Saturday, September 24, 2011

One more bit of shameless self-promotion.

In response to popular demand -- well, a couple of people have asked, anyway -- SwanSong is now available in a paperback version on Amazon.  You can also order the paperback here.  (Psst -- the author gets a bigger royalty if you buy at the second link.)

And one more request:  if you read it and like it, I'd appreciate a review.  Thanks!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mabon: the second harvest.

Tomorrow is Mabon -- the fall equinox and one of the eight sabbats, or holidays, in the Neopagan calendar.  It's one of the two days each year during which the hours of daylight equal the hours of darkness.  So Mabon (along with the spring equinox, which is called Ostara) is about balance.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting shorter since June, but we've only begun to notice it over the past week or so. From here on out, though, it will become more obvious that we're heading toward the dark half of the year.  But for this one day, we can appreciate and celebrate both the dark and the light.

Mabon is also, in practical terms, a harvest holiday.  Gardens are almost all played out now: tomato plants are taking on that spindly, overgrown look; the window box full of flowers that looked kind of sparse in May and filled out so nicely in June (assuming you remembered to water it!) is crammed with greenery, most of the blooms spent (or maybe you've already replaced the old plants with mums).

In sum, Mabon is about both balance and the harvest.  So Pagan celebrations tend to center on a balanced evaluation of our own personal harvests.  We look back at where we were a year ago and how far we've come since then.  We think about our accomplishments, and we vow (once again!) to let the bad things in our lives go.

A year ago, I was preparing for my first World Fantasy Convention.  The Maidens' War had been out for just a few months -- the paperback was released just before I went to WFC -- and I was excited to be spending a weekend with some Watch friends and with other writers.  I got to be on a panel and everything!  It was so much fun!  And then I came home and went back to my real life, and realized how much more fulfilled I would be if I could go back to writing for a living.  It took me awhile to internalize that realization, as it was something of a paradigm shift. But looking back, WFC was really my first step onto the road I'm traveling now.  The road switchbacks up a mountain, and I'm only just now entering the foothills.  Climbing to the top won't be easy, and it won't be quick.  But it will be worth it.  I know this because every now and then, at a bend in the road, I get a glimpse of the view.

Blessed Mabon, and may your harvest be bountiful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tell me why I care, or: the plot thickens.

While I was waiting in line at the grocery store today, my eyes fell upon the latest copy of Oprah's magazine, and I found myself musing about why Oprah continues to be popular, even now that she has quit doing her syndicated show.  Sure, she's made buckets o' money with her media empire.  Yes, lots of women identify with her continuing struggle with her weight.  And she did a pretty good job of acting in "The Color Purple" and "Beloved".  But I think one of her key selling points is her rags-to-riches story.  We Americans love a good pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps yarn, and Oprah's is exactly that:  the poor, abused black girl who not only made it big, but who redefined the phrase.

Would Oprah be as big a star if it weren't for her backstory?  Maybe not.  She's made her humble beginnings so much a part of her persona that, in a way, we're still rooting for Oprah the Underdog -- even though she's a billionaire a couple of times over.  And of course, the story's not over yet -- another powerful reason to keep watching.

