I met North Carolina author Tonia Brown at ConTemporal last summer, mostly by accident as she was on a panel with Cherie Priest and Phil and Kaja Foglio. But she was funny, she had a clear idea of how to tell her stories, her way, and when she handed me a copy of Railroad!, the print version of her (ongoing!) web serial, it was an easy thing to have on hand to remember to look up her other work later. That led me to find out about this strange book she published earlier this year, Gnomageddon. As the title implies, it’s a little… quirky. So is Tonia, and so is her entry in “The Hardest Part” guest column series. Enjoy!
“Dancing with Myself”
By Tonia Brown
Gnomageddon was a pain in my tail pouch before I even started working on it. The trouble came from the onset of the idea—an idea that would not leave me alone until it saw completion. You see, for me writing has always been less like crafting a story, and more like taking dictation while my imagination runs amok. In this case, my imagination had chosen to manifest itself the form of a mouthy, bossy, merciless gnome. I was already working on a novel, as well as trying to update my web serial, when the gnome first nudged me.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey yourself,” I said, not surprised to see the little guy. It wasn’t unusual for ideas to crop up now and again, introduce themselves, explain their plot and purpose, and then take a backseat to wait their turn.
Only this one wasn’t interested in waiting. He watched over my shoulder as I typed for a few moments before he asked, “Whatcha working on?”
“A novel about a serial killer that is bitten by a werewolf.”
“Yeah. It’s going to not only challenge the genre but change the entire idea of good versus evil. It’ll blur the line between man and beast, between hunger and appetite, between sin and salvation.” What could I say? I had pretty lofty hopes for that werewolf.
Unimpressed by my hopes, lofty or otherwise, the gnome yawned. “Sounds boring. You should write a story about a bunch of undead gnomes.”
“Lawn gnomes or fantasy gnomes?”
“Fantasy, of course. It’ll be great. It’ll be funny and sexy and I’ll be the star. Write it. I command you.”
“Okay, okay. I will, but not right now. I’m busy with this serial killer werewolf.”
“Blech! No one likes that kind of stuff. Everyone loves a laugh, sweet cheeks. Write me instead.”
“I’m busy. And besides, if I am going to write anything else, I have to finish the next volume of Railroad. I’m already behind schedule and my editor is going to kill-”
“Pffft,” he said over me. “Railroad schmailroad. No one reads that trash. Write me. Write me now!”
“It’s not trash and people do so read it.” I stopped arguing here because I realized I was exchanging angry words with a figment of my imagination.
Sometimes you have to draw a line when it comes to your inner narrative.
I pushed the gnome away for several weeks, refusing to give the idea voice, or rather listen to the voice the idea had given itself. Instead, I cracked down on volume six of Railroad, hoping to get it in before the deadline. There is a certain rhythm to running a web serial, and I was dangerously close to disrupting it by dragging my heels on the latest update. I also kept my mind on the werewolf novel, assuming I could work on each a bit at a time. But the gnome was persistent, as well as heavy handed.
“Whatcha working on?” he asked. “And you better say me, or I’ll break both your legs.”
“I don’t see how you plan on …” I started, but paused when I saw the war hammer he was carrying.
“What was it you were working on?” he asked.
“Your story,” I said as I closed the serial killer werewolf novel and opened a blank document. “I was working on your story.”
He grinned as he leaned on the handle of the hammer. “Damn right you are.”
I wished that was the only trouble the gnome gave me, but no, there was more. There was always more. The next problem to arise dealt with the length of the story. The gnome was always meant to be short. A quick read filled with cheap laughs. A few dirty jokes wrapped in a parody. But again, when it came time to write him, he had ideas of his own.
He looked over my shoulder as I wrote him. “You haven’t built enough world. Build more.”
“I’ve built plenty of world,” I said, pushing him away. “You don’t need any more world. You’re only a novella.”
“I don’t want to be a novella. I wanna be an epic series.”
“Too bad, because that’s not how I plotted you.”
“I’ll fix that.” The gnome tossed something at my manuscript. It landed between two very different characters.
“What was that?”
“An unexpected love story.”
“Oh, man. Now I have to work that out.”
He lobbed a few more things. “Have a moral dilemma or two. Some betrayal. A touch of intrigue.”
“Good grief! That’ll triple the story.”
“And to top it all off,” he said as he took a potshot at my document, “a couple of reoccurring jokes.”
I glanced down at his ammo and found myself giggling uncontrollably. “Actually, that is funny. Thanks.”
“My pleasure. Now, more world building. Chop! Chop!”
With a sigh, I did as asked, and without my consent a thirty thousand word novella evolved into a ninety five thousand word novel; an epic parody with loads of gore, tons of humor, plenty of filth, great sequel potential and every word of it written under duress. Thus, Gnomageddon was born.
Of course that isn’t how it really happened, yet when I look back on it, I can’t help but remember it just that way. Sometimes an idea gets stuck in your craw, and you have no choice but to drop everything else and work on it, lest it go crazy on you with a war hammer. Seriously, have you seen those things?
