Monday, June 14, 2021

I just write Stories

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is as follows: 

Of the 7 types of hooks, which one do you use most? The “Why” Hook. The “Character” Hook. The “Catastrophe” Hook. The “Setting” Hook. The “Contradicting Emotions” Hook. The “Inherent Problem” Hook. The “Goal” Hook.

  I don't give much consideration to what sort of hook I use to create them because every story process is different for me. I suppose the one I've used most often is the "Start it off with a bang" hook. I think that the best way to start off a novel, really. Throw some chaos in there and meet the characters. Before the chaos, life is u=ususlaky pretty calm. 

Here's the thing: I want people to meet the characters I create and live through the changes with them. I want them to develop feelings for the characters, ha e empathy for them, and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to put the characters through the proverbial wringer. In Seven Forges, we are introduced to Andover Lashkm apprentice blacksmith when his hands are broken by a member of the City Guard. You know him for about 400 words before I alter his life irrevocably. That's fairly common for me. In FIREWORKS, you know the whole town for roughly twice that time before I drop a crashed UFO in the area ad destroy over half the people. You get to meet the rest of the town as they are sorting through the ruins of their town and their lives, and then I get mean with them. 

So, yeah process of elimination: I seem to like the catastrophe Hook. 


There you go, you learn something new every day.


Okay, time to start a new novel!


Keep smiling,'

Jim




Sunday, June 13, 2021

Writing the Intuitive Way

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is as follows: 

Of the 7 types of hooks, which one do you use most? The “Why” Hook. The “Character” Hook. The “Catastrophe” Hook. The “Setting” Hook. The “Contradicting Emotions” Hook. The “Inherent Problem” Hook. The “Goal” Hook.

O_o

You guys... Sometimes I look at these topics and I just bust out laughing. 

I haven't HEARD of these seven hooks, much less do I have any idea which I use most, if at all. 

That's the thing about being an intuitive writer like I am. I just don't have much experience with an analytical approach to writing like this. I also came to writing sideways, as all my education is in sciences. (With the exception of a major in Comparative Religious Studies alongside the BS in Biology, but I'm not sure that counts.) While I've taken classes with writers, I've never been to a fancy workshop like Clarion or Taos Toolbox. I have an MS in Zoology & Physiology, not an MFA.

While I like reading and hearing about how other authors work, I hate reading craft books.

In my heart of hearts, I suspect that overanalyzing story elements is a surefire way to kill the book dead. Or at least numb it out of existence. But I totally get that this is an intuitive writer's perspective. All you analytical types, go knock yourself out!

So, anyway... I have nothing to contribute, so I'll just crow about how DARK WIZARD is a bestseller! It cracked the Kindle Top 100 - a career first for me ~ and is on sale for 0.99c through Monday. The sequel, BRIGHT FAMILIAR, comes out July 9, so this is a great time to snap up book one. 

Check out those pretty pretty bestseller ribbons!


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Happy PRIDE! An LGBTQ+ Author Shout Out

Happy June and Happy Pride! This week on the SFF Seven, we're highlighting LGBTQ+ creatives. First off, let me guide you to K.A. Doore's website if you're looking for excellent queer adult LGBTQ+ Fantasy/Sci-Fi recommendations. K.A. has such great round-ups each year. I love scrolling through and adding books to my TBR list. Support marginalized authors, y'all.

Second, I wanted to highlight two authors and two books that can be read by all ages. 

First, a friend and former editing client, Greg Howard. His novel, The Whispers, is a middle-grade masterpiece that everyone should read. This book stole my heart!


Eleven-year-old Riley knows a thing or two about wishes. Ever since his mom disappeared, all he's been doing is wishing: wishing for her return, wishing he'd stop wetting the bed and wishing his dad would love him again.

Finally, with the police investigation stalled and worried his mother might soon be out of time, Riley is desperate for answers. So, he turns to the Whispers, mythical wood creatures who will grant your heart’s desires if you bring them tribute. It's a story his mother used to tell him every night. He never really believed they were real until one day he hears them call to him, telling him his mother is near. 

Riley is determined to find the Whispers and ask for the one thing he wants the most: his mother's return--no matter the cost--especially since he thinks a secret he’s been holding close is the reason she's gone. This is his chance to make things right. Along with his best friend, his loyal dog and a neighbor boy with secrets of his own, Riley ventures deep into the dark woods--where all sorts of dangers lurk--to find the Whispers and, he hopes, his mother. But what he finds will change everything for Riley forever. 

Greg Howard stuns in this heartrending, mesmerizing debut about love, magic and what it means to believe in the impossible. 

Praise for The Whispers:

“This taut, moving tale delves beyond loss into issues of sexuality, conformity and self-acceptance…a masterful exploration into the power of storytelling but also its dangers, including self-denial and escapism.” —The New York Times Book Review

With sensitivity and skill, Howard handles themes of sexual identify, self-worth, loss and friendship.” —The Washington Post

"Howard’s personal story helps create a fictional narrative both realistic and relevant, while also calling on the fantastical magic of the imagination…. A tale of family, friendship and loss, filled with magic and heart." —The Associated Press

"A dreamy novel recalling Bridge to Terabithia." —Entertainment Weekly

"A heartbreaking, beguiling debut… This poignant journey through the badlands of grief is crammed with tenderness, wit and warmth." —The Guardian





And! TJ Klune. I actually just started reading The House in the Cerulean Sea, but I'm so hooked.

Lambda Literary Award-winning author TJ Klune’s breakout contemporary fantasy

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He's tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

"1984 meets The Umbrella Academy with a pinch of Douglas Adams thrown in." —Gail Carriger, New York Times bestselling author of Soulless


Let me know if you've read these book or if you add them to your list!


Happy Reading!




Wednesday, June 9, 2021

One Book I Loved and One I Fully Expect To

Happy Pride, folks! This week on SFF Seven, we are highlighting books by members of the LGBTQ+ community, so I scanned through my recent reads and got a happy surprise (more on that in a bit). 

