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When you have to bring the curtain down   Leave a comment

Richard Dee’s Blog Post

Posted March 31, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook

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RIP   10 comments

March 30, 2020

How do you feel about killing off one of your major characters?

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Disclaimer – this topic was chosen for the bloghop before Covid19 was a thing, but I still don’t disavow my statements here. Death is a natural part of life.

Fiction Imitates Life

People die! It’s a fact of life and should be a fact of fiction because the best fiction has some reality to it. People die.

In high fantasy, people walk around with swords and get all hot and bothered about honor and cattle. Of course, someone is going to die in that situation. You didn’t think those swords were jewelry, right? They’re weapons and they’re bound to get used from time to time. Plus, there’s rarely been a medieval society that had invented penicillin. We forget that people regularly died from cuts and sinus infections before World War 2. Dying is a natural part of life.

In apocalyptic fiction, people should die. I mean think about it. The world is spinning out of control. Do you really think everyone is going to survive that?

So I’m down with killing major characters occasionally. In Daermad Cycle’s first book The Willow Branch, I killed a major character before Page 10. I built Prince Maryn up to be the hero of the book and then I plunged a 10-foot-long spear through his guts and into his spine, staking him to a tree — and thereby established that anyone can die in this series. I then killed his father and his brother Perryn by the middle of the book. Although they haven’t died yet, I’ve blinded Tamys, drove Daryl mad, put Danyl into a coma, and paralyzed Teddryn by the end of Mirklin Wood. Any one of them or someone else could die at any page turn.

In Transformation Project’s first book, Life As We Knew It, I killed 30 million people. The readers possibly got to know a couple of them. They weren’t major characters, but yeah — anyone can die in an apocalyptic novel. In the second book Objects in View, I killed about 80 townspeople. They were all minor characters, but one of them even had a speaking role before I turned him into a corpse. I built up Jacob Delaney into the 95-year-old voice of reason and radicalism throughout the first five books of the series — and he died at the end of Gathering In, the latest book. I also had Shane leave his best friend to die. Yeah, I’m not nice to my characters.

Maryn, Mike and Jacob were major characters at the point of the story where they died. Why did I kill them?

Remember what I said about I’m mostly transcribing the stories the characters tell me? Well, Maryn stopped talking to me after I wrote the first scene. He wasn’t supposed to die. I had this romantic story outlined for him. He fathered a child and his lover’s story was clear to me, but he was just never in it. I wrote a lot of the first draft of The Willow Branch trying to write this wooden character into different scenes and I finally admitted that Maryn must have died. I went back to where he last spoke to me and — Maryn went out like a hero at the end of the first chapter of the book. Who exactly killed him remains as big a mystery as who John Snow’s mother was for all the way through Dance of Dragons in the Song of Ice and Fire, so his death served a purpose — it wasn’t just to show I can be blood-thirsty.

Right before I finished the draft of Objects in View, an old friend died — the father of a friend and my former Sunday school teacher. I thought I’d honor Dick by putting him in my book as a minor character. He was just supposed to flit in and flit out because I don’t base characters on people I know, but the character of Dick Vance took on a life of his own — for a period of time. But I felt the strain as I wrote scenes for him in A Threatening Fragility and I knew he wouldn’t survive the end of the book. He was never a character that spoke to me in the same way that my fictional characters do. Mainly I drew upon “What would Dick say in this situation?” and when I got to the point where I couldn’t see what my real-life friend Dick would say, he needed to die. I was glad to give him the respect of his final rest, as glad as I was to give him the honor of gracing two of my books. I enjoyed sending him out as a hero.

Jacob was harder. I knew almost from the start of writing the series he would die at some point. I just can’t visualize him in the last scenes of the series. I visualize other people quoting him, but he’s just never there. But he still had lots of story to write and I enjoyed it. He was like visiting an old and deeply wise friend, but I always knew that a 95-year-old is not going to survive the apocalypse. When I started planning Gathering In, I sensed Jacob shutting down. He gave me a great couple of final scenes and then he sat down in a recliner and went silent. Now that I’m working on the next book Winter’s Reckoning, I understand why, but it hurt to let the old man go. It was like if my own father passed away.

It’s been two weeks since I published Red Kryptonite Curve, a YA about a teenage boy struggling with alcoholism and the consequences of his inability to control his choices. It’s a series and while nobody dies in the first book, I’m aware that someone will die in the second one due out next year. It’s realistic and I like realism. And yet, every time I consider the draft points for the next book “Centerline”, I mist up because I don’t want to kill the character I know must die.

