Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interesting Interview - and a good cause

I'm a big fan of JA Konrath's blog. I have described him as a self-publishing evangelist, and whether or not I ever wind up self-publishing myself, I love that there is someone out there talking about the alternative paths that are opening up for writers now. For many authors, self-publishing is the way to go.

Today, he interviews Scott Doornbosch, a newly-Kindle-published author who is going through a rough time. Because of his personal circumstances, legacy/traditional publishing wasn't the best path for Scott to take. Apart from the fact it's a good interview and Scott's book sounds like a cracking read, this is a very poignant reminder that the conventional routes to success aren't for everyone.

Please take a few minutes to read the interview and if you like the sound of Scott's book, spread the word! Passing on a link to the interview doesn't cost anything and may help to generate more sales for Scott, so I'm hoping some of you will consider doing that. Also, it serves as a reminder to authors who may be short on time or energy that there are other options out there.


NOTE: I use the Amazon Affiliates program for occasional links to books, but as I couldn't find out whether my referral fee would come from Amazon's earnings or from Scott's, I decided not to take the risk and I will make nothing if you buy via these links. Also, I felt earning a referral fee from a book I'm plugging partly for compassionate reasons was a little like taking advantage of my readers' good nature, so I am categorically not making anything from this.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Finished Draft Two!

Last night, I finished my second draft of my urban fantasy novel (which we will call Cheesy Working Title from now on, because that is what it has). This is the novel starring Becky, whom you all met on Friday.

I am beyond chuffed. Not with the book - I re-read it, and it needs work. So much work. As far as I can tell, 80% of my book involves people talking to each other. I think I compressed the whole plot into the last four chapters.

But for now, I am finished. I can take a few days off to do radical things like drink tea and meet people. I can let it sit for a while, go back to it and decide what can be salvaged.

And then I can start Draft Three.

Today, however - pink tea for all!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Small Changes

I tend to get minor illness a lot. Nothing bad, just coughs and colds, but since my day job involves talking on the phone, a sore throat or a cough is one of the most awkward illnesses I can get! 

Also, as one would expect, feeling like crap so frequently isn't nice.

I do a lot of things right - I always dress properly for the weather, I take vitamins, I drink lots of water. But my diet isn't great (sugar junkie!) and I hate exercise. 

I've had a head cold/cough for two weeks now and I have decided that I'm going to take some steps to get healthier. Once the real desire to hibernate goes away (I'm at that stage. . .) I'll look at the exercsise question (anything to put it off, really. I can't express how little I like it). But for the moment, I've decided to look at breakfast.

For breakfast, I usually eat sugar with sugar (sugary cereal with milk). And I'm starving again by the time I get to my desk, when I have a sugary snack. For the rest of the day I'm usually OK, but the mornings are where I fall down. 

So my first small change is changing breakfast. I'm off to the supermarket after work to buy fruit and sugar-free natural yoghurt (yes, I know fruit has sugar, but I'm assured it is somehow better than the sugar in the cereals I like!). And eggs and wholemeal bread. And my plan is to alternate both breakfasts - which will be less boring than what I currently do! - depending on whether I fancy something sweet or something filling.

Massive lifestyle changes generally don't work for me. I have quite a busy lifestyle and anything that involves finding large chunks of time generally doesn't happen. But I already eat breakfast. I'm just going to take take either an extra two minutes to chop some fruit, or an extra five to scramble two eggs. Surely even a lazy cow like me can manage that, right? :)

Have you guys ever tried to change your lifestyle, one small step at a time? How did it go? What are your small steps?

PS - oh, feck, this is a book blog. I'm currently reading Changeless, the second novel in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, and it's fab. More on it anon. Alexia would never consider compromising her breakfast preferences, although I'm sure if her famous robustness was threatened, she would take the appropriate action with the minimum amount of fuss.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Late to the MC Blogfest Party!

I just came across this on Alex's blog, and it looks like so much fun that I just had to sign up! If you're interested, pop over to Elizabeth Mueller who is hosting, add your name to the list and ask your MC the following questions.

I asked Becky, my fairy-hunting Dubliner, and I asked her at the start of the book. By the end, her answers would have been quite different.