By the way, volume six of Railroad came in just under the wire, and at long last the serial killer werewolf had his chance to tell his hairy, scary tale—which, funny enough, ended up as a novella instead of a novel. Turns out he had less bark and much more bite.
Tonia Brown is a southern author with a penchant for Victorian dead things. She lives in the backwoods of North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. She likes fudgesicles and coffee, though not always together. Her current novel, Gnomageddon, is a horrible fantasy with just enough gore and filth to make you want to wash your hands when you’re done reading it. When not writing, or talking to herself, she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut. You can learn more about her at: www.thebackseatwriter.com
There’s an awful lot of work that goes into an anthology, from conception, to soliciting and editing stories, and all manner of strange things, I’s to dot and T’s to cross, fonts to choose and cover art to go over again and again. Athena Andreadis, author of the poems “Spacetime Geodesics” which appeared in Bull Spec #6 and “Night Patrol” which appeared in Bull Spec #7, writes about the hardest part of putting together the just-released anthology The Other Half of the Sky.
Essay: “Like Water through Stone” By Athena Andreadis
I was born and raised in Hellás (Greece to non-Hellenes) and I’ve walked between worlds my entire adult life: I’m a research scientist, a polymath of sorts, a polyglot (though I speak all my languages with an accent), a feminist, a lover of space exploration; an avid reader and a writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. My native culture doesn’t have genre boundaries in its literature. In the tightly fenced and patrolled Anglophone side, SF has featured prominently in my reading, although it has been the source of increasing frustration. The problems that have endemically bedeviled the genre are what I call the whiteAnglomale/US suburban fifties syndrome, which result in SF (and fantasy) that’s a toxic cartoon of even known history, let alone the vaunted imagination that should be guiding a genre priding itself on its vision.
To address this frustration constructively, sixteen months ago I conceived of an SF anthology – a collection of original stories, rather than the endless reprint churnings.
I wanted this collection to contain mythic space opera stories with women protagonists as heroes and agents of destiny in universes where equality is as natural as breathing, where women are free to do anything they want without having to spend time and energy justifying choices that go beyond supporting roles. I wanted to see layers and echoes, not the standard conquest-mode gizmo-laden wasteland populated by alpha male Chosen Ones. I wanted to see full adults doing the nuanced, shaded things adults do: vocations and relationships, but also the myriad small struggles and pleasures that constitute a full life. And I wanted to see it done as literature, not hackery trying to hide behind the fig leaf of “story of ideas”.
I solicited SF authors I knew would be willing and able to write such stories. It was a lagniappe that while “looking for the best” I also ended up with women in the slots of co-editor (Kay Holt), cover artist (Eleni Tsami) and publisher (Kate Sullivan). The result of this decision, The Other Half of the Sky, was released to the world on April 23, 2013.
At that time, Sam Montgomery-Blinn of Bull Spec asked me: What was the hardest part of the process? Of course, Sam was instrumental in allowing me to bypass what would have been the hardest part: finding a publisher. He introduced me to Kate Sullivan of Candlemark and Gleam, whose elegant taste and meticulous care are visible on every page of the final book. So that cup, which I truly dreaded as a novice in the logistics of publishing and promotion, passed from me. Of the challenges beyond that, two were the hardest: from the editing domain, sending the submissions back for revisions; from the production domain, the saturation of the cover art (choosing fonts came as a close second, but it was much less stressful… dare I say it, downright fun – except that afterwards I had to increase my lens specs by one notch).
Given my temperament and stamina, I had chosen a K-strategy; namely, I solicited all the stories rather than have open submissions. This meant that my unruly group of cats could only get smaller. I was prepared for up to 30% attrition for all kinds of reasons and excuses, for extension requests (which all editors budget in their time calculations) and for last-minute panic flares. At the same time, I wanted the stories to be their best possible selves. So it was with some trepidation that I’d send the stories back for fine-tuning.
I sent the stories back twice on average: the first time for major items, the second time for minor ones. However, some went back more times than that. Yet I found the authors fell right in with my observations and were more than willing to forge solutions that would enhance their stories. It was a jolt of pleasure to hear from most that they appreciated the close attention paid to their work. Of course, it helped enormously to have the informed, discerning input of Kay Holt, my co-editor, who lent additional weight to my conclusions.
While the stories were getting combed, the cover was going through its own iterations. The original was already remarkable; just as with the stories, we wanted it to fulfill its amazing potential. Eleni Tsami was more than equal to the challenge. Like the writers, she was eager to implement solutions that made the final cover the stunning artwork that it is. But when we sent it to the printer to be tested, we found out that its saturation exceeded his maximum. Eleni had to tread a fine line between meeting them and having the cover look washed out. As you can tell, she triumphed over this obstacle as well.
