Archive for the ‘author’ Tag

Big Bad   4 comments

Despite the recent snow in the Rocky Mountains, it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Do your stories and worlds reference seasons and do they play into the plots of your books?

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Seasons hold incredible symbolism that sinks deep roots into literature. In our day of central heat and air-conditioning, it’s hard to remember that seasons mattered in ancient times. Agrarian societies depended on the seasons to plow, grow and harvest food. Agriculture united peoples, tribes, and groups. It was a means of achieving wealth. Food is life! So, naturally, people imbued seasons with all kinds of symbolic meanings.

Image result for image of winter
Feel the Cold

Maybe it’s because of the oft-cited stereotype of starting a book with “It was a dark and stormy night.” Or maybe it’s because we’re surrounded by supermarkets that fly in food from around the world. Maybe we’re just not as connected with nature today as our ancestors were. Maybe I’m a bit more connected with the season because we have extreme seasons here. In January-February we can have -40’F and last Friday (June 28) we had 85’F. That’s a 125′ difference. It’s hard not to notice that. Whatever the reason for the modern disconnect from the seasons, I’m amazed at how many writers overlook the weather as a useful tool in both setting and telling their story.

Idioms referencing the season or specific weather litter the English language. They don’t need explaining; we all understand exactly what people mean when they use one.

Weather conveys different moods

Spring = hope, new birth
Summer = adulthood, happiness
Autumn = preparing for old age
Winter = death
Sunshine = happiness, goodness
Storm = trouble, a change
Calm before the storm = trouble or a change ahead
Rainbow = hope, forgiveness, a link between two extremes (sun and rain)
Cloudy = confused, muddled, unclear
Clouds on horizon = trouble ahead
No wind = no change
Windy = changes or life
Rough weather = problems
Fog = confusion, unaware
Rain = depressed, badness
Snow = coldness, cleansing

I often use weather and the seasons as a setting tool to convey what’s going on in the story or in a character’s head without using a sledgehammer to convey the message.

In Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch, Mirklin Wood and the upcoming Fount of Wraiths), my characters live in a medieval setting so they depend on the seasons to live. They use the seasons as their calendar. The magic system in that world can affect weather. For example, in The Willow Branch, the black mages cast a massive bit of sorcery to try and find and kill the One’s True King. This manifested in the physical world as storms – pounding rain and twisters. In the aftermath, the skies weep for days and reflect the depression one of the characters goes through upon realizing what his power has been used for.

In Transformation Project (an apocalyptic series four books and counting), mankind has wrought a few disasters on itself, but the ultimate “Big Bad” for my town is the changing seasons. They have to harvest the corn before the season passes and then it will be winter … on the Kansas prairie … without diesel fuel or natural gas.

Don’t worry. I spend plenty of time writing about other seasons, but I’m just going to focus on winter here. I suppose I’m more connected to winter than any other season because we have nearly six months of it here.

Winter brings long nights, when the earth sleeps and the imagination ripens visions both terrifying and sublime. It has served as literary inspiration ever since the early days of written storytelling – in the medieval saga Beowulf, the monster Grendel lays siege to the Danes for “twelve winters, seasons of woe” –  right up to present-day page-turners. It is a time of contrasts: winter’s snow conceals while its cold exposes. Perhaps it is a favorite season of writers because winter forces us indoors, carving out time for us to interact with our loved ones and become more reflective.

Certain images recur again and again throughout wintry literature. The transformation of a river in winter from a fluid pathway to a solid one can be magical or devastating, a glassy arena for figure skating or an icy grave. This shift can convey a powerful mood.

In Orlando, Virginia Woolf immortalized the Great Frost of 1608, when the Thames froze to a depth of 20 feet and birds “froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground.” She uses winter to examine the political dimensions of society, emphasizing the difference between the fantasy world of the royal court and the desperate circumstances of ordinary folk. Woolf creates a virtual snow globe of the Frost Fair, King James’ “carnival of the utmost brilliancy” on the river.

Winter settings add elements of claustrophobia and danger to a story. The snowbound landscape of an off-season resort hotel in the Rocky Mountains creates a terrifying backdrop for Stephen King’s masterpiece of horror, The Shining. King has said his inspiration was a late autumn visit to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, in the Colorado Rockies, in 1974. In the novel, Jack Torrance is a writer hired to be the hotel’s winter caretaker. He settles in with his wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny. The child has “the shine”, the ability “to understand things, to know things” that others cannot. Danny worries that his father is losing his marbles. King uses the isolation that begins with the first snowfall to emphasize the precarious mental states of the family and how little help is available.

“Flakes of snow swirled and danced across the porch. The Overlook faced it as it had for nearly three-quarters of a century, its darkened windows now bearded with snow, indifferent to the fact it was now cut off from the world… Inside its shell the three of them went about their early evening routine, like microbes trapped in the intestine of a monster.”

