The Build–Writing a Worthy Ending

I am not a Led Zeppelin fan. In the 70s and 80s, whenever a radio station would present the top 300 or 500 of the entire history of rock-and-roll on Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend, I’d cringe as they approached #1. It was always, inexorably, inexplicably, inevitably “Stairway to Heaven.” I hate “Stairway to Heaven.” I do, however, have a Led Zeppelin guilty pleasure. “Kashmir.” I crank it up on my car radio when it comes on. I’ve even downloaded it from iTunes and am listening to it right now as loud as my Walkman will allow me.

What, you may ask, intrigues me about this song? The build. The slow build of drums  and bass into brass and other orchestral wonders. And that relentless beat. My body moves with no conscious participation on my part.  And then the lyrical pauses with the taste of Eastern  delights.

As writers, we can learn from “Kashmir.” At the moment, I am in the middle of what could be a powerful ending to my latest novel, but that power, I realized last night, lies in the build. Don’t go too fast. I’m tempted to just rush in and then leave myself with nowhere to go because I’ve already crescendoed to the peak. I know where we’re going, and I want so badly to get there because it’s going to blow the reader’s mind. But I must slow down, allow fate to tickle at the reader’s heart but leave as little trace as possible until the fullness is revealed. This is a delicate balance which must be respected. Nuance is everything. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

73 words

I’m not the first to write on this topic, and I certainly won’t be the last. But I’m going to be short but sweet.

“Strong female hero”

Seriously?

“Hero,” definition #1a in Merriam-Webster:  A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability (emphasis mine).

Have you ever once read or heard someone say “strong male hero”?  Or, even, “strong hero”?

Point made. Thank you for your time.

The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard

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Eowyn of Rohan opened my eyes to a new kind of hero. It was the summer of 1966 when I first read The Lord of the Rings, and I would be graduating from high school the following year. Eowyn epitomized “hero” for me—confident, courageous, willing to run into the fray, filled with empathy for Merry (another favorite character) and, most importantly, female. The fact that she had the hots for the cutest guy on the block was a bit of a hindrance, and her exclusion from the final face-off after being scuttled off the battlefield in dire need of healing almost made me stop reading. But, in the end, Eowyn rocked, and her determination and tenacity gave me hope that a woman might one day be able to stand at the front of the story as the character propelling it forward.

By the 70s, female heroes had begun to emerge. And I sought them out. But they were almost always one of two types—buxom beauties with their “accomplishments” prominently displayed on the book’s cover or tomboy girls whose elders sought (and usually managed) to reduce to a medieval Stepford prototype once she’d completed her quest. Neither of these was the hero I was looking for.

Eventually I gave in and decided to create a female hero worthy of the title. It took over 30 years to fully realize my quest, but I did in Lisen of Solsta, a young woman who steps on the stage without the usual baggage young female characters too often carry into the fight. (It helps that she lives in a world where sexism and division of labor and duties by gender have never existed, but that’s a story I’ve explored several times previously and will not further explore it now.)

One shero (thank you, Maya Angelou) from the 80s comes to mind. Sarah Connor in the original Terminator. She was the hero of the movie. Her hero’s journey begins with her as a frivolous college student/waitress and ends (for that moment, of course) as a warrior on the run from future terminators like the one she (not Kyle) destroyed.

And in the past few years, I’ve had the joy of discovering several female heroes who bash the stereotypes bloody and stand tall amidst the muck. It seems our day has come. Finally.

So, in the hopes of opening discussion of and promoting books and other media featuring female heroes, I have created a page on Facebook. I look forward to learning about more strong women in fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal settings. I also want to encourage discussion of what makes a healthy and realistic female hero as well as discover who’s slamming stereotypes up against the wall. If you’re interested, feel free to check my new page out. That’s The Tales of Eowyn’s Bard.

Must Every Character in Game of Thrones Die?

Major spoilers ahead but I’m pissed

All right. Game of Thrones, right? I won’t be giving you links to books nor HBO because I’m done with the abuse.  As a viewer/reader I have been exposed to enough violence for the sake of sales and ratings. I’m done now.

When Joffrey executed Ned Stark back in book/season 1, it was a moment of shock and horror, but it also moved the narrative forward and reminded us that not only can life be cruel but also that the good guys don’t always win. I continued to look on the deaths of central characters as necessary evils, allowing the story to shift through a cascading wall of players. But last night’s destruction served no discernible purpose in the overall storytelling. In fact, what happened pointed out the pointlessness of the story.