Question 1: What is your greatest fear?

Hmm. . . well, given what I do for a living, I guess my greatest fear is that my boss will finally let me help with a direct, face-to-face hostage negotiation with a Fairy Court, and that I'll balls it up so badly that not only will they refuse to return the kid, but they'll curse my entire office to spend eternity in their Court, dancing til our feet actually wear out as far as the ankles.

I also hate bugs and driving in thunderstorms.

Question 2: What is your biggest accomplishment?

When a child gets taken by the fairies, I tend to be the person who is sent to keep the parents company while the real employees do the real work. I've gotten pretty good at being honest but optimistic with them, and more than one couple have told me that I really helped them get through it. 
My biggest accomplishment, though, was when a single mum's child was taken last year. She had no partner, no family to help out, so I had to stay with her almost 24/7 with no idea whether my colleagues would manage to get her child back. Being there for her, even though I couldn't do anything constructive apart from cook and make tea, was definitely an accomplishment. It made her life a teeny bit easier at its lowest point.


Question 3: What is your biggest regret?

It's hard to say - I'm sorry I didn't study psychology the first time around in college. I wasted quite a few years working in dead-end jobs, saving up to go back. 
And my mother died three years ago. I don't know what I regret about that, or about her, but I regret something. I feel like I should have done more, been with her more - I don't know. Can I say I regret my mother dying? Or does that sound too much like I killed her? 

***

If you decide to take part, please let me know in case I miss your entry!

Switching Narrators in a Trilogy

As I may have mentioned a couple of times, I just finished the final book in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy.

From Sarah's blog:
The Demon's Lexicon series has always been a bit of a changeling in the crib. About family in a Time of Great YA Romance, changing narrators every book ('what is the woman thinking? Is she mad?'), a hero of great jerkitude who does not have being in love to excuse him, gay characters, having the word 'demon' in the titles, and full of many other weirdo bad-marketing decisions I have made.

Today I want to talk about how the narrators change for each book, because it's not something I've seen much before and as a reader, I could see clear pros and cons. There will be no spoilers!

There are three narrators - Nick, Mae and Sin, in that order. Each book is told with a third-person limited point of view. We spend the entire book viewing the world from the perspective of the character, but they aren't speaking to us directly.

The first book simply had to be narrated by Nick - someone who knew this world of magic, was in the thick of it, had suffered all his life because of it. But Nick, well, he is the 'hero of great jerkitude' and doesn't like anyone much. Although I think the trilogy could have followed Nick's point of view and still been very good, he is not the kind of guy to talk about things that don't concern him. While some characters could be involved enough with their friends to keep track of what they were up to, Nick just . . . wouldn't. So an entire trilogy from Nick's point of view would have necessarily focused heavily on Nick, to the exclusion of the rest of the world.

Mae, on the other hand, was new to the world of magic, but by the time she starts narrating she has learned enough that she isn't completely green. She's intelligent and insightful and was definitely a good choice to narrate a book that was essentially about getting to know the world better and handling the aftermath of Book One. 

However, in Book Three (The Demon's Surrender), Sin, a minor character in Book One and a supporting player in Book Two, takes over the narration. I loved Sin, but she was somewhat outside the core foursome of Nick, Alan, Mae and Jamie that dominate the first two books. She provided an interesting new perspective and was a joy to read, but as the auther herself has said, it was difficult to write a book where Sin truly cared about the eventual fate of, say, Mae's brother.

As it happens, I feel the third book pulled it off very well - it pulled all of the elements together in a way that didn't feel forced. I imagine it was tough to do, but it worked brilliantly for me as a reader.

As a writer, though, it raises some questions. By having a different narrator, you gain a different insight. But it has to be weighed against what you lose. It may be harder to tie up lose ends. There is a risk that loyal readers won't enjoy the new voice. And it requires far more skill to keep a consistent storyline across three books with different narrators.

The Demon's Lexicon trilogy succeeds, and is definitely worth checking out if you plan to switch narrative voices. But I think it's a big decision, and a very big undertaking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writing Romance

I mentioned on Monday that I always wanted to try writing romance - I have always loved the character-driven aspects of books the most, and the idea of an entire genre that's character-driven (because, really, what else can you call a genre that's all about two people figuring out how to be together?) appeals to me a lot.