As the novel progresses, King brilliantly uses winter weather to ratchet up the tension: “It snowed every day now, sometimes only brief flurries that powdered the glittering snow crust, sometimes for real, the low whistle of the wind cranking up to a womanish shriek that made the old hotel rock and groan alarmingly even in its deep cradle of snow.”

Beyond the season’s capacity to represent emotional and political turmoil and expose class differences, winter can simply be fatal. George RR Martin exploits winter’s symbolic power fully in A Game of Thrones, the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. The book opens with a warning: “A cold wind was blowing out of the north….”

“Everyone talks of snow forty feet deep, and how the ice wind comes howling out of the north,” Martin writes, “but the real enemy is the cold… It steals up on you and at first your teeth chatter and you stamp your feet and you dream of mulled wine and nice hot fires. It burns, it does. Nothing burns like the cold. But only for awhile. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after awhile you don’t have the strength to fight it. It’s easier to just sit down or go to sleep. They say you don’t feel any pain toward the end… ”

Equally powerful is Jack London’s 1908 realistic classic “To Build a Fire”. The story is set in the Yukon territory, a place of extremes. London’s dramatic pivot is simple: he pits man against nature when London’s protagonist breaks through a crust of ice:

“At the instant he broke through he felt the cold water strike his feet and ankles, and with half a dozen lunges he made the bank. He was quite cool and collected. The thing to do, and the only thing to do, was to build a fire. For another precept of the north runs: travel with wet socks down to twenty below zero; after that build a fire. And it was three times twenty below and colder, and he knew it.”

Survival in winter is a matter of skill and instinct. London’s hapless Tom Vincent is lacking in both. And the frozen land itself is indifferent to his struggles. If only we could be as indifferent to winter as it is to us.

When I write winter, the reader feels the cold because, as they say, write what you know and Alaskans know cold.

Male Mystique   13 comments

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

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What an interesting question to ask and answer, especially from an Alaska woman’s perspective.

I essentially grew up in a foreign country. Alaska in my childhood was a rugged frontier world that got limited television. The male-female ratio was four to one. Even today, Alaska has a fairly male-oriented culture. Women certainly participate fully in the society here, but we are participating in what are traditionally “men’s” activities. Alaska is where men are truly men and women win the Iditarod. So, hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, dog handling, chopping our own wood and hauling our own water. Yeah, I also quilt, which is a traditionally “women” activity that my husband sometimes helps me with. Many of the “male characteristics” that I’m going to discuss below are cultural features here in Alaska that are practiced by both men and women.

Coming from that perspective —

I enjoy writing male characters and the majority of my main characters are male. Good thing because I write apocalyptic and fantasy fiction and the bean counters say more men read those genres and, maybe, not surprisingly, they prefer their fiction from the male perspective. I don’t know exactly why male characters assert themselves in my head more often than female characters. It could be because I grew up the way that I did, so I may have actually had more experience with men than women and few of the women I grew up with were of the girly sort. You’d get awfully lonely in your tiny little minority if you didn’t join the guys and so women of my mother’s generation embraced the outdoors long before that became a thing in the Lower 48. I think it’s one reason so many women reacted negatively to Sarah Palin – here was a woman who clearly embraced her feminine side, but sounded a lot like a man. That’s the Alaska culture.

The fact is, I like men. I like spending time with them. I like the way they think — usually. I am fascinated by the differences I hear from them compared to my female friends.

This is a conversation I overheard between two guys at work the other day.

“New boots?”

“Yup! Big Rays. Sales over tomorrow. You catch the hockey game?”

A similar conversation between women would have included the colors the shoes came in, the other stores or online outlets it was available at, the price including that there is a coupon code to apply to it, and whether the women though that style of shoe made their feet look chunky. Then they would have talked about similar shoes they own and what clothing they have that will go with the shoes and how they feel about that clothing. Maybe they caught the hockey game, but their lunch hour is over so they won’t discuss it.

Just writing that last paragraph made this woman who was born with the male shopping gene, want to fling myself off a cliff just to end the fictional conversation.

I’ve never found men to be a mystery because there were so many around me as a child. I’m married to a verbal guy and we’re not shy about talking about the things that make him tick. He understands it’s research for writing, but it also helps me to understand his moods and aspirations. I’ve learned that men don’t always think like women, even women like me who don’t think much like other women, but there’s more similarity than differences. We agree on most of the big things. It’s just how we arrive at our agreement that differs and I respect those differences.