Admittedly, some of the carnage left in the wake of last night’s season 5 finale played into the various narrative threads, but I find myself wondering why those threads were set up the way they were in the first place.  For the sake of a good story? Or, simply for the shock value of a character’s brutal end?

It seems that the purpose of the books and the series as defined by George R.R. Martin and showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, sounds something like this: Let’s see how much the audience can tolerate and then let’s do more because you can’t have too much blood, guts and gore.

Thanks for the ride, but I’m sorry, gentlemen. It’s very likely I will not be back next season. Not because you killed off a character I still cared about but because you killed off one too many characters needlessly.

Wild Ride: All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson

All the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson is a fun ride for the paranormal reader. Check it out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Details: Things can’t get much worse for Olivia Kardos. Stalked for the greater part of 10 years by a psychopath, Olivia learns that she is dying of cancer. So where can a storyteller take the reader from there? Sounds closer to the end than the beginning. Au contraire!

Olivia decides that before her life is over she is going to free herself from the crazy man forever watching her; she’s going to kill him. Does she succeed? I’m not telling. But the head-spinning twists and turns this amusement park ride of a tale inflicts on the reader are significantly more than satisfying.

What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the way in which none of the characters is truly all bad or all good. Nobody gets away with phoning in their performance. Even the psychopath, though unsympathetic, occasionally comes off as sad as he is horrific.

I highly recommend All the Pretty Bones. It’s a smart book. Ms. Thompson posits a world where vampires and demons exist just below the surface of what humans are aware of, and she weaves them in and out, taking her time revealing them. I love the way she ties the knot tighter and tighter as we approach what the reader knows is going to be a complicated ending, then brings everyone on stage to play their parts exactly as she has planned.

Sometimes Winning IS Everything

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I am proud to announce that Blooded (Book 3) has won this year’s IRDA YA category!

I’ve said it before, and here I’m saying it again. I suck at the marketing thing. The truth is even if you put everything on the line and promote like you’ve got the cure for the common cold, all that work can’t and doesn’t guarantee book sales, even in traditional publishing, much less in self-publishing.  Beyond that, as an author who follows (on Twitter) and likes (on Facebook) a great many other authors, I find nothing more irritating than someone who has nothing to say except “buy my book” ad nauseum. (This isn’t news to those who have read my blog before.)

So marketing—the promoting of self and self’s books—leaves me on the limited edge of what little sanity I still possess. Because here’s the truth; promoting your book mainly to other authors is a relatively futile endeavor. You need to find readers, and readers aren’t following unknown authors on social media; they’re out there reading authors they’ve heard of before. Sigh.

I knew early on that standing on a street corner with a sign pointing to where my books were on sale wasn’t for me. Instead I entered a few contests, most of which I flamed out on, but the one that has provided me consistent excellent reviews and a win last year for Tainted (Book 2 of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy) in the Young Adult category was IndieReader.com with their Indie Reader Discovery Awards (IRDA). I was thrilled beyond on thrilled when I got word of that because that I could promote.  Welcome to déjà vu all over again.

To celebrate this event, books 1 and 2 (Fractured and Tainted) are being offered free from today, May 29, 2015 through Tuesday, June 2, 2015, and Blooded, this year’s winning concoction, is on sale for the first time EVER for $0.99.

And here’s the best part.  The trilogy is complete, so you can binge on all three books and not have to wait for a sequel. Now that’s worth something.

On the Nature of Fun by Guest Blogger Jim Proctor

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Jim Proctor to my blog. He’s the author of a novella (“Made in the Stars”) and two novels (The Last Steward and Veronica Phoenix). Veronica Phoenix is his latest, and I loved it! You also should check out his Facebook page, especially if you’re an author looking to connect with one of the most helpful fellow authors on the planet. So, without further ado, a few words from Jim on painting a cinder block wall.

Would anyone care to guess how much fun painting a cinder block wall is? Anyone? What’s that? Did someone say “Zero”. That’s a good answer, and it would have been my answer until this morning. In the movie “Freaky Friday” the teenage girl (Lindsay Lohan) calls her mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) a Fun Sucker because “You suck the fun out of everything!” Personally, when I hear “fun sucker” and “Jamie Lee Curtis” in the same sentence, I get an entirely different idea of… never mind.

Painting a cinder block wall is negative fun. The activity is a fun sucker. It gets into your mind and begins sucking away the fun. But it doesn’t stop when it has sucked up all the fun you might have had while painting. No, it sucks away even your memories of fun. By the time you have been painting for an hour, you begin to wonder if there is any point in continuing to live. By this point, if you are lucky, the paint fumes are already killing you.