Keep in mind I'm usually at least a year out of date -- I buy books that oooh-yes my brain when they are released, but I typically don't get around to reading them until years later. So the first book I'd like to mention is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. It's kind of Harry Potter, but if the story were told from the point of view of a middle-aged, single, magical-child services inspector/bureaucrat who owns (or is owned by?) a very judgy cat. The protagonist, Linus, is relatable and easy to read, and the rest of the story is just as charming as he is. When this book was recommended to me, it was described as "a warm hug" and it so is.

The happy surprise is the other book I want to recommend: The Jasmine Throne (by Tasha Suri), which came out... yesterday! I loved the previous books in her series and so had pre-ordered this one, and when I read the back-cover synopsis, I realized it was a sapphic fantasy and ... eeeee!! Even more excited to crack this one open = me. Clearly I have not yet read the book that came out yesterday (see above regarding my slowpokieness), but Tasha Suri has not disappointed me yet, and I feel comfortable sending folks out to buy it.

I should confess one semi-uncomfortable thing, though: going by the blog theme this week, I had to check online and make sure that these two authors were gay. According to the always-reliable internet, they are (using this and this as sources). That knowledge makes me even happier. I mean, I liked their books before, but with all the #ownvoices writers being outed stuff that has been going around, I was really hoping that nosy readers like me weren't forcing someone to tell a truth they weren't ready to tell. In these cases, that doesn't seem to be what's going on. Whew.

But it does make me think of the current #ownvoices issue and some decisions that are being made to reduce usage of the term. If you're interested in knowing more, you can read the hashtag on Twitter. Basically, some folks think the #ownvoices hashtag causes more harm than good. On one hand, I am sorry for the writers who have been outed before they're ready. That must have been horrible. But at the same time, as a reader, I like knowing that I'm reading a book by a writer who has a similar lived experience to the protagonist. I especially like to know I'm reading #ownvoices when the writer is from a more visible marginalized community, like Black writers. But for LGBTQ+ writers... I kind of see where WNDB and others are coming from. If writers don't choose to share that information, for whatever reason, is it even really my business? That's why searching up the personal details on these excellent authors felt a little awkward. 

So yes happy Pride, definitely yes check out these books/authors, and also maybe yes be sensitive to the fact that another person's identity is owned by them, not who we need or want them to be.



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Pride Comics Spotlight: SPIDERSILK by Aleksi Gray

 Lately, I've been on a comics / manga / manhua binge, so my LGBTQIA+ recommended read/follow goes to Aleksi Gray (@Alakotila on Twitter) and their Spidersilk Comic.

SPIDERSILK
"Prentice and his brother, both former soldiers, are trying to find a place to call home. They find themselves falling in with the bustling thieves guild of Kalviva. However, the system isn't as stable as it boasts, and outside forces are slowly picking apart its defenses."

Spidersilk started in 2014 and it's so neat to watch the artist's skills improve over time, both the story and the illustration. 


Support Aleski on Patreon Here

There are so many wonderful comics by LGBTQIA+  creators to follow that I could go on for pages and pages, but I don't want to dilute the spotlight. Check out WebComicLibrary, Tapas, or Webtoons for the genres that interest you.  

If you have a favorite fantasy webcomic to recommend, particularly one by an LGBTQIA+ creator, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Nebula Pride


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week - in honor of Pride Month - is to promote LGBTQ+ Artists, Authors, or Creatives. Since I'm fresh this morning from attending SFWA's Nebula Awards last night (online, natch - though next year will be in person again!), and since the awards ceremony was funny and moving and simply an amazing celebration, I'll share those winners

Many of the finalists and winners identify as LGBTQ+. Particular congrats to friends Sarah Pinsker and John Wiswell, both proud members of the LGBTQ+ community. The ceremony can be viewed at SFWA’s Facebook page and YouTube channel and their acceptance speeches are well worth listening to. 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 56th Annual Nebula Awards®. These awards are given to the writers of the best speculative fiction works released in 2020, as voted on by Full, Associate, and Senior SFWA members. The awards were presented at the live broadcast of the 56th Annual Nebula Awards Ceremony, hosted by Toastmaster Aydrea Walden.

The winners are as follows:

BEST NOVEL
Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)

BEST NOVELLA
Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)

BEST NOVELETTE

“Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com) 

BEST SHORT STORY
“Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)  

THE ANDRE NORTON NEBULA AWARD FOR MIDDLE GRADE AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll) 

BEST GAME WRITING
Hades, Greg Kasavin (Supergiant) 

THE RAY BRADBURY NEBULA AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMATIC PRESENTATION
The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready”, Michael Schur, NBC (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal)  

Additional awards and honors presented:

THE SFWA DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER AWARD
Nalo Hopkinson

THE KATE WILHELM SOLSTICE AWARD

Jarvis Sheffield
Ben Bova (posthumous)
Rachel Caine (posthumous)

THE KEVIN J. O’DONNELL, JR. SERVICE TO SFWA AWARD

Connie Willis

Presenters joined virtually from around the country, including SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal, SFWA Vice President Tobias S. Buckell, incoming SFWA President Jeffe Kennedy, and writers and creatives Nisi Shawl, Carrie Patel, Mallory O’Meara, Mark Oshiro, Troy L. Wiggins, and Adam Savage. 

The ceremony can be viewed at SFWA’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

What's On My Mind: The Fun in Being an Author

 

I had a mini-panic attack this week while working on marketing plans and the final draft of The Witch Collector, which releases on 11/2/21. Instagram tours are being planned, the book will be on NetGalley later, THERE WILL BE REVIEWS *cries,* and I'm working on graphics and thinking of cool ideas for the book launch. I'm also editing for myself, for four other authors, and writing three additional novels. The overwhelm can feel REAL, let me tell you.

