What makes a story great?

take-532097.jpg

Of all the movies we’ve watched, of all the books we’ve read, why do some stand out and others are forgotten as quickly as they were picked up?  What is that thing that makes us live in the story, long for it, and embellish on the world created by another?  For centuries, people have been trying to put their finger on that spark of amazement so that others can finally understand, but so far, no one has managed.

And if you think I have the answer, you’re wrong.

I wonder about this every single time I write a book.  As I edit it, I fret that I’ve missed it, or that my best attempts will never ensnare my readers.  I honestly don’t know what makes that kind of greatness, but I try, and I’m going to keep trying until I’ve found it.  (Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to blog about it when I do!)

Now, all of this came up because I was talking about Star Wars the other night with my husband.  I don’t believe it’s the “magic” (force) in the story that has turned so many children into lifelong fans.  I don’t think that part of the fantasy is what makes that series into something so life changing.  I mean, dozens of books have better, more fleshed out, and much more interesting magic styles.  So, if not magic, then what?

Is it the blending of genres?  Star Wars is a beautiful mix of science and fantasy.  What with the overarching evil power (the dark side) and the sadly outclassed heroes, we’re walking straight down the typical fantasy genre tropes.  Add in some space ships, a few ray guns, and a lot of planet hopping, and well… it’s good.  But no, I don’t think that’s the secret, either.  I mean, why did Star Wars excel at the theater, but Jupiter Ascending pretty much flopped?  Granted, I kinda liked Jupiter Ascending, too, but I’ve never been known for my good taste.

But anyways, back to the point.  My husband, being the ever pragmatic man that he is, had a theory, and I think it’s a damned good one.  Keep in mind, this is coming from a man who is married to an author but has always hated reading.  He tells me that he’ll wait for the movies to come out so he can see how good my books are.  Ugh!  It’s a good thing he’s perfect, otherwise I might strangle him!

As for his theory?  He says Star Wars stuck with him for so long because of the characters and the universe.  The world was diverse, with its own rules – and ones that didn’t always play FOR the good guys.  In fact, all too often, the world just kept on doing its thing, and the people in it didn’t really change much at that moment.  Huh, kinda like in reality.

And the people?  You have a displaced princess with a superiority complex, an annoying farm boy, a criminal and his scary, hairy pal, and some expensive technical toys – er, droids.  But they’re all so much more than that.  Leia was strong and weak in her own way, but she wouldn’t back down.  Luke was determined and proud, but ignorant of so much.  Han Solo had the charm, the jokes, and all the makings for the leading man, but he wasn’t the hero of this story.  He was the sidekick.  Never mind the actual sidekicks!  A Wookiee who never had his language translated at the bottom of the screen?  Talk about getting sucked right into the story, lost in the fantasy of it, and feeling like you’re standing right there beside them!  Oh, and of course that annoying micromanager and his buddy who talks behind his back.  Yeah, we’ve all known people like those droids, but these were programmed to be like that… which makes you wonder why someone would have wanted them to be that way.

See?  The characters brought up questions, and each one sucked the viewer a little deeper into the abyss of imagination.  All the mismatched elements added up to something so much larger than an orphan “chosen one” with magical powers meant to save the universe.  This wasn’t a story about that.  It was a story about the people carried along in all of that and how that affected them.  This was a story about characters, from the bounty hunter who had screen time measured in seconds but is still a fan favorite to the mentor who really wasn’t that popular until much later.  Star Wars made people think about the act of being PEOPLE.

I don’t know if that’s really why some stories matter more than others, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s true.  I’m an eternal optimist, and I always want to write the happy things.  I really want to pamper my invented creatures and leave them better off than I found them, but it doesn’t work like that.  Every trial my characters face is a chance for them to grow.  It’s not torture, it’s opportunity, all wrapped up in the agony of living a real life.  The more real my characters feel, regardless of how impossible their world is, the more the reader slides deeper in the story.  The longer they face problems, the more the book pulls at me (or movie) and makes me want to keep turning the page.

And when I look at my other beloved stories, I see the same thing over and over.  Watership Down, Alice in Wonderland, The Dragon Riders of Pern, The Last Unicorn, or even Harry Potter.  They aren’t stories about fantasy.  They’re stories about the human condition, set in a way that makes it easier to isolate the specific trial that most people never realize they’re facing in their daily life.  They’re stories we can all understand because we’ve been that person.

Now, the big question is, do I understand humanity well enough to convey that in my wildest imagination?  I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to try.  You’ll have to tell me if I ever succeed.

I had to give up on a book

brakage_wip__by_remton-d5374x5.jpg

Every so often, a writer has a brilliant idea that gets spoiled by current events.  This is mine.  It’s only the first few paragraphs of a novel that I’d put on the back burner due to time constraints, but even those touch on some subjects that are a little too sensitive now.

And I don’t think politics makes for very good writing – at least not the kind that gets an audience before the author dies!  What I tried to do was take both liberal and conservative ideas and show just how easy it is to give away our freedoms with good intentions.  Even worse, the leader of this great nation, Usonia?  Yeah, I had a charismatic blonde guy.  Oops!

And while I had so much anticipation for this book with the active camo, futuristic weapons, awesome helicopters, and rebellion theme stolen from all great dystopian novels, I’m putting this one in the “let it rest for a decade” folder.  I just can’t figure out how to rework the plot without falling into another political quagmire, so I just won’t bother.