So I have mixed feelings about killing off major characters. Reasonably, I know major characters have to die or the fiction doesn’t feel real and that’s vitally important when you’re writing series. But I mourn them. I feel the loss of their voices in my head. And I feel sorry for their family and friends who will miss them. But pretty much, if they quit talking to me, they’re dead and it’s up to me to figure out how they will die in the best way possible to advance the story to the next level.

So Rest in Peace, guys! Know that your deaths were for a good cause.

No spoilers as to who will die in future books, but in Gathering In, I introduced a flu that is somewhat mild in the northern territories, but quite deadly in the southern climes. Why? I’m not telling. It opens up a whole lot of reasons to kill off major characters. Shane’s best friend Mike has already succumbed to the disease and Dylan Rigby has been brought low by the secondary effects of the virus. And, no, I started writing Gathering In back in November 2018, so I’m prescient, not pandering because of CoVid19. I liked Mike. I was sorry to see him go and he didn’t quit talking to me so he’ll probably show up in Shane’s memories. I like Dylan and I hope he lives. But nobody gets out of the apocalypse unscathed and death is just one of the tragedies that might befall a major character.

It’s the apocalypse after all.

_______

Go check out what my fellow blog hoppers have to say on this topic. And also consider following my buy links, because there’s hope in the apocalypse, even as I kill of the characters you might love.

Posted March 30, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Cat Herding 101   11 comments

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

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Defining Terms at the Outset

Absolutely!

Let’s define our terms first. A writer is someone who writes. An author is someone whose writing is published. A novelist is someone who writes fiction.

Do we assume the author who wrote Essentials of Modern Refrigeration (a book on my husband’s shelf in the family library) had strong emotions about refrigeration? How about the Chilton’s Manual on Ford Taurus 1995-2010?

Yes, writers produced those books and I’m thinking neither of them wept over any chapter of them, although I can assure you my husband has shed a few tears over that stupid California car in our driveway. It will someday be replaced by a nice sensible Subaru or a Jeep that’s old enough to vote. (We both hate modern electronics and want cars that we can work on).

Can someone be a novelist if they don’t feel emotion strongly?

Can AI Write Novels?

That’s a more nuanced answer, isn’t it? Afterall an AI recently penned a road-trip narrative novel and some of its lines made me go “hmm, that’s interesting.” Starting with “It was nine seventeen in the morning, and the house was heavy”, 1 the Road reads like a Google Street View car  narrating a cross-country journey to itself. It’s a tour of the built and noisy world interpreted by a machine. It’s surveillance-technology fiction, written by the same species of technology that is conducting the surveillance and processing the data. What might an AI teach us about a world already so totally impacted and sculpted by the data it gathers that a human writer can’t? For the record, to a natural-rights libertarian who believes in human individuality, it was … pause-worthy. I didn’t consider it great literature for some of the same reasons I don’t think Jack Kerouac’s Benzedrine-fueled On the Road was great literature, but the AI’s view of the American highway system did make me think, and unsettled me enough to stir dystopian sci-fi novel possibilities in my imagination.

For now, let’s just focus on the humans.

Novelists deal in the arena of feeling and emotion. Our books thrive on the conflict wrought in the character’s emotions. Obviously, a novelist must understand emotion and the best way to understand it is to feel it, but is the writer required to be a hot mess with internal conflicts similar to the character? I hope not.

I am currently working on a YA that is the start of a series that will follow the young adulthood of Peter – a hot mess whose internal conflicts are going to lead to dark places. I’ve never been a teenage boy and I’ve never engaged in some of the behaviors Peter engages in. I keep giving my 21-year-old son chapters of the first book to read and he’s starting to say “Mom, did you read my mind when I was 17? You’re scaring me.”

Write What You Know?

Or Understand What You Write?

Clearly, I am not writing what I personally know. I was last a teenager decades ago, but I’m not Peter. I am drawing off of my own experiences and conversations I had with my kids and their friends. I’m feeling Peter’s emotions, but they are not my emotions. To a large degree it is a cerebral process of applying knowledge in the arena of emotions.

I worked in community mental health for almost two decades. I was an administrator, not a clinician, although that line blurred often because I wasn’t afraid to interact with clients. Much of what I say in the next few paragraphs pertains to what I learned from that experience.

Feeling requires introspection, which necessitates identification with the character and empathy for what he or she faces. But, the story’s action and its characters are vehicles through which the reader creates her own emotional experience. The goal is not to get readers to feel what the characters feel per se, but to use the characters’ emotional conflict as a device to get readers to feel something on their own.

