Best Fantasy and Science Fiction

Prisoner of the Crown

The first book in my Chronicles of Dasnaria series, PRISONER OF THE CROWN, is up for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book at Fresh Fiction! You can go there and vote for your favorites in multiple categories. I’m super delighted that this book was nominated. It’s up against tough competition, so I don’t expect it to win, but getting the nod is so gratifying.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Spinning the Spiderweb of Complicated Plots.” Come on over for my thoughts!

Leveling Up – What Does It Mean to You?

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about leveling up and what that means to us.

Actually, the topic is phrased as: People always say they want to take their writing to the next level. Well, what are the levels, as you see them?

It’s a really good question. Come on over for my answer.

 

Characters Are Not Your Puppets

I put this photo on my podcast yesterday, but social media declined to show it, so I’m reposting! I spent time on Sunday lying in the sun and reading. The depthless blue skies were perfect for contrails, which seemed to appear from between my toes. Really lovely.

There’s been lots of talk on social media about the final season of Game of Thrones. Episode 4 aired on Sunday night (5/12/19) and there’s two episodes to go. While the battle scenes have been as epic and sweeping as promised, many people feel the show has gone off the rails. This is not the ending many of us hoped for.

Of course, all along, we were braced to lose beloved characters. The story created by George RR Martin has taught us well. Characters we love will die, sometimes suddenly, often brutally, and frequently without warning. He’s a master storyteller and he’s deliberately subverted the heroic fantasy tropes, enticing us to love and believe in a character, and then killing them suddenly. It’s so deftly done that, in retrospect, you can absolutely trace how the character’s personal flaws – hubris, naivete, etc. – lead to their untimely demise.

So, I don’t know about you, but I was braced. I had a checklist in my head of who’d be likely to do something stupid and die. I didn’t WANT to lose those characters but I accepted that it had to happen. Especially as the title of the show (which departs from the books) promises a life-and-death tournament leaving a single person on the Iron Throne. Also, as the story progressed, it became clear that the threat of the Night King and the devastating hordes from the frozen north posed a much greater problem than who got to be in charge. Former enemies became unlikely allies – in a tremendously satisfying way – to band together to face this world-killing threat.

I won’t go into details of how that aspect of the plot has failed our expectations of the dramatic progression of events. Instead I’d like to address why some of what’s going on feels so disappointing. It’s something I see happen a lot in TV and movies, especially long-running ones.

See, visual entertainment is necessarily plot driven. There’s a lot of reasons for this: visual narratives don’t allow for internal exploration of characters (which is why they sometimes resort to clumsy voice-overs); they appeal to a much wider audience that expects a faster pace of events with no “navel gazing;” and plot-driven stories are easier for a team of writers to produce. (They’re easily outlined in advance and produce clear dramatic beats.) I’d argue that this is why Romance seldom works in a visual narrative since love stories are character-driven.

Now, George RR Martin is a character-driven writer. Yes, the plot of the series (which is called A Song of Ice and Fire, which speaks much more to the Night King arc than the Iron Throne arc, just saying) has a complex set of plots and subplots, but they all arise from the character motivations. What the characters want drives the narrative. What happens in visual entertainment, when plot takes over as the primary driver of the story, is the character motivations can become subverted to serve the plot.

In other words, people suddenly stop acting like themselves and do things we don’t believe in order to advance the plot.

Sound familiar?

So, yeah, if your favorite Game of Thrones characters seem to be acting, well, out of character, it’s because they are. They’ve stopped being the complex, nuanced individuals (likable or not) that drew us into the story, and have become finger-puppet versions of themselves acting against a spectacular backdrop of dramatic plot.

Another example of this that will forever stand out in my mind is a late-season (this is a THING) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Spike attempts to rape Buffy. It’s a clumsy scene, shocking – and was written specifically to address a rape-prevention week theme. Now, I’m all for preventing rape, education, and using story to reinforce that message. But for those of us invested in those characters, it was a total WTF moment. Spike nursed a soul-deep, unrequited love for Buffy (and we know she loved him, too), and he would NEVER have hurt her. It made zero sense. The plot made him into a paper cutout to demonstrate an issue.

