Apr 22, 2014

In Which I Can't Separate Art From The Artist

A little while back, the Hugo Awards were the subject of controversy, following the backlash against Jonathan Ross being announced as the host for this year's awards.

Now it seems that there's going to be another sticky issue. The nominees for the 2014 Hugo Awards have been announced. I'm thrilled to see a couple of writers I know have been nominated.

Also on the list is Opera Vita Aeterna, a novelette by Vox Day.

Vox Day is the pen-name of Theodore Beale, To say I disagree with his views on women, race, theology, and the issue of rape would be a massive understatement.

A major recurring theme in SFF is that people of various ways of life can co-exist, and not just co-exist, but become more prosperous as a result of co-existence and co-operation. Whether it's Star Wars, Mass Effect, Star Trek, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, an overriding message of SFF is to set aside differences, to learn from each other, and stand for something better than base instinct and aversion to those who aren't like us.

There's a limit to how far I can separate a piece of art from the artist who created it. That limit is pretty low for things like the kind of hate preached by Vox Day, particularly when it comes to written fiction, since so much of the author comes through.

I don't believe Vox Day deserves this award. I'm actually quite shocked enough people like him to get him on the nominees list. I'm not the only one to feel this way, and like Ceilidh over at Bibliodaze, I feel there is no place in SFF for someone who genuinely believes that same-sex relationships should be criminalized, who regards women's rights as a disease, who believes that marital rape does not exist, and who believes that non-white people are in every way inferior to white people.

The SWFA expelled Vox Day, a former lifetime member, following calls to do so after his racist attack on N.K. Jemesin. He's not welcome with them, and he shouldn't be welcome with the rest of us.

Apr 17, 2014

Dealing With Issues

I'd like to share some thoughts that have come to mind while I've been having trouble with my next WIP.

The book, Carver & McCain, was going to be a police procedural with strong urban fantasy elements, dealing with issues of prejudice in how paranormals cope with the way mundane humans treat them. I had my privileged, ex-SWAT officer, recently transferred to the paranormal crimes division, and his werewolf partner who would have to put up with his anti-paranormal attitude.

The problem was, I feel, the issue of prejudice was never going to be confronted by the characters. They would learn to respect and eventually like each other, but the more I wrote, the more I realized I was hitting out a lot of stuff about how hard life was for paranormals and how readily normal humans would turn on them, without my characters deciding to do something about it.

In short, it felt like I was preaching.

Lady Raven, on the other hand, is different. Although Cora lives a precarious existence within the Empire's strict rules for women, the story is about her defiance. The point is to show that she's not willing to stand by and let this tyranny continue. While her quest starts out on a personal level, to protect her mother, it will grow to become far greater, and she will grow from a reactionary child to a young woman of power and agency, fighting for a cause.

Of course authors should tackle difficult issues in their work. But are the characters simply enduring the problem, or are they doing something about it? For me, reading (and writing) is escapism. It's about seeing characters do the things I never could. That's why I write the kind of adventure stories I write. I can't defeat sexism or social injustice in one fell swoop. But I can write characters who can. I can write characters who, instead of accepting that their world has problems and trying to ignore them, stand up and make a change by fighting representations of those problems.

To me, that is the difference between tackling an issue, and preaching about it.

So for now, I think Carver & McCain will be shelved. I'll come back to it when I've got some perspective and distance, and can come at it fresh. I have another idea cooking away that could make a suitable replacement for my next book.

Apr 15, 2014

First Edits

First edits are a daunting thing. The first feedback an editor provides to an author on a manuscript always calls for the most intensive work you'll carry out in the whole editing process.

The other day, I got back the first edits on Lady Raven. As I expected, there's a lot of work to be done.

Quoth the raven: "Evermore edits"
Let me tell you, it never stops being scary. This year my third and fourth novels are being published, so while I'm not an experienced author or anything, I'm not quite a beginner anymore. I've been through some tough edits. But seeing that email come in and the little paperclip icon telling me there's an attachment makes my heart jump into my throat every single time.

First edits are a good thing. As scary as they are, they signal the point where things start to get real. Where your work starts to transform, changing from a manuscript into a fully-realized novel. But the fear is good. The fear means you still know you make mistakes. You have to hold on to that fear, because admitting you make mistakes keeps you humble. And if anything, edits require humility.

Your editor is your lifeline. You editor will say the things you need to hear, even if you don't want to hear them. Listen to them, learn from them. They're the essential outside, expert opinion you need to make your book the best it can be.

If you're able to self-edit, more power to you. I'd be very wary about trying it, myself, and would always recommend using a professional editor, whether that means submitting to a publisher so they'll provide one for you, or hiring one yourself.