Recent neurological research suggests the mind must assess a feeling in order to experience it fully. Despite the modernist advice to “show, don’t tell,” readers need some processing of feeling by the character to register it meaningfully. This means allowing characters to think about what they’re feeling, which makes the feelings both more concrete and more personal and creates time and space for readers to process their own feelings. If the writer attempts to connect the reader to the character’s feelings, then the reader must be able to ask if they feel the same way or if their feelings differ.

Does this mean a cerebral writer be a good novelist? Hemingway was a pretty strict advocate of “show, don’t tell” and his novels impacted me powerfully. I love reading Hemingway, but I long ago departed from his journalistic just-the-facts style to a novel style that focuses on revealing a character’s emotion through a particularly dramatic scene or a series of scenes that culminate in a devastating reveal or reversal, plunging the character, and hopefully the reader, into a powerful emotional event, followed by a scene that has some introspection, permitting characters and readers alike to take a breather and process what just happened.

I use that technique a lot in Transformation Project. There’s a traumatic event or series of events followed by a time of the town turning inward and characters analyzing what just happened. Within those “resting” scenes, the point-of-view character often registers and analyzes the emotional impact of recent events, comes to a somewhat logical conclusion about the meaning of those events, and makes a plan of how to proceed going forward.

Peter will do the same thing, though this younger character will have fewer skills for how to analyze his emotional experiences because 17-year-olds live “in the moment” and it’s hard for them to see what tomorrow might look like.

If You’re Going to Herd Cats, You Must Understand Cats

My hope is readers will process their own emotions and interpretation of events while the character is doing so, not necessarily in parallel or even consciously.

And there’s a proviso here – it needs to be brief because I don’t want to bore or alienate readers who may be ready to move on. The point isn’t to over-analyze the character’s feelings, but to clear a space for readers to examine their own feelings. And, frankly, in most of our lives, we spend very little time in introspection because we’re too busy cleaning up the messes our actions cause.

A character changes through the emotions he experiences and through the evolution in self-awareness this process allows. This gradual metamorphosis creates the story’s internal arc, providing the character an opportunity to move step-by-step from being at the mercy of his emotions to mastering his feelings, providing a means for the reader to traverse an arc of her own, expanding her emotional self-awareness … hopefully.

I can only write it. Herding readers is a lot like herding cats. You have to set up the conditions where they think it’s their idea to go in the direction you suggest — which leaves open the possibility that they will choose a direction you didn’t plan. I love when someone gets a message from my books that I didn’t consciously intend.

So, yes, you can write if you don’t feel strong emotions, so long as you understand how to evoke strong emotions in others, but I think you have to have some feeling at some level to know how to pull on the heartstrings of others. I don’t think we need to worry about artificial intelligence replacing novelists.

Posted February 10, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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A Leaning Tower   5 comments

How do you keep track of the books you read?

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I’m old-fashioned and prefer my books of the paper variety, although I also read books on computer because they’re cheaper and easier to carry with you on the airplane.

In the Event of An Earthquake … RUN!

Keeping track of the books I read is pretty easy, then. There’s this double stack in the corner of our bedroom. One stack are books I want to read or am in the process of reading. The other stack are books I’ve read. Eventually that stack will be distributed to the bookshelves in our house because – well, that stack gets so high it starts leaning and that could be an injurious situation. We do have earthquakes here, after all. Our shelves are (loosely) organized by genre. My anal husband wants them to be alphabetized. I wish him well in that endeavor.

If I want to know which physical books I’ve read, I can just look through the earthquake-risky stack or check out the bookshelves in the house. Except for my husband’s shelf of technical manuals and my daughter’s double shelf of books in the living room (my son has a similar shelf, but he keeps his in his bedroom), I’ve read just about every book on those shelves — some of them multiple times. And we literally have hundreds of books. For years, we kept a spiral- bound notebook where we wrote down titles. I’ve been working on an electronic version so the books will be Excel-searchable, mainly because our daughter acquired some books that were already on our shelves.

Welcome to the 21st Century

Although I prefer books I can hold in my hand and smell the paper and ink, I do sometimes read e-books. I’ve recently been trying to learn how to write a romance and to me, the best way to do that, is to read some (good) romances. Since romance tends to irritate me (and did even when all books were physical), there’s no reason to seek a visceral experience from them. I am, after all, analyzing them to improve my own skills rather than to enjoy a bit of escapism (though that’s part of the analysis), so I buy them electronically. Kindle keeps track for me. Easy-peasy. And, I am not a member of Kindle Unlimited because I prefer to own the books I read. I conducted an analysis of my reading habits and determined that KU would be an extra expense because I’d still go out and buy most of the books I read.

