About This Blog

This blog is about my books (of course), but it's also about writing in general and the editing process. I love the puzzle of a novel, and I'm happy to share anything I know about editing and revising. Any questions? Leave them in the comment box or send me an email, and I'll address them as quickly as I can.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Regards to my Most Frequently Asked Question...

In honor of the free promotion I'll be running this week on Laryn Rising (June 27th-29th), I thought I'd address the most commonly asked question I hear. Namely, "Where did you come up with all of that?" The answer is rather long (and possibly tortuously boring) so instead of going into all of it, I've decided to touch on the first piece: the initial inspiration, so to speak.

Long before I'd thought up Laryn, her sisters, or even the Federation, I was one European History credit shy of my History BA from BYU. I was married, had a one-year-old, and was pregnant, and we had moved to Provo specifically so I could finish up the odds and ends standing between myself and my degree. The only class offered that spring that fit my course requirements was The Spanish Colonization of North America. Yeah, I know - it didn't sound thrilling to me, either.

The class commenced, and the whole first section was spent comparing and contrasting the Spanish, French, and English colonization models used in North America, and I have to admit that I was a little fascinated by all of it. Why? Because even though the French and Spanish beat England to the punch, in the end the English (we're counting those who became Americans here, because it was the same colonization model that led to their independence) walked away with pretty much everything, other than a few pockets of Spanish and French. But that fact alone wasn't what fascinated me. It was the reasons behind it that I couldn't stop thinking about.

You see, while the French sent trappers and the Spanish sent men looking for gold, the English sent families. The Frenchmen owned no land and neither did the Spanish, and the goal of those two colonization models was the same - wealth for their respective Crowns. The English, however, came for the land. They brought their religion, their livelihoods, their women and their children, and they invested everything they had in the search for a better life.

While the Spanish and the French left everything they cared about behind, the English came with it all in tow. Think of it - the English colonists brought their infrastructure with them, complete with traditions, trades, and an actual economy. While the Spanish monarchy funded the men they sent and supported them while they were there, the successful British groups were fairly independent of the Crown. They succeeded or failed on their own merits, and were motivated by their own personal goals - the most powerful of which was a safe place to practice their different religions. (And yes, I am aware that this is a gross over-simplification of this gigantic topic. Now hear me out as I relate this back to my book.)

When we finished that section the class moved on to other topics, like the Spanish missions, etc., but in my head I was stuck on the whole 'colonization' thing. It dawned on me that if at some time in the far distant future the human race needed to establish a colony of sorts, it would be wise of them to do some research. If that was the case, wouldn't they go back and study the different colonization models that determined the creation of the United States of America? I think I would. And if it were me, I'd look at the English model and say, "Yeah, I think I'll pick that one." I would then want to incorporate each element that was critical to the success of that original venture into my own colonization model, including families, land ownership, political freedom, and the values of a moral-based/religious society.

Enter Nequam, and the James Town Venture. It took me a long time to decide where in time these people were coming from and what necessitated their need to set up a colony, and it took me even longer to figure out what sort of protagonist I wanted to put in this setting. Basically, I looked at my colonists and came up with a protagonist who was from the other end of that continuum - she's from a family-less, freedom-less, religion-less, immoral society, and the dissimilarities don't end there. For me, these elements are the foundation stones of my setting. They are not the theme or the protagonist's main conflict, but they provide the setting and situation in which her story is told.

While I could have chosen a protagonist who was born and raised in James Town, I was too intrigued by the idea of melding two completely different societies together to pass up the opportunity. This, of course, meant introducing my protagonist to all the different elements of colonial life - including religion. I really tried to do this in an organic way, without focusing on any sort of conversion or specifics. Mostly, I just needed Laryn to be introduced to the religious-based reality of her new people. Does she become religious herself? Maybe, in a sort of personal, spiritualistic way. I think the idea intrigues her, and she identifies with it a little because of her mother's belief in 'fate', but at no point does she actually become a Christian or pronounce a belief in God, and in the second book this element is left almost entirely alone, as it doesn't really have anything to do with the setting of that book, or her personal story.