For anyone who feels the same, Kate Walker has posted some tips for writing category romance over on Sally's blog. Even if you don't write romance, several of the tips are useful for other genres (I especially liked No. 11, the Intense Black Moment).

Ms. Walker has written successfully for Mills & Boon for many years. I admit I have only read one Mills & Boon book, which came free with a magazine (so I didn't even generate income for a publisher - oh, the shame). I read it when I was 14 or so, and in spite of the fact it didn't have Holden Caulfield in it, I found myself enjoying it. The premise was especially mad - from what I gather, it was madder than most M&B novels - and involved a woman ending up in the wrong room on her honeymoon (well, not really a honeymoon as the wedding had been postponed). She slept with, and later fell in love with, the guy in the wrong room. By accident.

So not the most realistic premise. But I cared.

I cared about the characters. Their situations may have been far-fetched, but the quality of the writing was strong and the characters sympathetic. Based on my one experience over ten years ago, Mills & Boon - and their writers - do their job well.

It drives me nuts when I see people patronise genre fiction - any genre, whether romance of sci-fi or mystery or crime. There are many readers who have a particular genre they love, and they read widely in that genre (sometimes exclusively, sometimes not). They are not undiscerning - they are the exact opposite. They are experts.

And you can't fool them with pretty language or literary tricks. They know what works in their genre, and what doesn't. They know when your idea isn't original, when your character is a secret rip-off/homage, and when your plot twist doesn't ring true. They get all your in-jokes. Such readers consume a genre extensively because they love it, and they expect your book to keep that love alive.

No pressure.

Now, I'm not saying that the book about woman who ended up in the wrong hotel suite is an overlooked work of high art. But it's not surprising to find that the writing and the characterisation were strong - it was written by someone who was writing for a genre audience.

Do you write genre fiction? What's your experience been like?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Versatile Blogging

The lovely Christine at Digging Out Of Distraction has given me the Versatile Blogger award :) Many thanks, Christine! 

Award Rules:
1. Thank the person who bestowed the honor on you. Done!

2. Share seven random facts about yourself:

  • My first ever ambition was to be an air hostess when I grew up. 
  • I went blonde for six months when I was sixteen. My natural hair colour is very very very dark brown (see profile picture). I haven't dyed it since (in spite of wanting to try going red), because I feel that I am a brunette in some fundamental way.
  • I have never owned a pair of combats (fatigues for US visitors!) and really want some!
  • I am not quite tone-deaf but incredibly close.
  • I have a BA in English and an MA in American Literature, both from UCD.
  • I absolutely cannot stand tomatoes in any form. Including ketchup, pizza sauce, puree. . . if it's not the dominant flavour I will live with it but I can't stand them. This makes my desire to travel to Italy kind of problematic. . .
  • I write literary fiction and urban fantasy, but I am dying to try romance and YA. 


3. Pass it on to five other deserving bloggers!


OK, it's difficult to choose five, but I will do my best :)


1. Misha at My First Book, as I always enjoy her posts.
2. Paul Anthony Shortt, because he's a friend and since he started introducing food to his writing blog, he certainly counts as 'versatile'
3. Mooderino, who always leaves very smart and thought-provoking comments! 
4. Paula Martin, because I always enjoy her blog.
5. Wanton Redhead Writing, for just being all-round interesting!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Looking Forward

On Wednesday, I blogged about how the first book of a trilogy should end. Luckily, the cliff-hanger ending of The Knife of Never Letting Go won't affect me too badly, as both of the sequels are already in the shops so I can read the second instalment whenever I like.

I spent yesterday reading the third book of one of my favourite trilogies - The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan (I promise no spoilers). I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was told from an unexpected point of view - Sin, who was a minor character in The Demon's Lexicon and a supporting character at best in The Demon's Surrender, but she was always an attractive and compelling character and I was keen to see how she stood up to more page-time. The answer is very well, and she's now tied with Mae for the position of my favourite character.

/end gushing.