Some books are EXPENSIVE to acquire in hard copy. Most non-fiction books are crazy priced and then you have to factor in shipping time to Alaska (it can take a week with “overnight” shipping) and shipping costs to Alaska (the Jones Act adds 30% compared to the Lower 48), so electronic is often easier and the only way to read non-fiction affordably. Pretty much my entire library of libertarian literature is electronic. Some are acquired through Kindle, but a lot more are free downloads from Mises Institute or one of the other generous libertarian think-tanks. Those are stored on a disc under a file “Books to Be Read” and I keep track by moving the books I’ve read into a sub-folder listed “Read”. I recently created another sub-folder titled “To Read Again” because there are books that I know I only scratched the surface on. I’m on my third reading of Lysander Spooner’s “Treason: The Constitution of No Authority” and I feel like I’ve caught 10% of what he wrote in what is essentially a long essay. And, you might be catching a theme — few books are ever read-and-done. If they’re good books, keeping track of whether I’ve read them is immaterial because I’m likely to read them again. Hence, why I prefer to own the books I read.

Ethical Considerations

I don’t borrow books from the library much anymore. I prefer to own, but the primary reasons for not borrowing from the library are two-fold.

As a libertarian, I’m ethically challenged by a library supported by property taxes paid by people who may never use the library — so why am I using it? Well, I’m working on not using it. That’s a topic we can discuss outside of the blog hop.

For this article, my principle reason is I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I want to be efficient about it. While I can tear through a non-fiction looking for the ideas and information I need for my next novel, I am going to slow down and enjoy a fiction read, recognizing that it’s going to take longer than the two weeks the library allows. There are a few fiction books out there I read decades ago that I wish I could find now, but I can’t remember the title or the authors name. It would have been so much better if I’d bought the book. Yes, there’s a cost to buying books electronically, but if it’s a good book, I’m going to want to own it anyway, so borrowing from the library is just an extra step I’m not convinced is worth it (nor am I sure it’s ethical). Our library here is thoroughly in the 21st century (now), so I can borrow books electronically and listen to audio books (which my brain isn’t patterned for). My library account comes with an electronic system for keeping track of the books I’ve read, whether I’ve returned them (useful!), and it also pesters the snot out of me to read related books (not so useful). Again, easy-peasy, except I get halfway through a good book and go to Amazon to buy it because, again, I prefer to own the books I read.

Old Fashioned Methods

So, I keep track of which books I’ve read by browsing my home library, scanning through Kindle, or my computer. I want to be a real nerd and have an Excel spreadsheet because it’s tiring looking through hundreds of books and because about a year ago I bought “Ender’s Game” for my son only to find my copy of it tucked back into the second rank of books on a bottom shelf in our sci-fi section where I’m pretty sure I looked before I bought him his copy.

I wonder how my fellow blog-hoppers keep track. Maybe I can learn something.

Reflection Time   4 comments

December 30, 2019

Do your characters celebrate New Years’ and if so, how? If not, why not?

Fairbanks Sparktacular

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A Word from the History/Philosophy Geek

As the world counts down to midnight, we’re turning our blogs toward the subject of the New Year and celebrations our characters might engage in.

Historically, the new year wasn’t always on Jan. 1, and still isn’t in some cultures.

The ancient Mesopotamians celebrated their 12-day-long New Year’s festival of Akitu on the vernal equinox, while the Greeks partied around the winter solstice, on Dec. 20. The Roman historian Censorius reported that the Egyptians celebrated another lap around the sun on July 20. During the Roman era, March marked the beginning of the calendar. Then, in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, which set the new year when it is celebrated today. That didn’t standardize the day. New Year’s celebrations continued to drift back and forth in the calendar, even landing on Christmas Day at some points, until Pope Gregory XIII implemented the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which was an attempt to make the calendar stop wandering with the seasons.

Though the selection of the new year is essentially arbitrary from a planetary perspective, there is one noteworthy astronomical event that occurs around this time: The Earth is closest to the sun in early January, a point known as the perihelion.

Nowadays, Jan. 1 is almost universally recognized as the beginning of the new year, though there are a few holdouts: Afghanistan, Ethiopian, Iran, Nepal and Saudi Arabia rely on their own calendars. Different religions also celebrate their New Year’s at different times. For instance, the Jewish calendar is lunar, and its New Year’s festival, Rosh Hashanah, is typically celebrated between September and October. The Islamic calendar is also lunar, and the timing of the new year can drift significantly (In 2008, the Islamic New Year was celebrated on Dec. 29, while it fell on Sept. 22 in 2017). The Chinese calendar is also lunar, but the Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Why does the start of the new year carry such special symbolism that its celebration is practically universal? Behavior this ubiquitous must surely be tied to something intrinsic in the human animal, something profoundly meaningful and important, given all the energy and resources we invest not just in the celebration but also in our efforts to make good on a fresh set of resolutions, even though we mostly fail to keep them. It may be that the symbolism we attach to this moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all: survival.

