Learning is never a bad thing, and improving is a worthy goal no matter where you are on the curve. I'm pretty sure I want to keep learning more about writing, and improving, my entire life. I want my next book to be better than my last, and the one after that to be better still.
As soon as I posted the first part of this story, (which I've decided to call City of Jewels) I saw a whole list of things I needed to add to the beginning. Most of what it needed were a lot more details and information.
Other writers might give this process a different name, but I call what I'd doing layering. Think of pastry built from filo dough, with all those thin, nondescript layers adding up to something rich and full. That's how I've always thought of adding details to a story.
Beginnings of stories have to carry a lot of weight. I need to introduce the main, most important characters, establish the setting and start worldbuilding--which I always think of as letting the reader know they aren't in Kansas any more. I have to start revealing plot and planting narrative questions in the reader's mind.
You--meaning me--have to start establishing and front loading conflict, both the greater, overall conflict arc, and the internal conflict arc as well.
A beginning needs to start letting the reader know what the stakes are, large and small. How large and how small depends on the story you're telling, but the stakes need to be there. I ask myself who is in danger? Why is what's happening important to these people? How are the goals/wants/needs/desires of my protags conflict with those of my antags? How do I make readers care?
All of this needs to start from the first page. And it's a balancing act between presenting enough detail--enough layers--to hook a reader and keep them reading, and overwhelming them to the point of boredom.
There are other things to think about, such as pacing, voice, and making your characters more than a micron deep, but I've already listed more than enough.
I looked at the beginning of City of Jewels that I posted and realized I'd left out way too much information, and left far too many unanswered questions. Why was Arlandria climbing to the top of this building, and for that matter, why was she in this city? Scaling a building in the dark implies not wanting to be seen, and maybe even underhanded motives. What did she and Mishka hope to gain?
There were other questions, other missing layers of detail. I needed to go back and clue readers in to what was in my head.
In the process the beginning almost doubled in size. It's richer and fuller now, closer to what I want--but it's still a first draft. If someday in the far, distant future I revise this, I'm sure I'll see ways to make this better.
And at the end of this section I introduce Prince Rory Alexander, and more of what's at stake. The story also begins to get creepy at that point.
Hey, this is me. What did you expect?
**** **** **** ****
Scrambling over rooftops wasn't new, but the rounded tiles glistened with fresh rain, slippery and treacherous. Arlandria took her time climbing, using every trick she'd learned over the last three years. Mishka struggled to find his footing right behind her. He swore each time either of them slipped, the curses he called down on Prelate Manley's head growing more colorful as the ground got farther away.
"Save your breath for climbing, Mish." She found a stable handhold and hauled herself up another few inches. "You can curse the prelate later."
They reached the roof's peak and she leaned against the largest of five chimneys to catch her breath. The Sea Trader's Hall was the tallest building in the city, the view unobstructed in all directions. From here they could map the boundaries of all the different districts, see which had spread, and which had gotten smaller. Getting their bearings before going after Rory would help them plan escape routes, and avoid being trapped.
Cold wind whipped Arlandria's dark cloak around her ankles and worked its way under her clothing, a minor discomfort she chose to ignore. She wanted to savor her first glimpse of home. Three years was a very long time to be away.
The sleeping city of Talen sprawled before her, both deeply familiar and strange. Lapis blue lights still glittered along the harbor's jagged edge, bright as the sea at midday. The tanner's district was smaller then she remembered, but shone with the same faint golden shades of citrine. Emerald and jade lights burned for merchants' shops and the homes of guild masters; amethyst for taverns. Each district gleamed with a unique color all its own, a piece of the founders' craft that had endured more than a thousand years. Talen was the jewel city in truth as well as legend.
At the center of the city, lights the deep red-orange of carnelian pulsed, a beating heart that pushed back against the night. The color was closer to blood red than she'd remembered, but her father's murder was likely responsible for the change. He hadn't passed his kingdom to an heir. She wasn't even sure the prelate's soldiers had bothered to bury him before burning the manor.
Surrounding the bright carnelian was a void, a ring of nothingness that held no color at all. Watching how the darkness drank light made her shiver.
"I expected more changes. This is one time I'm glad to be wrong. Maybe the prelate isn't as powerful as we thought." Arlandria gripped the pommel of the short sword at her side. The blade woke, whispering Rory's name and promises of revenge. "Rory's down there, Mishka, somewhere on the other side of that dark circle. And he's still alive if the sword can be believed."
"Believing the ravings of a fae blade will get you killed, Highness." He stood behind and to one side of her, tall and strong, watching Arlandria's back as he had since they were children. "One day you'll listen to me and toss that cursed thing into the ocean."
Mishka had arrived in her father's court the year they both turned seven, a scrawny, frightened orphan sent to be fostered by strangers. She'd become his friend and his champion within a day. Arlandria defended Mishka against anyone who'd mocked his accent or his clothes, not caring if those she fought were older or stronger. Her father hadn't interfered unless blood was spilled.
"And one day you'll learn the difference between curses and fate. Finding the blade was fate. That it talks to me is all the proof I need." The sword purred under her hand, a cat who loved being stroked. "I need to talk to Callie when we get back to the inn. She might know what that dark ring means."
He scowled. "It bothers me that we haven't heard anything about this. The lights going out in a section of Talen is worthy of dozens of rumors."
"That worries me too." People should be talking, if not inside the city, then visitors who'd come and gone. Changes to a legend didn't go unremarked. She pulled her cloak tighter. "There used to be a market full of weavers and booksellers' stalls just inside the prelate's district. We'll find our way there after breakfast. Three more shoppers won't attract attention. I want to see what the dark area hides."