Anyway, my longing for the final book in the trilogy has now been satisfied and the list of books I am eagerly anticipating is now shorter by one item. Which got me thinking - what books are you guys looking forward to? And why? :)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

First of Three: How Should the First Book of a Trilogy End?

On my flight home from New York (had a fantastic time! On the trip, that is, not the flight), I read the first book in Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking).

At the same time, I was eagerly looking forward to the third book in Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy, The Demon's Surrender. Haven't managed to get it yet - if you have, tell me nothing!

I was ploughing through Ness's book, which is action-packed and focuses on a character making a journey, so it constantly propels the reader forward to a destination, an end-point. In the food court of Terminal 4 in JFK, I could see that destination and was moving happily towards it.

Without spoiling, I will just say this: Ness ends with a cliffhanger. It is a conclusion but it isn't an ending. The main questions of the book have been answered but immediately, another much larger question is posed.

In spite of the fact that it isn't my usual type of book (it's quite dystopian), I am very keen to read Book Two. The quality of the writing is good and I like the characters, so I probably would have considered Book Two anyway. But the cliff-hanger ending is such that I feel I have to read on, whether I want to or not.

By contrast, Rees Brennan's first book ends with a major twist but no cliffhanger. My desire to read Book Two came from my curiosity about how the characters would handle the revelation medium-term, and again from the quality of the writing and the characterisation.

I feel The Knife of Never Letting Go can't be read as a stand-alone book. I feel the story is unfinished, and if I was to leave the saga there, I would feel unsatisfied,as though I had put the book down halfway through and never discovered the ending. The end of Book One wasn't a logical place to bow out, should I have wanted to. Put it this way - I wouldn't buy this book as a gift for someone because I would feel I was obliging them to spend their own money on the sequel.

However, if I bought someone The Demon's Lexicon as a gift, I would think 'OK, if it isn't their cup of tea, they can leave the trilogy there and still have read a self-contained story, albeit one that has a sequel.'

Has anyone here read The Knife of Never Letting Go? Did you feel satisfied by the ending or driven to go on?

How do you think the first book of a trilogy should end - a gotta-know-more cliffhanger, or a self-contained ending that's open for a sequel?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why YA must Speak

In my last post, I started to outline my views on the WSJ's Young-Adult-fiction-is-too-dark debacle.

I have a second point about it, but I wanted this one to stand alone.

Recently, I found the book that I needed to read as a teenager. It was Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.

I didn't share most of the difficult and painful experiences of the protagonist. I was never traumatised, but as a young teenager, I was deeply unhappy at school. Like Melinda, I played silly and childish mental games to cope with it. Like Melinda, I found an outlet in creative art (since I can't draw a stick-man, I wrote. Badly.). Like Melinda, more than anything, I wanted someone to hear me, to see me, to know me. Finding someone who might like me wasn't even as important as finding someone who might understand me.

I wasn't an unusual kid. Looking back, I think a lot of people felt like I did. Natalie Goldberg writes brilliantly - as usual - in her memoir, Long Quiet Highway, about being an invisible kid in high school, of wanting someone to see, and to know.

Guess what, kids? Laurie Halse Anderson saw. And she knew. And she understood.

I found her book twelve years after my life changed and I no longer felt like Melinda. I enjoyed the book, because it was so well-written (and the award for Understatement of the Day goes to Ellen Brickley . . .). It still felt wonderful to know that someone understood - that there was a writer somewhere, thousands of miles from me, who would have smiled at the terrified and troubled kid that I once was and said 'I get it.' Even as a 27 year old woman, finding the empathy I needed half a lifetime ago moved me almost to tears. Happy ones, because there was someone out there who got what kids needed, whose book could give hope to the next wave of scared kids trying to fight their way to adulthood unscathed.

And I didn't have it half as rough as a lot of kids do. I had two parents. I had a house. I had enough to eat and enough money to be comfortable.

If I had found Speak as a teenager (if it had in fact been written then, which it wasn't), it would have made a real difference to my life.

There are YA books that deal with violence, rape, murder, bereavement, self-harm. That's because there are teenagers who deal with violence, rape, murder, bereavement and self-harm. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a poem about the responses she received from readers of Speak and it's worth listening to. Those teens need books to speak to them. They need to know they are not alone, and that someone, somewhere, understands.