But a friend reminded me of something this week when I reached out to her with a marketing question. She told me that "I got this," and that while, yes, the author's journey can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking, it's also exciting. It's the dream I've wanted, and it's here.

It can be easy to overlook our milestones rather than stopping for a minute, appreciating where we are compared to where we began, and experiencing what that feels like in the moment. If you're an author going through a bit of overload, or maybe you can't see your successes for what they are, I encourage you to slow down and remember: There was a time when you longed to be where you are now, and there are many others who long to be where you are now, too.

Just don't forget to stop and smell the roses every now and again.

You deserve it.













Friday, June 4, 2021

Which way do I go?

Earlier this week, a fellow author who'd written a trilogy asked me the prize question: Should I find a small press or should I self publish?

This author has ten books to her name already, but she'd recently broken up with her agent and former publishing house. No earth-shattering reason. It was just a poor genre fit for all parties. So here she is, out on her own. 

You'll be proud of me. For once, I did not say "it depends". Instead, I asked her what she wanted. We went through the pros of each:

Self-Publishing Pros

  • You maintain control of every aspect of your books.
  • You decide what the covers look like.
  • You decide how much covers and formatting cost.
  • You decide how quickly or slowly to release your novels.

Self-Publishing Cons

  • You assume all of the monetary risk.
  • You're entirely on your own for marketing.
  • You're responsible for every aspect of your books and some days, that's a heavy burden. 
  • Print versions of your book may require extra formatting, extra cover costs, and may be priced out of most readers' reach.

Small Press Pros

  • A sense of legitimacy.
  • A contract.
  • Editors you don't have to pay for.
  • You can usually leverage your publishing house mates for mutual marketing boosts.
  • Most publishing houses have a marketing coordinator on staff and/or a marketing mailing list where authors can lean on amassed experience.

Small Press Cons

  • You may not  have a print run if the press is e-book only.
  • Someone else controls the book cover process.
  • Your rights are tied up for a few years.
  • Some presses tie up more than just print and digital rights.
  • Some presses have long publication lead times and cannot guarantee your preferred release schedule.
  • Small presses occasionally go out of business and that makes a mess.
As we talked it became clear she wanted one thing - help with marketing. I wish I could tell you what decision she made, but I don't yet know. I suspect she'll opt for a small press, but that's a guess. Which way would you go?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Summertime On My Mind

Black and white Siberian husky, Ullr, asleep against the couch. his belly is tucked against the couch with his front paws curled over the corner.

 The Master of Puppy Naps: Ullr

It’s officially summer! No hotdogs on the grill here, but the kiddos are done with school and the garden is growing! 


That’s basically the entirety of what’s on my mind. I’m still getting over the cold I came down with last weekend and I haven’t had enough concentration to do much in the way of bookish stuff…which includes coming up with a clever writing post. 


Napping though, that I’ve been pretty good at. But I don’t think I’ll ever be as great at it as Ullr.


I hope you’re having a wonderful start to summer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Beauty of Starting at Zero

On my mind this week, the beauty of starting at zero.

The final book in my UF series is in the hands of my CP and soon to be handed off to my editors. After seven books of evolving the same world and the same characters, it's time to conceive anew. It's exciting and invigorating. The only thing locked in at this point is that it'll be a trilogy in a sub-genre of fantasy. I've spent the week gorging on books, comics, and anime to replenish my creative well. Now, I'm staring at a blank notebook page plotting, scheming, and leaving no boundaries on my imagination. 

New characters. New worlds. New magics. New rules. New challenges. 

Time to play god and create something beautiful from nothing. 

How delightful.

Monday, May 31, 2021

You're not wrong.

 This week the subject is whatever strikes our fancy, so I'll just put this out there. You're (probably) n0t wrong. When it comes to your method of writing, I mean. There is no right or wrong unless you're not doing it. 

Want to outline the liv8ng hell out of it: By all means. Want to take a chance and pants it? certainly, as long as you're actually doing the writing. I'm sure I've brought her u before, but once upon a time fellow barista working at Starbucks alongside me proudly announced that she was a writer. She would come into the store where we both worked and she 2wouod pull out her laptop, set it up, order a drink, sit down to write, and promptly pick up her phone, where she would spend the next 90minutes to two hours, chatting away. Then she would close up her laptop and head home to her husband and kids. 

To my knowledge, she never finished a single project. We worked together for over 2 years. In that same time, I wrote no less than three novels and a dozen short stories. All of them got published. You want to know what the difference is? I actually WROTE when I was writing. She might have incredible tales to tell, but I never saw her actually write one. Ever.

She rolled her eyes every time I pointed that out to her. She couldn't understand how I was so productive. I told her not to answer the phone when it rang unless it was her kids. I also suggested telling her kids (the youngest was, I believe, fourteen) not to call unless it was urgent.

She's not a writer. She's a dreamer. There's a difference.

If you want to be a writer, WRITE.

End of rant. Go get some writing done.. 


Oh, and this year? One novel finished. One novel started. One novel in the process of being plotted. Three short stories sold. One novella sold. One collaborative novel half-finished. It's my chosen profession. It's what I do.


Keep smiling,



Jim

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Author Coaches - How to Spot the Phonies


This week's topic at the SFF Seven is whatever is on our minds. Now that The Promised Queen has been out for nearly a week, I'm once again reminded of the many, many scavengers that begin circling the sparkling and hopeful fresh meat that is a new release. 

So, as a general warning, remember that there are a LOT of people out there looking to make money off of authors. From paid reviews to advertising to various "services," they are targeting authors by searching for new releases in particular, and attempting to capitalize on the mounds of money they hope you're making - or your desperation if you are not.

More specifically, my current MOST LOATHED scavenger critter out there right now is the Author Coach.