Human beings love to party and we seem to enjoy patterns. As our birthdays do, New Year’s Day provides us the chance to celebrate having made it through another 365 days, the unit of time by which we keep chronological score of our lives. Another year over, and we’re still here! Time to raise our glasses and toast our survival.

Resolutions are about survival, too—living healthier, better, longer? New Year’s resolutions are examples of the universal human desire to have some control over the future that is unsettling and unknowable. To counter that worrisome powerlessness, we do things to take control. We resolve to diet, exercise, quit smoking, and to start saving. Committing to them, at least for a moment, gives us a feeling of more control over the uncertain days to come.

There are hundreds of good-luck rituals woven among New Year celebrations, also practiced in the name of exercising a little control over fate. The Dutch, for whom the circle is a symbol of success, eat donuts. Greeks bake special Vassilopitta cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. Fireworks on New Year’s Eve started in China millennia ago as a way to chase off evil spirits. The Japanese hold New Year’s Bonenkai, or “forget-the-year parties,” to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a better new one. Disagreements and misunderstandings between people are supposed to be resolved, and grudges set aside. In a New Year’s ritual for many cultures, houses are scrubbed to sweep out the bad vibes and make room for better ones (which was also the connection to bringing evergreens into our houses back in the Celtic era).

A lot of evangelical Christians I know celebrate New Years with a “watch night.” They get together to eat massive amounts of food, play games, shoot off fireworks, stand around a bonfire and pray for their family, friends, community, state, nation and the world.

Everywhere, New Year’s is a moment to consider our weaknesses, mull over how we might reduce the vulnerabilities they pose, and to do something about the scary powerlessness that comes from thinking about the unsettling unknown of what lies ahead. As common as these shared behaviors are across both history and culture, it’s fascinating to realize that the special ways that people note this unique passage of one day into the next are probably all manifestations of the human animal’s fundamental imperative for survival.

First, not all my characters celebrate modern holidays

In Daermad Cycle, no, my Celdryans (descendants of Celts) do not celebrate New Year’s like Americans and Europeans do. Although the Romans (they call them Rawmanes) of their era would have celebrated something like New Year’s midwinter, they were not thoroughly romanized before they left Europe to somehow find their way to Daermad and found the kingdom of Celdryan. In thoroughly Celtic fashion, the Celdryans celebrate their “new year” in November and they call it Samhain. There are elements of Dia de le Morte in their worship – they believe the dead walk on Samhain.

The Kin (an indigenous people who live nearby) celebrate the winter and summer solstices and consider the winter solstice to be the start of their new year. Their culture is one of laughter, dance and community, so the solstice is just a larger gathering of laughing people and dancing, although they also use it as a time to record the year’s events and the memorialize prior year’s events.

What Happens in Kansas

Shifting my attention to Transformation Project — the story is set in modern America the day after tomorrow following a series of terrorism attacks that have devastated the government and much of society. I focus on a small town in the Midwest that keeps surviving by sheer grit, innovation and faith.

Of course they still “celebrate” the holidays they were used to. In Gathering In (the most recent book in the series) the Delaney family gathered for Thanksgiving and their annual tradition of saying what each person is grateful for in the midst of death and destruction took on new and poignant meaning. When 30 million people died around you recently, your definition of gratitude changes dramatically.

In “Winter’s Reckoning” (the next as-yet-unpublished book in the series) the family gathers for New Year’s Eve. They are a largely evangelical family living in a conservative town. Shane is an agnostic bordering on atheism and some of the adopted family members may not have as deep a faith, but the Delaneys are mostly church-going people. When they gather for a celebration of New Year’s, there will be a faith-based focus. The town is running low on food and medicine and their hopeful view from Thanksgiving seems misplaced. The Delaneys lost a family member at the end of Gathering In and a member of the household is recovering from serious injuries in the next room, so they keep it low key – a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, hot tea, popcorn and toast, and good company. Certainly they’re going to pray for their community and the larger situation. Will also they review the year past and consider the future? That would have been part of the watch night in previous years, but are they brave enough to do that in the midst of an overwhelming disaster? Do they want to consider how they contributed to it or what it’s going to take to recover from it? The characters haven’t told me what they’re going to do yet.

A Holiday Dedicated to Drinking

From the very first book in the series, I established Rob Delaney is a recovering alcoholic. It’s just a part of his life and it’s not central to the story. At the end of Gathering In, he might have been headed toward a relapse. As I write the story of that first New Years since the end of the world as they knew it, I pause to consider if Rob might struggle with a holiday dedicated to getting drunk. While those of us who don’t have a problem with alcohol thoroughly enjoy ourselves, we may well be torturing people who can’t safely participate.