Who are the WSJ to decide that the experience of those children is too distasteful to be the stuff of literature? That the privileged among us have the right to remove that empathy from the lives of troubled kids because it is upsetting?

Which is more important - that a child reaching for a razor blade every night finds a book that speaks to her and comforts her, or that her happy and contented classmate not feel a few minutes of discomfort after she rejects a paperback she doesn't wish to read and moves on to the next shelf?

Heinrich Heine wrote "Wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn human beings." What he didn't say, but I am sure he knew, was that when we reject books, when we censor books, we are rejecting and censoring human beings. We are designating human experiences as unworthy of our attention.

And I will never be OK with that.

A Haitus from Haitus

New York has been amazing so far (and I've only been here for half a day, that'll tell you how great my hosts are!). I woke up crazily early this morning and decided to pop on to Twitter to see what was going down.

Turns out the Wall Street Journal has run an article about how YA literature these days is too 'dark' for children, dealing as it does with self-harm, rape, incest, abuse, violence, kidnapping, etc. Whole article is here.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I, ahem, may have somewhat 'gone off on one', and I decided to break my blog haitus. It's early in the morning here and I have some downtime.

I don't believe that it is the publishing industry's job to minimise children and teens access to material they'll find upsetting. It's up to their parents, because each child/teen will find different things upsetting.

For example, my mother read Stephen King's Misery when I was ten. She loved it and was keen to talk about it, so one night on a family holiday, she told me all about the plot and suggested I read it. I did, and it remains one of my favourite books. Another ten year old may not have relished the chainsaw scene as I did.

Frankly, I kinda hope they wouldn't . . .

I watched Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs when I was 11. Loved them both. My parents clearly knew their kid.

Of course, there were things I found traumatic to read or watch. I didn't really need to be steered away from them, because I don't enjoy feeling upset and wasn't going to chase down things that would get me there, but my parents also knew not to buy me books about heroic animals dying horribly, orphaned children, or parents dying in front of their children. They were my triggers. Yours may have been different.

The point is, it wasn't the world's job to stop Old Yeller existing. It was my parents', and later mine, to stop me accessing it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Article on Writing.ie - Halves and Steps

I have an article appearing on Writing.ie this week. It's about half-siblings, Irish schools in the early 90s and explaining things to daft teachers. I'm sure most of the people reading this can identify with that last one at least, particularly those of you who are actually teachers and don't get to say goodbye to your daft colleagues forever once summer comes. . . . :)

This isn't just a shameless plug (but if you've ever wondered what I look like outside my profile picture on Blogger, here's your chance to see. And yes, I always wear that much black). Well, it isn't just a shameless plug for me. Writing.ie is a great site, and regardless of the Irish domain name, it isn't just aimed at Irish writers. It has lots to offer everyone and is well worth bookmarking - especially the forums, which have great lists of submission opportunities and contests.

They also accept pieces like mine on an ongoing basis - there is one up there courtesy of Barbara Scully, whom some of you know from her blog, From My Kitchen Table.

I'm flying to the States in the morning for a week's holiday so I'm taking a short blog hiatus. I had planned to schedule posts to run while I was away, but this week was insanely busy and time just got away from me, so I'm afraid there will be nothing but pink tea and silence here til June 13th.

Hope you all have a lovely week and I'm looking forward to catching up with you when I get back :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Courtney Milan and Going It Alone

Romance writer Courtney Milan has announced that the third book if her Turner series of novels will be self-published.

Her announcement is very measured and well-written, and it certainly doesn't stand as a rejection of traditional publishing - quite the opposite. Ms. Milan is very positive about her traditional publishing experiences and has said she isn't turning her back on the world of traditional publishing at all. Her decision is solely based on the fact that the ebook royalty rate and the 'in print' clause in the deal offered by her publisher was inadequate.

I wonder how many more writers we will see with two-lane careers - traditional and self-publishing running alongside each other at a comparable speed, each fulfilling different functions for the writer's career. So far traditional publishing has been very mature about welcoming - or trying to welcome - self-pubbed superstars into the traditional fold.

Maybe there is room for everyone. It will certainly be interesting to watch how many more writers make this move in the future.