The Reader-Author Contract

Leave a comment

We don’t talk about this, not really, but there are expectations that a reader has of a writer, and a writer has of their readers, especially where the series is concerned. This post is inspired by the fact that I have been waiting nearly 6 years for book 6 in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin.

For the purpose of this article we’ll be talking about two types of series. The first is the open ended series. Think Anita Blake by Laurel K Hamilton, Mercedes Thompson and Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs, or Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum books. These are all series in which each book has one or two large plots which are wrapped in over the course of that single book as well as several smaller, more personal, character based plots that continue on through the series. Really, any book could be the last because the personal plot lines won’t ever really end. These series can last a few books or a few dozen books, as long as the author continues to come up with original plots for each book.

On the flip side you have what I call goal-oriented series. Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, or the Belgariad and Malloreon by David Eddings. There is a point to the series, something the characters are trying to achieve, (destroy the ring and defeat the evil, put someone on the throne and restore peace, get the heir on the throne and destroy the mad god, rescue a kidnapped child and save the universe) and the series ends when this has been completed.

So what is the contract? Well, it depends on which type of series you read/write. For an open ended series the writer is responsible for consistent and continuing character development and for coming up with unique situations to put the characters in for each book. If the reader likes book 1 and book 2 they will generally continue buying books in the series until the plots become boring and stagnate.

If you are writing this type of series pay attention to your readers. When the plots are starting to feel forced or your readers are losing interest maybe it’s time to retire these characters, wrap up any lose ends, and start something new. Or pass the torch if a character is aging.

For a goal oriented series the writer is responsible for setting up a clear goal, getting the characters to the climax scene, where the characters will succeed or fail, and then wrapping the story up. Whether it takes three books or five or ten or whatever, this is the pattern that readers expect. Part of this responsibility is not stretching the series on too long past the entertainment value of the “quest” or past the completion of the goal.

If you are writing this type of series, finish it. If I wrote a stand alone novel and it ended just as the hero was walking into the dragon’s cave no one would publish it. It’s not complete. Publishers take a chance on a series. They take the chance that readers will like the first books enough to buy the rest but they also take a chance on the author because they are essentially publishing an incomplete book a piece at a time.

Readers are also taking a chance on a series because there’s always the chance you’ll find someone like George RR Martin who decides not to finish a series that you, the reader, have come to enjoy.

Review: Portal Prophesies Book 1

Leave a comment

The Portal Prophesies Book 1 is called A Keeper’s Destiny and it is by C.A. King. This is a high fantasy epic novel.

The book starts with Willow, the orphaned teenage misfit who has a tattoo of two black cats that she doesn’t remember getting, it’s always been there. She also hears voices. Willow lives in a little village where she sells produce. The village is segregated by caste or class. The people of her village have hair that changes colour when they are young until it settles on a colour at sixteen cycles. Their hair reflects their mood until it stops changing, then it would announce the strength and type of her abilities. Which means this world also has in-born magics or abilities.

From here we move on to meet the people of her town and get a feel for the social structure. The history of the world, which involves Guardians and Keepers, who are bonded to each other, dividing up and protecting realms of fantastical races to keep them safe or keep them from causing harm, is gradually revealed, as is Willow’s role in all this.

The social turmoil within the village provides the opportunity for an attack that ends their peaceful existence and forces the survivors to use a Portal to one of these other realms. We get a few training sequences and some character growth, and then end with a major character in distress.

On the one hand this world is extremely unique with an interesting history and some potential for “that’s not what you told me” and a bad guy who believes he’s the good guy and the Guardians are evil tyrants. On the other hand, it’s prophesy based, and that runs the risk of being either cliched or forced or both. She can’t lose because she’s the chosen one, right? She’s just going to keep unlocking abilities until she’s big enough and strong enough to win no matter what. BUT I hold out hope for this series based on the wide cast of characters, the interesting set-up with potential for betrayals and side reversals, and the decent writing style.

This book is perfect for older middle years and high school students. It has that teen drama feel to it, with amazing powers and adventure and self-discovery.

Considering what this book is trying to be, and what it achieves, I give it a four out of five stars and I look forward to reviewing the second book later this summer.

Book Review – Dragonfly

Leave a comment

Dragonfly is a young adult paranormal romance by Alyssa Thiessen. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Dragonfly-Alyssa-Thiessen/dp/0994021003/ (Please note this is not an affiliate link).

