The Reader-Author Contract

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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.

Siblings Change Everything

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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?

The Power of People

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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

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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.

 

PIECES COVER REVEAL

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Long story about this cover. This is a novel, in part, about the pieces that make up community. The first idea for a cover was images of community, friends hanging out, a family at Christmas, etc, and each image was a puzzle piece. Cute, right? A jigsaw mosaic?

My graphic designer (who is also my talented and exceedingly patient sister) vetoed that. Too busy. Too difficult. The images will be too small.

Fine.

Second idea. A school photo of the main character with a jigsaw overlay and the pieces near the bottom falling apart. We tried it a few times. We couldn’t find the right image. Her expression was wrong. Everyone in my support team vetoed that idea.

Okay. Deep breath.

My sister came up with the idea of taking the first idea and omitting the jigsaw overlay. She made it look like Instagram instead. Or Pinterest. Only we still couldn’t get the right images. And it was too busy. And my husband thought it looked unprofessional, like a cover for a family memoir or a photo album.

After a ten minute squabble with my husband we finally talked a little about the book itself and he comes up with this idea of a shattered picture frame. A photo of the sisters’ hands, them holding hands, and the photo being in a broken frame on the floor.

Shit.

So simple. So exactly what I needed. And here’s why.

Rachel grabbed the framed photo from her bedside table and waved it at her mother. “She was my sister! My only sister.”

“That’s enough!” her mother screamed, lashing out with one hand.

The picture went flying and hit the only clear spot on the floor. The glass cracked. The frame split at the corner.

“Rachel, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Get out of my room!”

She hesitated, ready to say something more, but she turned away instead. As the door clicked shut Rachel dropped to the floor in tears. Carefully she picked up the broken frame. There was no saving the glass but the frame didn’t look too bad. Maybe some glue would fix it. I have to be able to fix it. As she pulled the photo out a piece of paper fell in her lap. With trembling fingers she picked it up and unfolded it.

So I talk to my friend and marketing guru about a photo of two girls holding hands, just elbows down, outdoors, summer-y. He says he has something and will dig through his old stock photos to find it for me. I get back to the computer that evening to a cover. Not a photo. A cover.

And damn if it isn’t the right cover.

I will take a moment to side-step the topic at hand and make a note about graphic designers. They only do what you ask them to do. When it came to making what I asked for, my sister did it exactly right. I just wasn’t asking for the right thing and I didn’t know what I wanted. I was the worst kind of client. So, cover artists out there, be assured, I paid her for the half dozen mock-ups she made for me because she spent a lot of time and effort trying to translate a cloudy vision into a clear reality.

Okay. So, this isn’t the first time I’ve paired up with this graphic artist, marketing guru, illustrator (and he cleans my computer too!). His name is Andreas Ganz and he illustrated my children’s book.

garbage can

Everyone who has picked up Nelly-Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster at sales these last few months, even just to look, has commented on the quality of the illustrations. “Eye-catching.” “Cute.” “My grandson would love this.”

He’s currently illustrating a book for my editor, Angil Grafton and then he will be illustrating the sequel to Nelly-Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster (titled Nelly-Bean and the Missing Bear).

And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Drum roll please. An instant success. A cover for a best seller if I ever saw one. Here it is. Pieces, by Casia Schreyer. Cover by Andreas Ganz.

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When your boss is a slave driver …

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… and you’re your own boss.

That’s self-publishing in a nutshell I guess. You set your own deadlines and you force yourself to stick to them. And then you fall behind and you work your ass off trying to catch up but life has a way of throwing everything at you when you near a deadline.

My next novel, Pieces, is a prime example.

I set the publishing date for late 2015. I didn’t finish the second draft until yesterday. Two months behind and counting. And I could have done it, really, but life got in the way.

I picked up two freelance contracts to fill in the gaps in my income. I started a new job that was supposed to be casual, 20 hours a week tops, for the summer – it turned to 40 hours every week by the beginning of August, but JUST for the summer. And in September it was a full-time permanent job. And I went back to school.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I love the ladies I work with, and it’s good to have a regular paycheck. And I really do enjoy being a student. But it pushed the writing down the list a little and as my own boss I could let it go.

Two months behind schedule and counting. Sheesh.

At least it gave my cover artist more time to deal with some design issues. And it meant my editor had time to switch day-jobs and get the renos on her apartment taken care of before I needed her. And now the marketing guy has time to do an animated gif ad (I didn’t even know this was a thing). So it all worked out in the end.

But I’m still kicking myself. Because I could have done it on time. I could have gotten that one more book published in 2015. Now I’ll really be pushing it in 2016 to get a novel, two novellas, and two kids books out. The kids books are written at least, just waiting on illustrations. The first novella is halfway through the first draft. The novel is started. I have a schedule. I can do this.

Of course I am a student and that means homework and exams for the next two years so who knows if this doable schedule will stay doable for any amount of time.

And those are the trials and joys of self-publishing and trying to work and raise a family while self-publishing. You push yourself as hard as you can, because  you’re the boss and you have to push. But you miss deadlines and that’s okay too, because you’re the boss. Boss.

Holiday Giveaway

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No matter what your religion or culture, December is generally a time of festivity. In the spirit of the holidays, and to say thank-you to everyone who helped me reach 600 likes on my Facebook page, I will be hosting a small giveaway!

Yay free books!

The contest is open to anyone following my Facebook author page or my blog so share this with anyone who may want a free book so they can enter too.

So, step one is like my page, or my blog, or both!

Step two: Comment on my Facebook page, or this blog entry, with the holiday(s) you celebrate between November 1st and January 31st. You can list them all or just one, your choice!

Step three: reblog this post or share the post from my Facebook page to spread the word.

1, 2, 3, easy as that! Winners will be drawn at random on December 20th as soon as I get home from dinner with my dad.

PRIZES!!!

Yes, there will be more than one prize!

1st prize will be a signed paperback copy of ReImagined, my collection of poems and short stories which contains some lovely winter and Christmas poetry and something in just about every genre. Plus a bookmark, also signed, and the chance to name a character in my current work in progress. The paperback and bookmark will be mailed to you.

2nd and 3rd prize will be a free e-book copy of Nothing Everything Nothing OR ReImagined OR Rose in the Dark, the choice will be yours. This prize will be awarded through Smashwords.

Thanks again for helping me reach 600 likes.

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