Mishka edged his way over to a smaller chimney a few feet to the right. He pushed against it, straining his muscles and putting all his weight on the mortared stone. When the stonework proved sound, he unhooked the coil of rope attached to his belt and looped it around the chimney three times before tying it off. The balance of the rope snaked down the roof tiles, and dangled off the edge, giving them an easy drop into the alley. "Nothing good. Definitely not anything I'd want to confront unprepared and at night. I must admit to a certain relief that you don't want to charge in immediately."
"Fate doesn't make you stupid, Mish. If anything it makes you more careful. With Callie's help we'll find a way in, but first we need to know what we're facing." She tugged her leather gloves up tight before waving him toward the rope. "You first. If we fall I want something soft to land on."
Prince Rory Alexander woke choking on panic and unable to breathe. Chains tethering him to the wall pulled him up short as he came up off the wooden pallet, the sharp pain in his shoulders and arms waking him completely. He flopped on the edge of what passed for a bed, panting and watching blood from reopened wounds on his manacled wrist flow down his hand, and wondered if he'd finally gone mad.
The whispers filling his cell lasted longer this time, words twisting around each other. He heard his name spoken in a harsh voice he didn't recognize, a voice that uttered vows for vengeance against those who'd made him suffer, and made Rory's heart pound in terror.
And this time he imagined hearing Arlandria's voice amidst the tangled whispers. She was coming to find him, making plans with Mishka to take him out of this filthy cell and away from Prelate Manley's tender ministrations and periodic rages.
That more than anything convinced Rory he'd lost his mind. Arlandria was dead and Mishka with her. He'd seen their bodies.
A deeper cold filled the cell, followed by the shuffling sound of something moving across rough stone floors in the corridor. Rory managed to pull the blanket around himself in time and lay down with his face toward the wall. Manley's creature, a misshapen thing that might once have been a man, slid open the grate near the top of the door, peering at him through the metal mesh.
The grate closed and the creature moved away, but Rory didn't dare move even after the room warmed again. He couldn't risk attracting attention in the dark.
And as we joked around, tossing cliches back and forth, a character tapped me on the shoulder, as they do, and said "You can do better than that, Jaime. I double dog dare you."
Thus did the joke become sorta serious, and the build a better princess, website fiction project was born.
This is a strictly on the website, occasional feature, posted as I get more written. It will keep me sane, and writing, while I wait for option novel things to be resolved.
Be warned, I may never finish this story, but then again, I might.
Most important, this is for fun. I've been trying to remember fun in terms of writing for awhile now, the kind of fun divorced from deadlines, marketing concerns, and numbers. By jove, I might have found it.
Remember people, fun is the key word here. Fun might mean typos. It might be logic holes the size of Ohio. Just go with it.
Scrambling over rooftops wasn't new, but the rounded tiles glistened with fresh rain, slippery and treacherous. Arlandria took her time climbing, while Mishka struggled to find his footing right behind her. He swore each time either of them slipped, the curses he called down on Prelate Manley's head growing more colorful as the ground got farther away.
They reached the roof's peak and she leaned against the largest of the five chimneys to catch her breath. Cold wind whipped Arlandria's dark cloak around her ankles and worked its way under her clothing, a minor discomfort she chose to ignore. She wanted to remember this moment.
The sleeping city of Talen sprawled before her. Lights still glittered along the harbor's jagged edge, lapis blue as the sea at midday. The tanner's district shone with the faint golden shades of citrine, emerald and jade lights burned for merchants' shops and the homes of guild masters; amethyst for taverns. Each district gleamed with a unique color all its own. Talen was the jewel city in truth as well as legend.
At the center of the city lights the deep red-orange of carnelian pulsed, a beating heart that pushed back against the night. Surrounding the carnelian was a void, a ring of nothingness that held no light at all. Watching how the darkness drank light made her shiver.
Arlandria gripped the pommel of the short sword at her side. The blade woke, whispering Rory's name and promises of revenge. "Rory's down there, Mishka. And he's still alive if the sword can be believed."
"Believing the ravings of a fae blade will get you killed, Highness." He stood behind and to one side of her, tall and strong, watching Arlandria's back as he had since they were children. "One day you'll listen to me and toss that cursed thing into the ocean."
Mishka had arrived in her father's court the year they both turned seven, a scrawny, frightened orphan sent to be fostered by strangers. She'd become his friend and his champion within a day. Arlandria defended Mishka against anyone who'd mocked his accent or his clothes, not caring if those she fought were older or stronger. Her father never interfered unless blood was spilled.
"And one day you'll learn the difference between curses and fate. Finding the blade was fate. That it talks to me is all the proof I need." The sword purred under her hand, a cat who loved being stroked. Fate or curse, freeing Rory was all she cared about. "We'll come back after sunrise. I want to see what the dark area around the prelate's district hides."
"Nothing good. Definitely not anything I'd want to confront unprepared and at night." Mishka edged his way over to a smaller chimney a few feet to the right. He pushed against it, straining his muscles and putting all his weight on the mortared stone. When the stonework proved sound, he unhooked the coil of rope attached to his belt and looped it around the chimney three times before tying it off. The balance of the rope snaked down the roof tiles, and dangled off the edge, giving them an easy drop into the alley. "I must admit to a certain relief that you don't want to charge in immediately."
"Fate doesn't make you stupid, Mish. If anything it makes you more careful." She tugged her leather gloves up tight before waving him toward the rope. "You first. If we fall I want something soft to land on."
The plot, and the shiny bits, and the sadness in this book don't match the bouncy music putting it all in my head. Welcome to my brain.
I'm working out what I know about the two main characters, Owen and Marie, their relationship, conflicts and history. The spy and the alchemist have loved each other since their teens, the court functionary and the widowed young queen keep up the proper pretense in public--the bastard son of a duke and the woman who was never supposed to wear the crown know they can never marry.