Dragonfly is a quick, easy read, but perfect for grades 8 and up. It’s clean, so no sex, no graphic violence, no major swearing. What really sets this book apart are the wings. No dragon, bat, or angel wings here. Not even hawks like the Maximum Overdrive stories by Patterson. No, this time we have dragonfly wings.

I read this book with my book club so the first week we read chapters 1-9. In our first discussion we were listing all the possibilities for how the main character, 18 year old Joshua Miller, had ended up with dragonfly wings. Born that way? Mutant? Science experiment? Alien? What? Halfway through the book and you still have no idea.

The plot of the book is people centered. It’s about Joshua, a boy who has always hidden from the world for as long as he can remember, a boy with no family, no friends, no connections. Until he meets Lexi. His connection with Lexi triggers a whole series of mishaps that lead him to the only piece of his past he remembers. And from there we find out everything that Joshua doesn’t know about himself.

The book follows that winning YA romance structure: bored rich girl, roguish bad boy, becoming friends when they shouldn’t. Lots of him holding back because he’s no good for her and her stubbornly holding on because she’s never met anyone like him. But it was still a fun book to read. Really, Joshua and Eric and Nik aren’t so bad, Lexi was my only complaint with the book.

I gave this book 4 stars and would recommend it to young readers and anyone who likes YA fiction. I’m looking forward to her second book, which is not tied in to Dragonfly in any way, titled Infusion.

Siblings Change Everything

Leave a comment

I’m an oldest child. I have one younger sibling. If you ask us to recount various childhood memories we will remember them differently. The way we grew up, the way people treated us, the ways we interacted with each other, this has shaped our view of the past, and our personalities today.

Our cousin right between us in age and she was an only child for twelve or thirteen years. You can tell. We could tell. Weeks spent at the cabin were interesting. Her personality was different. Her needs and expectations were different.

I studied to be an Educational Assistant and we once took a look at birth order because it does have some effect on personality, in addition to other environmental influences.

Only children are a complex creature. An only child can be very independent, they may learn to entertain themselves, to be content alone for longer periods of time. Depending on other factors they can become independent quickly and benefit from more concentrated parental attention. Other factors can alter this: they may be needy, needing someone to entertain them all the time (I imagine an extroverted pre-school aged only child would be like this), instead of being independent they may be over dependent if the parents do everything for them. Only children have the reputation of being spoiled because they don’t have to share the Christmas budget with siblings.

First borns tend to mature faster, they are expected to help out around the house, to help their younger siblings. They can become resentful of it, or become protective and nurturing, depending on other environmental factors. First borns benefit from being alone with adults until their sibling comes along. They may develop verbal and motor skills earlier.

After that things get complicated depending on how many kids there are.

Younger siblings can struggle to find an identity. My other cousins, two boys, three years apart. The eldest was exceptionally intelligent, like reading Marx in junior high smart. He was serious, dedicated, fairly quiet, even tempered. His younger brother was louder, wilder, and less interested in books and puzzles. He was needy and pouty, at least until he discovered that he could play the piano, and well. Once he found what he was good at people stopped comparing him to his older brother. This one is book smart, that one is musically gifted. Apples and oranges. He had his own identity. This struggle is especially hard for middle children – those who are neither oldest or youngest, but can affect any younger sibling.

Last born, the the baby of the family. You’ll be the “baby” even as an adult. You will always be the last. The last first word, the last diaper change, the last school play. The baby often has a reputation as being spoiled but at the same time they tend to be partially raised by their siblings as well. Often the parents are not pushing the baby to exceed milestones, when they get there they get there. Keep them little and cute as long as possible, especially if it is a planned last.

Historically there were big implications to birth order.

The first born inherited the land and title of the father (if it is a noble or landed family). Freemen also had land to pass down though no titles. In lower class families the first born inherited the shop, the farm, or the trade of their father.

The second son was sent to learn another trade, usually one that complimented the first born’s. Got a family of fishermen? Apprentice out the second son to a fish monger. You breed horses? The second son gets to be a blacksmith. In wealthier families the second son could end up the steward to the first son, depending on just how wealthy the family was. There might also be multiple properties that could be split between them. Otherwise, it’s off to the army where the family’s wealth would buy them a high ranking position.

Third wealthy son? Military, with or without a bought rank.

Fourth wealthy son? Expect to be sent to a church school to serve the church as a priest, clerk, monk etc.