Bright Lights & Big Booms

Fireworks are an amazing thing and here in Fairbanks, Alaska, New Years is the only time we can really enjoy them. Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day never get dark enough at night to do justice to brightly colored lights in the sky and we risk setting the forests on fire. But New Year’s Eve, we have a huge community-wide fireworks display and then tons of little ones done by ordinary people funding North Pole Christian School by patronizing its fireworks booth. The night is 18 hours long and fireworks don’t still have enough heat when they hit the ground to set anything on fire. We can enjoy in freedom and without fear.

I wanted to include some fireworks in the New Year’s celebration in Emmaus, Kansas, because fireworks are a quintessentially American way to celebrate New Years. And, truthfully, what are the use of fireworks during an apocalyptic situation? I suppose you could collect all that black powder into a massive bomb, but practically, their best use is to brighten a dark night make even darker by human evil to other humans.

I didn’t even know I considered fireworks to be a sign of hope until I started writing it, but I really didn’t know the side effect of fireworks. Yes, hope for those who don’t suffer PTSD, but when I get into the head of my characters, they tell me their stories. In Transformation Project, a few of my characters have been to war and when one of them said “incoming,” I was struck by what exploding artillery shells over your house roof must do to veterans.

A Timely Prompt

Sometimes a blog prompt will cause me to consider deeper questions than I might otherwise have thought about when writing a scene. This week’s prompt came at a time when I’m already thinking of New Year’s and so, more work for me, but a better book, no doubt.

I wonder what my fellow blog hoppers are thinking.

Posted December 30, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Market Magic   8 comments

What’s the best way to market your books?

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If I Knew That, I’d Sell More Books

Seriously, I think there’s a magical formula … or maybe a novel fairy … that chooses who will be blessed among all indie authors to be “discovered”. For the rest of us, there’s just a lot of hard work and vagaries that work for some and not for others, and works some times and then not at all the next time.

Meanwhile, the advice is contradictory. Go to five book marketing blogs and you will find five different answers to that question. Some will say, “working with book bloggers” is one of the most effective ways to get the word out about your books. Yes, book reviews and interviews are essential to promoting an indie book. Blog tours can really help to get attention from a wide audience.

According to Penguin Random House:

Online exposure is the main benefit of using a blog tour to promote your book. It hits a different audience than, say, an NPR interview or local newspaper review. Sure, an unbiased review from a huge publication is fantastic publicity, but what the fans are saying can have a similar impact.”

Others will tell you to write guest blogs, a dedicated piece to be published on someone else’s site. It gets your name out there, drives traffic back to your website, and helps you build anticipation for your book. So “they” say.

Does it work? Sometimes. I’ve seen bumps in blog traffic when I write a guest post. Have I sold more books? Not really. Sometimes and not others. Why? I have no idea. And there in is the problem. I am not psychic and I just don’t know why a strategy works today and doesn’t work tomorrow. Maybe I need to invest in fairy dust.

How About Bonus Material?

Standard bookish merchandise ( otherwise known as ‘swag’), such as bookmarks, are often touted as excellent and relatively cheap promotional tool for indie authors. I know more than a few indie authors who have stuff to give away because they fell for this marketing ploy. It’s mining the miners. It’s a way to get indie authors to spend money they probably don’t have to try and sell books that probably won’t sell … that way. Always pause and ask yourself – am I being mined? Would I buy a book because the author gave me a free coffee cup? Yeah, maybe if the author was face-to-face with me to make me feel guilty, but through the Internet? If the answer is “No, I wouldn’t”, then the answer is “I’m being mined.” Formulate your own conclusions from there.

There are other “bonus materials” that might work better.

Related stories

I’ve written short stories for an annual anthology with an agorist/libertarian bent. Does it drive purchasers to my novels? Yeah, it appears to do so because I write books that appeal to agorist/libertarian/anarchists. I’ll usually see a bump in sales a week or so after they publish. I say “usually” because the bump was real weak once. Was that because I wrote a bad short? I don’t know. Where’s that fairy dust?

Although I haven’t done so yet, many authors offer a short or prequel for free as a reward for signing up for their newsletter, or as a bonus item for a book purchase. I’m developing a YA/NA book series that will have a prequel available for free on my website, if you sign up for my newsletter. We’ll see if it works.

Book club kits

That YA/NA series is a departure from my usual audience, so I plan to create a set of questions and discussion points that readers can use to talk about my books in a book club setting. I’ll make the list available on my blog. I’m told by friends this is an effective way to attract readers. Do I know it works? No, but it’s something that doesn’t cost me money that is worth a try.