As writers, we can take away a few lessons from Oprah's world, and we don't even need to consult Dr. Phil for advice.
  1. Know your characters, and let your readers get to know them.  Maybe none of your characters is an underdog; nevertheless, they need to know why they should care about them.  We care about Oprah (well, some of us do) even though she's rich, partly because we identify with her weight problem.  It makes her seem human to us.  Make your characters well-rounded.  Make them human.
  2. Don't let characterization replace the plot.  Oprah's got a deep backstory, but she's moving forward and rising above it.  Now I know, I know -- literary novels often concentrate on characterization at the expense of the plot.  Some years back, on the strength of a good review, I picked up a novel by a well-respected author.  (The name of both book and author escape me now; perhaps it's just as well.)  The main characters were a middle-aged couple and their adult children.  As best as I can recall, the story involved the couple's sticking their noses into their children's lives and bailing them out of various scrapes.  Along the way, the parents' habits and prejudices were challenged in multiple ways.  And at the end of the book...the couple were back to business as usual.  They didn't grow or change; they didn't reconsider any of their opinions; and it was abundantly clear that they weren't going to stop sticking their noses into their kids' lives.  I nearly threw the book across the room.  I guess maybe you could classify story as a "charming character study," if the couple hadn't been so annoying.  As it was, what was the point of the book?
  3. Don't let plot usurp your character-building.  Oprah's current career trajectory wouldn't be nearly as compelling if she were a more private person.  If we didn't know (or didn't think we knew) so much about her, we wouldn't care as much about what happens next.  This is why most action movies bore me.  The filmmaker introduces us to the Reluctant Hero and the Girl In Danger (or maybe it's a Kid In Danger) and puts them into a situation where Stuff Blows Up Multiple Times.  Yawn.  So what if the girl is beautiful and the hero is attracted to her?  I need more information before I can get worked up enough to care about either one of them.  (Come to think of it, a deeper plot might intrigue me, too.  If all I'm after is one explosion after another, I could stay home and play a video game.)
So there you go -- plot and characters are equally important.  As a reader, I want to know the characters well enough to be emotionally invested in them.  I also want to see them challenged.  And then I want to see what effect that challenge has on them -- and there had better be an effect, or I'm going to be pretty annoyed with you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More news! And a humble request.

I was pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning to an e-mail from Calderwood Books.  My first novel, The Maidens' War, is now available for the Kindle.

Also, if you've read either of my novels and enjoyed them, please consider clicking the links and leaving me a review at the Kindle Store.  Thanks!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Procrastination, or: Why Do Today What You Could Put Off 'Til November?

Wouldya lookit that -- I seem to have developed a nonfiction-book-type title system for my blog posts.  Or maybe it's more like the titles of upcoming episodes from the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show.  Anyway, I like it.  Let's see how long I can keep it up.

I don't technically have to write a new post 'til tomorrow.  But I have some uninterrupted time tonight, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Why, yes, I do believe I have put off starting the actual post long enough....

This topic came to me as I was looking over threads on the Fiction Writers Guild discussion board on LinkedIn.  Somebody posed the question:  How do you motivate yourself to write regularly?  I have not commented in that thread -- mostly because I'm really, really bad about writing regularly.

Writers are supposed to write a little bit every day, or every week.  Practice makes perfect, and all that.  But -- as embarrassing as it is to admit -- I don't do it.  Oh, I write every day, or nearly every day.  I post a lot at Kevin's Watch, which is a discussion board for fans of fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson.  I check in at Ahira's Hangar, the Watch's sister site, once or twice a week.  Lately I've been posting a fair amount at the Fiction Writers Guild board.   And now I write a piece here every week.  But none of that is fiction; it's all pretty much just shooting off at the mouth.  So even though I'm writing every day, it kind of doesn't count.

It occurs to me as I sit here, mulling this over, that to get myself to write fiction, I need to be under the gun.  I kept up fine with workshops in grad school: when it was my turn to hand in a story, I churned one out on time.  And twice now, I've participated in NaNoWriMo, and both times I got a book out of it.

"What's NaNoWriMo?" you ask.  I am happy to tell you about it.  NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It happens every November.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  If you do it, you get a certificate to hang on your wall -- but more importantly, you get the first draft of your novella, or a substantial start on a longer work.

I am planning to do NaNo again this year, now that I have nothing left in the editing stage.  My 2008 NaNo novel was The Maidens' War; in 2009, it was SwanSong.  I skipped NaNo last year because I had so much work left to do on SwanSong.  But this year, the decks have been cleared.  I'm doing the preliminary research and planning for the new book now.  I'm hoping it will be the first in a series.

All of which is quite the wordy way of saying that I'm still not really writing any fiction right now.  Yes!  I'm putting it off 'til November!