The Federation, the genetic caste system, Laryn herself, and even Kieff's role in the book all have different origins and were inspired by separate events or ideas (for the most part). But as for the overall concept, I have to attribute that to a class on Spanish Colonization that I would never have opted to take if it hadn't been absolutely necessary. If it hadn't been for that class, who knows what I would have ended up writing? Maybe some things are just meant to be.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How An Ice Pick Doubled My Sales

So, the craziest thing has happened to me. It took me a while to sort out all the pieces, but in a nutshell, on my birthday some person (whom I will not name, but I do know who it was) did her best to sabotage my books. She found my birthday on facebook, wrote two rather hateful reviews, found a friend to post them for her so I wouldn't know who had done it, and then waited till my birthday to have her friend buy and return each of my books (no doubt so she would register as a 'verified purchaser'), and post both scathing 1 star reviews. Did I mention they waited till my birthday to post them? That was a nice touch, don't you think? It's kind of like the difference between shooting someone and stabbing them 53 times with an ice pick.

(Insert creepy sound effect from Psycho...)

It was pretty obvious right off the bat that the reviewer hadn't actually read the books, because they cited some pretty major inaccuracies (like calling the second book religious propaganda when religion isn't actually mentioned in the book), but it took me a while to sort the whole thing out. Even despite the clues and one kind-of-obvious link, the list of people who might hate me this much is pretty short - like one-person short. And to think I'd felt guilty for wondering if she was the type to go on and leave me a bad review...

(In case you're wondering, I edited her book for her, and she wasn't really ready to hear what needed to be said. She told me a million times how awesome, amazing, and thick-skinned she was, so I was pretty worried about it from the get-go. The sad thing is, I didn't think her manuscript was bad at all for a second draft, but I could tell she wasn't getting that from me. Second drafts from a first-time author are always rough, but the makings of a solid, original story were there, and I'm actually pretty confident that she has what it takes to work it into a good book - which can't  be said for the majority of first-manuscript writers and their second drafts, which is why so many first novels are never salvaged. Unfortunately, I think I offended her when I suggested that her rewrite might be more time-consuming and extensive than she thought it would  be, and when I told her it wasn't ready for a professional edit. And who knows what else I may have done to offend her. Too bad she didn't just tell me. Then I could have apologized and all this retributive hate wouldn't be necessary. What a thought, eh?)

But 1 star reviews happen to pretty much everyone (although one generally hopes they're of the sincere, honest variety), and I'm certainly not going to go on the attack in the comment box (although I did have to hold back a few of my friends, who were chomping at the bit to go leave her a piece of their minds). There's really no point in trying to combat reviews that you can't get rid of, and in the end it just generates bad press. Instead, I resigned myself to the harsh reality of the situation and hoped people would notice how generic and overly-spiteful the reviews sound.

Then my sales doubled.

Seriously. In the two days since she posted those reviews, my sales have doubled. They've been pretty consistent for about the last three weeks, and were actually starting to taper off a bit, but on the day after my birthday they totally took off. I don't know if it's because her reviews have made people curious about the book, or because I'm being blessed with good karma for trying not to let her personal problems get to me, but whatever is going on, I'm tempted to send her a thank you note!

And so, today's message is that if you get a 1 star review, let it pass. Don't worry about it, don't go on the attack, and don't feel like the future of your book is doomed (and watch for an uptick in your sales, apparently). Do read it carefully and look for elements of truth, however, because ideally the person who wrote it actually read your book and may have something valuable to say. 

I'm certain that if my detractor had read mine she would have been able to come up with substantive critique, and who knows? Maybe she would have pointed out something that I could have changed or learned from? After all, there will be people who find the inherent faults in my books, or who simply don't care for them. It's a given. Someone will read Laryn's story and find it a complete waste of their time, because no book appeals to everyone. Heck, for all the great feedback I've received, my own mother thought the third quarter of Laryn Rising was a snooze fest, and continually tells people, "Oh, the second book is much better. I loved the second book." Thanks, Mom.

The thing is, I knew Laryn Rising wouldn't appeal to her. It's a story about personal, internal struggle, and that sort of thing bores my mom. She reads mysteries and historical fiction, and prefers the plot-driven story over the character-driven one, and that's okay. If there's one thing I've learned through all the editing I've done, it's that there is value in all honest critique, and we should embrace it. I've also learned that not everyone is ready to do this. I can say that I care a lot about the clients I take on, and whether she (my 'reviewer') realized it or not, I did not spend hours and hours agonizing over her story without becoming invested in it. I think about it all the time, and wonder how she's doing with it and what her rewrites look like. I admit that I was blind-sided by her actions, but I do still want her to succeed, and I honestly hope the best for her book - I just wish she realized that, and it makes me sad to know that I failed to convey my sincere interest in her project. The fault there had to be mine, and that's something I think I'll always regret.