Team Up With Other Creatives?

We creative types have to stick together, don’t we?! That’s what this blog hop is all about, right?

Doing the research for this post, I discovered a few creative collaborations I hadn’t thought of.

Bookstagrammers

I’m not on Instagram and I really don’t want to be, but I probably need to overcome my reluctance because many bookstagrammers are also reviewers, so sending out a free copy of my book(s) for some gorgeous promotional shots could kill two birds with one stone if they publish a review as well.

Podcasters

I had a great interview with a podcaster about two years ago, and there did seem to be a bump in my book sales for a while, but I’d rather write books than talk about them. Still, if you don’t flinch in horror at seeing yourself on the screen, do some research, reach out to podcasters and see what you can arrange.

Saturate Social Media?

That’s a lot of work. Before my books started paying for themselves, it was really my only choice because I couldn’t justify the financial outlay of most other options. I still post to my blog, Facebook (come join some of my liberty conversations), Twitter and MeWe, but I spend less time there than I used to and it’s likely I’ll spend less time there next year too. It’s hard to be heard on Social Media, so it’s a lot of effort for a little bit of return. It’s “free”, but man, what a time-suck!

I also think that it is counterproductive to keep waving a sign that says “Buy my books.” It’s annoying and I tune out that posts myself. Which is why I started the liberty conversations because libertarian/anarchist/voluntaryist topics (and the allergic reaction statists have to them) fascinate me and sometimes there will be a bump in sales or readership after a good one.

Become a ‘book fairy’

Okay, I’m not talking fairy dust here. Have you heard of Emma Watson’s ‘Book Fairies’ project? The Harry Potter actress began an international book-sharing movement, which involves leaving free books in public places for people to find and take home. The finder is encouraged to pay it forward by leaving the book for someone else to find once they’ve finished reading it. It’s not exactly a new idea. Something like this has existed in the Fairbanks community for as far back as I can remember. Go to any laundromat in this town and you’ll find a few dog-eared “left” books, some of them with handwritten notes inside say “Take This Book and Enjoy It.”. It’s a good idea that should go viral.

There are people participating in the Book Fairies project all around the world or with similar initiatives like Melbourne’s Books on the Rail. It’s a great way to do a good deed and promote more reading in the world – but have you ever thought of using it for promoting your own book?

I haven’t tried this yet, but there’s a fine madness in the thought of leaving copies of my books in public places for people to discover. Why haven’t I tried it yet? Why do I think it’s a little mad. It involves a cost outlay for me to essentially giving away several physical copies of one of my books for free. Would it work to drive traffic to my other books? I don’t know – which is why I’ve not tried it – yet.

Advertising

My father-in-law, an experienced businessman, will tell you “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” He’s right. Just make sure you spend money on things that make money. Advertising helps. I’ve tried Facebook ads and, yeah, I sold some books. I’ve tried the book advertising sites. Sometimes I’ve seen some sales conversions. I’ve tried Amazon ads recently. So far I’ve spent about as much money as I’ve made, but I’m not bidding very high and I just started, so I haven’t got enough data to be sure it’s working. Ask me in three months.

Write the Next Book

Honestly, I think the best marketing technique I possess is writing the next book. My readership goes up with each book I write in the Transformation Project series. I can now see that on KDPs KENP Reads. People appear to be binge reading the entire series. The best thing about that is it doesn’t require me to put on pants to set up a book signing at Barnes & Noble. I’m doing what I would be doing anyway and so, it is essentially free and not a time-suck. My self-imposed Transformation Project break since the publication of Gathering In is now officially over, so get ready for Winter’s Reckoning next year. And, possibly that YA/NA in Spring 2020 IF the betas think it’s ready to go to the editor.

So, I don’t know what the “best way” to market books is. Book marketing is a lot like playing Pin the Tale on the Donkey. There’s several ways and they work to varying degrees at times not necessarily of my choosing. Good luck and if you have any tips ….

Posted November 25, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What’s Around the Bend Today?   11 comments

How many hours a day do you write? How long on average does it take you to write a book?

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What an appropriate question for Novel Writing Month!

Right now, novelists around the world are attempting to write a novel in one month – about 50,000 words, which means about 1700 words per day.

I don’t wholly participate in Nanowrimo. I tried it once and that book will never see the light of day. I did everything they said to do. Plotted it out ahead of time. Got to know my characters. And I actually wrote 60,000 words in November 2014. Uh, wait! Hadn’t I already published a novel by that time? Why, yes, I had! So what went wrong?

