Give Me an Inch, I’ll Make You a Book

I went onto the web site of a prominent office supply chain the other day and ordered a thousand 4 x 6″ index cards. I love my 4 x 6 cards. They are, perhaps, the most used tool in my writing arsenal, and I utilize one for each scene in my books. I usually start out with 20 or 30 of them, with such details as “Battle Day 1” or “Lisen in bath” or “the reunion” and build the stack from there.

That’s how the story unfolds for me—little vignettes in time with rarely any details at all. Just a moment carved out. And as I near that scene, what has led up to it begins to take on meaning, and I jot down pieces of action and dialogue and plot points that I intend to get into the composition of the scene. In addition, I note the day (numbered sequentially from the beginning of the book) and the date as well as the number of the scene. (I don’t break my books into chapters until I’m on my final draft.) I also finalize whose point of view will best tell this bit of the story. For instance, under “Lisen in bath” I wrote a brief exchange of dialogue between Lisen and her companion in the bath. What they say isn’t relevant to the plot, but it is relevant to Lisen’s state of mind at that moment. On the other hand, “the reunion” is blank save for the POV and the day/date.

I play with these cards as their numbers increase. By the time I was through the first draft of the third book in my Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded, I had 94 scenes and, hence, 94 cards. That’s basically an inch of cards, and I still pull them out every once in a while and fondle them. Yeah, I know, I’m weird, but I’m a writer, okay? In my defense, I often refer to them if I’m trying to find the part where such-and-such happens. How many members were there in the privy council? And where did they all sit around the table?

4 x 6 cards become Blooded
4 x 6 cards become Blooded

I do have a scene outline for each draft—as scenes do sometimes appear in subsequent drafts, disappear completely or move around—but that outline doesn’t hold the precious notes that remind me what my intent was for that scene. And where people were sitting around the table in the privy council, of course.

So, there you have it. How an inch of 4 x 6 cards became a novel. And I’m at it again. I have 22 completed scenes and 22 cards. About 20 cards with scenes awaiting writing lined up, but those will likely double to triple in volume before I’m done. After which I will have enough cards to write ten more books. Goodie!

Review – The Ruins on Stone Hill by F.P. Spirit

The Ruins on Stone Hill (Heroes of Ravenford Book 1) is about a bunch of guys getting together to have adventures. Using both physical weapons and magic, they fight off orcs, giants, golems and wicked wizards, usually destroying the bad creatures in the process. It’s a bit of a romp, and as such, it’s enjoyable. Unfortunately, I look for a bit more in a fantasy novel.

To me, fantasy novels offer the potential of placing a hero (male or female) on a quest that we as readers can identify with, allowing us to cheer those heroes on and celebrate when obstacles are overcome. The quest should involve something of moral or ethical value. A grail. The destruction of an object that could allow the baddest guy around to rule the world. Something worth fighting and dying for. In this book, the first quest to map a keep and potentially recover a scroll for a probably good wizard is taken on with a promise of payment in the end. To me, money doesn’t quite meet my criteria for a quest.

In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot. Jumping from one adventure to the next, with little or no connection between them (save for the fact the two most important people in the town—the mayor and the wizard—are the ones sending them out) does not a plot make. Which leaves me thinking that the only plot in this is what it takes to pull this group together. And for a story about adventures, we sure skipped the third one fast. They started out, and then they were home again.

As a woman and a writer of fantasy myself, I found the stereotypes of the few female characters a bit too much to handle. Kailay, the barmaid at the local establishment, has doe-eyes for Lloyd, the big, strong, handsome human in the group.  She is “buxom” and referred to twice in three paragraphs as she is introduced as a “young girl.” That really got to me. She’s not a child (I hope). And then, when Kailay recognizes that Lloyd has eyes for another, she completely falls apart. Be still my feminist heart (and mouth). Three other women of minor prominence have equally boxed-in roles—all of them noble, beautiful, well-educated and practically perfect. And then there’s the half-human, half-orc warrior woman who shows up briefly, fights valiantly (a little Xena warrior princess there), but, being on the wrong side, cannot be allowed to survive. Now, she was interesting.

On the picky side, I found some of the language to be a little too modern. To me, a fantasy set in a typically semi-medieval world should watch the modern clichés and metaphors. I was jarred out of the story several times with phrases such as “picture perfect” (which to me implies a camera being involved somewhere).

And Then Again, Maybe Not

In my most recent post, I bemoaned the “romantic” nature of the titles of the books in my feminist fantasy trilogy. I beat myself up sans merci. Funny how that pity pot catches up with a person. I spoke of reality—as though I have a hold on reality. Ha! In addition to that post, I whined quite a bit on Facebook, deleting three-quarters of the posts immediately after posting them, but I did leave a couple hanging out there.