 

Begun November 2014 – A Dystopian novel by Auryn Hadley, title to be determined.

It didn’t happen over night. It didn’t even happen over a decade. It took well over a century for people to vote away their freedoms, and it started small, like these things always do. Someone hijacked a plane, so we restricted who could travel by air. Someone used a gun in a school, so we restricted who could own them. Someone organized all of it through email, so our digital privacy was removed. The arguments always made sense, and they were always in response to fear.

It was so easy to claim we were protecting ourselves. We built fences around the country so that foreigners couldn’t sneak in. Next, we added military to secure it. Soon the states made their own fences, isolating themselves even further. When morality was blamed, religion was mandated. Then parenting became the scapegoat and reproduction was controlled – every woman would have exactly one child. A national language was chosen and specific topics were prohibited from open discussion. No longer could we rant about race or religion, and politics was only discussed in agreeable tones.

It didn’t take long before the government was making all of our choices. In 2154, the citizens of the Republic of Usonia voted to let aptitude testing determine our future profession. We were assigned to jobs so that we no longer had to worry about unemployment. Our wages were automatically deposited in our government issued and protected bank accounts, our taxes automatically taken out. There was nothing left to worry about. Our lives were made simple and predictable. We didn’t have to bother thinking or planning, we just had to follow the steps.

My name is Sloane Maddox, and I’m a journalist for National News. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. I was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway. I hung on every printed word in a Dr. Seuss book, and devoured anything by C. S. Lewis that I could find. Douglas Adams and George R. R. Martin shaped my most formative years. I wanted to delve into the fantastical and make it come alive for others. Instead, I write just the truth – but only in the way management wants me to interpret it. You see, in the twentieth century, they called it “propaganda”. In the twenty-first, it was “spin”. Now, in the twenty-second century, they just call it “truth”.

It’s bullshit, and I want my freedom back.

 

Tonight, while looking for something else, I once again stumbled upon this file and thought I would share.  Maybe I’m mourning it a bit.  Maybe I’m just trying to procrastinate.  I honestly don’t know.  Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to get it back on track.  A new villain is just the first step.

Why I love giving my books away.

iliri-banner

I’m sure anyone who follows an author on social media has seen one of these.  You know, those nearly ranting posts about how hard we as authors work to make the stories for you to love?  Typically, they’re followed with a rational and almost sensible sounding argument about how it, therefore, doesn’t make sense to give our books away?

Yeah, I disagree.

You see, I work hard on my books.  I put everything into them, often disappearing from the world for weeks on end, only resurfacing when my friends and family try to stage something like an intervention (which usually is met with, “Go away, I’m on a deadline.”)  I invest in covers, editing, and all the other bookish things that we authors do that readers don’t really care about because it’s not their problem.  Yeah, I also get that last part.

wolf-of-oberhameSee, it’s not my readers’ problem that making a living in a luxury market isn’t just a piece of cake.  Nor is it their “problem” that there’s a jillion and one brilliant authors out there that I’m kinda competing with.  (I say “kinda” because let’s be honest, no author will ever write fast enough to truly compete with others.  It’s more of a finding a fan base and networking thing for us.)  For my readers, all they care about is that they FOUND a good book (thanks to me slaving over marketing avenues) and they can afford to try it (thanks to Kindle Unlimited or competitive pricing) and when they read it the whole way through, they’re happy with the story and the quality of the book they spent their hard earned money on (thanks to MY hard work because I only turn out the best product I can).

And when all those things come together, I just got me a new fan for life – or until I screw them over by cheating on my current standards.  One of the easiest ways to do this (find the readers) is with a free book.  That takes out one of the pieces of the equation because, let’s face it, free is affordable for everyone.

Seriously, how many of you found your favorite author with a free or loaned book?  How many of you got sucked into a series because a friend said, “Oh, I just finished this.  You should read it!” and then you have to buy the next twenty books in the series because your OCD set in and you can’t live without knowing what happened in the end?  How many of you clicked on that free ebook link and then bought not just the rest of the series, but every single book that author ever wrote, and signed up for their mailing list, followed them on Amazon, and stalk their social media regularly.  (Yeah, I know who you are… and I love you people!)

OMD paperback frontAhem.  But anyways…  My point is that I love the days I give away my books.  I love the chances to hand out some free paperbacks.  Recently, when I was in the hospital, I had my husband bring up the extra copies of One More Day I’d ordered.  I figured that a book about cancer had a pretty good chance of being interesting to my nurses, phlebotomists, lab techs, and most of the medical staff who put up with all my piss (kinda literally, since it was a kidney stone that did me in).  It’s a way to say thank you, and the look on their faces?

That’s worth every single second I put into typing out the book that I really enjoyed creating anyway.

Which brings me to another point.  For my gamer friends out there, I know you’ve seen this – especially in MMOs.  “I worked hard for that.”  The whine is prevalent in just about every aspect of our lives, but working is NOT what you do in a game.  By its very definition, it is anything BUT work.  And when you love your job?  The complaint about the hours you slave over something is kinda the same.