Marie keeps asking him. Owen keeps reminding her of reality and saying no.
Other writers plot out each scene, each delicate plot maneuver and adjustment before they write. I figure out who my characters are first, how they feel, interact, fit with each other and in their world. The story grows from there.
This works for me. I don't recommend that others try writing this way.
Other stuff. Because life is full of other stuff.
I will be at Armadillo Con for one whole day! Saturday, July 26h is the day. I don't have any programming or panels to do, I know exactly three people going to the con who speak to me, but damn it all, I'm going. I plan to have fun too.
I finished this month's OWW newsletter today, other than my introduction and a tiny bit of tweaking. That was a good thing. Probably boring to anyone reading this, but a monthly milestone for me.
If the stars align correctly tomorrow, I want to finish putting together a link post of all the guest blogs and interviews I've done over the last month or so. I want a record for me if for nothing else.
The other things I want to talk about--reviews, quality of books vs. sales, and other delicate subjects--require posts all their own, and for me to be awake enough to write said post. After midnight is not the time.
There are reasons for all of that, needing sleep and not being able to stay up to blog being one of them. The Greek chorus in the background expressing horror over what I might say is another. But you know, I like blogging. It's another form of storytelling. I'm going to do my best to get back into it.
A bits and pieces of me entry...blown hither and yon by the hot Texas wind.
1. Texas is full of bugs, most of them huge. I kid you not when I say most of them look like cast extras from an old black and white monster movie. What people call "palmetto bugs" and are really giant cockroaches, crawl out of drains and under doors. They cover the concrete surrounding the swimming pool after dark.
Most of them are more than three inches long, difficult to kill, and scare the hell out of my cats. You can't escape them, and catch and release means you find the same bug staring at you from the towel bar. I did discover that bathroom mildew cleaner not only kills them quickly, the bugs...melt. I don't feel bad about that at all, considering.
The store were I work has been invaded by two inch long black beetles. They drift and pile up along the walls outside the front door at night, dark shifting masses of bugs that huddle under the lights. If they stayed outside the store that would be bad enough.
These things are inside as well. I find black beetles inside drawers, under tables, under displays--everywhere I look there are beetles crawling. The entire staff steps over and around them, doing our best not to step <strong>ON</strong> any of them. Exterminators have come and gone (twice) but the bugs are stronger. We sweep up the beetles that do die with the dust bunnies.
A little boy somewhere between the age of three and four was at the registers with his mother not long after the invasion started. He was following one of these beetles, trying his best to stomp on it and missing. Finally he managed to step on the bug, and for good measure, stomped it again.
The little boy watched until the bug stopped twitching, leaned over with a scowl and said, "Are you dead yet?"
The bug, of course, didn't answer, but it's a question the staff keeps asking. We all wonder if the bugs are dead yet.
2. I've lost count of the number of times over the last few weeks that someone, usually an older person, has come up to me and said "Did you know the store is full of nasty/ugly/big bugs?"
Each time I have to stop myself from doing a double take, looking around frantically and saying "Bugs? Where!?!"
Being a nice person at heart, I rein in my smart-ass answers and tell them yes, we know, exterminators are on the case, etc. But oh, the temptation....
3. I had another dream about being lost last night, abandoned by everyone I'd come with after some kind of event or luncheon where I gave a talk. During the talk everyone fell asleep. Afterward I couldn't find my way back to the hotel, and all the people I asked for directions didn't know where my hotel was.
This dream was one in a series, a variation on a theme and a metaphor I don't need interpreted. What all these dreams have in common, aside from me wandering lost in a huge crowd of strangers, is I'm always within sight of the ocean.
I knew I missed being near the water. I didn't know I missed it that much.
4. The YA book wasn't as ripe or ready for writing as I thought. It's been put away for a while to finish cooking and grow a beginning. Middles and endings are awesome, but I still need a good, compelling place to start.
My writer brain helpfully supplied a novel that was ready to be written. More about that book later.
More about many things later. Time for sleep.
And! If you want a signed copy, I have two options for that as well. Unless something changes, these are my only scheduled signings.
I will be at Murder By The Book in Houston on Saturday, June 14th at 4:30 p.m. You can call or email the store to order a copy of your very own, signed and personalized.
And I will be at Katy Budget Books in the Katy/Houston area on Friday, June 13th at 6p.m. for a Friday the 13th signing. You can pre-order a copy for me to sign from the fine folk at Katy Budget Books as well.
Other options, either strictly online or a combination of brick and mortar/online ordering.
Alibris Books. An online retailer that sells both new and used books, including mine.
The Strand Bookstore in New York. A fine indie bookstore that does online ordering as well.
Mysterious Galaxy an independent genre bookstore, both walk-in and online.
Powell's Books a legend that needs no introduction. Someday I will make it to the Pacific Northwest to shop there.
Books A Million a brick and mortar chain that I hope continues to thrive and grow. They have a great online store too.
Chapters Indigo for my friends in Canada.
And if none of those work for you, use IndieBound to find an independent bookstore near you.
Barnes and Noble is always an option, and of course, the megacorp of your choice.
I'm really excited about A BARRICADE IN HELL going out into the world to seek its fortune. My hope is that many more readers will discover Gabe and Delia and fall in love with them.
That's the writer's dream, ladies and gents, that people will love your books. Some of us even implore the brightest star.
And I was going to blog about them earlier, but I had another guest post to write, and a book to finish revising. So I'm late getting these up, but late is better than not at all.
The first post about The Great War is up at Far Beyond Reality. Stefan Raets was kind enough to invite me to share some of what it's like to write about character's lives against a historical background.
The extra added bonus with this post is a chance to win copies of both Delia's Shadow and A Barricade In Hell. Tor is providing copies of both books to one lucky winner.
Go read the post and enter to win books! You know you want to.