Fifth son and on? Soldier’s life, or trades for you!

In lower classes being battle fodder was always a choice, helping on the family farm or working as a labourer was common. With a little money for gear you could be a “sell sword” working for traders or merchants to protect them on the road. But generally as you went down the line there was less resources to help you get a start on life.

What got me thinking about all this was the huge difference between all this books about teens with no siblings. Or one sibling that’s hardly mentioned. Half the time they have no cousins, no grandparents – they’re either never mentioned or they’re dead or their parents are only children so there are no cousins. When you’re writing you want to keep your cast stream-lined so the reader doesn’t get confused. Why drop in a cousin for a single scene? On the other hand you have the sweeping cast of Game of Thrones. A dozen major and minor houses, each with 1-3 generations – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, in-laws, rivalries. As a fan of the books first and the TV series second I admit that the genealogies are part of the intrigue and appeal of the books.

Having siblings changes a person’s personality and skill set. Only children have less of a chance to learn peace-keeping and compromising skills at a young age (though daycare is changing that in our society). First borns are latch-key kids at 12, escorting younger siblings home from school.

Our characters come to us as teens or adults, but people don’t start out that way. People have a childhood that shapes them, and not just the traumatic backstory stuff, but the little things. At what age did they do their own laundry? Did they have to share a bedroom? That changes you.  Sure, in contemporary western society we’re more likely to have 1-3 children as opposed to the 5 Stark children or (heaven forbid) the 36 recorded Frey children! Even in historical fiction 5-10 children is more than enough!!

As writers large families are hard. Each must be memorable, physically and in personality, or they blur together. It’s tempting to leave off the siblings and cousins for simplicity’s sake. But if we had a world of only children we’d be forgoing the influence siblings have on our characters’ development. As well, siblings can add nice little subplots to fill out a novel, and they give your characters someone to talk to, care about, hate, compete with, or protect.

In the end the choice is the author’s, it always is. But I think that a literary world of only children is going to be bland. I think it’s already on its way there.

What do you think?

Writing – The Forgotten Art

Leave a comment

Or are we a craft now? Seriously, it’s hard to figure out where we fit in to the creative world. Are we a fine art, a performing art, a craft? Are we artists, artisans, or crafters? Wordsmith is a great word, but where does it fit in to the bigger picture?

Lately I have been wondering this a lot. You see, these designations determine where each artist, artisan, performer, and crafter, fits into the “art scene” and the marketing scheme.

Art goes in art galleries and souvenir shops. Crafts sell at flea markets and street fairs and souvenir shops. Performing arts get theatres or all shapes and sizes, stages and arenas, you name it. They also get the TV. Books get book stores and libraries. I get that. It all fits.

But what about when you get this whole “buy local, support local” movement? Everyone wants locally knit hats, locally baked birthday cakes, locally sewn baby bibs, locally painted art …… but never locally authored books. And why? Because we don’t have a market for it. Or rather, we don’t have an appropriate market stall for it.

Indie book stores are shutting down across numerous countries. We have 1 in my city and it also sells incense and purses and scarves and specializes in a certain type of new-age Eastern philosophy type book and while they’ll take some stuff by local authors it doesn’t sell if it doesn’t fit their image. Oh, we have one independent toy store as well with a book shelf but they only take for kids.

So I’m sitting here posting my books on Handmade Local pages and sites like crazy and no bites. Local salons step up and ask for local crafters who make anything that might sell at a salon – jewelry, maybe even some hats, small accessories, cosmetics and creams. And I celebrate. I love when local businesses step up and stock locally crafted items.

But not books.

See people only want to buy a book if they recognize the name of the author. So yeah, they’d love to support the local author, but only after you’ve gotten the 6-figure book deal and the movie deal. Then you’re important. Then they’ll buy the local author and celebrate their localness. Then saying “I went to school with this person” or “I attend that church” or “Yeah, they’re from my city” is cool.

Sorry if I sound bitter but sometimes I wonder why I wasn’t gifted with a talent for playing guitar. Or painting. Or decorating awesome cookies. Some art or craft or talent that other people actually wanted to support.

The numbers are against me. Over 3000 individual titles are released in the English speaking world on a daily basis, including translations into English, reprints of classics, second runs, traditional press, small press, digital only, indie, etc. All formats, all styles, all genres. 3000+ “new” titles per day. That’s a lot of noise to cut through.