I am painting the cinder block wall of the basement of my parent’s house, trying to get the place ready to sell. After finishing the first coat, I dragged out the shop vac and began vacuuming all the cobwebs hanging from the overhead joists. Do you remember the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo walks into Shelob’s lair and the place is full of cobwebs. Frodo keeps getting caught in them. That is what the basement looked like. There were a lot of very unhappy spiders when I finished.

When I go back, the wall will get a second coat. Then I will move a few things and start on the next section of wall. Once I get a solid base of the UGL Drylock Supreme, I will break out my Wagner Power Painter and shoot a layer of Kilz primer over it, and then maybe a layer of white latex. Yes, lots of fun.

Freed from Social Media Self-Published Author Slavery

I love words. I love how easy it is to manipulate them to mean something they never meant to mean, and I love how they roll off my tongue when I read a good piece of writing aloud. As a novelist, nailing the essence of a character’s feelings at a particular moment in the story pleases me greatly. I write because I can’t not write.

Lately, however, I have found myself writing less and less as I’m tied down to a task that I not only take no pleasure in whatsoever but which seems pointless to the point of pain. Marketing. Promoting. Selling the artistic soul. Yeah, that. And for what?

Here’s how it is for the self-published author. You write the book. If you lack the ability or the gift, you pay someone else to edit and proofread the book, design the cover for the book, set up the interior layout of the book and, ultimately, make sure the book all comes together as a cohesive whole. And that, it turns out, is only the beginning.

Or the end. Because before you ever sat down to write that book, you should have been blogging and signing up for every social media site available. You should have had a platform ready to go before you knew what a platform was. The platform, they say, is key to establishing your brand, and establishing your brand is paramount to success in self-publishing.

Or, so they say.

The reality is somewhat removed from all the articles (hundreds upon hundreds, perhaps thousands) written almost daily regarding how to do all that marketing stuff and how if you just do as “I” say (whoever “I” is), you’ll see your sales increase tenfold—nay—a hundredfold.

Yeah, right. In the end, it’s just so much BS.

Imagine yourself in a room filled with people—and I do mean filled with people. To the point where breathing is but a distant memory and you wonder if you’ll ever know the refreshment of a cool breeze on your skin again because no place on your body is untouched by part of someone else’s body. All of that crushing humanity, and everyone shouting incessantly, “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!! BUY MY BOOK!!!”

That’s what my Facebook news feed and my Twitter feed look like. The weight of humanity landing on my social media accounts, yelling directly in my ear that the pictured book in the link to Amazon with the guy and his six- or eight-pack abs on the cover is definitely the book I want to buy. (I use this particular illustration because romance seems to be the bestseller of bestsellers in the indie world—most poorly written, pushed out half a dozen a year by any individual author and beloved by their readers. I have to admit that as a feminist, I find this appalling, and as a writer…well, you get the picture.)

I read a blog today called “Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work,” and I took Delilah S. Dawson’s cautionary tale as the call of a liberator unlocking and opening the door to the marketing cage. I’m stepping out of the room where all the hawkers screech and returning to writing. I’m totally finished with Instagram, and Twitter will mostly languish. I’ll stay in touch with friends on Facebook, but my “author” presence will diminish a bit.

As Ms. Dawson goes into marvelous detail about why social media doesn’t work, I refer you to her and her blog on the topic to defend my decision and, perhaps, to allow you to hear the call and decide for yourself.

(And note, as I did when I went to link to the blog post, that she’s added a new one today discussing what she knows about being marketed to from a reader’s perspective. Also good stuff.)

Review – Veronica Phoenix

The opening chapter of Veronica Phoenix by Jim Proctor grabbed me and catapulted me into a great and glorious journey with Carl Wilkins, captain of a deep-space salvage vessel. Early on, it becomes clear that poor Carl has not yet learned the lesson that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, Carl is a believable character with whom I became invested almost immediately upon meeting him, and I enjoyed this book for its nail-biting adventure and Carl’s personal development as he works his way out of the life-threatening fix he’s ended up in.

I found the prose easy to read, and I appreciated the careful knack Proctor has of navigating the pitfalls of technical details—educating us without overwhelming us with information. His writing style is well crafted, and he moves the story along, handing us new revelations just at the moment when we need them and not before.

I did have a problem with the ending. I felt that Proctor lost focus, skipping over Carl’s redemption, while the ah-ha moment of an unlikable, minor character gained an importance it (and he) didn’t deserve. The writing remained consistent, but the story took a dip there for me.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to readers of Science Fiction and those who appreciate the character study of a well-defined anti-hero. Proctor has written his finest work yet, and although I could only give it 4 stars because of my personal quibble with the ending, this book is well worth reading.

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!