Monday, September 26, 2011

Empathy and Characterization

I've been thinking a lot about how emotion is a kind of a dance between two (or more) people. A quick story- My daughter was in a bike accident last week (she was going pretty fast and slid on some wet grass and fell on a driveway.)

She was in a lot of pain, but I had a job to do- get my daughter cleaned up enough that we could go to the critical care center for x-rays. My heart was pounding, and my thoughts were a little jumpy, but I was okay. (You didn't think this was about my daughter, did you? No, this story is all about me! ;) Then I stopped at my friend's house to drop off my 4 year-old so I could concentrate on Emma. When she came to the door, I started to explain what had happened and could she please watch Jojo for me?

I could hardly get through the explanation. I started bawling, and all of the fear that I hadn't wanted to show my daughter came out with my friend. After a  moment I pulled it together, and Emma and I made it to the CCC, where my husband met us. Emma is okay, in fact the last big piece of scab peeled off her face last night, so she doesn't feel like such a freak. (I think I could have said she was mauled by a bear and that would have made sense to people looking at her. Her left hand is still wrapped up, but she can *carefully* hold a pencil again.)

Anyway, this experience with my friend reminded me that emotions don't occur in a vacuum. Emotions are usually between a person and someone or something else.

Anger- at what?
Love- for whom?
Jealousy- over what?
Happiness- this one is a little harder, but I think that many times when I'm happy, I feel that I've been transported back to an earlier happiness. For instance, whenever I go out on a boat, it reminds me of the times I've gone out on a boat with my family growing up, and I feel a sense of well-being and closeness, to my dad especially, that I don't feel in other situations. Even if he's not there.

As writers, we're told to use relationships and other people's reactions to reveal our main character and make them come alive. I'm just wondering if the reason for that is deeper than a good writing device- is it because that's how we experience the world? Can you really expereince emotions without putting them in the context of a relationship?

Even when I'm alone, my emotions are focused on what I think someone's reaction will be. For instance, say I'm fixing dinner. A script will run through my mind of the last time we had chicken pot pie, how everybody thanked me, those delicious groans as they took their firsts bites. As I predict their gratitude, I happily get to work.

What do you think of my very non-scientific observations? Can emotions exist without a foil?
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor

A lot of you have read Laini Taylor, so you already know how amazing she is. This post is not for you. You're already hounding the clerks at Barnes and Noble, asking if the shipment has arrived, right? No? You must be checking your mailbox *again*.

I've read all of Laini Taylor's books- "Lips Touch, Three Times, "Blackbringer" and "Silksinger" from the Faeries of Dreamdark Series. I loved them all (though the Faeries of Dreamdark are written for a younger MG crowd) because of the beautiful writing, the creativity of the ideas, the twists and turns in the plot and the revelation after revelation of the characters' histories. Delicious.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, you have my perfect book. Except for the cover, which doesn't evoke any of the feeling of the book and is rather bland, I think. The mask is from a scene in the novel, so it's not totally crazy or anything, I just don't think it does justice to the story. Don't be fooled!

Karou is an art student in Prague, who claims with a wry smile that her hair comes out of her head peacock blue, that the half-beast, half-human figures in her drawing notebook are real. She's discovered that the truth, delivered with that teasing smile, will be hidden better than if she'd told a hundred lies. Because nobody hangs out with monsters and devils. They don't even exist, right?

But they do. Brimstone, a devilish creature part ram, human and something reptilian that Karou likes to think of as dragon, is the nearest thing she has to a family. In fact, her earliest memory is of playing with the tuft of his tail. But there's so much Brimstone won't tell her: where Karou came from, what Brimstone uses the teeth Karou gathers for, or what lies behind the locked door in his workroom. When she asks too many questions, she's patted on the head and shown back to the door that leads to the human world, returned there until the next time Brimstone hears of teeth for her to collect.

But one day Karou finds a handprint burned in that door, and the war that she wasn't told about is suddenly all too real when an angel holds a sword, ready to swing it at her neck. She fights and keeps her life, but she can't stop drawing the fearsome angel with the dead, burning-ember eyes. And she can't shake the feeling that she could make him smile.

I love this book.

Content: The characters are not perfect people. Um, most of them aren't actually people, anyway, but you know what I mean. The book opens with Karou regretting the closeness she shared with an exboyfriend. The monsters nor the angels have much use for chastity as an end, but they do believe in being true to their hearts. Brimstone warns Karou against taking inessential things into her body- ink, drugs, alcohol, and especially warns her against "inessential penises." It's not a lewd book, but neither are the characters saints. I'm not sure that I would hand Lips Touch or Daughter of Smoke and Bones to a young teen, but a major theme of the book is to wait for true love, and the power of hope that such love brings. Which message I really liked and appreciated.

I will be buying this book (release date Sept 24, 2011), and thanks to Around the World ARC tours for giving me the chance to preview it.

Happy Reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Self Publishing Guild- Why Not?

I've taken a break from querying over the summer, working on my YA Egyptian-Queen's-Spirit-Possesses-Pregnant-Teen book (it's just as angsty as it sounds!)

In the meantime, I wait for things to fall into perspective, so I can read Ways To Fall as if it weren't the product of three years of love and endless rewrites, the book that I cut my teeth on, and a story that I don't want to let go of.