As a character-driven writer, this drives me crazy. As a viewer once-invested in beloved characters that have been eviscerated into paper cutouts, I mourn. Really, I’d rather have wept over their deaths than see this happen to them. I’m not even sure I want to watch the last two episodes, frankly.

Anyway, it’s too late for the show. What’s done is done. But the takeaway for writers of all kinds is: RESPECT YOUR CHARACTERS AS PEOPLE. They are not puppets in your personal play, no matter how much you might feel like you are the god of your world. As creators and storytellers, we owe allegiance to the gift of these people entering our stories. We do them honor by listening to them.

To do otherwise fails us all.

 

 

After the Gold Rush – Making a Living as a Writer Today

THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER, my standalone and RITA(R) Award Novella Finalist from the SEASONS OF SORCERY anthology is now up at all the retailers! Including in print, for those collectors among you. You know who you are. Very shortly I’ll have print versions available in my website store that you can have me sign, personalize, if you like, and mail to you.

Last night I had occasion to scroll back through the ancient history on my Kindle. I was looking for a story with a particular scene that’s stuck in my mind, from a book I was given to read and possibly blurb back in early 2016. (See? Totally ancient history so far as my Kindle library – sorted by Most Recent – is concerned.) I remembered the scene, but not the author or title of the book. So I scrolled back and back, through the 608 digital books I’ve acquired (I know I have nothing on some of you) since March 5 of 2009 when I bought Jeaniene Frost’s HALFWAY TO THE GRAVE and kicked off my eReader life.

Which means I just passed my ten-year anniversary. Go figure!

Anyway, I went back considerably farther than 2016, because I couldn’t find the book and wasn’t at sure when I’d read it. And something struck me as I did: So many of the authors there had disappeared from my awareness. Some of them have disappeared altogether, perhaps into new pen names or other professions. This somewhat jolting discovery came at the same time that a lot of authors are talking about having to take day jobs again, because they’re no longer making the money they once were from writing. There’s lots of theories about this, but this is what I think is happening.

On April 19, 2011 – isn’t it weird how these thoughts come to me around the same time of year? Could be doing taxes – I wrote a blog post called Silver and Gold and Cautionary Tales. It’s all about the gold rush in self-publishing and thinking long term.

Back then, a lot of people were talking about all the newbies flocking to self-publishing with starry eyes and dreams of getting rich quick. And some did.

Many of us predicted – myself included – that the ones who didn’t get rich quick would soon bail and move on to the next gold rush. And some did.

What I didn’t forsee is what I think is happening now:

  • Self-publishing floods the market with cheap books. This is especially true of Romance.
  • The undercutting of the Romance market causes traditional publishers to cut their losses in the genre. They no longer make the same profits, so they offer their authors – even bestselling Romance authors – worse and worse deals. Even a bestselling author no longer gives them the profit margin they want.
  • Authors once happy at traditional houses feel forced into self-publishing. Whether they want to or not, if they want to publish books and put food on the table, they have to self-publish because the trad houses sure aren’t paying anymore.
  • More and more once trad-only authors become hybrid, bringing more books into the market. To be competitive, they price the books low.
  • The dilution effect really kicks in – more authors might be making more money overall – but many individual authors see their annual earnings drop, including early adopting self-publishing authors who once did very well.
  • What comes next?

 

I think we’ll still see authors moving on to the next gold rush. The money stopped being easy a while ago, so those who don’t care about WRITING at its core will find an easier way to make a living. Readers have become more discerning, following particular authors and no longer wasting their time on free and cheap reads that simply aren’t worth their time, no matter the price. We have a huge and avid reading community, which is a wonderful solace to so many of us.

Here I am, for example, ten years with my Kindle (third one) and reading strong.

I’m curious – what was your first eReader purchase? (On Amazon you can go to your account, your content and devices, then sort by Acquired Date: Oldest-Newest.

Refilling the Well

I finished THE FIERY CITADEL, book two in my Forgotten Empires trilogy with St. Martins Press, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE. Yeah, it doesn’t come out until 2020 – maybe summer? we don’t know – but I completed the first draft and sent it in to Editor Jennie. There will be more work to come, but that’s the big milestone to pass.