The second is A Special Needs in Strange Worlds guest column over at SF Signal. Writing characters with physical limitations is hard in any context. Adding a historical background ups the difficulty level. Getting it all right is harder still.
Both posts are much more interesting than my summaries make them sound, I promise. It's late and I'm tired, and a small cat named Morgan is howling in my ear that's it's time for bed.
She could be right.
That the trade paperback edition of Delia's Shadow came out today! Yes, ladies and gents, my book is available in both hardback and paperback at a bookstore or internet outlet near you. Same beautiful cover on both editions.
But wait! There's even more news.
The Kindle edition has a new, lower price! It's only $9.79.
And there's still more!
Two weeks from today (June 3rd) the second book in the series, A Barricade In Hell, comes out! Pre-order now and you could have it on release day. Indie stores, such as Murder By The Book, and Katy Budget Books, love pre-orders.
And since I will be signing at those stores June 13th and June 14th, if you order either book right now, you can get a signed copy for your very own.
That's all the news I have for now, but watch this space.
Not to bury the lead...
The trade paper of Delia's Shadow will be out May 20th. Two weeks after that, June 3rd to be exact, A Barricade In Hell will be released.
Two books in two weeks, ladies and gents. I have no words for how crazed that is. I should probably start shamelessly self promoting.
Cats must be fed, after all.
In that spirit, I have two signings scheduled in Houston right after Barricade comes out. Friday, June 13th, I will be signing at Katy Budget Books from 6-8 p.m.
And on Saturday, June 14th, I'll be back at Murder By The Book from 4:30 to 6-ish. I had a ton of fun there last fall, and I can't wait to go back.
I will remind the world a few times between now and then. I'd really love to see people turn out for both signings.
Months back my external hard-drive decided to wipe almost all the music off my computer during the weekly backup.
As in ::poof:: gone. Bye-bye.
All the music was still on my old computer, and on the external drive, and it would play if that drive was connected, but the cpu never stopped running and nothing else worked correctly. The extra added bonus was that none of the music would go BACK on to the computer.
I was not a happy woman. I ended up ripping cds to the drive (again) and other fun things to get some of that music back. I write to music, so that was important.
This week the ranch was saved by a 16g thumbdrive. I got all my music--over 3000 mp3s, all of which I paid money for--off the old computer and back on the one I use.
Music makes me happy. Getting it back makes me happy. It's all about the happy stuff. And if some people in the world think that's silly, I really don't care.
Awaken, aka the twisted fairytale, continues to grow. It's creeping up on 10k, which as you know, Roberta, makes it a real book. My brain is giving me the story in chunks, and jumping around in time, and I can see I need to go back and layer in details. But on the whole, I get words when I sit down to write.
Time to write is the issue. I do need to sleep once in a while.
Changes passed down from the corporate level have made the dayjob a stress fest of epic proportions. Which is all I'm going to say about that.
Insert a primal scream here for the rest of real life. Interesting times, ladies and gents. I'd like a little boredom now.
Time to be productive before I leave for a night shift. Day 1 of 7 in a row.
I need to consult with my webmage about the cross poster here. Garbage code showing up with every apostrophe or em dash makes a blogger crazy. Not helpful.
Anyway. Twisted fairy tales and the writing there of.
I got AWAKEN up to just under 6,000 words over the weekend. This is a really real book in my head now, swelling to fill every nook and tiny crawl space. I had my doubts about there being enough story here when I started, but those doubts have vanished. In the time honored tradition of all my novels, the characters have stepped up to whisper in my ear.
I dreamed about this book last night. That's the best sign of all the book isn't going to flame out on me.
I figured out my owls yesterday. They aren't owls like you and I know owls.
::looks around and whispers:: They sing.
And when one owl blinks, or swivels its head, they all do. In unison.
Yes, the owls are going to be fun--and slightly creepy. As long as I keep remembering we aren't in Kansas (or San Francisco) anymore, this book is going to kick ass.
For a long, long time I resisted writing anything YA. I worried about being able to write "kids" or keeping the stories light enough to fit the genre and age group.
And it took me far too long to realize I didn't need to worry about any of that. I needed to write the characters as people, no matter what their age, and tell the story that needed to be told.
As one does with any book.
Miranda, Oliver, and Wilhem are people, and Mad Elspeth isn't mad, no matter how history remembers her.
I promised some darlings, so darlings you shall have. Then I have to get ready for the dayjob.
Also! Don't forget the trade paper of DELIA'S SHADOW comes out May 20th, and that A BARRICADE IN HELL hits the stores June 3rd. Pre-orders are good. They show publishers that people want these books and enable authors to write more.
End of shameless self-promotion. On to rough, raw, new book darlings, which are subject to editing at anytime. This is the opening scene, which sets the tone and Miranda's voice. Not the whole scene, just part of it.
True stories all start in different ways, in different times or places, and one never knows if the ending will be happy until you get there. This tale commenced long before I was born, but the part of the story I can tell begins at midnight of my fifth birthday.
And I suppose I should start with my name. I'm Miranda Caitlin Annalise, Crown Princess of Shavano, Heir to the Roan Mountains and Guardian of the Shadowed Sea. Ambassadors and visitors to my father's court are the only ones to ever use all those names and titles. Everyone else calls me Mira.
Five years of age was awfully young to be summoned from my bed for midnight conversations, to pad barefoot through the sleeping palace and cross the courtyard unseen. Doorways opened in walls where I'd never noticed a door, and stone stairs glimmered as I climbed, lighting the way so I knew where to place my feet. I never thought to be afraid of going to the top of a dark, silent tower, but I hadn't yet learned what it meant to be afraid.
The room at the top of the staircase was warm and bright. A cheery fire filled the hearth, and dried herbs dangled from beams overhead, adding a peppery smell to the air that made my nose itch. Half-melted, blocky candles sat on either end of a soot-blackened mantel, their flames swaying in the breeze that followed me into the chamber.
An hourglass brimful of white sand sat in the middle of an old pine table. I stared at a spiral of shimmering grains, frozen in the act of falling. No one needed to tell me the hourglass was enchanted. The stories my nursemaids told were full of such things.
A woman I didn't know sat at a spinning wheel near the fireplace, her slim hand making the great wheel twirl faster than my eye could follow. Her hair was dark like mine, falling in the same tight coils over her shoulders, and held off her face with jeweled pins. She didn't dress like the weavers below stairs or the kitchen girls who fed me sweets when my nursemaids weren't watching. The servants I'd seen spinning didn't wear clothes nearly as rich and fine, nor sing somber airs as they spun.
The stranger saw me in the doorway and stopped her work, smiling encouragement when I didn't come closer. "Come over here, granddaughter. It's warmer by the fire and I have something to show you."
Her eyes were like my father's deep brown eyes, full of mirth and secrets, and I couldn't help but be curious about her. I pulled back into the corridor, peering at her around the doorframe. Shadows at my back pressed closer, colder, driving me back into the room and toward her outstretched arms. I ran the last few steps. "Are you really my grandmother? I don't remember you.""You wouldn't remember me, nor would your father. My son was your grandfather's grandfather." She pulled me into her lap and wrapped me in a corner of her thick, crimson shawl. "I was gone long before either you or Stefan were born. Since then our family has done its best to forget the name Elspeth, but I'd like it very much if you remembered. Now give me your hand. This won't hurt."
I hardly felt the spindle prick my finger. My newfound grandmother gently squeezed out three bright drops to coat the iron shaft with blood. Elspeth pierced a fingertip as well, mingling her blood with mine."There, it's done. You were very brave, Mira." She brushed back the curls that had fallen into my face and kissed my forehead. "The pledge is renewed, blood sealed to blood. Go back to sleep now and I'll send you home. Your nurse will sense woman's magic on you, but that can't be helped. You're safer with the bond, as safe as I can make any daughter of our house."
Who knew writing twisted fairytales was so much fun? So much worldbuilding, so many tiny details to think about, decisions, and so so much shit to make up.
There are so many owls in this story, peering from the rafters, filling the trees outside Miranda's window, wide-eyed and knowing. I'm not entirely certain what they all mean yet, just that the owls belong here.
I love this part of writing. I love building stories and worlds and characters from the ground up, making them breathe and come alive. I adore twisting the familiar into something unexpected. That is real magic.
Also, that little shiver of delight is probably why I love writing flat out fantasy more than anything.
This book is still all cinders and sorrow, with a sprinkling of desperate hope. I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean anything to anyone but me, but most of my books are all images and emotion and floating on music at the beginning. I know the plot, but knowing the plot is only a fraction of the battle to build a better novel.(tm)
AWAKEN is totally in love with the Foo Fighters right now. Not the music I'd have pegged as right for a fairytale, but I only work here.
And for the first time in almost three years, there seems to be poetry stirring in my head. I'd thought poetry had left me forever, but maybe not. Writing poetry again would make me happy.
Tomorrow I will post a darling from the new book, because I can. Tonight I leave you with the theme song of the week. There is a mandatory 8 a.m. dayjob meeting tomorrow morning, even if it is Sunday and my day off.
I should post a warning here, so I will.
Warning:This post is picture heavy, and deals with the Victorian era's way of coping with death and loss, touches on the relationship between slaves and their owners, and some people may find these photos difficult to view.
Stars know I find them deeply disturbing and incredibly sad. Onward in any case.
A WAR FOR PHILADELPHIA takes place in 1865, in a south that never fell, in a United States that never existed. But even though the history is different, and a king rules from Philadelphia, I made the decision that things like clothing, furniture, and the basic trappings of life would be the same.
Different time period means looking at a different set of photographs to get the details right. Mixed with the photos of women in high necked dresses and full skirts, or men in waistcoats and top hats, were lessons about grief and the complex emotions generated when dealing with the death of those you love.
The Victorians were better friends with death than we are today, even if “friend” isn’t precisely the right word. While they didn’t embrace the experience of loss, they couldn’t shy away from it either, or pretend death only visited others.
The infant mortality rate in the 19th and early 20th century was appalling, which is saying a lot given current US statistics. Women really and truly risked an agonizing death from child-bed fever, or bleeding to death, each time they had a baby. Vaccines and antibiotics didn't exist. Children died of measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, and even ear infections. Diphtheria, typhoid, and cholera could sweep away entire families.
Not publicly acknowledging the depth of emotion and not dwelling on loss would be a totally understandable reaction, especially given how often death was an unwelcome visitor. But the Victorians didn't shun the impact death had on their lives. Instead, they went in front of the camera to record their grief, and remember.
Posing with the photograph of another person signified that you were in mourning for them. All those thousands of photographs of civil war soldiers, both Union and Confederate, were taken so that their wives, mothers, children, and family would have something to remember them by if the worst happened.
And when the worst did happen, and the person you loved never came home, Victorians took more photos to document the loss. I keep trying to understand the psychology of this. Who were these photos for?
Sometime in the 1860s "mourning brooches" and pendents containing photos of dead soldiers came into fashion. The woman in this photograph is wearing a mourning brooch as well as holding a photo of the dead soldier. There are thousands of these photos too, most of them showing women with their outward emotions in check. I suspect that posing for these photos signifies that the attachment was deeper and the emotion stronger, than the calm faces let on.
The most difficult to understand Victorian practice, and the most macabre, was postmortem photography.