I've been so disappointed by rejections, so afraid that my judgment is off, that I'm a crap writer, that my ideas are too cerebral, too out there, and just plain boring. I still have a few requests floating, but as I've mentioned before, I think of them as rejections that haven't happened yet, just so I can get on with my life. I really hope they're not--the agents involved are amazing and I would be so delighted to work with such talented and savvy people.

And yet, I'm scared of publishers. See Androssagency How eBook Royalties are Cheating Authors. Kristin Nelson has stated that publishers are undereporting eBook sales (she does say in the comments that she believes it is due to publishers not having systems in place to ensure accuracy). Passive Voice gives details about royalty statements, lots of examples and explanations. It's so ridiculous that it would be laughable, if it weren't cryable.

So, I'm leery.

I'm sketching some cover ideas and learning everything I can about self publishing (Dean Wesley Smith is a great resource, as is Joe Konrath.) Not because I don't think I can find an agent, although some days I do worry that it will never happen. I still think it would be worth 10% of net income to have a brilliant agent, just to be sure that someone is one my side and motivated to be honest and brutal, in a kind way, if neccesary. I DO NOT think publishers are the boogey man, but I have concerns. That's all I'm saying.

I would love to band together with a group of writers, edit the heck out of each others' work, and rise together out of the flood of crappy self-published ebooks out. I'd like to do chaining, where at the end of each ebook, a chapter by another author is included, leading the reader to begin another book within "the guild."

I can see this as a way that authors could easily expand their reach, without having to devote hundreds of additional hours to networking. Within the networks of the guild, each writer would find a much greater audience. We've all seen examples of authors with traditional publishers doing this- ie Class of 2011, League of Extraordinary Writers, etc.

I think about the authors I've traded crits with, and while several of them have had success following the traditional model (stop by The Green Bathtub and congratulate Amy Sonnichsen on signing with Emmaneulle Morgen at Judith Egrlich Literary Mangement!)and it's a matter of time for the rest, what if we could just do it ourselves?

Dean Wesley Smith posted today on the need to have a large backlist to be successful as a self-published author. I don't have that. I have a few short stories (okay, one, and it needs another pass) on my hard drive and one completed novel. Not exactly the 200 titles Smith recommends. But with a group of ten or fifteen other writers, we could work on manuscripts serially, putting up one a month or 6 weeks, or whatever. We could operate as our own imprint. Authors working with the imprint could keep all proceeds minus some money set aside as compensation to the guild to subsidize the next book's cover art, marketing, formatting etc. I think it would be good to have a limited number of hardcopies to give away as ARCs.

I've heard of some people having success serializing novels, and setting the price point lower, but I worry that that would create barriers for consumers and that you'd lose some readers due to the inconvenience of having to wait for the next installment or to download the next chunk. Still, setting the cost of fifty pages at $.49 might pull in some readers who are willing to part with such small change. Then again, making the first chunk of the novel free might do the same thing, better.

I'm not ready to act on this, but now you know what I'm thinking about.

What am I missing? Any ideas on how to step out of the herd?
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Obstacle or Opportunity?

In theory, there should be more time to write in summer. No lunches to pack, homework to do, activities or practices to drive anyone to. But it's SUMMER. Which means fun family time. In addition to my own kids, I had a niece and my little sister come visit (which we all loved), then an exchange student from Spain (Marcos, we miss you, still). Out of 10 weeks, someone extra was in our house for 7 (Or we were visiting them).

Plus, we're still doing lots of projects around the house (Emma has window treatments and her room is painted, and we FINALLY installed a light kit and no wires are exposed!)

It would be easy-so very very easy- to get frustrated about the distractions of life. I just want to write the scene and be done! Why can't I just have a few hours of quiet???

So, I was given a wake up call.

Last week, I was privileged to become the leader of the Young Women's organization in our ward (or congregation.) In the Mormon church, a person is always given a special blessing to help them be able to fulfill their new responsibilities, called "setting apart." During this blessing, I was promised many things- strength and insight into the girls so that I will be able to support them and love them, and also that the desires of my heart will be realized.

Sometimes my mind feels like it's exploding during blessings, racing to understand, and this was one of those times. What is the desire of my heart? Is it to be published? Is it for my family to be close to the Savior, for all of us to return together to Heavenly Father? I'm a convert, so there are so many beloved family members that I have pined to share my faith with. Do I have to choose between these desires?

I hope not. I'm sure he wouldn't want me to stop loving and supporting my family. Would Heavenly Father want me to give up writing? Writing is about sharing my hopes and optimism for people, it's an expression of love. Right?

And yet, I can't begin to compare how I would feel to fail at the second (family) with how it would feel to fail at the first (publishing).

Which is not to say that I will stop writing, not a chance, but hopefully I won't be so grumpy when the kids interrupt sacred writing time over stupid stuff like somebody bleeding. ("Is your arm broken? No? Is someone going to die unless I come out right now? No? Then go away until my writing time is up. Does that come across as selfish, or is that establishing healthy boundaries? lol)

Anyway, I'm trying to find that balance again. I've decided that Jojo learning letters via Wii internet doesn't count as video game time, and that's made my days a little less guilty with a lonely 4yo at home. He was crying today that Eli (7yo) went to school and can't play with him. Luckily we are starting preschool co-op soon...

More soon. Because school is back in session and the Wii is warmed up and ready to go:)
Glutton for Punishment?