Monday, July 28, 2014

Let's Be Real

As a writer of fantasy and science fiction I can use my imagination to create new unique things in every part of the worlds I create. My characters don't have to human. They don't have to need oxygen to breathe or food as we know it to live. But readers love stories where they can identify with or at least understand the hearts and minds of the protagonists. If the reader struggles to understand the world I've created because it's so different from the real world, they might put the book down and never pick up anything I've written again. There must be a balance.

I've never written historical fiction though I love reading it. I too big a coward to tackle historical fiction. Readers will spot those mistakes and let you know or worse let the whole world know in a review. But since the epic fantasy I write is set in a medieval setting, I try to insert some realism into the cultures I create.

A book I keep on my desk, What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank by Krista D. Ball, covers loads of interesting facts. For example, how long does it take to make a stew over an open fire? Two hours to get that meat tender. What vegetables and roots could travelers find in the woods? Does the hero carry a thick, metal cooking pot and the big knife needed to field dress game? Great answers in this book?

Getting enough to eat was a real concern during medieval times and malnutrition often made people vulnerable to other illnesses and diseases. Of course there was the scary bit one, the plague, that wiped out a third of Europe. And it's still around today though not nearly as frightening. Read about modern outbreaks. Of course in a fantasy novel magic is always an option for health woes but I can add some depth to my society by also including real methods that might be used in a medieval society. The History Learning Site has lots of interesting information on medieval life. Another resource I use is a book of herbal remedies, many that are served in teas. Doesn't every medieval book need to serve up a little tea now and then.

Did you ever read a historical novel and spot a glaring error? How about a fantasy novel or science fiction novel where you just didn't buy into a piece of the story? Ever read a novel like I did last week that was so confusing in the world building I couldn't get interested? Had you heard about the recent cases of plague in Colorado?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do Your Thing

Just a short post to carry us into the weekend. There's lots of advice out there for writers and some of it is from very successful and famous authors. Buzzfeed shared this list of 30 Indispensable Writing Tips from Famous Authors. It makes interesting reading and covers a variety of areas. And those famous talented people don't always agree. I shared two of their quotes here but you can follow the link to read them all. They're short and enjoyable.

After reading them all on top of all the other advice I've read and listened to over the years, I think I'll just say trust yourself in your writing. Use the process that works for you even if one of those famous authors was your inspiration, you don't have to do it the way they did.

I realized I hadn't shared any wisdom from my Old Farmer's Almanac Planner this week so you should know that, 'it is unlucky to part with a friend on a bridge.' Yesterday was Pioneer Day in Utah where the square dance is their state folk dance.

Enough wisdom from many sources for the day. Any of those famous authors on the Buzzfeed article an inspiration for you? Ever part with a friend on a bridge? Do you know if your state has an official folk dance? Does your state have any odd 'official' thingies?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MDQ of the STORY

I jotted the acronym, MDQ, down in my little tablet where I keep track of possible blog topics more than two months ago. I don't think I'd ever seen the acronym used though I did know what it meant.

The Major Dramatic Question is what I've always thought of as the big plot question that the story seeks to answer. It's the goal of the protagonists, the driving force behind the action and drama leading the reader toward the end of the novel. Where the lovers end up together in the romance novel? Will the forces of good overcome evil in the fantasy novel? Will Earth's spacecraft stop the alien invasion? Will the detectives stop the bad guys in the suspense novel? Joe Bunting makes it very simple in this short article.

The reader might buy into the MDQ, after all they picked up the book because they wanted a romance, fantasy or mystery novel. But what will keep them reading and have them buying the next book are the obstacles and conflicts that prevent the MDQ from being settled until that last chapter.

Analyzing a TV show or a movie is good way to visual the MDQ and the conflicts in the way. Any police procedural show will have false leads, events that confuse or create more questions, interesting characters or settings that influence the protagonist striving for the answers to the MDQ. Inspiring curiosity in the reader is a guarantee to keep them flipping pages.

Have you ever heard the acronym, MDQ? Do you love or hate acronyms? Is there a particular TV show that does a great job of demonstrating the Major Dramatic Question? Do you see how knowing your exact MDQ can help you write a one-liner for your novel?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Starting Point

As a reader of fantasy and science fiction novels, I'm a big fan of prologues. I love them. Despite what some writers have been led to believe, the most recent statistic I saw claimed that 95% of readers not only read prologues but enjoy them as I do. Don't be put off by that out-of-date but still spouted nonsense about never writing a prologue into your novel.

One of my favorite fantasy novels of the past year, Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan, uses a different technique. Ryan divides the novel into a different parts and starts each part with the viewpoint of an historian recording what is expected the be the death of the main character. These short insights are told from someone who hates the central protagonist while the majority of the book is from the protagonist viewpoint. The story bounces from the present view of the historian to the past as experienced by the protagonist. I really enjoyed this technique and am starting the second book, Tower Lord, tomorrow.

Some books start in the middle and then have flashbacks to where the story actually started. TV shows often do this, starting in the middle and then flashing a 'three hours earlier' sign. I'm not such a big fan of this in books but I believe if done with skill it could have the same suspenseful usage as on TV.

A piece of writing advice I was given a long time ago and that I usually follow is to start my books with action. In romance novels this is often the first meeting of the two protagonists or the event that will lead to their meeting or start of their relationship.