I’m a discovery writer. Plotting makes my characters go rogue and when my characters rebel, I write crap! What I produced was full of plot holes and characters acting out of their “character”. And, yeah, I tried to fix it, but no — that book will never see the light of day. The characters no longer talk to me, so there’s no point in trying. I have scavenged portions of it for other books that had nothing to do with it, so it wasn’t a complete loss, but it was a really BAD book.

But you publish a novel annually!

I do. Well, I have. I try to do so. I’ve come pretty close to not accomplishing it some years. Next year, I think I might publish two novels and Fount of Wraiths (Book 3 in Daermad Cycle) should move a little closer to completion. It just has to do where my projects are in terms of completion because I don’t focus on just one project at a time.

How do you do it then?

I always have a primary and secondary project and sometimes I have a tertiary project and several works-in-progress that are nowhere near completion. I also have a back catalog of stories I wrote for my own amazement and I slowly develop those into polished stories. My problem is not ideas for stories, but focusing on one project so that I finish it, but if I focus too long on one project I risk getting bored and have my characters stop talking to me.

I can complete a rough draft of a Transformation Project book in three months. The high points of the plot are already set because it’s a series and quite frequently my characters have told me the next book’s story before I finish the one I’m about to publish. Three months allows me the freedom I need to discover the subplot of a story that has a long arc. Last year, I wrote the rough draft for Gathering In during Nanowrimo. In a way, I cheated because I took a 20,000-word manuscript and expanded it to a 60,000-word manuscript in those 30 days. Not exactly following the rules, but I produced a better product, avoiding major plot holes, for example. Other years, I have used Nano for editing my rough draft. It’s not that I don’t find it useful, but that my characters won’t allow me to rush the story and they don’t generally follow plots that I outline. They prefer to forge their own paths.

This year, I’m expanding a 20,000-word manuscript novel into a 60,000-word YA/NA novel. Again, I’m not following the rules. I’ve been working on a related-piece for this novel for years. I know the characters really well. The actual project had a lot of backstory that really needed to be explained, but I hate info dumps, and I finally accepted that the story of characters were telling me was worth telling as its own story. The next part of the story might come out the following year, since it’s pretty much a polished manuscript that just needs the backstory reduced to references (saving about 20,000 words, which was preventing it from nearing publication). I’ve written about 15,000 words this month, which means I’m behind my goal. Big deal. Maybe the story only needs 50,000 words or maybe I’ll finish the rough-ish draft in December. I’m set on writing a decent story, not speed writing crap.

But You Set Goals, Right?

I do. I strive to write every day … although yesterday, I wrote 10 words – one sentence. Things came up and sometimes that’s how life is. (I must also admit that I am currently working on a non-fiction article for my employer, so I really wrote 350 words yesterday. I wrote the 10 for myself and then closed the laptop and joined my husband watching a murder mystery on Netflix. My brain needed a break).

Most days, I try to write at least 500 words. In 30 days, that’s 15,000 words. But some days, I write a thousand. My record is about 3400 words in a single day. They were GOOD words too. My muse was working overtime and I went with it.

I almost always finish a rough draft for Transformation Project in three months. It’ll come out to around 60,000 words, about 600–700 words a day. Most TP novels publish at 80,000 words, so that gives me some wriggle room on rewrite. I then take a month off that manuscript and work on something else. Again, I’m aiming for 500 words a day, but I have days when I don’t write (because life is what happens while we’re banging on the keyboard) and days when I’m way over that word limit. Since this is unstructured writing time, those 15,000 words might not all be on one story.

I don’t track hours. Although writing is my second profession and I do make some money from it, I don’t want it to feel like it’s a job, so I don’t track hours.

Do you see how that works?

I have an overall goal to publish one novel a year, but I don’t hold that goal so tightly that it gets in the way of my desire to produce a good story. I have a goal to finish a rough draft of my primary project in three months, but I don’t hold that goal so tightly that I tolerate plot holes and character assassination or risk burning out my muse. I have a goal to write at least 500 words a day, but I recognize some days are going to be less-productive writing days and that’s fine because I find real life to be a great source of inspiration.

Writing is not an assembly line!

I’m not a Ladies’ Garment Workers employee. I’m an artist whose characters inform my output. I can’t do it any other way and produce high quality stories. So, while I have goals, I don’t kill myself to meet them, but it always seems to work out that I publish at least one novel a year, which isn’t too bad when you consider that some of the professionals can’t seem to do that.

Now, I gotta get back to novel writing. I’m about 10,000 words behind.

Posted November 18, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Inside My Mind

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A New Dimension to Explore!! Love for books and series is all we need. Life can be lonely without books. All I love is books, series, and talking about serious causes like bodyshaming. Do join me if you love to live your life to the fullest

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