Men tend to know their worth, which many women see as egotistical. Men don’t beat around the bush. They say what they mean and mean what they say and they tend to not care if you’re offended by honesty. They are convinced by facts and once convinced are usually difficult to displace from their position. They thus have stronger opinions than women (who tend to want to placate opponents) and they will strongly argue their opinion and refuse to apologize if you don’t like their stance. It’s not that they don’t feel. It’s that they recognize feelings are subjective and therefore, they’re suspicious of them. They also don’t talk as much as women and when they do, they want to discuss world events rather than personal topics and they really prefer to keep their feelings to themselves. You can ask them what they feel and they will tell you want they think — and then, they might tell you what they feel. Women feel first and think later — and by the way, most women won’t admit that. It’s why we seem much more emotional than men and why they accuse us of being irrational. From their perspective of think-before-you-feel, we are irrational. Women will tell you what they feel even if you don’t want to know while, more often than not, you have to infer male feelings from slight facial expressions, gestures or actions, which is an incredible gold mine for writers.

Men are typically results oriented, so when they see a problem, they immediately want to fix it and prefer to be in charge of the project, so they can achieve the goal and move onto something else. In contrast women will talk about a problem and how they feel about it for hours and then, often, sweep it under the rug to not deal with it until it oozes out again as a bigger problem. Alternatively, they’ll give it to their significant other to fix or form a team to deal with it. This tendency to not fix problems drives the result-oriented male crazy, by the way, and is a primary reason the so-called “helping” profession of social work is 75% staffed by women. Men want to fix irreparable problems and, when they can’t, they burn out and go take jobs in the construction field where they confront problems that they can solve through their direct efforts.

Men are strongly influenced by images — particularly of women, and most especially of naked women — but they tend to forget the details women remember the tiniest nuance of. They do think about sex a fair bit, but not as much as portrayed in the media and believed by women who don’t hang out with men. They can have a relationship with a woman that is not sexually-oriented provided she respects male boundaries. Keep your clothes on, don’t touch, don’t flirt and above all don’t talk about sex unless you’re willing to have sex with them because that stimulates parts of their brain that interfere with the whole friendship dynamic.

Men tend to take more risks than women, who have historically had to take care of the kids. Fear excites men, who tend to look beyond the fear to how they’re going to survive the risk. Women may think that is reckless, but men think of it as a good reason to get up in the morning.

Men are less detail oriented than women — unless it involves something where details MATTER – like bridge design or the exact angle of a miter joint.

Men want to move on from conflict after it has been “settled”. They want to kiss and make-up and be done with it. They don’t want to talk about the feelings associated with an argument into the wee hours of the night and rehash every little detail of the argument because they don’t even remember the details.

Woman – “Why’d you make that facial expression when I mentioned Cheryl?

Guy (thinking) – “we discussed Cheryl?” And, “what facial expression? I don’t have facial expressions.”

And since he can’t possibly win an argument about an event he doesn’t fully remember, he will roll over and face the wall and refuse to talk to the woman further, because he was done with this argument hours ago and he doesn’t have any feelings (that he wants to share) to discuss.

All of the above are generalities that are good to know as a writer, but shouldn’t define a character. Slavish devotion to stereotypes makes for poor character development. The plumbing between the legs and how it affects the mind is of less importance than people think and I like to write characters who are not stereotypes, so my readers can feel like they might meet this person over the fence while their dogs sniff each other’s butts.

The difference matters

So what’s the hardest part of a female writing male characters? The difficulties are ameliorated by being a female who grew up in a male majority culture, but there are things I have to watch myself on. Remembering the little details that are distinct and lend credence to the male perspective is critical. Men put on their pants and socks first and then put on their shirts, even their undershirts. I recently beta read a romance novel and the writer twice had the male main character put on his shirt first and then his pants. That’s how (most) women dress. Guys don’t (and by the way, I’ve checked this with “experts”). It’s a subtle difference that means the world for selling to a male reader that the male MC is really a male.

Men’s shirts button from the right and women’s blouses button from the left. Why? I have no idea, but the zippers on our jeans are also reversed. I love to wear men’s 501 shrink-to-fit button-fly jeans, but using the other hand to work the buttons did take some getting used to (well worth it for the comfort!). Again, it’s a detail to remember for selling that this is a male protagonist and not just a female character with three-day scruff.

When two men shake hands, they clasp firmly and they actually shake hands. When a woman “shakes” hands, she just gives a man her hand but she doesn’t move it. She keeps her hand motionless. Guys don’t know what that means and they find it a little shifty — unless it’s a really pretty girl and then they don’t care. I freak them out because I shake like a guy and they’re not used to that. Generally, when women meet each other, they don’t shake hands unless their boss is there and he did, by the way.

Women see thousands of shades of color and men see about 32. It has to do with the cones in their retinas, so there aren’t a lot of exceptions (though there are a few). A woman might say “grab the lilac napkins” and then get irritated that her guy grabbed the maroon napkins, but seriously, he just sees purple and he went for the ones that seemed less washed out.

Women have a better sense of smell than men. I have a scene in A Threatening Fragility where Shane and Jazz are walking by a flower garden. I had to rewrite it from her perspective because she could smell the different flowers while Shane just smelled flowers … and they are all purple, pink and blue — not the 50 shades she would see that I mostly chose not to put in the book out of deference for my male readers.