Now, I’m NOT saying that authors don’t deserve to get paid for what they do.  Just like any other artist, we are the creators.  We bring ideas to tangibility that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  We’re the ones who give our readers a few hours of escape from the doldrum of reality.  And that’s not just a job, but one that deserves to be compensated.  It’s work, and if we’re doing it right, it’s HARD work.

gamer-girlsBut it’s still ok to be generous.  I still write letters for my mother.  I help my father with his facebook.  I read manuscripts for my writing partner.  I do all of this for free, and it’s no different than the things I do for my “real job” as an author.  I do them as a favor for the people who matter to me, just like a sale or a few days of offering my book for free, or handing out those paperbacks isn’t the norm.  I balance my goal (helping my friends and family, finding new fans, making someone’s day a little better) against what I’m giving up (time spent writing some more!  Whee!).

To me, that little speck of joy I get back is payment.  I may not be able to put it in the bank, but when the situation is right, the budget can afford it, and my fans have once again proven just how great they are?  Yeah, I’m gonna pay them back because I seem to understand one VERY important thing that a lot of authors just can’t wrap their minds around.

We, the authors, can never get ahead without the support of our readers, and there’s not a damned thing wrong with bribing y’all to make sure it happens.

auryn-banner

 

 

The Confusing Life of a Woman

pexels-photo-12344As an author, gender roles are something I need to think about.  I have to be wary of the easy traps that are cliche, and the sexist roles that can harm my characters.  The society driven desires that are mandated don’t necessarily ring true to the readers, and this means my story will be the one to suffer.

Luckily, I’ve lead a life that defies most of those, while making me a little bit “girly”.  My husband loves that part the most.  He adores my addiction to fingernail polish and my love affair with lipstick.  That my favorite “comfy clothes” is a loose and sexy dress makes him smile every time I pull it on.  And then I wear it to mow the lawn.

I’ve owned three businesses.  One I sold, one I turned into a hobby because it was still fun but no longer profitable, and the last is how I hope to retire – as an author.  I’ve managed crews, hired, fired, and resigned for ethical reasons.  I’ve carried a gun as part of my job and written about problems with current gun laws for another.  I know the difference between AMD and INTEL, why CUDA cores are important, and how to overclock my own computer.  I also know how to read lab results for my own bloodwork, can streak an agar plate without thinking about it, and have not only seen a man’s chest cracked open, but also had the chance to revive a little of puppies after being born by cesarian section.  And yeah, I started out taking orders in a drive through window and ringing up customers at a retail store for Christmas.

In other words, I’ve lived.  Kinda hard.

sunset-hairI pierced my belly button, my nose, and my tongue.  I took them out when I got bored of that look.  When I turned 40, I got a tattoo – and then a second.  I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin.  I can’t remember my natural hair color, but I know I always called it “mouse blonde”, and I hated it.  Right now, it’s sunset.  I really like it like this, so it’ll probably stay some version of sunset for the next few years because I’m loyal to things that work for me.

But through all of that, I always remember the things I was told I shouldn’t do.  I shouldn’t wear black, because it made me look too old.  I shouldn’t dye my hair that color because I’d never get a job (and yet it never stopped me, huh).  I shouldn’t wear those heels because they looked trashy, or that sweater looked frumpy.  I was too old to get a tattoo, and the one I wanted was too big.  My hair was too short, or too long.  I dated too many men, or not enough.  I needed to think about marriage, or I married the wrong man.  (Then again, I did, but moms have a way of knowing those things.  I got it right the second time, though.)

And now, as an author, I see even more societal declarations that are heaped on women.  Heroines in stories live like I did – but when I was doing it?  Oh no!  Those impulsive relationships that were so intense were abhorrent.  Little fact here, my amazing husband of 12 years moved in after 11 days because we had a case of insta-love.  My failed first husband?  A year wasn’t enough time to realize that he had a problem with being a decent human being.

sky-woman-clouds-sun.jpgMy point is that no matter how successful I’ve been, someone else always judged me as a failure because I defied whatever it was they assumed made success.  Now, I’m at that age where I can look back and laugh.  I am happy with the person I’ve become.  I may not be like most people, but none of us are.  I’m bold and brazen, but I still know that tiny voice that screams in everyone’s head, reminding us of what we couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t do.

And all of this goes into my writing.  These life experiences shape the characters I make, and I like to think that it gives them a touch of reality.

But stop for a second, and think about the difference between what we expect from a good heroine and from a good young lady in real life.  We root for the woman who takes risks, fails, and picks herself back up in a book.  In our real life, we laugh at that same person behind her back, relishing that we told her so, and think we’re so much better because we took the safe and boring path.  We devour stories about young love and hot romance, while calling the real women willing to risk their heart sluts and scoffing at how easy she is.  Over and over, we women are raised with this conflicting set of expectations.  It isn’t until we’re too old to enjoy our youth that we finally realize that no matter what, we’re going to let everyone down – while being raised in a world that teaches us that’s the worst thing that could ever happen.

couple-814825.jpgAnd so, to every person out there, struggling against the stereotypes of life – man, woman, or anything in between – I just want you to know that it doesn’t matter.  Blaze your own path.  Live your OWN life.  If people don’t like it, just know that they won’t like anything you do – and that’s ok.  The only person we need to make happy is ourselves.  We need to stop thinking about what everyone else is convinced we must do, and figure out what it is that WE, the people living these lives, really want for ourselves.

And then we need to stop telling others that it’s the path for them.

 

 

 

Female Villains and Heroes

tumblr_n0sm19nh6w1s0pjc6o1_500Today, I was inspired by comments to a somewhat innocuous quote.  Someone mentioned that they wanted female villains who were not inspired by a heartbreak or jealousy.  To me, that’s a good thing to want.  But the comments!