People had suggestions. Some said keep the titles, change the covers and my marketing strategy. (Truth is I don’t have a marketing strategy. I’m a freakin’ introvert, okay?) Some said they had no problem with any of it. I’m also fairly sure that there were some who thought I was full of it and posted nothing rather than hurt my feelings.

One comment in particular, however, nailed it. From an online friend dating back to the mid 1990s. She hit me with some straight talk that slapped me right back into place, and here’s what I took from what she said. I have to let go at some point. Lisen, my main character, and all her friends deserve the opportunity to find friends out in the world, on their own. I can promote the books. I can suggest—politely, mind; I’m not into that in-your-face line of promotional strategy—that you check the books out. Maybe I’ll even take the money and time I’d planned on redoing covers and such and put it into a video for the books. Now how’s that for a strategy?

And in the midst of my “poor-me-ing,” a couple of soft-but-persistent voices arose. Comments in the midst of my maelstrom of self-pity. They’d read my books and loved them. Which brought home to me the “real” reality. I can’t know who is reading or has read my books. Not really (there’s a variation of that word again). Secret readers hide out everywhere it seems. They hide in their corners reading away, not reviewing, just absorbing. And passing the books on to others. A moment of sweet contentment, a moment of grace, when I discover I’m not writing in a vacuum.

A novelist sits at home, alone, at a desk, surrounded by sheets of paper or notebooks or, in my case, 4 x 6” cards that lay out a story she wants to tell as best she can. She lives in that world, whether it’s a modern-day metropolis or a Greco-Roman-like world in another dimension, and manipulates characters and situations to conjure up the best possible tale.

And that, my friends, is my excuse. I simply confused the “real” world with my pretend world and assumed I had that level of control. Nope. And now I’ll get back to my latest project where I still have control. Happy Monday!

Seriously? You’re Going to do What?

Here’s the thing. When I began the process of publishing my first book in the Lisen of Solsta trilogy, I came up with what I thought was a really great title—Fractured. That one word describes precisely the dilemma Lisen, my hero, finds herself in throughout the entirety of that book. At the beginning she believes she’s Lisen Holt, Valley girl, but by the end of the first chapter she’s been abducted to a world completely alien to her. And, it’s where she belongs. She was never quite human, and Simon and Daisy Holt were not her parents. Within a couple of chapters, she’s also learned that she’s destined to rule this strange world. Yup, she’s fractured, all right.

Silly me. I never thought to run a search on Amazon regarding my brilliant title. I mean, who else would come up with just “fractured”? I was brilliant, and it was a brilliant title, soon to be followed by Tainted and Blooded to complete the trilogy.

Then, as happens all too often, reality plunged its dagger in my heart and left me bleeding and gasping for breath. In the process of collecting many “likes” for my Facebook author page, I had returned the favor and found that I was now in the center of a maelstrom of romance novelists—not my favorite genre but, in my experience, the most popular genre for self-published books. And guess what. I started seeing a few “fractured”-like titles.  Fractured Vows, Fractured Love, Fractured Promises, ad nauseum. But I was committed to that title. I’d already published that book, and the rules are strict. Once the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is assigned to a book, no one can change the title, the series name, the name of the author, the measurements of the page OR whether it’s in color or black and white. So…

I forged on. I commissioned the cover for the second book, again with a popular romance novel title, Tainted. I published that book, forever branding it with that name, then commissioned a new cover for Fractured. I moved on to book 3, which also has a fairly popular title, though Blooded as a title tends to fall more into the paranormal genre rather than romance.

You’re killing me!

Now some might ask (and have) that shouldn’t I stick with Fractured since romance is so popular? Not exactly. It all has to do with brand, in this case, the books’ brand. Lisen of Solsta is the story of a young woman who is equal in every way with any man in her world and as a female hero is an aberration only because she’s a hero, not because she’s a girl hero. If you run that search for “fractured” on Amazon, up come books with covers showing a phenomenal number of steroid-muscled men ravaging buxom, luscious-lipped women. That is the antithesis of my Fractured. Even if you narrow the search down to fantasy alone, the sexy-sexies completely overwhelm my feminist tome. Sigh.

What’s a girl to do?

It looks like I’m going to retire the three books as they are titled now and pull them off Amazon’s “shelves.” Then I’ll negotiate with my cover artist regarding what it will take to “fix” the covers. Once I’ve accomplished those tasks, I will republish with new ISBNs and titles for all three books. Of course, this all depends on whether I can come up with new titles that tell the story without sounding like someone else’s title and manage to retain the brand I so cavalierly and naively tossed into the romance fire the first time around.

And here’s the rub.  I will lose all the reviews, minimal as they are, that were posted under the old titles. But, on the other hand, it’s possible, maybe if I get it right this time, that more people looking for a book like my book will find it and not reject it because it sounds too romancey to them. Will I actually take this project on? Stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have some complaining and explaining to do as I once again watch for falling rocks on the learning curve.