All those little touches need to be kept in mind so that as a woman who writes male MCs, I’m selling the notion that these are really guys and not women who can stand up when they pee. I think I do a pretty good job. And because I don’t have a slavish devotion to intersectionality, I think I do a pretty good job of showing men as human beings with different characteristics. In Transformation Project, Shane is taciturn by nature while his brother Cai is a bit of a chatterbox. Shane often uses controlled violence to solve the community’s problems while Cai worries about the results of that violence. Shane’s heart is pretty hardened, but his father Rob can cry over somethings. In “What If Wasn’t” (WIP) Peter, who is a guy just out of prison for killing someone in an accident, wishes he didn’t feel the emotions he feels, but he’s helpless against them and so, sometimes, the people around him know he’s feeling them. He’s probably the hardest to make sure I’m not depicting a woman who can stand up when she pees, but I strive to create different men who aren’t stereotypical. You can check out my books at this link and let me know how I’m doing.

I wonder where my fellow blog-hoppers struggle.

Posted June 10, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What If Wasn’t   10 comments

We are writers. This is our time to shine. What are some of your favorite lines from your books?

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You can tell which lines of my books that I am the most proud of because they tend to become the titles of books.

Objects in View comes from a line in the third book of Transformation Project in which nonagenarian Jacob Delaney (the wisdom in the series) tells his offspring that they should “focus on the objects in view.” They could waste a lot of time and energy worrying about distant events they couldn’t control or deal with what was going on right in front of them. 

From The Willow Branch (Book 1 of Daermad Cycle)

“Fate took Maryn ap Trevellyn, crown prince of all Celdrya, by surprise. Naught warned him that he’d been marked.”

“It must be nearing middle of the night, for a moon hung like a golden banqueting plate just above the southern trees and the cool air scented more of dew than spring flowers.”

“Death took him by surprise as he looked down at the two feet of dressed wood protruding from his chest. He couldn’t feel his legs, but he knew that he was staked to the tree like a squirrel.

“I’m done for! I thought death would be more painful.

“Pedyr bellowed for aid and the camp came alive as Maryn died, staring up at the moon with his life leaking away into the dirt by his feet and wondering why the shaft that killed him was the only one to fly.”

“Inside the door to the great hall, Deryk paused to shake water from his cloak, decided it was a lost cause and hung the sodden mess on one of the many waiting pegs among the myriad damp cloaks, quite a few of them plaid, but a notable number also striped. The merchants thought there‘d be war and war was usually good for them, so they loitered about the dun to be the first to know, the first to get in at the trough. Merchants cared little that war meant death. They cared only for profits.”

“The noble-born often show little care for those who fill their bellies and cellars,”

From Mirklin Wood (Book 2 of Daermad Cycle)

It did remind him somewhat of the statues he’d seen of dragons, but that was a bard’s fancy and those did not fly to your rescue that often.

Erik didn’t like how the jals stroked their beards and held their piss while he talked. He couldn’t invade the southern continent without their viks and their silence made him feel like he’d stepped on an ant hill. When his speech ran to a close, he waited for comment, questions, or arguments. He had prepared for those. Samling was all about debate. Silence shivered his bones.

Gravity dictates the fate of a dragon dancer. Miss a handhold and gravity wins.

From Life As We Knew It

Smoke and mirrors meant making the right hand so flashy that the mark never noticed what the left hand was really doing. Grant couldn’t stop the main event, but he could make this little side drama so entertaining that nobody saw through it until it was too late.

Shane swallowed audibly. Jacob sat down on the opposite end of the wide wooden stair and waited. Shane excelled at silence. He always had. Jacob didn’t try to outwait him.

“You’re not okay, are you?”

“Was your first clue that I’m actually here?”

From Objects in View

“What’s going on out there?” she asked. Right. Honesty. I promised honesty. He restrained his trained inclination to dump the screen. “Weird.” “That’s not communicative,” she said with a giggle. He smirked. The rest of the shelter was quiet. They were the only two awake. “Bear with me. Learning a new skill here.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Dylan said the same thing. Maybe you can make sense of what is confounding us.” “Oh, sure, honey. I know so much about terrorism.” She sipped her coffee. “Or is this espionage?” To Grant, this was just workaday life. Terrorism and espionage ran together in his mind.

A small throb of pain pulsed when he prodded it. That’s an injection site. I never blacked out before. Maybe I didn’t this time either. A dream before waking – a desperate whispered conversation between Marnie and Rob, a memory of sitting on the church steps and peeing in the bushes with …. Dad roofied me?

He had never slept this rough in his life. He felt like crap. He worried he’d been sleeping in it all night.

My favorite line from all of my books is still unpublished, but is the title of my new adult drama “What If … Wasn’t.” Peter is a second-chance citizen (a recently-released felon) who has a horrible history to overcome and whenever he is tempted to indulge in a fantasy where his actions did not cause significant damage to the lives of others as well as himself, he smacks himself with that phrase – “What if wasn’t, which means I have to  live with what was and is.”