The anthology has now unfurled its wings. What happens to it is largely beyond our control. For me, the journey alone was worth every moment, and the final product fulfilled all my expectations. In fact, I’m girding my loins to repeat the experience. My next SF anthology will focus on women scientists. Its title will probably be that of my introduction to The Other Half of the Sky – because that’s what scientists do: dream and shape the dark.
Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mechanisms of mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. She conceived of and edited the feminist space opera anthology The Other Half of the Sky (April 2013, Candlemark and Gleam). Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Belles Lettres, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Bull Spec, Science in My Fiction, SF Signal, The Apex Blog, World SF, SFF Portal, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.
M. David Blake, whom I know simply as Marc, has the deepest memory for fandom and sf of just about anyone I can think of. He keeps up with novels, with short fiction, and even the fanzines. And! He’s currently in his second year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as I was lucky enough (very lucky!) to publish “Absinthe Fish” in Bull Spec #5 back in 2011, easily the most critically well-received short story from Bull Spec’s run so far. He’s also taken up editing, including Stupefying Stories 2.1 last November. But! His most recent, and fairly Herculean if not downright Sisyphean, project was putting together a massive anthology of Campbell-eligible authors, The 2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology, “Containing 80 complete short stories by 43 different authors, as well as additional information about another 58 potential candidates, the 2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology is your guide to the newest science fiction and fantasy writers who are helping to define the future of the genre.” It has introductions from Marc, and from (among others) Spider Robinson and Lev Grossman, primarily talking about what the Campbell means to them. Here, Marc writes not so much about the award itself, but about the process of hunting down and wrangling these stories and authors together into one place.
By M. David Blake:
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is one that seems both especially meaningful to me, and especially problematic.
New writers are only eligible for a two year period after their first “pro” sale — defined by the award administrators as being at least three cents per word, for a total of at least $50 — and the clock automatically starts ticking at that point… but a very large percentage of them never realize they are eligible, and so they don’t bother to tell anyone. And every time I run into a new writer, or discover that an acquaintance has nudged that little tick-tock timer enough to start it running, I get excited and tell them about the award.
Sometimes their responses surprise me. “Oh, I’ve not had that many things in print yet.” “Oh, I’m not well-known enough for anyone to nominate me.” “Oh, I’ll wait until next year when I have <awesome project> out, and then I’ll say I’m eligible.”
Each of those approaches is a passive form of self-rejection. If you tell me that, you’re essentially saying, “I’m not good enough (yet).” And from a certain perspective, self-rejection is sort of understandable: as writers, we all battle with a little inner voice that undermines our confidence, and the rejection letters that almost invariably accompany our career choice don’t do anything to stifle it.
The problem is, your timer really does start running down, whether you’ve announced your eligibility or not.
Over the past two years I’ve gotten to know a lot of eligible writers. Some of them stand a really good chance of being nominated this year. Some of them didn’t know about the award, or their eligibility, until I explained why it mattered. Some of them really were still “unknowns,” because their stories appeared in venues small enough that they didn’t attract much attention. Some of them knew they were eligible but assumed they didn’t stand a chance of getting on the ballot, so they hadn’t even tried to publicize their work.
A week and a half before Christmas I asked a group of them, “Assuming I can talk Bruce into letting me put it together, how many of you would be interested in contributing to a reprint-only, free — and no pay in this case, since it would be all reprints and basically a way to ensure distribution for as many eligible writers as possible — Campbellian “Spotlight” super-deluxe issue of Stupefying Stories presents…?”
With very few exceptions, they wanted to participate. The few who didn’t either couldn’t obtain their reprint rights in time for inclusion, or else had very good reasons for electing to not share their limited works that freely. We spread the word, and soon new writers who had completely evaded my radar began to contact me for details.
A handful even offered exclusive previews of upcoming, not-yet-released works, and I wound up having to set a rule that hadn’t even been considered when conceiving the project: No writer would be allowed use any story that had not yet been published, or anything that fell outside of the two year window around which their eligibility was calculated. (I hated having to make that rule, because it meant I had to turn away some incredible stories. Fortunately, each participant who offered a preview was also able to supply an alternate selection.)
Knowing so many eligible writers led to a few small challenges. How should an anthology of this nature be structured, to avoid any appearance of stacking the deck? I wanted each participant to be presented in the best possible light, and without any perception of bias. Alphabetical order was one simple solution, as was making sure each participant’s website had been listed. I also didn’t allow myself to comment on any of the individual writers, despite the fact that there were wonderful things I could share about a few of them, and several whose careers I enthusiastically follow.
Simply putting each of the participants on equal footing wasn’t enough, though. For a project like this one to have any value, it couldn’t simply focus on the writers who had chosen to participate, while pretending they were the only viable candidates for the award. A fair amount of additional time went into tracking down other eligible writers, locating the details of their qualifying sales, and getting links to their websites for any who had an online presence. I wanted this anthology to be as all-inclusive as possible, and tried to make it so.