(Still, the doubling of my sales just might make up for it...)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blog Tour Time!

It's always interesting to hear how someone else attacks the whole novel-writing process. No two people approach it quite the same way, yet it seems you can learn a little something from every author once you pick their brain. My good friend VR Christensen, author of Victorian-Era Historical Fiction (including her latest novel, Cry of the Peacock) has invited me on a blog tour all about authors and writing processes. Every author is given the same four questions to answer, and those questions are then passed on to another author (or two or three). So here are my questions and answers:

1) What am I working on now?
Well, it's a bit of a departure from LarynRising (The Chronicles of Nequam, Book One) and its sequel, Finding Shemballah. My current project is a middle reader titled The Gift of the Cornesh, and it fits firmly within the Fantasy genre. I know it's considered risky to hop around from one genre to the next (not to mention switching up target audiences in such a drastic fashion), but sometimes you just have to write what you have to write. For me, the pivotal moment happened one day when I was (once again) neglecting my children (and their laundry) while caught up in the haze of a writing frenzy. Somewhere in there my daughter—then six, now eight—wandered up and asked me if I was ever going to read her the 'story' I was writing. I stopped what I was doing, looked up at her, and realized it would probably be at least a decade before she would be ready to appreciate the manuscript that was stealing her mother away from her.

In that moment, Isla Bianca Marcelliana Tortar, Princess of the Realm; Duchess of the Six Isles, was born—complete with blond hair, blue eyes, and three older brothers.

I don't know what exactly happened, but I suddenly knew that I had to write something my kids could appreciate while they were still young. Something they could identify with. Something that represented them and gave a them a reason to be invested when they were missing meals, clean underwear, and all the other things that go along with having a mother who is continually in the throes of writing 'some dumb book' all the time.

The results? So far, so good. They're all very interested in the fates of their alter egos, and I'm having a ton of fun writing them. I'm currently somewhere in the bog otherwise known as the-middle-of-the-blasted-book, but I'm planning on coming out on the other side alive and well by the first of July, so wish me luck!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, in terms of Laryn Rising, the challenge would be finding the genre in the first place. Laryn, my protagonist, leaves a dystopian-type futuristic society (with her sister and 500 other young women) to join with a group of colonists traveling to a pastoral colony on a distant planet. Her story is all about overcoming her identity as a member of the Federation's lowest caste and struggling to assimilate from a world where everything was provided for her (and demanded of her) into a society where she must be completely self-sufficient. There's a space ship and interplanetary travel, yet the theme is far from Science Fiction, and the target audience is definitely not men (although I've received some surprisingly great reviews from the men who've read it). If anything, it falls into the Women's Fiction category - it's just hard to sell that in the book blurb.

From the reader's standpoint, I would say Laryn Rising and its sequel, Finding Shemballa, are pretty unique as far as setting and protagonist-circumstance are concerned. As a History major, I was inspired by the history of our country, and the resilience of oppressed souls fighting for freedom and family. I am also fascinated by the idea of taking someone from the future and watching them learn the basic building blocks of frontier life. Basically, my books tell an old and familiar story of the human experience from a new and different angle, with a heroine who's struggles aren't quite like those of any fictional character I've ever come across.

3) Why do I write what I do?
All I know is that I need a purpose before I can write anything. Ever. And for me, that purpose has to be personal, and it has to carry some weight. Taking regular people and watching what they do under extraordinary pressure fascinates me. Sometimes I look around at my friends, family, neighbors, etc., and wonder who we would become in a crisis. Who would stand up and lead? Who would collapse under the pressure? Would the person to collapse be the one we all thought would save us? And then there's the big question of Why? What motivates people's responses to a crisis, and how can an ordinary person rise up and do extraordinary things? And all of this is quickly followed by the terrifying question of which person I would be?

Consequently, I also find great purpose in writing humor. I had (still have/greatly neglect) a humor blog for a few years, and I love laughter. I love taking the mundane and finding the funny in it. Why? Because let's face it—the majority of life is mundane, and if we can't find humor in the mundane then life isn't any fun. (For a sampling of my other blog, go here.)