It’s my favorite line because it is also one of my life philosophies. You can moan and groan about how crappy your life has been and how you should have done this and could have done that if only you would have known this, but why? It won’t change the past. What if … wasn’t, so why not live with what was and what is?

Posted December 10, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Found in the Stacks   Leave a comment

December 18, 2017 – Research. Post an interesting fact or facts you’ve come across researching a book.

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One of the things I like best about being a writer is researching interesting topics that I wouldn’t ordinarily find the time to research.

Image result for image of libraryMy mother was a farm girl, but except for being forced to weed her garden when I was a kid, I didn’t know much about farming until I started writing books that involved farmers. Most of the population of Celdrya are farmers eking out a living with crude plows drawn by oxen. The town of Emmaus is surrounded by corn fields. I knew nothing about Medieval farming when I started Daermad Cycle and I knew nothing about corn farming when started Transformation Project. Now I know arcane knowledge like farmers try to save money by allowing corn to dry on the cob before harvesting. This will save some lives in the series.

In researching how the town would survive the apocalypse, I learned about silos and why so many of them are being converted to other uses today – my son tells me of an awesome bouldering club in a grain silo. I worked that into the story – what do you do with all that corn you’ve been sending to the mega silos for the last 30 years now that it is in your best interest to keep it local? You can’t just dig a hole in the ground and bury it because the damp of the ground will turn the corn into hominy. But there are silos that are built into the ground – they’re called bunker silos. You see a couple in the hillside during the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. So there is a way to do it right.

In Daermad Cycle, a king is poisoned and dies. I spent a fair amount of time studying up on poisons. Padraig, the central figure in an ensemble cast, is an herbman so I had to learn about herbal treatments. My main race are the descendants of Celts who stumbled into an alternative universe a thousand years ago (in their time line). They call things by familiar names, but these items are not necessarily exactly what exists in our world. The Kin are indigenous to the world of Daermad and they have some very different items because they have never lived in the world we know. I’ve spent a lot of time researching swords, knives, Medieval clothing and horses for Daermad Cycle.

In Transformation Project both my main character, Shane, and his grandfather Jacob are pilots. I grew up on the edge of the flying community – 80% of Alaskan communities cannot be reached by roads, so we fly a lot. I have even taken flight training. I could keep a single-engine plane in the air and theoretically know how to land one, though I have never gotten to practice that part. I thoroughly enjoyed studying about the planes that work their way into the story.

There are so many different things to learn, but I thought I’d go into detail on just one. Martial law plays a big part in Transformation Project. I wanted to have my facts straight before I played with them so I googled “martial law in the United States.” and learned about President Obama signing Executive Order 13603, titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” To be totally fair, President Obama was merely tweaking an existing Executive Order that goes back all the way to the Truman administration. So, it’s been about 60 years since the government gave itself the authority to seize all US resources and persons, including during peacetime, for self-declared “national defense”. The president is authorized to delegate authority to various federal departments and agencies identify, confiscate and reallocate food, gasoline, machinery, medicine, water, and even people.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverOf course, no US president has actually done this, though it ought to make us nervous that they think they have such authority. Let’s hope it never comes to that. In Transformation Project, it’s a key big bad, because the people in charge weren’t elected by anyone and yet they feel they have the authority to take food, medicine, and crops and conscript people into a workforce to make this happen.

What do you do when what you need to survive conflicts with official policy?

The people of Emmaus think they know the answer, but are they willing to pay the price?

Are actual Americans willing to put themselves in that position? No, it can’t happen here … until maybe it does and then maybe it’s too late. Since I’m planning more books in the series, you can surmise that at least some of the people in Emmaus survive … but how well they survive depends on how much of their resources they were able to hang onto.

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Quality Improvements   3 comments

October 16, 2017 – Things you want to see change in your industry.

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This is a hard post for me because I don’t consider myself to be much of a prophet and I subscribe to the “be careful what you wish for” philosophy of life. “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” and “I really didn’t mean THAT” are cautionary for a reason.

So what changes would I “want” to see in my industry?

Oh, boy!

Related imageHigher quality books by independent authors would make my #1 spot on the list. Conversely, I’d like to see all the “quality doesn’t matter” crowd take an extended vacation. Go edit your books and learn how to format and come back in a year. That should leave the minority slice of the indie field free to really surprise people with the quality of our books. I don’t fear competition from high quality books. I fear being lost in a sea of poor quality, so that it is hard to break the surface and shine forth as a truly worthwhile author.

More collaborative marketing efforts. I don’t know how that would work itself out and there are certainly authors doing that now with bundles, freebies, samplers and collaborative ads. I’m always willing to cross-promote on my blog. I think there is power in numbers, especially for people who have limited advertising budgets. I am not a great idea person in the marketing arena, but I would certainly join with authors who wanted to do something. I just wish it were easier to connect and the quality was high enough that you could be assured of a good showing.