So now we start my last "first edits" of the year. We're one step closer to Lady Raven taking flight.

Apr 10, 2014

Cover Reveal: Steele Your Soul

I've had Decadent Kane on my blog before. She writes perhaps the most unusual sub-genre I've heard of: elf erotica. Her Trouble With Elves series started with a story about one of Santa's elves who'd gone rogue, and falls for the chief spy elf sent to bring her back.

In her latest book, Steele Your Soul, she gives us pirates, (more) forbidden romance, and likely all kinds of naughtiness. The book is due out in May.

Apr 3, 2014

Writing Time

One of the things I'm often asked is how I find the time, with my busy schedule, to write. It makes me realise that there's still this myth that you need tons of free time to be a writer.

It's even present in movies and tv. Look at any time a character decides to follow their artistic dreams. They often pack in their day-job and set out on the journey of finding their passion, making it happen (Fame! I'm gonna live forever. Ahem...). Going as far back as You've Got Mail, where Meg Ryan's character comments on only being able to write a book because she has so much free time, or Mike & Molly, where Molly, a teacher, climbs out of her classroom window and abandons her students, to live her dream of being a writer. This is a terrible idea for most of us, who have bills to pay.

If you've got a busy schedule, I can relate. But you can make time to follow your passion, whatever that may be.

Break it down easily. Let's take writing, since that's the one I know about. Writing 1,000 words in an hour is an achievable pace. If you can write for 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, you can have an 80,000 word novel drafted in 16 weeks. Add another 4 for editing, and you've got a book ready to query or get ready for self-publishing in less than 5 months. Keep that pace up, and you write two books a year, which is better than a lot of big-name authors, and in today's market, releasing more books is one of the best ways to stay competitive.

So don't worry if life feels hectic. You can absolutely find the time you need, without sacrificing the security of a day-job, or time with your friends and family.

Apr 1, 2014

New Beginnings

April 1st marks the start of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I took part in the challenge a few years ago and had a great time, met some awesome people, and read some fantastic blogs. I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out, even if you're not taking part.

For me, this year, April feels like a clean slate. I spoke last week about feeling like me again, and I've got months of great things coming up, from books to conventions and more. It's time to get excited.

This past weekend I finished the first round of edits on Final Hope. I say first round, but my editor was so pleased with the original manuscript that we were able to get story edits and line edits done in the same batch. Very little has changed and the story remains exactly as I imagined when I sat down to write it. I'm so proud of this book, you guys have no idea. I want its release to go off with a bang.

Since I don't have a definite release date yet, I can't really schedule things properly. However we're confident that the book should be out for around October/November, as with the previous two. That gives me about 6 months to spread the word and get things organised.

This year, Nathan Shepherd's story ends.

Mar 27, 2014

Me Again

Last year was a rough year on me, emotionally. I was under a lot of stress and had some ups and downs. Sometimes it felt like there were more downs than ups. I don't think I'd realised until last night just how much everything that I'd been through last year really affected me, and I was carrying some of that weight into 2014.

Last night I had a bit of a breakthrough. I won't go into the details, because a lot of what's been on my mind really isn't mine to tell. Suffice to say, I feel, for the first time in a long time, truly like myself again. I'm back, and I'm going to kick this year's ass.

Mar 25, 2014

Lady Raven is Underway

While I work through my edits for Final Hope, all sorts of stuff is happening with Lady Raven.

My editor started reading the book yesterday, and last night I had a meeting with the photographer and model for the book covers. Well, I say meeting. In our house what counts as a meeting is tea, curry, and music videos.

We've got the core ideas laid down for how the books are going to look. We'll be preparing the covers for all four books at the same time, since I know how the overall story is going to go, and it saves time and work in the long run. I'm really excited to have such amazing and talented people to work with.

As it happens, there are a fair few people interested to help out with artwork and layouts, so we can make the books look as professional as possible. This is a key thing in self-publishing, I've learned. If you skimp on how your book looks, or fail to take into account that the cover needs to stand out on a small image on an online store, or that you also need the back and spine to look good if you intend to release a print version, your book won't be able to compete as well against the hundreds of thousands of other books out there.

What I'm really looking forward to is engaging with Dublin's thriving steampunk community. We plan to arrange a promo to go along with one of the awesome steampunk events in the city throughout the year. It's just a matter of getting more work done so we can put together a timeframe.

It's all feeling very real.

Mar 20, 2014

Interview with Paula Martin

Hi everyone! We've got a special post today. To help celebrate the release of her latest novel, Irish Inheritance, I'm interviewing romance author Paula Martin, to find out more about her work:

1: What attracted you to setting your latest novel in Ireland?