While many people were agreeing – or mentioning great literary examples that would qualify for this – a large group was complaining that there’s plenty of lady villains out there.  Here’s my question.  So?

I’m pretty sure that in our entertainment, there are not 50-51% of the arch nemesis or antagonists who would qualify as a self-motivated female villain.  Just like I have a pretty good feeling that in most genres of literature, the heroes are still not quite up to half the population.  Young adult books aside, because the ladies do have a very strong voice there.

And such a large percentage of the people complaining were men!  Well, guys, how would you feel if giving you a quarter to a third of the representation in the world was considered “good enough”?  Honestly, even in movie extra casting, 33% of a crowd being female is what we come to think of as “proportionately female” because we’re so used to seeing more guys than girls!  In this “enlightened” time, where women are supposedly equal to men, why would the initial statement even raise an eyebrow about gender rather than motivation?

a_fairy_tale_by_flex_flexBecause benign sexism still exists.

Now, before you start freaking out, calling me some conspiracist, or anything else… let me explain.  Societies, over time, change in small increments.  I’m not saying that most men hate women.  Rather the opposite, in fact.  I just think that we’ve been trained to see things so much worse than what we have now that we think we’re doing pretty good – when we still have a little ways left to go.  It’s no different than getting that wild hair to start a project, working on it nonstop until you’re almost finished, and then growing bored of it.  This discussion, about equality in representation, grew stale about 30 years ago.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it.  It certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about it when writing.  Granted, an author can tell any story they want, and there’s a good chance it’s going to sell.  Hell, there’s a real good chance it will appeal to someone’s inner desires.  Look at Twilight!  So much sexism going on there, and yet so many women fawned over the idea of a man who’d take care of them.  The trick is to walk that fine line between the two.  In my opinion, the solution comes down to character depth.

24647974_22608161_rrrghhtrfdsGive me a female villain who is killing her friends because they’re prettier, and yeah, I’m gonna call that sexist.  Give me a female villain who has been threatened that if she doesn’t win the beauty pageant her entire family will be deported to a third world nation where the government is going to execute them all, and it’s a little more interesting.  The “pretty” part of that no longer is her motivation, but merely one of many steps in her psychotic reasoning for killing the women around her.  Family first, right?

The same is ALREADY true for men.  When was the last time you remember a story about a guy doing something nefarious because he needs to show he’s “tough” enough?  In the few cases it’s happened, there’s so much more to the story, like abuse as a child, gambling stakes, or other influences that make his choices just a little deeper than judging him on his masculinity.  How about a man who goes bonkers because he got dumped?  And I’m not talking about an all-night binge and a string of one-night stands.

So, while I agree that we’ve come a very long way in gender portrayal in literature, I’m just saying that we aren’t at the finish line, yet.  We, as authors, can do better.  We, as readers, should expect more from our writers.  We may not always see the benign sexism ourselves – that’s why it’s called BENIGN! – but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it when it’s pointed out.  Trying to say it doesn’t happen won’t help progress.  In fact, it does the exact opposite.  It pushes all of us – and yes, the guys too – back to the 1950s.  Benign sexism is what makes people still think it’s strange for a man to take his wife’s name, for stay at home dads to be looked at sideways on the playground, or for so many men to be afraid to show emotions like fear and sadness.

I, for one, am up to the challenge.

21684

My Version of Politics (Iliri style)

378190_404741319574399_1880521433_nWhen writing a series of books that includes dealing with rules and laws, an author has to figure out the politics.  Throughout the Rise of the Iliri books, rules and governing have been a key point of contention – mainly about the fairness of the laws for the iliri.  Well, in book #6, things get even more convoluted.

The Parliament of the Conglomerate of Free Citizens is at the center of this story.  As fans of the series will know, the Representatives of that country are a diverse group.  Some think equality of the species is a good thing while others are staunchly against it, and most fall in between.  Now, with Sal trying to form an alliance with the CFC, she’s right in the middle of it all.  So, that means that I, as the god author of this world, had better understand it!

And so, I started digging through all the books, checking for districts, names of politicians, and their ideology.  On a day when the rest of my country is bickering about liberals and conservatives, I’m creating new liberal minds and conservative ones – and giving them interesting things to discuss.  It’s a lot more fun than I expected.

fantasy-landscape-scenery-4I have to think about the voter base and geography.  In the middle of a war, people near the front line would tend to be more conservative.  That means certain districts have to be Represented by certain people.  Those closer to another country would have been influenced by their neighbors, so might be more liberal (on the issue of iliri).  Based on where I’d put the cities, what kind of cities they are, and how the battle had been moving around them, I figured out the majority view of the entire country.

Kinda made me feel all smart’n’stuff.  Mostly, this background work makes sure that the debates I show in the book feel true and accurate.  When dealing with a group of people that aren’t bad, but simply disagree, that’s kinda important.  None of the “enemies” in this story are simply evil for the sake of some bad mojo floating in the air.  They all have their reasons for what they are doing.