A reduction in social media. I’ve never been a social media warrior. I feel the huge time suck. Unfortunately, because everybody else is doing it, I sort of have to … but I think that social media mania may be waning. I hear of some authors reducing their social accounts. I see that as a good sign. Right now, we’re all shouting into the echo chamber and canceling each other out. Surely there is a better way to do this. What? I don’t know. Someone make a suggestion.

Getting away from paid review services. As a reader, I’ve never trusted them. An author/publisher paid for those glowing kudos. I’ve never bought a book on the recommendation of Publishers Weekly and I never will. I do, however, check out what readers have to say about the book.

Authors getting real about time lines. There are tons of books being published daily, so nobody should expect to be on the Times Best Sellers list two days later. Our books may sell well, eventually, but it’s going to be a more long haul affairs with a lot of work before it happens. Spend your budget dollars wisely. Don’t blow it all in the first week. Plan for the long haul. The converse of this is that advertising venues might want to come down on their prices a bit because it will now take two, three or four ads to get the same sales as one used to garner.

I’d love to see online editing tools for published ebooks, so typos can be fixed without having to re-upload files.

How about a place for matching writers with cover artists, editors, beta readers, and formatters?

The book discovery process could be refined. Amazon recommends titles once you have a buying history with them, but I remember the old days of accidentally discovering a great book while browsing the stacks of the local bookstore. Surely, something could be created to mimic that in the digital universe.

I want to see new genres. I’m not saying let’s get rid of the old genres, but that more choice is a good thing. I’m old enough to remember when fantasy was grouped with science fiction and marketed as science fiction because the Big 5 thought they had to trick people into reading fantasy. Now, it’s a standalone genre that has several subcategories.

I think that’s about it. No, I’m not offering any solutions to how we achieve these improvements. I think Amazon probably has some IT guys who can work on some of it.

Posted October 16, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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A Message to My Fans   Leave a comment

January 30 – write a letter to your fans. You might want to check my fellow bloggers and get back with me because this was a hard one.

But I did it ….

WordPress:
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Hi there, fans! Welcome to the blog.

Let me dispel immediately any notion you might have that I am writing from a garret or an ivory tower. There are probably writers who do live like that, but I wouldn’t know because I’m a crazy person who lives in Alaska where reality will push through the walls and freeze you solid if you try to ignore it.

In keeping with Alaska culture, I live a pretty practical life. I have a money job, two kids (both old enough to vote now), a husband and a yellow Labrador who is so cute if you look up “adorable” in the dictionary, you will find a picture of her. We heat with wood and haul diesel as a supplement. In the room where the wood stove blazes away, the walls are lined with book cases, some of them two books deep. Writing is something I do because I can’t not write. That’s not a mistaken sentence. Writing flows from me at every turn and I don’t know how to turn it off.

Fortunately, I don’t want to turn it off. It’s how I entertain myself and how I exorcise my demons and discipline my angels. The side benefit is that I can now share those stories with you.

I try to imagine who my fans are, but it’s really hard to tell based on the reviews on Amazon. I get such a variety. I also write in multiple genres, so I know I have different sorts of fans. Who reads high fantasy anymore? Hey, if you would like to introduce yourselves to me, feel free to drop a line on the blog or hit my email address. I know you’re out there. Someone’s buying and reading the books, but I don’t hear from you, so ….

I hear from fans of Transformation Project – libertarians and conservatives, people who like apocalyptics, some preppers. But again, I love to hear from folks because knowing who my fans are helps me to be a better writer.

A writer really hasn’t reached self-actualization until her writing has been read and appreciated. So thank you! You will never know how much you mean to me. I hope you will show how much my stories mean to you by leaving a review on Amazon, but even if you don’t … know that I smile to myself when I see that someone bought a book or read some pages. Some weeks my jaws ache from smiling and that’s a good feeling.

You’re also welcome to contact me, ask me questions, try to wrestle some hints from me on future plots … or even give me ideas of what you would like me to explore. No promises because manipulating my characters is similar to herding cats, but a writer can never have too many plot ideas and who better to get them from than her fans?

The days are getting longer here. There was still some sunset left in the sky when I left work last night. I went home and did some mean things to the nice people of Emmaus, but I’m also working on a satirical short story for an anthology. We still have 2 1/2 months of winter here regardless of what Phil the groundhog says, so expect to see another book out soon. I’ve got a literary fiction at the beta readers right now. Yes, a literary fiction! I might try my hand at a mystery next.

Thanks for reading … not just my novels, but also my blog posts. Hope you’re all well and curled up somewhere warm reading.

Lela Markham

Posted January 30, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

baa10-bluetypewriter-whitepinkflowersI’m formatting for paperback, so am busy and distracted, but I will post a Taste of Mirklin Wood and maybe some other writing things.