And yeah... I'm fully aware of that irony, as I do offer author coaching myself. I justify this in my own mind in that I'm simply asking to be paid for the kind of thing I was already doing for free. I love mentoring! But I also have to watch how I distribute my time. Writing books is my number one commitment. By charging for the advice I used to give for free, that puts a value on my time and reminds me where my priorities should remain.

Which segues nicely into what I see happening in some of these other "business" offerings.

These people offer to teach you how to write a novel - in whatever time frame sounds sexiest at the moment - and they tell you they can teach you how to make it into a bestseller, via amazing story tricks or marketing know-how, etc.

They have snazzy, clickable titles that promise ways to get your book in front of everyone, to write a breakout novel, to write a bestseller, to write your first novel, to make a viral book video, to get reader email addresses, and so forth. Yes, these are all things many of us would like to be able to do. That's the hook.

The question is: can they actually teach that?

BECAUSE - and this is the bit I always come around to - if they know so much about how to do the thing, why aren't they actually DOING it?

In the case of one famous agent who's built a considerable career selling books and workshops on writing a bestselling novel, I have always wanted to ask why, if he can teach this, aren't all of his clients bestsellers? I mean, wouldn't he want that? 

If an author is a bestselling rolling in royalties, why on earth would they be spending their time teaching anyone how to make viral Tik Tok videos? If a writer is making easy money writing books, why are they spending money on Instagram ads extolling their author coach services? Writers like Nora Roberts aren't spamming your IG feed with ads to teach you her secrets. Because she's making her money from actually writing.

In this era where anyone can add "Bestselling Author" to their credits either by a) lying, b) fudging the exact list, or c) buying their way onto a list, then it's become meaningless. And if being a Bestselling Author is their sole credential for teaching you anything, I'd take a hard second look at what they've actually done.

Frankly, the slicker the business site looks? The faster I'd run away. 

 I'm not saying there aren't good and helpful people out there - I like to think I'm one of them - but look very carefully at what these folks are promising vs. what they're actually doing. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

War of the Character Clones

Characters on stage need motivation - as much as I hate that old 'what's my motivation' chestnut. It's more nuanced than that, and also, if you're the actor, it's literally your job to work out motivation based on the script. I'd say 'that's a rant for another time' but it isn't. It plays directly into our topic this week: Carbon Copy Characters. 

How many Hamlet movies do we have? I can think of three off the top of my head. There are scads more. While the words for Hamlet never change, and the action of the story never changes, the character changes between movie versions because of the person playing the character. Each individual brings their own experience, their own emotional weight, their own interpretation to the lines that haven't changed in hundreds of years. I think my favorite illustration is the Unsolicited Advice skit. 8 actors and 1 crown prince read a single line of Hamlet's soliloquy - for comedy, of course, but you still get a sense in that bit of how different each of their Hamlets would be. 

Authors working with characters need to take a cue from the great variety of Hamlets across the history of the play. Go to YouTube and search 'To Be or Not to Be'. Look at how many videos come up. What makes us willing to watch so many Hamlets? 

Because when we watch Hamlet, caught between life and death in one short soliloquy, we aren't watching a single character grapple with suicidal ideation and the fear of mortality. We're watching individual human beings each bringing their own fears, their own disappointments, their own unique sorrows to bear. We're watching THEM as Hamlet, not Hamlet played by them. Fine distinction, but it matters.

For authors, that translates to bringing unique wounds to each character we write. I suspect this is much easier for character driven writers than for plot driven writers. Because a character driven process begins with characters and finding character voices, it's never a conscious thought for me to make characters across books different from one another. It follows naturally from my need to understand how each character starts a story broken. It's from that place of brokenness that plot flows. Even if two characters share a basic wound - it isn't safe to trust others, for example - that wound will have come from different experiences. The responses to that common wound will be utterly different based on who these people are. 

Creating unique characters isn't about what they do. Sally in this book is a hairdresser, and Sarah in that book is a truck driver. That's window dressing. What makes these characters distinct from each other is emotion. Their responses to conflict and obstacles. They likely have different goals and different tactics they use to achieve their goals.  Those are the tools in the writer's toolbox that build characters that will stand apart no matter how many books - or Hamlets - you subject yourself to.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Distinctive characters or distinctive authors?

Here follows a treatise on how one ought to make one's characters appreciably different in every book, thus--

Okay, hold up. I just can't.

Sometimes authors want their characters to be similar from book to book. It creates a familiarity and sense of comfort for autobuy-type readers. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart and Harrison Ford often play the same character from movie to movie, there is a value to knowing what you're going to get when you open, oh say, a Dan Brown novel.

This is not me casting aspersions on Dan Brown, or Stewart or Ford either, for that matter. We like what we like.

Truth is, I wish the characters in my three books were more consistent. Can't tell you how many people have said they dug the protagonist in book one but either disliked book two or never even read it because the heroine wasn't anything like the book one heroine. 

I suspect that the magic here is to find the character that resonates and then riff off that character as often as possible. Note that the first step is to find the right relatable character. Don't iterate on a crap character that nobody likes . Find your groove and then groove the hell out of it.

Or do what I do: stop reading reviews and just write what you love because you love it, and others may or may not follow suit. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

New #Fantasy #Romance Release: The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires, Book3) by Jeffe Kennedy

 Our amazing Sunday blogger Jeffe Kennedy is at it again, releasing another new heart-pounding romantic fantasy! The third book in the Forgotten Empires trilogy. Yes, for you dear readers who like to wait until a series is complete, this is it! So, wait no longer and dive into the world of the Forgotten Empires today!


THE PROMISED QUEEN 
Forgotten Empires, Book 3

Claim the hand that wears the ring, and the empire falls.

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, claimed the hand that wears the Abiding Ring, but the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Queen Euthalia of Calanthe returned to her island kingdom, but broken in mind and body. With the blood of war unleashing ancient terrors, Calanthe isn’t the haven it once was.

Lia must use her magical bond with Calanthe to save their people while Con fights to hold off the vengeful Emperor Anure and his wizards. Con and Lia will have to trust in each other―and in love―to fend off ultimate disaster.