Ultimately, that was the hardest part… because despite my best efforts, I was still learning about newly-eligible writers for several weeks after the anthology was released.
This year we managed to assemble eighty complete stories and two novel excerpts, from 43 of the eligible candidates for the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. We managed to track down a supplemental list of another 58 writers who either elected not to participate, or who we didn’t learn about in time to approach for the anthology. There are even more names listed at Writertopia.com, because none of us knew they’d qualified until after the 2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology was out the door, and I would encourage anyone who is able to nominate writers on this year’s Hugo/Campbell ballot to investigate all of them. Readers and writers need each other, and the window of Campbellian eligibility is an excellent time for the two to connect.
As for next year, I’ll get an earlier start on tracking down names.
After six books across two publishers in the world of her Chronicles of the Necromancer series, Charlotte author Gail Z. Martin‘s new book, Ice Forged (Orbit, January 2013) remains firmly in epic fantasy territory but otherwise starts an entirely new world. While earlier this week The Exploding Spaceship reviewed the book, here Martin writes that yes, indeed, while starting from scratch can be a refreshing change of pace, it was also the hardest part of creating her newest book.
By Gail Z. Martin:
For me, the hardest part of writing Ice Forged was getting the world clear in my own mind after spending so long in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kingdoms universe. Ice Forged is a completely different series with all-new characters and an all-new world. I had to step out of my comfort zone, built over several years, and re-imagine how magic works in this new place, what the political issues are, and how the characters fit into all this.
It’s a lot like moving into a new city—you’ve got to get the lay of the land straight in your head, figure out the best grocery stores, find the gas station, etc. Once you’ve lived there awhile, you navigate by landmarks and you know the regulars. You create a “history” with people and places that make you feel at home. Before a reader can move into a fictional “neighborhood” and make it home, the author has to create that neighborhood—or world—and it has to become real to the author. In my experience, it takes a bit of knocking around in that world to feel like a native, but once you’ve reached that point, you want to show visitors all around this great new place and convince them to vacation there.
Gail Z. Martin’s newest book, Ice Forged: Book One in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), launched in January 2013. Gail is also the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series (Solaris Books) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (Orbit Books). For more about Gail’s books and short stories, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com. Be sure to “like” Gail’s Winter Kingdoms Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads.
Read an excerpt from Ice Forged here: http://a.pgtb.me/JvGzTt
Daniel M. Kimmel’s last book, a collection of sf film criticism entitled Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and Other Observations about Science Fiction Movies was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Related Work; it also contained Kimmel’s review of Them!, a 1954 film about atomic bomb radiation creating giant ants which first appeared in Bull Spec #6. Now he’s back with another book, this time his debut novel, in which Kimmel takes his often funny and insightful comments about Hollywood and sf filmmaking and turns it into a comedic sf tale Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide by Daniel M. Kimmel (Fantastic, Jan 15). It’s got some pretty nice blurbs, including being called “An absolute joy.” by no less than Robert J. Sawyer. I’m very glad to welcome Kimmel “back” to Bull Spec with this contribution to The Hardest Part guest column.
By Daniel M. Kimmel: “It’s Magic”
Last January I noted on my blog that I was typing anew the 300 page manuscript to my novel which my publisher has agreed to read and consider for publication. I no longer had access to the computer file and my agent could not locate her copy. It was a process that was going to take several weeks.
Now I have no idea of who chooses to read my blog entries and was surprised to hear from my friend David. He had offered to scan the printed copy of the manuscript that I had which I had decided was a short term solution. If my publisher liked the novel, we would still need it in an editable format. He wondered why I had decided to pass on scanning, and then he asked if I knew what OCR was.
Orange County Register? Old Colony Railroad? Orthodox/Conservative/Reform? I couldn’t imagine any of these had anything to do with my problem so I said I had no idea. It turns out to stand for Optical Character Recognition. Apparently it is a computer program that can scan a PDF file and convert its letters and numbers into a Word file. That, of course, solved my problem.
David got the manuscript from me on a Saturday night. I was away on Sunday. I came home Monday and found I could quickly edit, revise and compile the manuscript. In two days the job was done and the manuscript was sent off to my agent for submission. With some minor revisions and a title change it was accepted, and is now released as Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide.
David, of course, receives prominent thanks in the acknowledgements even though I have no idea of what he did or how it worked. What was clear was that Arthur C. Clarke was correct when he noted that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. David claimed he used OCR software. For all I know he burned incense and sacrificed a chicken.
All I know is that it worked and for that he has my undying gratitude.
Daniel M. Kimmel is past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. His reviews appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 25 years and can now be found at Northshoremovies.net. He is local correspondent for Variety, the “Movie Maven” for the Jewish Advocate and teaches film at Suffolk University. He writes on science fiction films for Space and Time magazine and has appeared in Cinefantastique, Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons. His book on the history of FOX TV, The Fourth Network received the Cable Center Book Award. His other books include a history of DreamWorks, The Dream Team, and I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind the Scenes of the Great Romantic Comedies. He was nominated for a Hugo Award for Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies. His latest is his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide.