I promised myself this time that I’d take some time off before heading into the next project. More than the weekend. As a full-time author, I write five days a week, going for 3,000 – 3,500 words per day. It takes me an average of 3 – 4 hours to get that, with an overall elapsed time of about 6 hours, including breaks. I usually have a pretty tightly packed schedule, so finishing one book has meant diving right into the next. But I track my productivity pretty carefully – I can’t control my creative process, but I can learn all there is to know about it and plan accordingly (which is part of owning your process) – and I’ve discovered that the week after I finish writing a book draft tends to be unproductive.

Even when I schedule myself for my usual work week, the writing tends to feel like pulling teeth. My word counts are low, I screw around a lot, and I don’t really refill the well.

So this week I’ve been not writing. Yesterday I tackled the garage. We have this one corner with a built in workbench and set of shelves. When we moved in (lo, these ten years ago – sheesh), we stuffed a lot of stuff back in those shelves, especially the lower ones, and back in the deep corner where they form an L. The original plan was one side of the L (the long one) would be for David’s tools and the short side would be my garden bench. My husband, however, while possessing many sterling qualities, is almost pathologically incapable of organizing his stuff. So his workbench has been a mess since day one. In fact, it’s a more ancient mess than that, as he pretty much threw the existing mess of his workbench and garage stuff into bins when we moved and dumped it out here.

I keep a hammer and a few screwdrivers in my office, just so I can find them when I need one.

Not only is his workbench a nightmare, when he has no place to put anything – which is always – he’d stack it on my garden bench. It got so I couldn’t even get to my gardening stuff. So I ceded the field of battle. I moved the baker’s rack from our front patio around to the secret garden and put everything there that can safely weather outside. I’ve also pulled most everything out of that space – discovering numerous rodent nests in the process – and now I’ll organize it for him. I kept a lower shelf for my garden stuff that needs to be out of the weather, but otherwise my garden bench is now for his fishing supplies. I’m kind of excited to do the thing where you hang up the tools and draw Sharpie marker outlines to designate where they go. We’ll see if it works and how long that lasts…

Anyway, it’s been good to disengage my brain and simply lift and organize. I’ve been rearranging the patio and garden, too, and things are looking pretty. Plus, I found some cool garden ornaments I shoved back in that corner and forgot I had! Watch for pics of those as I get them put out.

Show Me the Money! (Or at Least Don’t Make ME Pay)

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Lit Cons, Fan Cons, Comics Cons: What’s Best For You?

I imagine there will be a variety of replies to this topic – and maybe someone will take on defining each – but I’m taking a bit of a slant and talking about the stance I’ve taken on conventions in general. Come on over to find out more. 

 

One Stop Shopping

Exciting news here in Jeffeland! I’m delighted to announce that my website store is *finally* up and running! After ditching my previous negligent and irresponsible web designer, I’m working with an absolutely fantastic and professional company, Overmountain Studios. They have been just incredible – and less expensive, go figure. Yeah, I had to essentially start over and they built me a new website from the ground up, but it’s GORGEOUS, loads so much better, is far more secure, and is so much easier to use it’s unreal.

Reader, I am thrilled.

I think you’ll find it’s much easier to find books and series. You can see books sorted by genre, find out the reading order, search by keyword. It’s so sexy!

As for the store, this is my attempt to liberate myself somewhat from being dependent on internet retailers. All of my self-published books are available as ebooks from the store. The beta testers say the system is super easy and works great. When you buy my books from my site, all of the money goes to me, as opposed to the 30% (or more!) that a site like Amazon takes. I know it’s not quite a slick as buying from those retailers because you will have to download the book to your device and then send it to your preferred eReader or app. We have instructions if you need them! That extra effort on your part means a great deal to me, and is a way to help support me as an author. Really, though, buying my books is awesome of you in the first place and I’m grateful no matter how you do it.

Coming next, we’ll have paper copies available for purchase – of as many of my books, trad and indie, as I can round up – that I can personalize and sign, and send to you. We’ll also have fun merchandise! Harlan bookmarks, anyone?

Right now, my novella THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER, which is a finalist in the RITA® Awards, is available on the website only. This is the standalone novella that previously appeared in the SEASONS OF SORCERY anthology. If you have that book, then you already have this same novella. Minus the man candy cover, though. 😉 There will be a print version of that novella available soon.

Thanks to all the Jeffe’s Closet folks who helped test the site, and all of you who gave feedback on the previous site! And, as always, thank you for your wonderful support.