Miss the first two books in the trilogy? Get them here: 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Cookie Cutter Magic

 So the topic of the week is how to avoid making the same protagon9st in each book or series. 

Well, that's j=harder than you might think. Why do I say that? I've been accused of it, by a reviewer who really liked my stuff.

Apparently two characters from two different series were too similar for her.

Well, Hell, I could tell them apart. Lessee. One of the characters was an apprentice herbologist and the other was a blacksmith. One got his hands shattered. One was violently murdered. In the other circumstance, one was a soldier who became a general and one was a mercenary. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other except, apparently, they had similar personalities. 


I have nothing. There are entire stories with these characters that are RADICALLY different, so either the characters are reacting to situations in similar ways, or the reader is reading into this, or, maybe, I'm not so great at creating different characters. I mean, one is a career soldier who has never married. One is a husband with three kids. Did they have similarities/ Probably. the apprentice herbologist was shy. The blacksmith couldn't quite build u the nerve to talk to the girl he adored. The mercenary knew his way around a sword and so did the soldier. Did they look alike? Nope. Not even a little. Mercenary had red hair and worked a kilt. Soldier had dark hair going gray, and wore a uniform. 


The thing is, I write characters with backgrounds and histories and motivations. If they come across the same way I'm obviously doing something wrong, or the reader is listening to my voice and filling in gaps that I've not noticed. 


But you know what? I wnt back and read several passages from the books that pertained to those characters. Yeah, no, I can still see less similarities and more differences, so I didn't think it's me. 


Always try to approach these things with a critical eye, and always try to make certain you aren;t using cookie cutters to make your characters. y9our mileage may vary.

 I mean, they look different to me...






Sunday, May 23, 2021

Protagonists and The Promised Queen


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Avoiding Same Protagonist, Different Name, Different Story: How do ensure your lead characters are unique per series/standalone?"

This isn't a great topic for me because I ... don't. In that, I don't ensure or strategize this kind of thing. Maybe because I'm an intuitive writer? Characters come to me and tell me about themselves. I don't have to avoid finding the same one any more than I have to worry about running into the same people over and over in the larger world.

But that's cool because it's release week for me! 

THE PROMISED QUEEN - book three in the Forgotten Empires - comes out on Tuesday, May 25!


As far as protagonists go, an early reviewer said this to me:

Really appreciate how at no point did Con become some magically articulate prince. He still said "...stuff" instead of somehow finding a way to wax eloquent in the third act. Thank the gods.

I love that! In honor of Con's uneducated and rough ways that have him saying "stuff," here's a scene where he does exactly that.

******************

We walked in quiet for a few steps, Lia turning us at a four way intersection where all the paths looked the same to me. “Do you know where you’re going?” I asked.

“Metaphorically in my life, or literally in this maze?” she replied lightly.

“Now you sound like Ambrose.”

“He has his moments. The answer is yes to both.”

“You know where you’re going in life?” 

“That has never been a question for me. My life belongs to Calanthe.” Before I could say anything to that, she continued. “And there’s a pattern to the turns in the maze, which everyone knows, even if they never come this way. The maze is here primarily to prevent anyone from stumbling into the heart of the night court by accident.”

“Am I going to be shocked by what I see?” I blurted out, figuring I’d better ask.

She gave me an assessing look, eyes glowing with color, like the decorative lanterns did. “You might be. Do you mind? We can turn back.”

“No way. Not after I just confessed to regretting not learning what I could when I had the opportunity.” Besides, maybe I’d get some ideas about pleasing Lia. If I could figure out how to be a better lover for her, she might want to marry me again.

“You could still learn, you know,” she offered. “It’s never too late.”

For a pained moment, I thought she’d read that thought—then I realized she meant reading and stuff. “I’d feel like an idiot.” I could just picture it, sitting there like a hulk in some schoolroom, painstakingly reading aloud from a kid’s book. 

“You said you feel like an idiot most of the time anyway,” she countered.

“Good point.” We turned twice more, and I began to get the pattern now. “Two lefts, then a right, and repeat?”

“Exactly. Now you know.”

“Not that I’d come this way without you.”

“You could. The night court would—”

“I know, I know. You offered this before and I said I didn’t want it. Quit bringing it up.”

“No need to growl, grumpy bear.”

I laughed, a hoarse grating sound. “I thought I was a wolf.”

“It changes, moment to moment,” she replied. “And you’re not, you know.”

“A wolf or a bear?”

“An idiot. You’re a very intelligent man. One of the smartest men I’ve been privileged to meet.”

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Death Matters

 


This week's topic is: The Necessity of Death: Do you have to kill characters for there to be enough risk? What other threats work better/just as effectively?

First, let me say that I don't preach many rules in fiction. I think writers should hone their craft (meaning you should know how to wield your writerly tools such as grammar, structure, concept, etc., and everything should be done on purpose, down to word choice). But everything else? The cans/cannots? I don't go there because a deft writer can make something that's been labeled a no-no a work of art. It doesn't necessarily mean everyone will like it, but it also doesn't mean you can't do it. I have three beautiful doggies, and I can invariably say that I don't want to read or watch anything about dog death. And yet I watched a movie where a puppy's death in the first ten minutes motivated the main character to hunt down his enemy, and I cheered for him all the while. 

Why? Because that death mattered. This is really the only rule I'll preach on this topic. I think I've said before on this blog that it's good to make things personal, and death as a motivator is as personal as it gets. The threat of death makes characters act, as can a death itself. It can send a whole series of events into motion because, ultimately, most of us want to live, and we want those we love to live. We want innocents to live. Having that desire/need tested shows us what our characters are made of. It shows their mettle and morals, how much they'll bend those morals to get revenge or set things to rights. It shows us their determination, mental state, grit, and their inner landscape of turmoil, regrets, and hopes. Death is so deeply felt, and as long as it resonates within your character/s, I like to think that, chances are, it isn't a wasted moment on the page.