I said about all I can say so far about Hillsborough, NC author James Maxey’s latest novel, Witchbreaker, in my write-up for the book’s Christmas Day release. Luckily for us, Maxey has a bit more to say about its writing. You might think that after his previous 5 fantasy novels from Solaris Books (The Dragon Age trilogy: Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed; and the first two books in the Dragon Apocalypse: Greatshadow and Hush) and his superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn that he’d have the whole novel thing on autopilot. But! Maxey writes that it did take a while — and some effort and re-writing, then some more… — to find the right voice for Witchbreaker.
By James Maxey:
Witchbreaker is the third book in my Dragon Apocalypse series. My first two books were built around a first person narrator, a ghost named Stagger. Having a ghost tell the story was a wonderful narrative device for me. Stagger blended the advantages of being a nearly omniscient observer (since, as a ghost, he could watch the other characters in private moments without their knowledge) with the intimacy of a single character recounting the tale in his own unique voice. Read the rest of this entry »
When Bull Spec opened for submissions in November 2009, I had no idea what to expect. Certainly not the avalanche of good stories which buried me for the better part of two years. But there’s a fine line between a good story and one of those stories that I just had to publish, and the very first of these was “Rise Up” by C.S. Fuqua. (So early in fact that this was before there was even a “magazine”, only a vague idea about publishing a story now and then.) Reading the story, listening to the music, I knew this was a story I had to have, and I’m still very proud to published it as the Mike Gallagher-illustrated cover story for Bull Spec #1. Now, the story title serves as the title for Fuqua’s recently released collection, Rise Up. Here, Fuqua explains the hardest part of putting the collection together, one I deeply sympathize with: the business side of things.
By C.S. Fuqua:
I am not a businessman. Nor am I a public relations expert. And I do not want to be.
So it’s no surprise after nearly three decades as a professional writer–newspaper staffer, magazine editor, and freelancer–the business of writing–manuscript marketing and book promotion–remains for me the hardest part of the process. That doesn’t mean everything else comes easily. Creative writing is work, no matter how many Joe Blows brag “I’ve got a really great idea for a novel I’m going to write as soon as I get a little extra time.” The talent for writing creatively, contrary to hot air declarations, is not developed overnight. In fact, most career writers rarely feel they’ve developed the craft fully, no matter how long they’ve been at it. But they understand and accept the devotion, self-motivation, and sacrifice of time with loved ones required in choosing writing as a career, forsaking pursuits that may offer more immediate rewards.
The ability to hook publisher or agent interest in a manuscript is a mystery to me, a tall hurdle to clear, and I’m astonished with each success. After all, an author must compete with an ever-increasing number of seasoned and novice writers by summarizing a complicated plot and months, perhaps years, of work into a single paragraph that delivers everything a publisher or agent requires to say yes, even though the book/story/article is probably no better or worse than the majority of its competitors, only different. Talk about odds… Once that first sale is made, subsequent sales may become easier–Rise Up, my latest book from Mundania Press (I’m quite proud the title story appears in the debut issue of Bull Spec) may have had an easier time due to an established relationship with the publisher and the fact that most of the collection’s stories have been previously published in magazines–but the business is rarely, if ever, a cakewalk.
The second hurdle comes after publication when promotional responsibilities–including those traditionally assumed by publishers–fall increasingly upon writers. Writers are now charged with securing most reviews, promoting through blog events, arranging signings and promotional events for which the writer supplies the books to sell (all once upon a time the publisher’s responsibility), purchasing and placing advertising, and more. For those who haven’t had the good fortune of hitting the bestseller lists–meaning most writers–promotional funds are usually a tad limited, crippling the ability to promote effectively. So writers must go after less costly opportunities, from the obvious free copies to reviewers in the hope of scoring a published review, to contributing to various blog events, to exposing the book to potential readers through channels such as my bimonthly newsletter, developed to promote my work and the work of other musicians and writers, regularly offering special perks such as free eBooks and music. Further, a writer must maintain a presence on social networks such as Facebook and Goodreads.com, operate an active, frequently updated website, participate in conferences, conduct workshops, and engage the press at every opportunity. For someone who shuns the personal spotlight, these activities are quite daunting, consuming precious time that could be devoted to producing new work.
Beyond the hurdles of manuscript marketing and book promotion lies the reward of engaging readers by providing what I hope is a story that’s entertaining and thought provocative. To personalize Rise Up, I include a short introduction to each story, detailing story inspiration or specific challenges encountered from the original publisher. Connecting with readers is something I relish, second only to the creative process.