But I’m not going to give you too much here.  For those who still haven’t read the series, I don’t want to give away the AHH moments.  For those who have, you know Sal’s back in Prin, and she’s not in a good mood.  Inspired by the angst of American politics, I’ve tried to carry that feeling into Resilience.  Things are changing, and no one is sure they really like it.  Not Sal, not her friends and family, and not the people of the CFC – but they don’t have time to wait it out.  Terric is bearing down on them, and thousands of Conglomerate iliri crossbreds are going to be the ones to suffer.  Both sides are invested in fixing this, but how is the real question.  And can Sal find a way to do this without help?  Can a slave turned military leader deal with the politics of it all without making things worse?

fantasy-snow-scene-wallpaperI honestly think this book expands the world of Ogun a little more.  Without the battles constantly pulling at the little beasties, other things are coming to the forefront.  We’ll get time in Guttertown, seeing how the iliri act when no one else is looking, but Sal’ll also have a whole new perspective of the wealthy district.  Other characters, like Rayna, will experience things in a new light.  So many Anglians, like Ilija, have never seen the modern ways of the CFC.  Questions of power are at the forefront.  From mental skills to political sway and wealth, it’s all coming to a head.  Old faces will come back and new ones will appear, and just like in Tenacity, some of the other Black Blades will get a voice.

For those who don’t know, fans on my facebook page recently convinced me to split the sixth book into two (6 and 7).  Yes, this will make the series longer, but Resilience was getting to be a monster.  I had to decide if I should flesh out the side stories or cut and hack it down to the main plot.  My most ardent fans seemed to want more about the world, so I’m giving it to you.  It means a little more work to make sure that I don’t leave with a cliffhanger (because I HATE that!) but I think it’s making a better book.

Warrior Woman SilhouetteWith that said, I’d initially intended for Rise of the Iliri to be a six book series.  Well, Inseparable didn’t get as far as I wanted.  Tenacity got cut into three.  Now, Resilience has been split again.  Currently, my outline shows ten books, but I promise that’s only because no one wants to read a 400,000-word tome – and some of the planned books were trying to become that.  The series arc hasn’t changed, I’ve just given you a few more insights into things like the iliri outcasts and whatever happened to that little Ilirian bookstore Zep likes so much.

When I started writing, I’d plotted the books by geography.  As an epic Science Fantasy story, I thought that each book should be written from point A to point B.  As an example, Bloodlust started in Ft. Landing and made it to Prin.  Instinctual covered the story as it happened in the capital of the Conglomerate until Sal left for her mission in Anglia.  I even made a (very ugly and crude) map to keep myself on the path.  Now, in the second half of the series, the novels seem to be following Sal’s growth as a character more.

I think all I need now, is to figure out how to make this a little prettier and put it in the books so people can follow along.  Maybe it will make the politics a little easier to understand.  At least I can always hope.

Map of Anu.jpg

 

 

Publishing Contests confuse me

books-447466.jpgOk, recently on facebook, I’ve been seeing a slew of “Enter this contest, and the winner will get their book published!” type posts.  Previously, I’ve seen this sort of thing on Twitter, as well.  It’s everywhere, and I’m afraid I just don’t get it.

First off, why would you want to fight to win the right to be published by some small press?  What can they offer you?  How will your royalties look compared to your other options?  How much are they going to invest in promoting YOUR book?  These are all questions a writer needs to ask before dumping their hard work out there.

Now, I know that most people still think that there’s “real” publishing and “self” publishing – and that’s it.  Well, let me assure you, they’re wrong.  If your book is made available for others to read, it’s “real” publishing.  Your book is published, your debut rights are gone.  No matter how you choose to do it, putting your book out there is the real deal, and if the authenticity of it is what has you hung up, then you’re going about this author thing ALL WRONG!

See, I’m independently published.  It’s kinda like being self-published, but with a lot more people, and a complicated plan in place.  Notice I didn’t say “good” plan.  I said “complicated.”  Working with SHP Publishing, we have a hierarchy of order.  Books in a series get pushed ahead of books starting a series (or stand alone).  Members put their best efforts into their part of the production.  From cover designs to editing, I know my team is going to fight for making every book the best it can be.  Sometimes that means disagreements happen.  Others, it ends up in wild parties as we celebrate a new release.  The best part, though, is that we’re a small group.

Currently, we have 3 authors involved.  I’m kinda the most prolific, but it’s nice to have other writers to bounce ideas off of when I get stuck.  I have an editor that I know, and can contact when I don’t understand her notes.  I have a cover artist who knows where I’m going with my books, only cusses at me a little when I demand changes to the art, and produces great marketing images while he’s at it.  Then there’s the formatter.  Her job is JUST to make the words all pretty on the page.  Me?  I write.

So yeah, having a publishing team is great.  It makes it easier to hire out help, but anyone can do this on their own as a self-published author.  There are plenty of contractors who do the exact same things.  Its’ work, but so is entering contest after contest, and trying to keep them all straight.

This BIG difference between the “dream” book deal and what most of us get is the advertising.  Now, here’s where reality starts to suck.  See, publishing houses don’t spend big bucks on all their authors.  Usually, there’s one or two books that they bet on, and dump a lot of money into.  The rest?  Yeah, doesn’t matter if it’s Harper Collins, Random House, or SHP Publishing, we mid-listers get to pay our own way.  If you want people to find your book, then you figure out how to market it yourself.

So, remind me again what we get from the “real” publishing deals?  10% royalties instead of 70%?  Loss of rights and the inability to make changes later on?  Contractual obligations that take us away from writing the next book?  All too often, a publishing schedule that is MUCH slower than what a smaller publication can handle (because of the other books in line)?  And then, if they’re running a contest for all this?

I’m just thinking, how good would your book have to be in order to win a contest to get published, and then end up being the 1 book that company wants to put money into?  Isn’t it more likely that your hard work will be treated like it’s still in the slush pile, and you should be happy that it even got a deal?  Could it be possible that the literary landscape is changing so fast that not even the publishing houses can keep up with what’s going on?