But are there other options for risk/stakes? Of course. A gazillion. Threaten someone's freedom and see what they do. Threaten to take their memory. The sight or hands or... the creativity of an artist. The voice of someone whose voice is everything. Destroy the only possible route out of a dystopic city where a character, alone, is trapped. Give them plenty of food. They can live. But there's no one else left. They're faced with a very desolate future.

All sorts of things can be used to drive and test our characters. Death is only one choice. But if it matters to the writer, chances are it will filter into their writing and hopefully matter to the reader. 

_______________________

Have you added The Witch Collector to your Goodreads lists? The Witch Collector is book one in Charissa's The Witch Walker Trilogy, coming 11.02.2021. Check it out!


Friday, May 21, 2021

The Death of a Character

Every living thing in this universe shares at least one thing in common. We will all die. Most of us likely heard 'death is part of life' or 'death is a fact of life' as we were growing up. Most of us have been touched by the deaths of loved ones. 

So when someone asks if it's absolutely necessary for characters to die in my novels, the answer is 'of course'. But.

BUT. 

Anyone I kill off in a story must die for cause. The death(s) need to mean something to the characters left behind, or they need to augment reality. Any time you're writing military SFR, if people aren't dying when you shoot at them, you're writing parody. You need to apply a cost to everything characters do. Or don't do. You need consequences. 

Sure, I can make the consequences impact the character directly, but consider the psychological impact of your poor decision destroying an innocent's life. That's some heavy guilt and it's hard to get rid of. Am I fond of fridging girlfriends, boyfriends, or anyone else? I'd like to say no, but I have a lot of dead people who are driving a hero in the current WIP. I think that's the textbook definition of 'fridging'. That sucks. I didn't want to be that author. Forth book in a series, tho. So it's not like I can change it now or make it somehow okay. I don't want it to be okay. I want it to be raw. And hard. And haunting. 

Anyway. We're off track. Death must mean something. If it doesn't, then killing off a character becomes a toss off. These are the character deaths in books, TV, and movies where a writer just kills the character. It's almost an accident. Oops. I dodged when I should have parried and now I'm dead. I understand that this is, in fact, reality. All too well I know this. But you know who handles what could have been a toss off death so adeptly that it carried a boat load of weight and emotion? Peter Jackson. Lord of the Rings. Battle of Helm's Deep. The elf Haldir leads a troop to bolster the defenders. Heroic! Hopeful, even.

Then Haldir takes an enemy arrow between the eyes while defending the battlements. It's almost accidental (and never happened in the books). It's a brilliant piece of theater - a full few seconds to watch realization cross his face, then that face go slack, and the slow motion fall. It's also amazing emotional manipulation - just as the audience is cheering the heroic elves riding to the rescue, they're toppled from their emotional perch by the arrow of Haldir's death. I totally see why Peter Jackson put it in the film when it isn't in the books.

The hero. Fallen. Lovely imagery. Sledgehammer of 'aw, man, I liked him'. 

A toss off would have been 'Hey! Hero riding in with reinforcements! Oops. He's dead. Oh well.' It would have been a quick pan. Or someone who deserved a better, weightier death accidentally falling through a magic mirror. Not that I'm mentioning names of authors or books here.

Summary:

  • If I kill named characters on the page, I want them to have earned their deaths as much as other characters have to earn their HEAs. I don't often kill named characters.
  • If I kill people off stage, it's to drive named characters into the character arc they've been avoiding.
  • If I kill people off stage, it's also set that stage for stakes and/or ticking clocks and because there are no wars without atrocities. I just don't have to enumerate them or dwell on them. Often.
  • If I kill NPCs in large number, I always mean to include the stories of heroism that never actually make it into the darned novels. There may someday be a short story anthology of those depressing heroic-unto-death stories collected and published.

And now, a bit of new life. The monarch caterpillar I brought in to save from the red wasps cocooned in a nursery on my front porch. It emerged and flew off into the world on Tuesday. 


 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Two Types of Character Deaths

Inside the Johnson Space Center, the tail end of a rocket with a yellow ring at the base, propped up by thick, black steel, sunlight streaming in through the thin slits of windows, and on the ground is a pair of red Beats headphones and an iPhone playing the audiobook The Mars Strain with the image of the Red Planet in the background.

 This week we’re talking about killing off characters and asking is it necessary. It’s not a new debate among authors or even readers, as Jeffe mentioned, and so far this week my fellow SFF Seveners have given opinions from both sides. 


KAK made a good argument that we, as consumers of entertainment that’s filled with death and dying, are numb to it. Vivien made the point that to make a character death, MC or secondary, worth it you’ve got to make the character earn it by showing growth. 


And that’s my answer to the question: Both! How can I choose both? Because for me, there’s two types of character death


The first type of character death: mass casualties. The kind that pile up as you’re slicing your way through a game like Heavenly Sword or reading a Gridmark. I believe we, people in general, are inured to this type of death. It isn’t personal. We’re capable of separating ourselves from it—be it in the media or in real-time death toll numbers that flash across our screens—because it isn’t personal. 


Depending on the type of book this kind of death is part of the story. When I wrote The Mars Strain back in 2015 the Ebola outbreak was maintaining a death toll. It wasn’t even close to our current pandemic’s tracking, but it was reality. So I knew I needed that piece of reality in my fiction and I wrote in a high casualty rate. Devin Madson wrote a great post about trad and indie publishing and near the bottom is an excellent, little section about The Pitfalls of Gridmark (it’s a great read, check it out!). Devin talks about the difference between character development and suffering, and that there is a difference, even in a genre stuffed with death. I translate Devin’s point about Gridmark to: don’t kill a bunch of people just for the sake of killing. Have a reason, be intentional.