People are willing to spend 2-3 minutes listening to a new song by a band they never heard heard before. It costs them a red light. Or waiting for their coffee to perk. They’ll take the chance and they’ll buy that 9-15$ CD (what does an album go for on iTunes anyway? I still buy CDs) based on one or two songs they’ve heard.

People don’t have to take a chance on art. They can look at it, determine if it will suit the room, or the person they’re buying a gift for, and buy it or not.

Movies? Maybe you’ll take the chance based on a few trailers and spend the money for a ticket. Maybe you’ll wait for it to hit Netflix. But you get that preview.

But the free sample on Amazon? The back of book blurb? The book trailers on YouTube? None of that seems to be enough to get people to invest the $2-4 dollars more than the cost of printing the damn thing that I’ll actually make in profit into taking a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of.Seriously, $10 for 250 pages and I’ll sign it for you and you can’t take the chance? Forget the “I don’t read” crowd and the “It’s not my genre of choice” people because I totally respect that. Not every hobby is for everyone. Not every book is for every reader. Hence the 3000+ books published daily. I’m writing in popular genres and can’t get the local “buy local support local buy indie shun the big companies” crowd to take a chance on anything I write?

I know, it takes longer to read a book than it does to listen to a CD. There is an investment of time as well as money in a book. But part of the problem is the way we’re shunted off into a dark corner at every gathering of the creative.

Take Simbi for example. A great site for exchanging services and product based on an internal meta-currency. I fully support going back to a trade culture. But writing is listed under business. Business. As in “I will help you with your resume”. And “I will edit for you”. “I will write a business proposition letter.” Are you snoring yet? I’m snoring. Where’s the creative writing? Why is “I’ll write a short story about your kid to make them smile” under business and “I’ll draw a caricature of your child” under art?

What about RAW artists? Performing artists? Check. Jewelry? Check. Crafts and designs and fine art of every style? Check. Books? Nope. Books aren’t edgy enough. You can’t perform them. You can’t hang them up so they sparkle in the light. You can’t work on creating a book while sitting at the booth to entertain people because watching someone write shit down is boring but watching someone beading or doing metal work is awesome (actually, I love watching jewelry makers in action).

Or is it the lack of word-of-mouth advertising? When was the last time you shared a song with someone? Raved about a movie? Shared a recipe? Handed out the business card of the lady who made your kids’ Halloween costume? Said, “I read this awesome book and you should check it out?” Guess which one is missing from most people’s list of “how I support local/indie/the arts”?

So is it the risk? The time and money investment? The lack of support from the rest of the local/indie/art scenes? The flooding of the market? The dying of reading as a hobby? The fact that we don’t actually bind our own books, we just create the ideas in them?

I’m at a loss. For myself and for the other people in my writing groups. Do I want to be famous, sure. But this isn’t even about that. Really it’s about connecting with a few more people, extending my reach to another network, finding a few more readers that would like my book, even just within my own city.

 

The Power of People

Leave a comment

Writing is a solitary endeavour. Writers are required to sit down in front of their writing implement of choice for extended periods of time and write. We need at least moderate isolation so we have the focus we need to string letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into stories. Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, it’s really the same story.

Sure, there’s the getting out and getting inspiration part of writing. Reporters need things to report on. Novelists must experience or at least listen to human conversation so they can translate those interactions into their stories in some way. We need to hear and see and taste and touch things. But the actual writing? Mostly solitary.

Organizations like National Novel Writing Month do seek to make the writing more communal with an online group and with local write-ins and gatherings. But even when we sit in a huge room full of people all writing, we are all isolated in our own worlds doing our own writing.

Our stories are intensely private. For writers of fiction we are creating people, worlds, cultures, you name it, out of thin air, out of thought and will. We are magic. We are powerful.

And we are stuck, alone, in a world no one else knows anything about. Because no one else has seen it yet. We’re still writing it, still creating it.

But creation cannot happen in isolation. I’m discovering that more with each passing project.

My biggest project to date – the Zoedavian Chronicles – is teaching me this. I’ve been working on this project for years. At first I was working with a dear friend, but she stopped writing fiction and moved on with her life and left me full control of this world we’d been crafting. To be honest, she was the flash-point of creation, the one who put forth the ideas and the creatures and the snippets of plot and person. I was the chronicler, the sorter. I was the one who asked the questions that allowed us to meld these shards and scraps into a quilt. Together we were building raw inspiration into a coherent world.