Posted February 17, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesdays

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Formatting for Paperback   Leave a comment

ILela Markham Davidson Ditch Corrected‘m busy and focused on getting this frustrating task done, so please enjoy the reblog of some previous blog posts and I’ll see you tomorrow for Writing Wednesday.

Posted February 16, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

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An Uneasy Writer Interviewed Me   1 comment

This is the text of Cass McMain’s interview with me last week.

 

An Interview with Lela Markham

LelaMeet Lela Markham, a writer I know from Authonomy, who will be publishing her fantasy novel soon. I interviewed her about this, and here is what she told me:

 

Your book, The Willow Branch – Book One of the Daermad Cycle, is coming out in October. This is the first in a series, obviously. How many other books will there be?

Epic fantasy series authors tend toward long-arc storytelling. The Willow Branch started as one really long book that I decided to break into a trilogy, but I ended up with five books drafted and already written material for about half of each.

So, the squishy answer is four books, but probably the series will get longer as I flesh out the later books because I’ve discovered that Daermad (the world where the Willow Branch takes place) is a lot larger than I originally thought.

 

You’ve been calling it Science Fiction/Fantasy. That’s a powerful combination! Would you say one or the other of these genres has more of a pull on this work, or is it about even?

It’s definitely a epic high fantasy. I’m confused by Authonomy’s cojoining the two genres, myself. There are no science fiction elements in the series, really.

The non-native peoples of Daermad arrived from Earth cultures by portals that I don’t really bother to explain, and the native peoples did (once) have technology that could hint at sci fi, but I’m not techy enough to write a good sci fi, so it’s very much a fantasy. Swords, sorcery, ale, horses, all that good earthy stuff, plus elves, dwarves, sentient animals and Celtic deities. It’s a good versus evil struggle with some conflicted characters who live like real people.

 

It’s a complex book about a search for a missing King – the True King. But thwillow branchere’s a lot of other stuff going on, certainly! What sort of time span does this first novel cover?

The book is complex in part because there are two distinct time lines. I think that might be a gutsy choice on my part. My druidess (whose writings will appear throughout the series) explains in the opening quote that the present is built upon the past and when we forget the past, we put ourselves and the present at peril. That’s something I believe in my personal life (and especially in the life of a nation or culture) and I brought it into the book.

In Founding Year 931, the royal family was completely wiped out … or maybe not. Are they all accounted for? What about their heirs? Who killed who and why? For the last 90 years, the kingdom has been tearing itself apart fighting over who should be king, but there is a True King who has now been born. As you go further into the story, you find that the present (Founding Year 1023) actors are ignorant of that past that may be extremely relevant. I treat the True King as a major mystery and I have our “hero” (the healer Padraig) really as much in the dark as anyone else. He’s tasked with finding the True King, but he just has prophesy to go on and his interpretation of that is definitely going to be hindered by his cultural assumptions.

The other complexity comes through the various cultures of the book and their history. The Celdryans don’t know that history and their cultural amnesia really threatens the whole land. The Kin (an elven race) do remember that history and they don’t trust the Celdryans at all. They have very different cultures and religions and racial bigotry is hindering cooperation. Cooperation is absolutely necessary before the Svard sweep down from the north and destroy both races.

 

Tell me what gave you the idea for this storyline. Did it come to you all at once, or did it take many years?

I’m always suspicious of epic fantasy writers who claim the breadth and depth of a complex story came to them all at once like some bolt out of heaven. Although I’ve been writing since I was 12 and love to read fantasy, I had never turned my hand at writing fantasy until I got a computer. World-building is just too complex for long hand, in my opinion. More power to Tolkien and the masters, but I couldn’t imagine doing it old school.

I was really absorbed in trying to write mysteries after I went digital when portions of The Willow Branch began floating in my head about 15 years ago. I wrote a gravel draft centered on Padraig meeting Tamys about 12 years ago. It was maybe a 20-page short story set in Annan’s tavern. A writers’ group I was involved in encouraged me to develop it into a book. Writers’ group dissolved into the ether in the ensuing five years.

I have a hard time holding my attention to any one writing project, so I probably spent a year writing The Willow Branch over that five year period. Without alpha and beta readers who could be objective (cough, not my husband and best friend), the book sat forgotten on a floppy until I learned about Authonomy around four years ago. Critique reached a point of critical mass in 2012, which happened to coincide with the end of a long-term job and about six weeks of down time before the next career move.

I broke up the book then stared at the first section and realized that it was interesting travelogue, but really nothing happens with Padraig and Tamys in that section of the original book. My characters write themselves, so they have opinions about what they will or will not do and I couldn’t get them to do anything really exciting. If they wouldn’t cooperate, it was going to be a short book, so I turned to Ryanna (who in the original book was introduced much later) and that was okay, but I really wanted some powerful sorts of scenes where characters’ lives were at stake. Padraig, Tamys, Ryanna would not cooperate and you can’t kill off your bad guys too soon, so – hey, there’s this wonderful back story that my characters talk about. Why not show it instead of tell it?