Postmortem photography seems so strange--so wrong--to the modern eye, but it was extremely common in the 19th century. From what I've seen and read, taking photographs of deceased relatives approached the level of ritual. Photographs were taken of deceased husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, grandparents, and saddest of all, children.
One site I visited called these children and infants "ghost babies".
I can't imagine holding my dead child and posing for a photographer. There is so much grief in this woman's face, so much sadness and devastation. Don't ever believe anything you hear, or read, about people in the past not mourning their children because death was common. It's a lie.
There are a thousand possible stories behind this photograph from the 1850s, and a million questions raised by a black woman holding a tiny white baby. This woman must have been important in this child's short life. That the photo exists at all is a testament to the tie between the two of them.
And the picture is a comment on the twisted relationship between slaves and their owners. I can't help wondering if the woman cradling the dead infant on her lap was a nursemaid, a nanny--or the child's mother.
It could go either way.
I fell into a Tom Petty shaped hole on YouTube tonight. There are much worse ways to spend an evening.
It’s amazing how the amount of writing related work I have to do swells to make up for lacking a hard and fast deadline. I’ve written guest posts and I got a request for another one today. There are some open invitations floating around too. Soon–very soon–I’m going to take advantage of those too. I have odd bits of freelance work to do as well.
And then there were the proposals I just finished writing for an option novel, or novels if I’m a lucky writer. I sent my agent proposals for another Gabe and Delia novel, a standalone novel about Dora in Atlanta, and a proposal for the Philadelphia duology. Philadelphia was the easiest one to write because the first book is already written.
Writing proposals was a new and interesting experience, a lot like writing outlines for stories I don’t know yet. Even when I know the beginning, middle and end of a book, there are so many things I don’t know. They all come to me while I’m writing.
If I get to write these novels, all of that will still happen. Rumor is that writers venture away from the outline all the time.
Now that the proposals are finished, I’m trying to get my head into Philadelphia again. I’m taking it as a good sign that getting back into the book wasn’t as hard as I was afraid it would be. Considering how often I get jerked out of working on this due to the dayjob and other calls on my time, I’m never sure. Loving these characters and this story with all the love doesn’t hurt.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about heroes while revising this novel. My heroes, male or female, aren’t perfect. They aren’t cocksure or always brave, they aren’t so confident of victory they forget they can lose. My women aren’t quivering, fragile flowers and I don’t write my male characters as stoic, ever fearless supermen, who solve every problem by beating the shit out of someone.
And I poke at this idea of heroes, and think about the ramifications of how heroes are portrayed, because there are people in this world who think my idea of a hero is totally wrong. I ponder because I don’t have all the answers, all the time, and I will always have new things to learn.
But, ladies and gents, I have come back to where I started, convinced that no, I’m not doing it wrong. My female heroes will not be useless and my male heroes will not be assholes.
I promised to post darlings from this book awhile back, something that hasn’t happened. The scene I was working on tonight is the perfect one to post tonight, both because I love it, and because it illustrates what I was thinking about.
Darling pasted below. I’m going to bed.
Frank was barely visible now, glimmers of power against the trees and cabin about all that could be seen. “I can’t help you find this man. Start thinking which houses might have reason to start a war. If you find who’s paying him, you’ll find your mage. Talk things out with Lorene, she might know more than she thinks. A lot’s going to fall on you, Captain Giles, but it can’t be helped. You’re all she’s got.”
Josh nodded, head full of thoughts he couldn’t grab and hold onto. Fair or not, he laid the blame for half of them at Frank’s feet, seeds planted for later. The other half he blamed on fear. He’d never been so scared in his life. “And this book of yours is going to tell me how to do all this.”
The last shimmering light belonging to the mage vanished, but Frank’s voice was in the wind. “There’s more in that journal than just history, son. Don’t let anyone get it away from you.”
Josh stood there a little longer, head tipped back so the stars were all he saw, shaking and fighting not to cry. He hadn’t cried when his parents died or when his uncle beat him; pride wouldn’t let him give Jasper the satisfaction. Pride wouldn’t let him give into fear now or let the weight of responsibility drive him to his knees.
Once he was sure he could face himself, Josh went inside to face Lori. She was counting on him.
I always knew my father loved me. I was his first born, his oldest daughter. One of my earliest memories is of him sitting on the side of the bed, telling me stories about the full moon outside the window, and trying to coax me to sleep. I don’t think I was older than three.
He loved me (and he loved my sisters) but he was also a product of his upbringing and his generation. My father wasn’t what you’d call enlightened or remotely feminist.
From the time I was in kindergarten until I was well into high school, the highest praise my dad gave me or my two sisters was the phrase “That’s pretty good for a girl.” No matter what I did–honor roll, straight A report cards, landing a spot in the school choir, winning the election for senior class secretary–all of it was “pretty good for a girl.”
Sometime between the ages of ten and twelve, I realized “pretty good for a girl” came with the subtext of “but not nearly as good as a boy”.
I’m fairly certain that realization was my first feminist thought. Why was my straight A report card lesser because I was female? Why was ANY accomplishment of mine lesser for being a girl? (I still ask myself this question on a daily basis.)
Knowing that nothing I did, no matter how great or small, would ever measure up might have crushed me and caused me to not even try. Instead it pissed me off. It still pisses me off. All the stubborn determination not to give up, to be the best I can be at anything I do, springs from that.
When my daughter was young and my dad started saying the same thing to her, I started calling him on it. The first time I countered with “That’s damn good for anyone” it kind of stopped him cold. I could see him thinking about it, as if this concept that accomplishments of any kind were equally valuable, whether you were a boy or a girl, was brand new, unheard of and strange.
But my father doted on his granddaughter even more than his daughters, wanted the best for her, and he was willing to think–really think–about what his words meant. Change didn’t happen overnight, but he gradually stopped qualifying praise with “for a girl”. He’d stopped saying it completely before Steph was five.