But I don’t have her to work with anymore. She has moved on and I rarely see her. This story was too good to be abandoned. And so I worked through the raw material, picking and choosing, changing and reordering, adding and subtracting, until I had something strong and unique and cohesive. It wasn’t right yet, it wasn’t done, but it was a strong start.

A few months ago I printed off the first 100,000 words and gave them to friends of mine. They read it over and we started working through the draft, pulling apart the story again, rebuilding it in a way that left it even stronger. I was hoping it would make it leaner too, but that was not to be. Instead the story has grown again and again and maybe once more.

I just spent 10 hours at my friends’ apartment pouring over drafts and outlines and time lines and maps. We hammered out several huge holes in the plot and timeline. We sorted out 8 cultures, magic systems, and religions. And we have about 8 more hours of work to do on the balance of power between one of the churches and the king. This is work I never would have been able to do alone. This is work that needed more than one set of eyes, more than one sparking point to create, more than one set of ears listening for discrepancies, and more than one sense of humour.

I’m glad I found my people, the ones that will sit with me for an entire day and sort out the implications of allowing a 13th century style culture educate their women, what happens to global climate when you change the land-to-water ratio, what happens when you forget that North isn’t actually the top of this map, and what happens when you have 3 moons. I’m glad because I get stuck in a rut. This is the way it is. I forget to ask “yeah, but what if” and they are glad to ask it. And because they ask it the story has grown some very unique and new features that I look forward to exploring.

Of course I have to finish the Rose Garden books before I can progress with the Zoedavian Chronicles (a working title only). And I will. I worked out what was giving me writer’s block on Rose from the Ash the other day too. With a little help from my friends.

Upcoming Author Appearances

Leave a comment

There aren’t enough days in the summer, not here in Winterpeg. So I find that my time from the beginning of May until the end of September books up quickly. This year is no different.

At the next rainy day I’ll be going next door (I work at the daycare attached to my son’s school) on my coffee break to read Nelly Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster to my son’s class. The rest of my author appearances are more formal.

May 1st – Kids Help Phone Walk so Kids can Talk – Duckworth Center Gym, Winnipeg. This will be my second year at this event. If you are interested visit the Kid Help Phone website to sign up for the walk. Everyone is welcome and both the route and the Duckworth Gym are full accessible. I saw strollers and wheelchairs last year. I will be at one of the sponsor tables with my books and $2 from the sale of every paperback at the event will be donated to Kids Help Phone. As an added bonus, for every e-book sold online that day I will donate $1 to KHP. (The only exception is the cookbook, Recipes and Memories, which is actually by my mother and is always sold in support of St Boniface Hospital’s Palliative Care Ward).

May 7th – Winnipeg Public Library’s Author Fair – Millennium Library, downtown Winnipeg. This is my first year at this event, and I am extremely excited for this.

Event agenda:
11 am: Informal talks with selected local authors
1-2 pm: Set up for Fair (Set up your table)
2–4:30 pm: Book Fair (Carol Shields Auditorium, open to public)

I am really looking forward to attending the talks and to meeting as many people as I can at the fair in the afternoon. All of my titles will be available on this day.

May 13th – Springfield Ladies’ Group – Springfield Public Library (or new location, they are possibly moving). A wonderful lady at my church invited me to speak to her group about bullying and about my books. I have done fairs and street markets and flea markets before. I have done readings before. This will be my first time as a guest speaker. I’ll admit I’m a little nervous but if you have to do something like this for the first time, getting up in front of some really nice older ladies is probably the best way to ease into it!

June 17-19 – Summer in the City – Steinbach, Main St. Steinbach’s annual street fair looks to be a grand event again this year. Authors of Manitoba will be attending so along with my books you’ll be able to find books by a dozen authors from all over Manitoba. We’re expecting to have over 40 different titles for children, teens, and adults in seven or eight genres. New this year will be our first graphic novel and our first cookbook, plus an awesome guide to local useful plants.

Saturdays – I’m hoping to attend the Steinbach Flea Market in front of the Co-Op gas station Saturdays from 10-2 (ish), weather permitting, most weeks, from the end of May until they close down for the summer. Still looking to get some details on this one though. I’ll let you know.

If you would like me to speak at an event, or if you have crafters’ tables for rent at an event in Manitoba, please contact me. I’m always looking to get out and meet people. I also do school and library readings for kids of any age.

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: