aesthetics.  Aesthetic is vital to them, and if you hang around long enough (and are open-minded enough), you'll begin to feel that influence, and it will change the way the world looks to you.  It's amazing.

An artist's medium is visual.  An author's is words.
They're opposites, but highly complimentary opposites.  Artists must condense into a picture what an author can use two pages to describe with words... and an author must use three sentences to portray what artists can 'simply' (art is rarely 'simple') show with two shades of one color.

If an artist tells you, "Your visuals in this scene are very good", you're doing something right.  If they say, "These visuals are GREAT and I love them!", you know you're REALLY doing something right.

Close friendships always go through levels.  After you and your artist friend have gone through the lower levels of:
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my writing now.'
'I'm comfortable with showing you some of my art now.'
'*fellow creatives in opposite mediums sometimes have to spend a few minutes figuring out what words to use to make the other understand a concept*'
'Okay, just don't say that to an artist.'
'And don't say that to an author.'

...there are a few glorious, silver, upper levels, when your artist friend says:
1. "I want to sketch this character/creature/scene/landscape."
2. "OHMYGOSH, I HAVE TO SKETCH THIS CHARACTER OF YOURS."  And then they do it. (TOTALLY. FANTASTIC.)
3. "WHEN YOU PUBLISH THIS BOOK, I WANT TO DO THE COVER ART."  (O.o Did you really just say what I think you said... ohmygosh...WHOA.)

On the flip side of the coin, it's intensely gratifying and thrilling for them to sketch or draw something for an author and have the author's reaction be open-mouthed surprise, speechless shock, or semi-incoherent squealing of, 'OHMYWORD YOU PERFECTLY CAPTURED THE scene/character/vibe/etc.'

 Author-artists are a beautiful, fascinating, and rare (well, the good ones are) breed.  Not only can they portray their stories in art to give people visual references, but the way it affects their writing is intriguing to trace.  They look at the 'blocking of a scene' differently.  They may not be outliners or plotters, but they can picture a scene vividly in full detail and write it down, instinctively capturing it.  Also, verbal description might not be one of their strong points, but most of the time, you'd never know it because what descriptions they do have LIVE, mostly because they instinctively pick out the important background pieces and feature those.

Which in turn has taught me what background pieces are important in writing and what are less so.


So that's all very well and awesome, you say, but you don't just jump into a great relationship with an artist, right?  It grows.  And there are things to learn along the way.  Little tips and tricks that lessons for any good friendship, tailored to the particular breed of people known as artists.

Encourage them.
Artists are every bit as self conscious about their art as you are about your writing (if not even more timid sometimes).  Even if they've gone to college and trained for art, they're self conscious, they doubt themselves.  Encourage them, ask to see their art, sometimes even nag them to show you their WIPs (this should only be done with certain personalities that require persuasion and actually are comfortable with showing you their WIPs, so tread carefully here and feel this part out).

Be honest with them.
Tell them when you like things or when it's a great picture but not quite your personal type.  Tell them WHAT you like about a picture, 'the colors here are amazing!', 'HIS EYEBROWS ARE GLORIOUS', 'can I have her HAIR please'.  This thrills them, but only if it's true.  Artists are very quick to spot false enthusiasm or fake praise.  Believe me, this will be unhealthy for them, for you, and for the world in general.  They may be polite but most of them have long memories...and fierce pencils.

If you don't know anything about art, shut up.
'But you just told me to be honest.'  Yes.  Yes, I did.  This is a tricky line to walk.  Be honest about whether you like a picture, what you like about it, etc.  But if you don't really have an eye for art, refrain from making comments like, 'his eye looks off', or 'maybe his forehead is too narrow' or 'her shoulder is crooked'.  It will frustrate the blazes out of an artist and they might stop showing you their work.


In conclusion, artists are a wonderful people and incredible to have as friends.  Get yourself some, if you possibly can... and hang on for the ride.