In my opinion, my art means enough to me that I’m not going to just throw it away.  I work hard to make my books into something I can be proud of.  That means they’ll do just fine on their own, and I’m serious enough about my craft to do whatever it takes to make the best book I can.  Those contests?  I think they’re a scam, and I sure hope that no newbie authors end up regretting their decision to enter one.

 

When Science and Fantasy Collide

dogfight_by_omen2501The classification of Speculative Fiction is a very broad one.  Inside that, the most common genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Most readers think of these as “spaceships” and “magic”.  But what about those of us who like spaceships with magic?

Take steam punk as an example.  In recent years, its popularity has skyrocketed.  You get the social constrictions of history with the possibilities of the future, all rolled up into an interesting concept that has endless amounts of potential.

For me, I keep falling into a mindset based on Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  This naturally leads to my mind working backwards.  Things like, “so is ESP magic?”  Enter my Rise of the Iliri series.     Or, “What makes life?”  And that spawned a series I currently have one hold based on the idea of sentient planets.  And then there’s the pondering that I can only verbalize as, “Ummm?” that resulted in a nearly finished novel (with series potential) about our human love for chemical energy and an alien species who built their technology on potential energy.  On the outside, it looks like science vs. magic, but each species sees the others’ side as the magic.

blue 2.pngYou see, this conundrum is something I adore.  I think the urge to lump things as magic is a part of our human condition.  From the earliest written histories, we’ve tried to explain the unknown with the supernatural.  Greeks thought thunder was a god, as an example.  Today, we’re studying quantum particles that can reach into the past.  The miracles of science are so hard to understand that it makes us, as humans, think.  That leads to trying to explain.  Those stories?  For me?  They make some amazing books.

But I grew up on Fantasy.  I lived on dragons, magic, and secret worlds.  It’s not just the miraculous possibilities that I loved, but also the language.  The stories are told in a more character driven manner (than typical hard-core sci-fi) with a comfort to the descriptions that feels relaxed.  The stories aren’t as “serious” in their presentation.  As a reader, I liked that these books let my mind wander, helped me escape the trauma of everyday life, and didn’t try to make me feel stupid.

334651-hd-wallpaperSo, when I started writing, I found myself compelled to use a similar style to what I was most comfortable with.  Yes, I have my own “author’s voice”.  I think we all do.  It’s inherent to having a personality (and boy do I!).  Then again, I also spent a whole lot of time in my previous life (before authorhood) explaining complex science to people who had no scientific training.  I’m used to putting those highly technical concepts into basic language, and it’s something I dearly love.  Geeking out with a fellow enthusiast is a hobby I will probably never get over.  So, I try to bring that into my books.

See, in all Fantasy, authors are told to make sure that their magic has rules.  Hmm.  Doesn’t that mean it’s basically science?  If magic is predictable, controllable, and can be studied like that, then basically, it’s just unknown physics.  Well, if you keep going down that rabbit hole, then it makes sense to work backwards from any fantasy concept to the “why” of it all.  Why can the iliri do the things they do?  Because they were derived from the indigenous species who could.  Well, why could they?  Because they have a different genetic structure.  So how does that….

abo_hunter_by_teecee2107-d5pfgpsWell, you see how it works.  And so, I worked all the way back down the evolution of my made up little beasties.  I realized they had to be white – evolutionarily speaking – but would naturally have variances due to the extended time frame I was working with.  They had to have specific traits, including their societies.  Those traits formed their culture and instinctual behavior.  Initially, the idea of them was inspired by the picture here (which I think is just an amazing render, by the way).  But things changed as I worked my way back to their creation.

Because science!

And so, I think of all my fantasy work as Science Fantasy.  Many people pick up BloodLust and are immediately confused.  There’s a strange mix of technology, modern language, and the potential for a standard, fantasy based world – but it’s not European or feudalistic.  There’s a reason for that, but I’m not the kind of author who is going to spoon feed you.  If you want to know, then figure it out.  It’s my challenge to my audience: to give them a framework to find their own fantasies.

omen2501r-3Everything I write, I try to explain.  It might be a single line, buried in the middle of an angry character’s rant, lost in the shuffle of high impact action – but it’s there.  I leave it dangling for you to take or leave as you wish.  And you know what?  Sometimes, I get it wrong.  Sometimes, I change my mind and leave a bit of “old story shrapnel” behind.  A few brilliant readers have caught those things and called me on them.  Kudos to them.  See, those little details make me think harder, and I love to wallow in my own brain power.  I love to imagine, daydream, and create.

And I play the long game.  Maybe it’s because I learned from Anne McCaffrey.  Her dragons on Pern?  I had a love/hate relationship with that series, but I did read it at a formidable time.  I always found myself drawn to the stories that explained gods as aliens, showed magic as a virus, or gave the reader something plausible to ponder.  Keyword: plausible.  The “what-if” that I’m addicted to has shaped my mind as an author, and I love it.  I love thinking about the why as much as the what-happens-next.  I love building worlds that are deep enough, varied enough, and interesting enough to make my readers want more.