Which brings me to the second type of character death: the immediate death. Not as in fast, but close proximity—usually a beloved secondary character. This is the one that hits you in the heart, the one that makes you cry, and the one that changes the main character’s trajectory. I have a couple close proximity deaths in The Mars Strain and I spent a lot of time debating if those secondary characters really needed to die. In the end I came to the conclusion that yes, they did because only with their deaths could my main characters make the decisions that they do that result bring about the climax of the story. Intentional, very intentional.


Nope, I’m not going to give away any spoilers here and name names.


And there you have it, my take on killing off characters and how I believe the two kinds of character deaths—mass casualties and close proximity—are needed for some tales. But I will stand firm with Vivien on the furry friends. Don’t touch a single fluff on the four legged characters (I’m looking at you I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson who made me bawl). 


How about you? How do you handle writing character deaths or reading character deaths? And please, don’t ever tell me Kevin Hearne killed off Oberon.


Black and white Siberian husky, paws draped over the edge of a large blanket as he peeks over the top with his blue eyes.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Writing a Death that Kills Me

Many of the heart-wrenching and gorgeous character arcs I can think of involve either sacrifice of life or willingness to sacrifice with no hope of being saved. I will list a few at the end of this post, below a significant spoiler space, so folks who haven't read those books or watched those shows won't come for my head. 

Or ... you know, maybe it would be more effective for this week's topic if they did.

Because we are talking about death, after all. Specifically, we're discussing whether the threat of death is enough to drive character and story arcs, and if character death, in and of itself, raises the stakes enough when our reality has a daily death count that has made us numb.

And my answer to that is...not really? Death does not immediately equal stakes. Let me explain.

Writing a death that hits readers where it hurts is hard. I've said that the difference between romance and other genres, and the thing that really elevates romance structurally, is that all writers, metaphorically, send a protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at him. Romance is the only one that requires a writer to bring that character back down from the tree, changed by his experience, and heal him. I would call this a complete character arc, not just a logarithmic curve, and I believe that the best character deaths, the only ones that really work and feel earned, are the ones that occur on the far end of a complete arc. 

If an author just sends the protagonist into a dire situation, makes him suffer, and then kills him, the stakes are meh. Saw it coming. Whatev. He doesn't earn it.

But if the author puts that character through hell, has them dig deep and overcome a challenge, and then claw their way right back out only to willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good? People will weep! It's a lot more work, true, but it's also a lot more effective.

So that's my advice on this topic: if you really want to kill a character and have it matter, make sure that character earns it. Just torturing a character with the threat of sudden death isn't enough for modern readers. Note, this advice also goes for secondary character death. If Mom has to die in order to progress Protag's journey, you need to set that up. Much as I dislike the trope, Disney does it right.

Oh! One more thing: never kill the dog. I don't care how much you think it adds to your story or character stakes, there are a lot of readers who will immediately DNF if the dog dies. I might be one. Too many of us are permanently scarred by required-reading books with canine death, and we are not here for it. I can't even stand sad ASPCA commercials.

Below be spoilers....

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Sacrifices that killed me in fiction:

- Hodor holding the door in the Game of Thrones tv show (I'm told George R. R. Martin was consulted on this plot point, so it's extremely likely he had planned to write it in the book series, too.)

- Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars Rebels. Didn't see that coming, but it was so right for that character, so very much what he had been growing toward all series. I bawled.

- Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, making emo and angst really work for him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Do Characters HAVE To Die?


This week we're asking ourselves if we have to kill characters for there to be sufficient risk to maintain reader interest. What other threats work better or just as effectively?

Here's my unpopular opinion: 

Death does not present sufficient stakes. 

Not anymore. Culturally, at least in the US, we're increasingly inured to it. It's everywhere in our entertainment. It's every night on the news. It's every morning in our feeds. It's exploited by industries and charities to reach deeper into our pockets. It's a revenue stream in the business of healthcare. Six degrees of separation connects most of us to it at any given time. It's shoved in our faces so often that unless it befalls someone in our immediate presence or our core/chosen family, our reactions are muted or performative. Nowhere is our DNGAF about death more apparent than in our national and individual response to the current pandemic. Over 33 million Americans infected with a virus proven to lead to a gruesome death, and our mental disconnect from mortality allowed prevention to become a culture war. American exceptionalism at its worst. We believe dying will happen to "everybody except me," even though, logically, we know our time on this world is finite. Logically, we know we don't get to choose how we go out. Still, we hide behind our illusion of safety and delusion of "it won't happen to me."

Thus, I think as authors we ought to strive for different stakes if we're going to really connect to the reader. If we want to reach beyond the sameness of "welp, that character was fun while they lasted," then we have to elevate our world-building so that death isn't the most feared consequence of our characters' actions or inactions. Loss of liberty, loss of home, loss of status, loss of mental capacity, loss of physical ability, there are so many things a character can fear more than dying. A loss of love not through death but due to being driven away by one's own actions is far more heartbreaking. As long as there is a clear line of ownership of the consequences, a direct cause/effect of the choices the character made, then I think--I hope--the stakes are more vital to the character and more captivating to the reader.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Is Death Truly Inevitable?


This week at the SFF Seven we're discussing The Necessity of Death.

In fiction, of course! 

We're asking "Do You *Have* To Kill Characters for there to be enough risk? What other threats work better or just as effectively?"

This is one of those topics readers and writers alike seem to debate often. The readers, of course, never want any character they love to die. This includes all animals and children, named or not. (As a reader, I agree!) 

Writers, however, often feel the pinch of this expectation. Death is, after all, a part of life. And without the peril of death, the stakes of any conflict can feel flat. Though we do enjoy making our readers cry, we also want them to be happy with the story. A cathartic ugly cry is a wonderful reading experience. Coming away from a book bitter and grieving? I don't like it, myself.