The point is he was willing to change, willing to learn. “Willing” is the key word there. In a lot of ways my dad was a my way or the highway kind of guy, but once he realized what he was doing, he saw no reason to tear down the women in his life just because they were women.
The last few days have been full of “but not as good as a boy”, said in different ways, from different sources, and all I can think is holy shit, not this again. That is a very exasperated again, a tired of the bullshit again, a grow the hell up again.
My dad died when I was thirty-one. And all this…crap…made me think of him, and how he was willing to examine his attitudes and change, and wonder what he’d think of bugs and body shaming, belittling women’s accomplishments and all the rest.
People of the internet, the time has come to give away six (6!) ARCs of A Barricade In Hell.
Entering couldn’t be easier. Click the button, promise to blog about the book once you read it, and you’re in. Tweeting about the giveaway once a day earns you more chances to be chosen as a winner.
I have to limit entries to U.S. residents only, alas. Access to a post office that will actually SEND mail overseas is difficult and limited in this town.
Contest starts at midnight 2/10/14 and ends at midnight 2/16/14. All six winners will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter. One copy per winner.
ETA:All the discussion for this post is happening on my LJ. People are saying smart things over here.
I used to say that each time I sent a story out on submission, or queried an agent, and even when my agent was shopping the first book around. It was a kind of sad, hopeful thing to say, the plea of the beginning writer hoping someone–an editor–will like your work enough to buy it.
Writer’s spend a lot of time hoping someone will love the stories they tell. And when (oh joy of joys) an editor does buy your work, you shift the hope, the worry, the dreams, over to being noticed and to being read.
Four months ago my first book hit the shelves. Being noticed and being read is at the very very top of my things to worry about list. I dream about failure and the consequences of blowing my chance. I dream about never getting another contract, never being allowed to publish another book. I wander through crowds of people in these dreams, in strange buildings and unknown cities, trying to find someone I know–someone who will notice I’m there.
Stress dreams, each and every one. I’m not a fan.
Want to know what makes the dreams worse? Reading all the end of the year, best of 2013 lists.
Let me state right up front, I never expected Delia’s Shadow to make any best of the year lists. Delia got starred reviews from Library Journal, Romantic Times, a wonderful review from PW, and Kirkus didn’t rip me a new one, but the book straddles too many genres in a lot of people’s minds.
Which is a whole other blog post (for another day) about marketing and preconceived notions.
A couple of bloggers put Delia on their YB lists, which seriously thrilled me, and is a lot more than I expected. I can’t thank them enough for that.
But, it’s a first novel, a debut. Then there’s the romance (another blog post) and the violence, and all those women characters, who apparently aren’t the “right kind” of women,(two more blog posts) and well, you get the idea.
But as I said, I never expected to make any lists. I knew that going in.
What kills me is that so many women who should be on these lists? They aren’t there.
As in, taken strictly by appearances in year’s best lists–women didn’t publish much of anything last year.
Nada. Zero, zip. Nothing.
Which, as you know Roberta, is total bullshit. Women published some amazing novels last year.
Yet I’ve read list after list where five out of five best of the year books were written by men, or eight out of ten, or on a good list, seven out of ten were written by men. Thousands of books published by women every year, and list makers can’t find any for a YB list?
After the first dozen or so lists like that, I’ll be honest, I stopped looking at book titles. I was too busy counting male vs female authors, or googling authors with initials trying to figure out where they fit. Some of them turned out to be women, making the balance more positive. Just as often they turned out to be men, maintaining the status quo.
And then I stopped looking at YB lists completely. It was pissing me off and depressing the hell out of me, both at the same time.
The deck is so very stacked. I mean, I knew that going in. But until you really start looking and counting, I don’t think it really sinks in.
Other than the obvious answer, deeply embedded, institutional sexism, why are these lists so heavily biased toward men? One answer I can think of is that the people putting these lists together only read books written by men. If you never crack the cover of a book authored by a woman, it’s not going to make your YB list.
But is it really that simple and self-selecting? I don’t know. I’d like to know. I’d like to change it.
It’s one of those mysteries of the universe, like why does buzz appear to generate spontaneously around male authors, even debut authors, but not women? Or why do men writing about sexism in any form get praised to the stars, while women writing about the same subjects are greeted with the sound of crickets?
Or, you know, death threats.
Yeah, I know. Hard questions. Answers and turning the tide are harder.
So…where do we start?
More than a hundred years before Photoshop, spirit photography made it’s first appearance.
The Victorians weren’t above taking advantage of people’s naivety and grief. A whole industry grew up around the 19th century and early 20th century spiritualism movement. People wanted proof that the spirits of their loved ones lingered, watching over them. Spirit photographers gave them that proof.
These photographers were frauds, charlatans who knew the tricks of double exposure and layering images from multiple negatives. That didn’t matter to the people who came to have their photos taken. Those people believed the cloudy apparition hovering behind them was the ghost of someone they’d lost.
Some photographers were true artists, rendering images that were beautiful even if they were lies. Others are obvious fakes to the modern eye, but people today weren’t the target audience. We are all too grounded in the real world, too educated in the ways of technology and science to believe.
The point is that people living in the 1800s and early 1900s did believe in ghosts, and spirits lingering long after death. Spirituals and mediums were seen as a means to communicate with the dead, special people with special gifts, and seances were very common.
And if that strong belief in ghosts and haunts ever began to waiver, the evidence–their cherished photographs–was right before their eyes.
I’ve started an end of the year post five times. Each time I’ve been interrupted or had to go to work. Let’s see if I can finish it this time.
I think of 2013 as the year of living dangerously and taking chances. It was a year of living on the edge in so many ways, and hanging on by my fingernails until Delia’s Shadow hit the book stores. This was the goal I’d been working toward more than ten years. I was admittedly nervous about the book coming out. Maybe even terrified.