And I’ll keep giving you more so long as I’m able.  There have been serious discussions with my publishing group about writing novellas based around the side characters in the Rise of the Iliri series (later.  When I’m done with other things).  Or showing the enemy’s side of the story.  I don’t know if I’ll do that, but it would be interesting.  Mostly, I plan to keep writing, keep producing books at some inhuman speed to feed my own need for escapism, and hopefully, some of you will come along for the ride.

sci-fi-art-zhenya-chung-sthycx-the-code-installer

 

Why I write

fountain-pen-442066Like I mentioned previously, most authors claim that writing is in their blood, that they just can’t remember a time when they didn’t write.  I, on the other hand, grew up as a reader.  I can’t remember a time I didn’t read.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to end up a writer.  Books were a way to escape, something I was offered like a gateway.  They were never a creative outlet for me.

Then, as an adult, I became the victim of online bullying.  Now, it’s a very strange situation to be a grown-ass woman, unable to escape the virtual harassment of another, older, grown-ass woman, but it happens.  Rather a lot, I think.  Every form of social media, every forum, every hobby site, every place I’d ever “hung out” online became a battle ground.  I was accused of everything from tax evasion to pornography.  It was over the top, clearly nothing but lies, and oh so persistent.

The irony here is that I have real thick skin.  I’m not the type of person to get all weepy because someone doesn’t like me, but this was different.  It was invasive.  My only escape from the constant noise of it all was to unplug.  So I did.

ydm4q9qThen I stared at the computer.  For most of my life, the internet has been my escape.  I don’t have a television, I don’t care for most movies.  I read books.  Ebooks.  (Hey, at least I’m consistent in my love of technology!)  Well, between the literature and the video games (which I could still safely play, since most middle aged ladies didn’t run in the same gamer circles I do) I found a little escape…

But it wasn’t enough.  In the hours between another game or the maxed-out credit card that prevented me from buying another book, I still stared at the screen.  I wished for a world where the downtrodden could get a little revenge.  I dreamed of a character that could get knocked down seven times and stand up eight…. growling!  Then, one day, I opened MS Word.

I didn’t expect anything.  Hell, I’m not really sure I had planned out what I was going to do.  I just sat down with this idea of a beast, mocked by the people around her, who tried so hard to fit into the rules society had put around her – like a cage – when inside she was so much more.  This small, vulnerable girl who survived on the hope that one day she could make things better.  If she just worked hard enough, pushed through the pain a little more, and kept going, then one day she could change her tiny corner of the world.

Salryc's Search.jpgI wrote.  The words came – and they were ugly.  I didn’t care.  I lost myself in this world caught between science and fantasy, where magic was just misunderstood science, history had been lost to the ages, but humanity was still the same.  People still wanted to lift themselves up by treading on the backs of those they found weak, but one of those victims had teeth.  Sharp teeth.  And patience…

Somewhere around Chapter 3, everything changed.  The catharsis of my writing faded behind the characters.  The plot that I hadn’t put any thought into began to form.  Edits were made to what I’d already created so there could be a compelling story arc, and I kept going.  I forgot that I was writing to escape because I’d fallen so far into this rabbit hole that I couldn’t imagine trying to get out.  I was lost in a world of my own creation…

And it felt good.

I became a hermit.  I think it helped me heal a little, mentally, from the abrasion of the real world’s noise.  Mostly, the story kept me going because no matter how much I abused my cast of characters, they kept hoping, kept finding ways to not only survive, but grow closer.  They made hope into something so tangible I could almost taste it.  And then I wrote some more.

tumblr_mntax1w0zm1s0wwqso1_500It wasn’t until I finished the fourth book in the series (at that time, it was the third), that I got the nerve to show my manuscript to anyone else.  Let me assure you, that’s the most terrifying thing anyone can do.  In a novel, we leave little parts of our soul behind.  I worried that people would assume I had written Salryc Luxx to be a version of me.  I was terrified that the constant erosion of self that I’d been suffering every time I went online would be visible to anyone who read my story.  I thought that by showing my written daydream of escapism to another, I’d be exposing my inner vulnerabilities, but this was my best friend.  The one person who knew how hard I’d been trying not to give in to something as foolish as words online.  The person I’d been leaning on when times got so very hard.  She already knew about those wounds… so I showed her my book.

She read it in a night.  Typos, grammar issues, sloppy sentence structure and all.  Hidden in all those words, she could feel the aspirations to be more, the desire to fight back when there was no enemy to target.  She read the story and was inspired, almost recharged, to push just a little harder.  By encapsulating my pain and fears into a story, then twisting the plot to offer hope, I’d not only helped myself get better mentally, but I’d given someone else a boost.  I don’t even know when you’d call it, but hearing that someone reading my book FELT something?  I honestly hadn’t expected that.

So I kept going.  I kept writing.  I learned how to write, and then how to write better.  I dove into perfecting my craft, playing with new ideas, and I wrote almost constantly.  My husband supported me completely, and while he doesn’t read, he loves for me to tell him my stories, to explain the bits that make me excited, and he says it’s inspirational.

Cyntaks.pngFor as many times as I’ve turned to a book to help me crawl out of my funk, I had just created something to help others.  The story was like a ladder, giving a path that the reader could use to move up, to get out of the oppressive mental anguish that is so easy to fall into.  And for those with no depression, anxiety, or other problems?  Well, it was just a good story, right?  A new story, wrapped up in a bunch of old ideas.