The easy answer to this is that I love Ireland! Until about 7 years ago, I’d only visited Ireland twice – a day trip to Dublin (from the Isle of Man) when I was in my teens, and a flying visit to Belfast to speak at a conference there about eighteen years ago. In 2007, a friend and I decided to spend a few days in Galway, and since then then I’ve visited your beautiful island ten times, but still haven’t see it all. I love the scenery, especially the mountain areas and the rugged west coast; I love the sense of history everywhere you go; and I love the friendliness of the people, when total strangers greet you with ‘Hallo there, how ye doin’?’ everywhere you go.

2: I note that neither your hero nor your heroine are from Ireland, themselves. I find that lends a sense of mystery to the setting, as both characters are outsiders. Is that what you were trying to achieve when you created them?

Yes. As a visitor to Ireland myself, it made more sense to have my main characters as non-natives. For one thing, it meant I could take them to some of the ‘tourist’ places that I’ve visited, such as the Cliffs of Moher and Glendalough Monastery. The other reason was that I needed them both to leave Ireland during the story, with one of them returning to England, the other to America. Of course, the long-distance created extra problems for them, and this wouldn’t have worked as well if both had been resident in Ireland.

3: You've written books set all over the world. How much research do you do to prepare yourself when starting a new manuscript?

I tend to do my research as and when I need it while I’m writing the story. I don’t create a detailed plot before I start (I’m very much a ‘pantser’) so I don’t always know what I’m going to need. It slows down the writing of the first draft, and even later drafts too, but it’s the way I’ve always worked. The only thing I may do before I start is refresh my mind about the location of the story, usually with the help of maps, photos, videos etc. I find Google street view invaluable because it means I can see where someone is driving or walking. I ‘drove’ through Clifden countless times when I was writing ‘Irish Inheritance!

4: What is your favourite place in Ireland?

Oh, how do I answer this one? There are so many places that have captured my imagination or made me catch my breath! The view of Killiney Bay from Sorrento Park in Dalkey, an amazing sunset over Galway Bay, the Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks along the coasts of County Mayo or Donegal,  the prehistoric forts and tombs on the Burren, the deserted ‘famine villages’, the timelessness of Claddagh Harbour – I could go on forever! It’s so hard to pick a favourite, but if pushed, I think I would have to say the stunning scenery of Connemara with vistas that change with every bend in the road - the peaks of the Twelve Bens, the green valleys, and the dozens of small streams and loughs. A truly beautiful area!

Thanks for stopping by, Paula. We wish you every success with this book!

Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.
She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Irish Inheritance:
English actress Jenna Sutton and American artist Guy Sinclair first meet when they jointly inherit a house on the west coast of Ireland. Curious about their unknown benefactress and why they are considered 'family', they discover surprising links to the original owners of the house.

They soon unravel an intriguing tale of a 19th century love affair. At the same time, their mutual attraction grows, despite personal reasons for not wanting romantic involvements at this point in their lives.
A local property agent appears to have her own agenda concerning the house while other events pull Jenna and Guy back to separate lives in London and America. Friction builds over their decision about the house and its contents.

Will their Irish inheritance eventually drive them apart – or bring them together?

You can learn more about Paula and her work at her website and her blog. Her books are available from Amazon.

Mar 13, 2014

Dead Parents and Other Tragedies

I was working on some ideas for using the Fate rpg system to run a superhero game, and I got to thinking about origins, and how characters often have tragic events that shape their lives.

Batman gets a hard time for how his entire character hinges on the death of his parents. It's often suggested that he should get over it, given the various things he's been through in comparison, or compared to Superman losing his entire planet. But I think this does his loss an injustice.

It's not what Batman lost. It's how he lost it.

Superman lost his planet. He's one of the last of his people. But consider his life and upbringing. He never knew Krypton. He had loving parents who taught him values and made him the man, the hero, he is.

Batman didn't just lose his parents. He watched, helpless, as a man shot them. He knelt in their blood as the life drained from their eyes, and had to wait until the police came to find him, which in Gotham was probably a long wait.

Imagine being 10 years old, watching the most important people in your life die, and then having to wait, alone in the cold and the dark, while and unfeeling city carried on around you. Now tell me that wouldn't change you.

That's what makes Batman who he is. That's what his loss means.

Take Locked Within (spoilers here!).

Nathan's dad dies. But consider what he takes from it. Mike Shepherd dies because he chooses to save his son, rather than get himself to a hospital. His final lesson to his son is that even when it might cost you your life, others come first. That moment shapes Nathan for the rest of the series.

It's an important thing to remember when writing. Loss doesn't exist simply for angst. It has to serve a purpose. It has to guide the hero in some way, help them grow and struggle through the pain into a stronger person.

As with all things, consider what every scene means and how it adds to the story and character development.