The most important thing about that starting point is that it captures the reader's attention. Lots of readers are like me when it comes to finding new authors to try. I read those first few pages, getting a sense of the author's voice and the pace of the novel. There also needs to be a hint of the conflict, an interesting one, and at least a brief sense of setting.

Where do you start your novels? Do you like prologues? Did anyone ever tell you not to include one in your novel? Do you put action on those first pages of your book? Don't forget to visit IWSG blog today for some great insights into the writing life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jet or Snail

My husband made fun of me a few days ago. I bought new running shoes, expensive shoes because I have old knees and I need good shoes. They felt so wonderful on that first day out on the road. I returned home after an hour's run (dripping sweat, not a pretty picture) and told my husband I ran fast and felt great in my pretty new footgear. He laughed and said steady might be a better description than fast. Okay, so I resembled more a snail crawling through peanut butter than a world class marathoner, but the pace felt perfect for me at my present stage of life.

Our pace at many things changes at different stages of life and career.  Seven years after my first publishing contract, I write much faster (and I hope better) than I did all those years ago. I was satisfied with finishing one novel during those early years of being a writer. Now I'm trying for four per year. It's the pace that fits me now.

Can you write a novel in one month? Two months? One year? Four years? I feel more comfortable every day with my pace as I settle into being a full time writer. When I was working on the day job full time and as my children grew up, I'd advanced to a two novels per year pace. But those were first drafts. There was still a lot of editing and rewrites to be done. Being comfortable and enjoying the journey is part of the fun of being a writer. There's plenty or room in this world for jets and snails.

In case you're worried about young people and the state of reading and writing in our society, let me introduce you to a young man, a teenager actually, who is celebrating some of his short, short stories being published. Patrick Stahl's drabble titled, Trying to Make a Living is featured on Specklit. I hope you'll stop by and leave a comment for Patrick. He's a very cool young man and a gifted writer.

Every write a drabble? Are you comfortable with your writing pace? Has it changed over the course of your career? Ever see a snail gliding through peanut butter?

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Place At That Table

The war between Amazon and Hachette continues. Most of the writers I know haven't taken sides. The specific facts are being held secret but one thing we can all be sure of is that it's about the money. And by that I mean how much Hachette makes and how much Amazon makes on the books they sell. Both love writers only in so much as they make money for their companies. Both love readers because they buy the products Hachette and Amazon are selling.

Like many writers, when I started bleeding out that first novel, I imagined it on the shelf in bookstores and libraries. Book tours and signings ... and of course those lovely paychecks that would allow me to quit the day job and write full time. The dream slammed into the heavily fortified gates of the big boys of publishing. At that time, about eight years ago, they had no place for a science fiction romance though perhaps it would be labeled dystopian today. A small publisher took a chance on it and on my next ten romance novels. Shortly thereafter, speculative fiction romances took off.

I would love to sign a huge money contract with a big publisher but I'm content to be where I am, working with two small publishers. If they would ever listen to someone like me, I would tell the traditional publishers to get off their entitled asses and catch up. They jumped into the paranormal romance trend after small publishers made it popular. They dragged their feet getting into the digital market. And now Hachette is selling books right from their website? Did I hear that? Well guess what, Hachette, my small publisher has always done that. And not only do they sell them at a discount, when they sell a book directly from their website, they make more money and pay me a higher percentage. Win for them and win for their writer. Is Hachette paying their writers more if they skip the middle man? Or are they only providing links so readers can go to a different middle man than Amazon. Didn't investigate that.

It's not that I'm not concerned about the ongoing publishing war. There are probably ways it could affect those of us with small publishers too. Is Amazon a bully? Sure. Just like Walmart is to their vendors. Do most writers sell most of their books through Amazon? Sure. We all have a place at this table but we won't have much say in what is served.

So my romance books are available on my publisher's website at a discount. Here is an interesting article from The New York Times titled Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It's Fed.

Do you feel like this battle affects you? Any advice to traditional publications if they want to stay in business? Do you shop at any of the 'bully' stores like Amazon and Walmart?

Don't forget to visit the IWSG site today for another enlightening post. Check out the new links found on all the pages.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Week Wrapup

Thanks PK Hrezo for her great post on how having a newsletter is an important part of promotion. And good luck to Cate Masters on her ongoing promotional tour for Goddess, Awakened.

A few words of wisdom from my Old Farmer's Almanac planner.

If there be no remedy, why worry? (Old Spanish Proverb) I tried to pass this on to my students shortly after 9/11. Three Mile Island, the nuclear plant, is actually in our school district. There was lots of extra security there for a while and a few false alarms when fighter jets took to the sky looking for threats. There is an airport not far from TMI and for weeks after 9/11 most of what we saw in the skies while we were outside for PE classes were military aircraft. Some flew very low. Now our school has a intricate evacuation plan if anything happened at TMI but truthfully, no way would the buses get out on the congested highways they'd have to travel. So when those low flying planes would go over and my students would get nervous, I told them not to worry. If the worse happened, we were all going to die and rather quickly. There was nothing we could do about it so why worry. For some reason it didn't comfort them the way it should have. Kids!

Tomorrow is also the full moon, known as the Buck Moon this month. And if your garden tools are rusty, the Almanac suggest you soak them for several hours in a bucket of cool, strong black tea.

Hope you enjoyed my Almanac wisdom and carry it forth into your weekend. Would you have been comforted if you were my students. Ever try that cure for rusty metal? Did you design a newsletter yet?