But that was just a side effect.  I wrote because I felt things.  I wrote these books as a way to understand my own emotions, and maybe let my readers see a new side to their own.  I wrote because we spend so much time trying to be calm, strong, professional, and independent that only in a fantasy world did I feel safe enough to admit I wasn’t.  I wrote because I wanted people to think, to question my way, their way, and all the ways.  In the iliri books, I focus on taboos, pushing at each one to find the line between good and bad.  In One More Day, I lost myself in the powerlessness of disease, forcing a situation where the strong female character simply can’t be strong anymore because of her failing body.  I write stories where others step up, fail, and sometimes even run away.  I write stories where I can ponder something more than just the next task.

As someone who never wanted to be a writer, I now can’t stop.  I’m a reader, and I will always be a reader first.  I create books I want to enjoy myself.  Books that fill a gap I can’t find anywhere else.  I write books about people – regardless of their type – who have to face the darkness inside themselves and realize that it’s not so dark.  I write stories with happy endings, even if the happiness is fleeting, because I think that every so often, we all need a chance to know it’s ok not to be perfect – but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.  Even in the darkest shadows, there’s always a glimmer of hope, and I hope to tell stories that focus on it.

gladiator-wallpaper

How books affect us

book-419589Ask any author and they’ll tell you how writing has always been in their soul.  Every bio has some anecdote about writing stories in elementary school, on a hidden notebook, or such.  So many of these writers act as if those childish scribbles were important somehow.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  For a writer, any and all writing feels important, but if it’s junk, it doesn’t really count.  Anything we write as an 11-year-old kid counts as junk.  It’s part of the learning process, and precious for that, but it’s NOT art.  Not yet.  Maybe finding the love of writing was important, but that writing?  Just one more step in the path we call life.

Then, there’s me.  I didn’t want to write books.  I was a READER!  I loved to read stories, to devour them like free cake when no one’s looking.  Growing up as a science dork who made good grades, had no friends, and didn’t really care?  All I wanted at the end of the day was a good book to lose myself in.  I didn’t watch TV.  I read, then read some more.  I loved that the little boy or girl at the center of it all was kinda like me.  Not exactly like – oh, no.  But s/he was enough like me that I felt I belonged someplace.  I belonged in that story.

boy-447701I will never forget checking out a novel in the second grade, and the librarian trying to make sure I understood that this book didn’t have pictures.  Duh.  But it was about horses and I was a seven-year-old girl.  Who needed pictures?  Horses!  While I was reading that book, I could pretend that I had horses, too.  And when the bad things happened, just like the girl or boy in the book, I could use my pretend horses to make everything all better, and I’d be the hero!

And those lessons lasted outside the pages of the book.  I learned when to keep my mouth shut by reading the verbal fights of my favorite characters.  I figured out that sometimes, even when parents were meanies, they were honestly trying to help.  I managed to have it sink in that adults aren’t the bad guys, but they aren’t always right, either.  And most importantly, I learned that no matter how someone looks on the outside, what matters is the person they really are.

reading-1223519C’mon, we’ve all done it.  That hunky man who is tall, dark, and handsome… except that the author clearly described him as nerdy, blonde, and scrawny?  But not in OUR heads.  Oh, he’s sexy in a way that has nothing to do with muscles, so we imagine him as a hunk.  We make him what we want because we can.  Or her.  Or them.  The dress doesn’t need to be blue.  It can be pink, purple, or any color we like because when we read a book, the story is in our minds, and that gives the reader almost as much power as the author.  The writer makes the frame, the reader fleshes it out, and in the end, no two people ever read the same story, but we can still learn the same lessons.

This is why I love literature: because the reality changes as we need it to.  It gives us hope when we don’t have it, offers solutions when we are desperate, and wraps us up in comfort.  Books are friends who prove to each of us that we’re not in this thing alone.  We’re not the only people alive who are struggling.  We’re all involved in the human condition, and it’s universal in so many ways…

children-1822474And yet it’s not.  As a typical white kid, I was lucky.  There was always some main character who was just like me.  Maybe this time it was a boy instead of a girl, but they had similar families, financial worries, and the type of lifestyle problems I “got”.  Only recently have our main characters had to deal with single parent families, abusive parents, familial histories of drug addictions, prejudice, discrimination, and things that so many young kids are put through.  The stories I used to escape into are great for everyone, but it’s just a bit nicer when you’re reading and the main character, “Audrey” has dark blonde hair just like young Auryn, and collects plastic ponies.  LaShonna, Rafaela, or Jiao might get the ideas easily enough, but it’s not the same as having a character written who could be a twin.  I know because one of my childhood friends was a very sweet Muslim girl who kept waiting for a heroine to wear a hijab like her.

blur-1840538.jpgNow, the diversity in our characters is growing – and fast – but it’ll probably never be fast enough.  There’s a magic to knowing an author could imagine someone like you.  It makes the child reading that book feel a little less invisible.  It’s a tiny shard of hope to hold onto.

And hope is what books always give us.  No matter how bad things get, there’s always the chance that the hero will win, or at least that the villain will pay for what they have done.  There’s always that little spark of light that the world could be better than it is now.

It’s why I fell in love with reading.  That impossible hope is a drug I will never get enough of.  The daydreams of a future where everyone gets what they need/want/deserve is seductive to an intelligent mind, and I like to think mine is.  That need is what kept me coming back, book after book, to read yet another story, to lose myself in this hobby called reading.

And one day, when my own hope finally broke, it’s the same thing that made me open a document and type those first words onto the page:

“Weaving through the large, dark-skinned bodies of the soldiers around her, Sal touched the paper in her pocket like a talisman.”