I recall an author asking this question on some writer forum a while back. He had a long-running series with a central protagonist. All along, he'd planned to kill this guy at the end. But, the series had gone longer than he anticipated, gaining many passionate readers. Seeing this character's fate coming, they'd begun writing to the author to beg him not to kill the character at the end. The author was seriously torn. He felt that this certain death was so integral to the story - as indeed it must have been, for readers to anticipate and write to him about it - that he worried doing anything else would be a cheat.

Would it have been? 

One well-known author killed her protagonist at the of a series, to great dismay from her readers. This was something she'd planned from the beginning, as she wrote the books in reaction to what she felt was a cheat ending to the Harry Potter series. She thought Harry should've died at the end, so created her own series to execute that exact arc. That author has defended the ending by saying that the series is about this character learning to be selfless and that only by making the "ultimate sacrifice" - by dying - could she truly learn that lesson.

But... is that the case?

This is the crux of what we're asking here. Is death of a character necessary to demonstrate something? You'll notice I put "ultimate sacrifice" in quotation marks, but is giving up one's own life really the greatest sacrifice? I'd argue that dying can be easier than living through difficulty. Making restitution to people you've wronged can take tremendous effort and suffering - something that arguably takes much more strength of character than escaping into death. 

With THE PROMISED QUEEN coming out next week, quite a few readers are revisiting the first two books in The Forgotten Empires - THE ORCHID THRONE and THE FIERY CROWN - and making guesses about how the trilogy will end. There are a few questions they want answered and one has to do with the quote above. I think I'm spoiling nothing when I say that I believe that repaying debts and suffering to truly change is far more meaningful for a character than merely dying. 


        


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Tired Writer Seeking Normal Life

 

This week's topic is one I feel oh so familiar with. When Life Gets In The Way: dealing with a schedule for writing when the world wants to go off the rails. 

Over the decade (plus a year or two) since I decided to start writing again, I've nursed both my parents (for years) through Alzheimer's and Dementia, not to mention a whole host of other issues they faced, some of which, for my dad, happened during a pandemic. I've gone through their deaths now and the after-affects of their passing, all while raising a big family with active daughters (who have mostly finished college this year...ONE left!). I've also dealt with raising kids alone while my husband worked out of state or out of the country, along with enduring the struggles people face that we just don't show the world.

Through everything, I've stolen writing time when I could. Early in the mornings before work, in car rider lines, at gymnastics, dance, and cheerleading practices, while cooking dinner, sitting on hotel room balconies when we traveled, during flights, while waiting at the gate in airports, sitting in hospital rooms... I could go on. For so long, there was no such thing as a writing schedule. Writing had to happen in between the cracks of my life.

As KA said, routine is a luxury, one many writers do not have. It took forever for me to realize that routine was what I was striving for in those years. I was also striving for normal, longing for it, because I thought normal existed for some reason, and that if I planned well enough, I'd find it. I just wanted a day with no surprises. Small life hiccups I could deal with--being a mom teaches you how to do this with serious skill. It was the events that spun me in an entirely different direction that, of course, rattled me most.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat down and put my head in my hands, wanting to give up on writing because it felt like every time I hit any kind of writing stride or habit, something big happened to shake my world and flip the sense of 'normal' I might have wrangled for a time on its head. I'd have to drop everything to be a nurse, a psychologist, a medical sleuth, all to keep a parent alive and safe. Or maybe I was having to change out my writer hat to be Super Mom. I'll never pretend that I don't have a bit of trauma from living like that, the constant ups and downs and sideswipes. I'd get some momentum on a novel, then rise up only to have my legs kicked out from under me, some horrible happening sucking all the life out of me, and I'd have to be okay because other people depended on me. 

There were times when I had to stop writing. There just wasn't enough energy for me to think creatively. Some breaks would span weeks, others months. At the time, I felt so guilty, and the writing world can even encourage that guilt, because, Hey! You're supposed to write daily! No matter what! Which just isn't feasible for everyone.

I try really hard to keep that kind of energy out of the universe, that writers should be able to push through difficult times and write anyway. I used to believe that, used to let it make me feel awful, but now I know better. Not everyone can write daily. It's totally okay to have to think about other things, to drop one ball because you simply cannot juggle them all. Sometimes, when life gets in the way, it gets in the way BIG, so big you can't see around it. Don't let someone else's idea of what you're supposed to do or not do become the definition by which you end up judging yourself. Give yourself grace in tough times. Take deep breaths and hot baths and long walks, or stay in bed all day and watch tv if that's what works to get you through. Drink warm tea and cold water or eat whatever the hell you want. Go outside and scream, curl up with someone you love, and cry. Whatever works. Writing will be there when you are able to return to it.

Now, my realist tendencies are going to come out. The problem with all of this is that once writing becomes a job, it's like any job. There are deadlines, expectations, and responsibilities. I have a trilogy coming out soon that was supposed to come out last fall. But, thankfully, I have a wonderful publisher who extended grace and gave me the time I needed to deal with my dad's passing and everything I've had to do to close his estate. Once we writers go under contract, it feels far less easy to just take a day off. Now, when a cataclysm shakes our foundation, it's harder to stay in hiding for the time we might truly need. Pages must be written and edited, newsletters sent, covers approved, and many other duties. My best advice for writers in that situation is to do whatever must be done to give yourself some time. It's okay to reach out to an agent or editor and let them know that your world has been turned upside down. Maybe they can help give you the breathing room you need.

Ultimately, we have to take care of ourselves or there will be no writing to worry about. Life still isn't "normal" for me, and I realize it never will be. No matter how well I might plan, life still happens. These days, I'm learning to trim away unnecessary tasks that eat up my time, to do better about staying ahead of publishing deadlines (which is hard!), to keep using lists and my KanBan board so that I have some sense of control over things, and to do a better job of nurturing myself. I love routine. I love structure. It's how I get things done. But, I also know that it can be interrupted at any moment. More importantly, I know that I've endured so much, and I'll survive regardless.

And I will always--always--come back to writing.

I hope you do, too.