Okay, definitely terrified. Utter terror mixed with intense joy will give you one hell of an adrenaline rush. That’s what having your first novel come out is like.
Delia was the only thing I published last year. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing all the time. I was writing every spare waking moment, but I was working on the third book in the series, Against A Brightening Sky,or copyedits for A Barricade In Hell, or trying to make people aware of Delia’s Shadow without jumping up and down yelling “Buy my book!”
The dayjob made, and continues to make, writing more difficult. I got promoted in 2013, which increased my stress levels a thousand times–but my income didn’t rise much at all. One of the goals for 2014 is to find a way to be less dependent on that job for survival. It’s a lofty goal, one I really hope to reach.
I went to WorldCon last year and got to see my friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in a really long time. That was a highlight of the entire year.
I traveled to Houston for my very first book signing at Murder By The Book, and to Denver for a bookseller’s conference. Those were both major highs.
I have a book out! I’ve walked into the bookstore near work at least ten times, just to look at it sitting on the shelf. That’s not going to get old anytime soon…or ever.
2014 will be the year of A Barricade In Hell. I’m excited about that.
I have goals for this year too. I want to write two books in 2014, which is actually doable. I want to travel, see my friends again and meet new people, and have intelligent conversations with people who share my interests. Those are all achievable goals as well. I just have to work at them.
It seems like there should be more to summing up an entire year, but all the other events or things I can think of are pretty dreary. Every year has its share of highlights and low-lights, its good and bad memories. Its wins and losses.
But any year you laugh more than you cry has got to count as a win. Right?
I’ve listened to the same Snow Patrol song for days. I tend to obsess on songs when I’m deep into figuring a story out and this one is no exception. Music sets the mood and the emotion for me when I’m writing or thinking about a book. And stars above, there is so much emotion in this song.
Also? I love this book. I realize that as a “professional” I’m supposed to be objective and detached, but that never seems to work for me. I have a bad bad case of book love going.
I’ve mentally upgraded A War For Philadelphia from a kissing book to a full grown, adult love story. Which, you as you know, Bob, it was surely meant to be all along. I’m okay with that.
Riding along with the love story in this book is a tale of having your life torn into pieces, of losing everything and everyone you ever loved, of trying to hold back the tide of war with your wits and bare hands, of counting survival as a victory, and not giving up–ever.
Yeah, I’ve got a theme going here. Love is the plan and the plan is making it out alive.
Easy peasy to tell that story and not screw it up, right? Right…
All many people will see is the love story. They will roll their eyes and complain that I got emotion and relationships in their fantasy, and in the process ruined what might have been–in another universe, and likely written by a man–a pretty cool book.
The rest of that stuff I listed up there, the loss and the struggle to survive? None of that will count. A romantic relationship, even between equal partners, negates all of that.
Sex is okay, the quickie and one night stand. But loving someone–commitment–equals weakness in a woman character, and weakness is the kiss of cliched death.
The mantra goes that strong women don’t need anyone, ever. They stride off into the sunset in high heels and leather pants, sword slung over a shoulder, and live–in all senses of the word–to fight another day. They certainly don’t go home to their husbands or to cuddle their children.
This idea is, IMHO, utter bullshit. The whole woman as lone wolf trope is toxic and a lie. We all want someone to come home to.
But I digress. Sorta. It’s all related.
This is the message I keep picking up, well, everywhere. Blog posts, tumbler posts, columns and book blogs, articles–everywhere. Strong women are alone, weak women are involved, and involvement equals dependance.
I’ve thought about this a whole lot in the last three or four months. I have a book out there now and keeping up with all parts of the industry is important, so I’ve read a lot more blogs and articles than I ever have in the past. It’s been kind of amazing and scary.
There is a strong undercurrent of betrayal in a lot of the discussions and comments I’ve read, and the sense that women SFF writers who include any kind of romantic relationships in their novels have violated some sacred trust with other women. We’re supposed to be above all that nonsense. Better than that.
Which would make women SFF writers–what? The answer that instantly pops to mind is “men”, but that can’t be right and isn’t close to fair. I’m still looking for an answer to that question, but each time I think about it I hear Joanna Russ turn over in her grave.
For a whole lot of years I fought my strengths as a writer. How violently I fought against them kind of amazes me now. I wanted to be part of the club, a member of a tribe that didn’t want the kind of stories I have to tell. They still don’t want me, but I’m okay with that now.
I’m not fighting those writing strengths any longer. Anyone who picks up one of my books and expresses shock, or dismay, over a love story isn’t paying attention. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic and believed in soul mates; even if soul mates don’t always end up together.
There are people in the world who love my book, quietly and deeply, and who want to read the stories I have to tell. On some level, I’m pretty sure all of them are romantics too. I cherish every reader who finishes a book, smiles, and remembers how the story made them feel.
Not the ideas or the tech, or the physics of the magic system, nor the science of making an airship. How they feel.
I’ve read this twice now. (Thank you, Francesca!) It was too good, too complex and true not to share, especially with other writers/artists/internet dwellers.
But there is a better way forward. Fall in love with things. Try things; dislike some of them. Love people who love things you can’t imagine loving. Be thirsty and brave. Accept that if narrowcasting really is the future, considering what you don’t love to be a threat to what you do is a fool’s errand that will exhaust you and require you to police the joys of others in a way that will distract you from your own.
This is an Ask Me Anything post. You can ask me about Delia’s Shadow, the books coming after, my writing process, how I got there–anything.
Assuming, of course, that anyone wants to ask me questions. If not, that’s okay to.
While you’re thinking about it, have a poem: Belly Song by Etheridge Knight. I love discovering new poets.