As for the business of writing, I crave its elimination, an impossible eventuality. Of course, I could do an Emily Dickinson, shoving my work into a drawer to languish until I’m dead and gone, but that’s simply not an option. So what’s left? For me, it’s to continue the figurative pounding on publishers’ doors, enticing reviewers, participating in an endless array of promotional activities–in other words, doing whatever it takes to get my work into the hands of readers. And though the business is the hardest part, I refuse to cave in desperation and defeat. I love the act of writing and the engagement of readers too much to give up.
About Rise Up
C.S. Fuqua’s second collection of short fiction, Rise Up, has just been released by Mundania Press and is available in paper and eBook formats at http://mundania.com/book.php?title=Rise+Up. The book collects two dozen short stories, featuring ghosts and faeries, the macabre and mundane, rich and poor, distraught and jubilant. From the dark fantasy of title story, “Rise Up,” to the science fiction comedy of “The Garbler,” to the satire of “Big Daddy’s Fast-Past Gadget,” each story in Rise Up explores the motivations, actions, and consequences that force ordinary people to become extraordinary.
Rise Up‘s stories intertwine good and evil and how we waver between condemnation and redemption: the cold-hearted abuse of science for battlefield enhancement in “All the Brave Soldiers,” the pity of a young girl’s ghost for a dying general in “Grace,” modern society’s propensity for foolish restrictions in “The Addict.” The title story, “Rise Up,” explores second chances when a mandolin player uses music to resurrect his fiancée following her tragic death, only to bear even greater tragedy and loss in the long run. In “Demons,” an Iraqi War veteran suffering PTSD mines the depths of compassion when he befriends a phooka, tortured and starved to the brink of insanity.
From the man who spares children from life’s heartaches, to the mechanic who grossly overcharges clients for unneeded repairs, to the politicians who deceive countries into war to torture and maim in the name of a plethora of gods, evil comes in many guises. Sometimes we recognize its approach; sometimes we don’t. The stories in Rise Up explore the consequences.
C.S. Fuqua’s books include Rise Up, Big Daddy’s Gadgets, If I Were… (children’s poems), Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie, Trust Walk, The Swing: Poems of Fatherhood, and Notes to My Becca, among others. His work has appeared in publications as diverse as The Christian Science Monitor, Naval History, Main Street Rag, and Year’s Best Horror Stories. Please visit http://csfuqua.comxa.com.
Raleigh author J.L. Hilton’s debut novel Stellarnet Rebel was published by Harlequin imprint Carina Press in January, with a release party at Tir Na Nog. A fitting place, as the space station at the center of the novel contains an Irish Pub and one of the book’s protagonists, Genny O’Riordan, well, you can probably guess by the name. (Also, there’s a certain shortage of local Glin establishments, though that’s more than understandable considering it is one of the alien races invented by Hilton for the book.) The series combines cyberpunk, video games, space adventure, blogging, and even a couple scenes of (well done) character- and plot-relevant sex in a page-turning package. Earlier this month, Carina Press published book two of The Stellarnet Series, Stellarnet Prince, and in this week’s edition of The Hardest Part, Hilton talks about the struggles of writing the sequel. Under deadline. And with the rest of a full life happening.
The Hardest Part: J.L. Hilton on Stellarnet Prince
With a sequel, an author has to walk a tightrope between context and clunky exposition, back story and boring, while avoiding the flaming faults of the first book and juggling its strengths. On a unicycle… of… deadlines. (Can I stop the circus metaphor now? I’m starting to hear creepy calliope music…) This is a challenge, to say the least, and some authors experience terrible writer’s block with sequels. Or so I’ve heard. I didn’t, but then Stellarnet Prince is the first second book I’ve ever written. There’s always next time.
I wrote my debut novel, Stellarnet Rebel, without the need to reintroduce characters or remind readers. I took my own sweet time building worlds, inventing an alien language, and figuring out how the hero sneaks into the military zone of Asteria Colony to steal a spaceship. When do the alarm bells go off? How many airmen are wounded in the process? Can he make it through the metal doors before they close? I need to research non-lethal weaponry, rubber bullets, flashbangs, shock poles… tomorrow.
But sequels come with unicycles. I mean deadlines. (There goes the music again.) I’d won a contract for Stellarnet Prince based on a partial and a synopsis, then had six months to add 75,000 words. And they had to be good words, too, dang it. So here’s where I mention I homeschool two children, am the founder of a local club and an annual charity event, and have a successful side business as a jewelry designer. I took two years writing and revising Stellarnet Rebel. But, no prob, I worked in newspapers. You learn to get shit done before midnight or you’re fired.
Given my full plate, constant interruptions are a hard part, but not the hardest part. I envy authors who can lock themselves away in a motel room or cabin. I haven’t sold enough books to be able to afford a good lock, let alone a secret Appalachian hideaway or a vacation. Plus, my husband would have to take time off from his job to stay with the kids, and I just can’t afford that much whiskey, either.
No, the very hardest part of Stellarnet Prince arrived unannounced around 80% completion, when my 7-year-old daughter said, “Are you almost finished with your book? Because I miss you, Mommy, the way you used to be.” Now imagine it with big, teary eyes and a trembling pout. Add a basket of starving kittens if it helps, because the way I felt, they might as well have been there.