Anyway, the key with NaNo, it occurs to me tonight, is not so much that it sets me a goal, but that it sets me a deadline.  It's not the 50,000 words -- it's the 50,000 words in a month.  It's the 1,667 words in a day, the 11,700 words in a week.  It's the deadline that makes NaNo work for me.

This is good news, because as I said, I'm hoping to make this book the first in a series, and I'd like to get on track to turn out two books in the series per year. (This is part of my fiendish plan to get more titles into publication quickly.  I've heard that if someone stumbles across your stuff and likes it, they may go back and buy a bunch of your titles at once.  This is supposedly how indie authors who are making lots of money at it are doing it -- they have a strong backlist.)  Two books a year is not as murderous a pace as it sounds.  Yes, it took me two years to polish and publish each of the first two novels, but that's because I let the manuscripts sit for months at a time in between rounds of editing.  I finished SwanSong when I did only because I wanted it off my plate before I started working on the next book.  In other words, I was under a deadline.  If I knew I wanted to start drafting Book Two in, say, May 2012, then I'd better not start the first draft of Book One during NaNo, finish it after the holidays, and then let it gather virtual dust for three months.

Anyway, I am going to try putting myself on the six-month plan this year.  We'll see how it goes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Social media advertising, or: Today's a holiday, but I didn't get time and a half.

Happy Labor Day.  So far today, I've finished a sweater, taken a picture of it, uploaded the pic to Ravelry, and blogged there about the project.  I've also posted a reply in a writer's usergroup on LinkedIn.  And put up my first post on Kindleboards (mainly so I could add the SwanSong link to my sig).  And set up a fan page on Facebook.  And linked the Facebook fan page and my Goodreads author page to the Twitter account (which is a good thing, because I've admittedly not quite got the hang of Twitter yet), and linked this blog to, uh, something.  I think it was Facebook, but I'm not sure now -- I kinda got lost during the linking frenzy.

And then I realized I need to post here.  If it all works out, posting here will send a notice to the FB fan page, which will send a link to Twitter, which is already linked to my author page at Amazon.  Seamless integration is a fine thing, no?

Welcome to the brave new world of the indie author.

Yesterday, Amy and I stopped by our local Borders to see if there was anything left worth buying ("FINAL 10 DAYS!!!").  While hunting for books in the business section on mediation or negotiation (prep for this year's NaNo novel), we came across several books on advertising via social media.  I didn't buy any of them, tho -- I figure that as fast as things move on teh intarwebz, they'll all be outdated in a week or two.

I already know the basic theory anyhow:  "Blog it, and they will come."  Of course, everybody's blogging these days.  So the challenge is to rise above the noise.  There are various suggestions -- tweet every day (really?  I'm not that interesting, honest); set up a FB fan page and post every day; join a bunch of discussion boards and become a valued member by (wait for it) posting every day.  And link everything to everything else in a moebius strip of self-reference. I gotta tell ya, this is starting to sound suspiciously like work.  Plus I'm not sure that I won't end up just talking to myself and selling no books, after all.

Oh yeah, I'm also supposed to be writing books, so that I have something to sell!  [whacks forehead]

Oh yeah, I have to tell you about signing up for Goodreads.  When I put in my name, Goodreads said:  "Are you the Lynne Cantwell who wrote 'Best in Show'?"  And there it was, the cover art for one of my short stories at Calderwood Books.  So I said, "Why, yes, I am!" And then Goodreads said, "Would you like an author page on Goodreads?"  And I said, "Why not?"  So, hey presto, I have an author page on Goodreads.  No idea who put up the cover art for "Best in Show" -- nobody has rated the story.  In any case, it feels pretty good to have *one* page somewhere on the web with links to all my published fiction.  I guess I should put up the cover art to my stuff on my FB fan page, so that I have everything there, as well.  Sigh.

Okay, hitting "publish" now.  Let's see if this Rube Goldberg contraption I've built actually works.  And then maybe I'll go and knit some more.  Or maybe take a nap.