4) How does my writing process work?
For me it starts with a character and a concept. Whether it's the idea of a twenty-something young woman jumping into the unknown for a chance at freedom for herself and her sisters, or an almost-thirteen-year-old Princess who happens along a magic silver egg with a fantastic creature waiting to hatch out of it, I have to know who my protagonist is, what they're doing, and why.

This generally leads to a word document with names and sketches of all my main characters, a sketch of the setting, and roughed-out plot plan. Everyone has to be named before I can write them in, and I usually spend a lot of time (generally in the bathtub) filling in details and motivations and all the why's and wherefore's. For me, everything has to make sense. If I can't explain it, I can't use it. Period.

Then start writing. My general strategy is to write from one conflict to the next. As soon as one conflict is wrapped up, I see where that leaves things, figure out what the next one will be, and then I write myself there. This is mostly determined by what things need to take place logistically, and what I want the reader to see/know/understand about my character. For instance, logistically, Princess Isla must find the golden egg, and I also need to establish her camaraderie with her next-older brother and his best friend Roy. Naturally, this leads to them planning a crazy scheme to do something they have no business doing, which then leaves Isla wandering lost through the mountains alone—at night—thus giving her the perfect opportunity to find said magic egg.

I do keep an outline of sorts in my head, and I like to have a list of all my major plot points as well. This keeps me heading in the right direction and helps me see if I start veering off course. It does leave me with a significant amount of excess material, but thankfully I have a younger sister who is only too happy to go through and brutally eliminate every unnecessary thing (and then some), complete with snarky little comments like "Please, we've heard this ten times already!", "This is so boring," and, "You must cut this. Now." 

And then the edit begins. I've been doing freelance editing work for almost seven years, and the most frustrating thing about editing other people's work is watching them quit when they think it's 'good enough'. This is also (in my opinion) the plague of self-published books. Too many author's think they're done, or want to be done, when they really should have two or three more rounds of edits to go through. I get it, though, because there is no agent or editor holding a bar over our heads. There isn't a team of editors and proofreaders at our disposal, and those last few hurdles are usually left because they're the hardest ones to get over.

To combat these obstacles, I use a pretty extensive network of beta readers, and I pick their brains mercilessly. With that said, I've learned to listen to consensus. It really doesn't matter how much you love that scene, or what you think that introspective passage adds to your novel, if five out of six people are bored, confused, or irritated by it, it's not working. If there's one thing I know, it's that you can't write in a vacuum. Other people have to be involved in your writing process if you want it to successfully make contact with readers, and that means reaching out and finding people to give you honest, intelligent, constructive feedback.

When it comes to editing and revising, my system is far more specific and detailed than what we have room for here, but that's the gist. When I'm finally satisfied with everything, I read my manuscript out loud to myself, check once more for errors, then send it to my proofreader and two or three other sets of eyes. Then, when I'm sure it's as clean as it can be, I call it good and move on.

Now, if you want to read more posts answering these same questions, go back to VR Christensen and follow her links to the other authors posting today. Below is an introduction to RaShelle Workman, who will be posting her own answers and sharing a little of what she's done to become such a successful author. Make sure you check out what she has to say next Monday, June 15th!

RaShelle Workman is an international bestselling author. She writes fractured fairytales with bite and young adult science fiction that's out of this world. RaShelle likes cherry pie, movies, family adventures, and chocolate. If you want to get on her good side, send chocolate. RaShelle's sold more than 500,000 copies of her books worldwide. Sleeping Roses, Exiled, Beguiled, and Dovetailed have foreign rights contracts with a Turkish publisher. Her books include: Sleeping Roses, Exiled, Beguiled, Dovetailed, Blood and Snow (1-12), The Cindy Chronicles, Vampire Lies (Blood and Snow Season 2) Short stories: Rose, Undercover Cindy Witch The Hunter's Tale Gabriel After the Kiss Zaren's Travels Visit www.rashelleworkman.com to join RaShelle's EXCLUSIVE mailing list and be entered to win a signed paperback copy of Blood and Snow volumes 1-4 (Special Edition). And be sure to like her Facebook page for all the latest news:https://www.facebook.com/rashelleworkman