Homeschooling, I spend all day with my children. But I understood what she meant. The way I used to watch movies with the family after dinner and she could snuggle in my lap. When I was available for bug slaying or Bandaid duty after 7pm. When I told her a bedtime story and sang her a song instead of just kissing her goodnight so I could get back to work.
After that, every time I closed my bedroom door to write, I thought about how she missed me. I couldn’t shake the feeling of… not guilt, exactly. Parental Responsibility grappling with Personal Reward? Existential angst? A Big Fricking Clock somewhere tickety ticking? Being seven years old only happens once, and then it’s gone. I can write for the rest of my life. I’ll never be as important to any reader as I am to my daughter right now. Balancing my love for her, and her ebullient love for me, with my love of writing is a more difficult act than the plotting, research or revisions of any sequel, because that tightrope runs right through my heart.
- J.L. Hilton
Stellarnet Prince is available at a long list of ebook retailers as well as in audiobook, the latter available at Audible.com and iTunes, as well as Bookshare (for readers with disabilities).
Wake Forest author Michael Jasper has been writing and publishing stories and novels for quite a while now. A graduate of the 1996 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and 1997 graduate of the North Carolina State Masters Program in Creative Writing, with his professional sf/f career beginning with “Mud and Salt” in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XVI in 2000. A collection (Gunning for the Buddha) and two novels (The Wannoshay Cycle and A Gathering of Doorways) followed later, after a turn as editor for the chapbook anthology Intracities, in which he published such writers as Jay Caselberg, Jay Lake, Claude Lalumière, Jason Erik Lundberg, Tim Pratt, and Melissa Yuan-Innes. Mike was very welcoming and supporting of the launch of Bull Spec, contributing an excerpt of A Gathering of Doorways in issue #1 and reading from another chapter at the magazine launch party. Here, he takes a look at writing yourself into a corner in the latest installment of The Hardest Part. –Sam
By Michael Jasper:
The trouble with painting yourself into a corner is that you don’t realize what you’ve done until you bump into the walls surrounding you.
Luckily, in most cases, you can catch yourself before it’s too late.
I did the literary version of this with the third book in my Contagious Magic trilogy, A Lasting Cure for Magic. The hardest part of writing that book was determining a way out of that corner, where I’d been stuck for a week or three, trying to move on without messing up the wet paint of my already-written chapters.
All painting analogies aside, what I finally realized was that I had to regain control of all my various characters and their needs, along with organizing the various plotlines from books one and two, and tying them all together in a satisfactory way in the third book.
But I’d never written a trilogy before, and the thought of reining in all those characters and their destinies made my head hurt.
Yes, I have one of those fantasy novels that requires a “Cast of Characters” section. For book two of the series, that list had thirty named characters in it. (Funny how giving a character a name gives them a certain significance, doesn’t it? So much more so than “Guy in the street” or “Lady with an angry dog”.)
I vowed for book three to Not Create More Characters. Instead, I wanted to focus on my main two characters, teenagers Kelley and Jeroan — they were the ones who discovered magic in Dubuque, Iowa, of all places. They needed the character development and the most compelling character arcs.
Also, I had all those other fun characters, and all these nifty magical events that I wanted to take place right here in the real world, during a few wintry days in January… And I wanted to add this… And then add that… (paint paint paint…)
So, the solution? I took a step back and made what I call chapter breakdowns.
I created a brand-new file and started a numbered list of all the chapters. Then, on the first line, I added the setting and the time, along with which character’s point-of-view we were in. I also added the page numbers in brackets on that first line, just to keep track of how long each chapter is, for pacing purposes.
The next lines under each chapter header were simply bullets that described — as succinctly as possible! — what happened in that chapter. I made myself write at least five bullet points per chapter. Some chapters had closer to ten. I did this for all 24 chapters (most of which I hadn’t written yet).
And then I added each chapter’s bulleted list to the chapter file, so I had my mini-outline right there, and I could write my way through each bullet.
It wasn’t rocket science, but it helped me get my focus back, and made the hard task of banging out a first draft much easier.
And really, that’s the secret of writing fiction — you find the best way to tell your current story as efficiently as possible. Hopefully, you won’t run into the same sort of thing on your next novel or story, but if you do, you’ll find the best way to get that one done, too. It’s all a learning process.
Now… where did I leave my paintbrush?
NOTE: Sam had originally asked me to write a Hardest Part entry about using the Audible Creation Exchange (ACX) to make an audiobook of the first novel in my Contagious Magic series, A Sudden Outbreak of Magic.
But try as I could come up with hard parts, I really couldn’t find any hard parts with the whole ACX process. It’s amazingly easy to use. Also, I got lucky and found a fantastic narrator, Alyson Grauer, right off the bat, and she was able to not only narrate the novel perfectly, but she nailed all the various characters’ voices. I found a whole new appreciation for my book as well as audiobooks in general after listening to her narration.
And now I’m happy to report that the audio version of A Sudden Outbreak of Magic is now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Hope you take a listen!
After a turn writing the well-received digital comic In Maps & Legends, Mike put together the first edition of a since-updated and soon-to-be-updated-again guide to Formatting Comics for the Kindle and Nook; his experience in formats and self-publishing only begin there, with 73 stories available (quite a few sent up free in his Free Fiction Friday series of blog posts). He turned the experience of Formatting and Selling Ebooks into another guide for writers.
Durham author Nathan Kotecki’s debut novel is a young adult urban fantasy novel The Suburban Strange [Goodreads | IndieBound], and he is as a self-described “classic literature snob” who has never read Twilight or Harry Potter. Cue the contradictions? Maybe not, as you may learn in this week’s “The Hardest Part”. Writing outside the influence of these commercial juggernauts gave Kotecki some freedom to follow his own storytelling urges — and also led to an interesting revision process both with his agent and with his editor.
By Nathan Kotecki:
The Suburban Strange is my first novel, and when I wrote it, I wasn’t considering the idea that it might be published – it was a completely self-indulgent exercise in storytelling that took on a life of its own. I realize now, that’s a rather liberating way to write – no deadlines, no outside considerations, few compromises.
So for me, the hard part came late. I spent some time showing the manuscript to trusted friends before I decided to explore the possibility of finding an agent – the first step in the traditional publishing route. That process could make a fascinating column in and of itself, and I have no complaints about my experience navigating it, particularly because I’ve heard horror stories from other writers. The hardest part of my experience writing The Suburban Strange began with my amazing agent and continued with my fantastic editor, but I am in no way casting aspersions. It was squarely on me, from start to finish. The hardest part was transforming the book I had enjoyed writing into a book others would most enjoy reading.
I have always favored literature as a reader. I am much more inclined to read something by someone who is long dead (and likely European) than new, commercial books. (I have been making amends for that since I have entered the realm of young adult fiction!) Unsurprisingly, some of the choices I made in early drafts of The Suburban Strange were influenced by literary concepts. My agent, and then my editor, had to point out the differences between the conventions that govern literary works and those applicable to commercial ones.
For example, until my agent took the manuscript, nothing supernatural was happening in the first half of the book – I had conscientiously constructed it to operate in two layers – the real world in the first half, followed by the supernatural in the second. I am paraphrasing her, but in our first critique conversation, my agent told me, “You have six pages” – meaning, something supernatural had to happen by the sixth page, or I was never going to keep the attention of the young adult reader we were hoping would read my book. That manuscript revision was probably the most radical one I undertook, but once I understood the reason for it, it made sense, and I will be the first to acknowledge it made the story more engaging, more suspenseful, stronger.
Another example is a scene that comes at the halfway mark in the novel, over winter break between the fall and spring semesters. It’s a lovely scene, still one of my favorites in the book, and it crystalizes a number of characters and relationships. It also provides what I think is a welcome respite for the reader to catch her breath after a somewhat intense fall semester (now I had reworked it) has ended with a number of ominous things looming, and to remember all the lovely things about these characters and their aspirations before diving in to the perils of the spring semester. But the scene does very little to advance the plot, and my editor wanted to cut it.
I fought for that one. Here’s another topic that would make a fascinating column: is it necessary for every scene in a novel to advance the plot? I’m quite sure in literature the answer is no, but such scenes are infrequent in commercial fiction, and so I understand why my editor’s answer was (and continues to be) yes. But she was kind enough to indulge me, and with some reshaping, the scene survived.
A number of people – aspiring writers in particular – have asked me for my perspective on traditional publishing (agent, publishing house, distribution channels) versus nontraditional (self-editing, self-production, self-distribution – each of which can take a number of shapes) and while I don’t have a simple answer, I can say this: finding an agent who made me rewrite The Suburban Strange twice, and then getting a publishing deal with an editor who made me rewrite it twice more, was both the hardest part of my writing process, and also the reason the novel is worth reading. These two brilliant people didn’t ask me to change the story; they just helped me figure out how to tell it better. They coaxed a better novel out of me than I knew I had.
The things that are most worth doing are often the hardest. If I have the impression something (a character, a scene, a revision) is going to be difficult, it’s probably important, and definitely worth my time and effort. I hope I never lose the ability to follow my muse in whatever direction it leads me. And I hope I never shy away from what may always the hardest part for me: figuring out the best path back once my muse has taken me there – the path that makes for the best story.
The Suburban Strange was published October 2nd 2012 by Houghton Mifflin in hardcover and ebook, available wherever books are sold. And, see below, there’s another local reading (Monday, November 12, at The Regulator) after a few earlier events in the area.
November 12 (Monday)
7 pm — Durham author Nathan Kotecki visits The Regulator Bookshop for a reading and signing of The Suburban Strange. [Facebook]