I killed my first character and from there, the past timeline really wrote itself in about two months. Then, as in any complex piece of writing, I had to edit and fix continuity errors, etc.

 

The people in this novel speak with a particular cant. Do you find yourself thinking in that language after you spend a lot of time with the book?

Yes. The opening scene for Padraig, when he’s riding across the prairie to his first farmstead, was written one Saturday while I was listening to Enya on the stereo. That was really the genesis of the lilt in the narrative voice and the Celdryan dialogue. It’s absent in the Kindred and Svard narratives, by the way, so I have to provide myself with a clear break between writing the three cultures so that I don’t carry that lilt where it shouldn’t be. I find writing to music helps with that.

 

Which character calls to you the most? Did any character take you by surprise?

I have a lot in common with the character of Lydya, I think. She is really one of the few created characters in the series – meaning that I gave her life instead of her just cropping up in my head the way most of the other characters did. She is a mother and a woman of faith who loves her children through her faith, which gives her immense power. She hasn’t had an easy life. She’s had to make some tough choices. She has regrets, but she’d probably do it again.

My characters take me by surprise all of the time because they mostly write themselves. Even the ones like Lydya whom I created for a story-line reason often take off on their own after I give them birth. Probably, if there’s a character that surprised me the most in The Willow Branch it was Pedyr, who was never supposed to have a life beyond the first scene when he witnesses Maryn’s encounter with fate, but he had a story and he wanted me to tell it, so I did.

 

I understand you’re a Christian. Does your faith play a part in what you write?

My faith plays a role in everything I do – my money job, my marriage, my parenting, how I vote, how I treat people in traffic … just every part of my life, so yes, it plays a role in what I write.

That said, I am a Christian who writes, not a Christian writer. My faith informs my writing, but I did not set out to write a “Christian” fantasy. I think artists who are Christian should strive to create at the highest level of their talent without trying to manipulate and massage a Christian message from their art. Christianity is definitely part of the tale, but I did extensive research on Celtic religion and I try to present it sympathetically and to show non-believing characters living fulfilling lives. My believing characters are humans who make mistakes and have passions that sometimes cast their faith in a bad light. I try to tack against stereotypes and avoid the “Christian bookstore” fiction syndrome.

 

You’ll be self-publishing this novel, is that correct?

I will. There is a very limited publication market for “Christian” fantasy. According to one agent I dealt with, “Christians don’t like sorcery”. Yeah, okay, so that explains why I can’t find a lot of fantasy novels in the Christian bookstores, although I see that many of my reading friends from church have “secular” fantasy novels in their home libraries. I think the agent meant that Christian publishers don’t like sorcery. Christian readers turn to the secular market to scratch their fantasy itch.

I can either be true to the art or write to make an agent and a publisher happy. I think I write a more authentic and, hopefully, appealing story if I tell both sides of the tale. I sent out proposals. I got letters back that indicated interest, if I would remove either the Christian elements or the sorcery/Celtic religion/violence/sex elements. I really thought about it and I could write a banal Christian story about a Celtic society. Gag! I could write a good fantasy and not mention Christ at all, but that didn’t set well with my spirit, so ….

Self-publication is really a wonderful opportunity, especially for writers who are Christians, but I think for writers of any genre. It allows us to write what we want and feel led to write without having to please some middleman whose goal it is to homogenize fiction to some marketing demographic. I think a lot of potentially great stories have sat unread in the past because publishers deemed them unmarketable while they were busy deluging the market with a certain kind of genre fiction that was “in” that decade. Of course, the other side of this issue is that I had to be meticulous in editing and find beta readers willing to be tough on me to turn out a professional product.

 

When will it be available? And where?

It will be available mid-October. I set a soft deadline of October 10, but my firm deadline is October 20. That should allow for my technical inexperience. It will be released on Amazon and Smashwords and direct from me as a PDF. Prices are still in question. That’s next week’s decision. I’m going to start as an ebook and see if there is an interest in POD.

 

What other books are you working on now?

I’m always writing something. A Well in Emmaus is a very work-in-progress dystopian that I have up on Authonomy. I’ve got a YA sufficiently written to seek critique and a story of a young man trying to redeem himself from killing a loved one in a car accident. I’m thinking of putting the prequel short story of that up on Authonomy to see what people think. I’m working a murder mystery/political thriller set in Alaska, which is where I live. My husband and I have been conceptualizing a fantasy-sci fi about pre-Noah’s flood society. I need to get him to shut up about the plot so I can let the characters develop.

Realistically, I have a fantasy series to advance toward completion. The second book in the Daermad Cycle – The Shadow Forest is tentatively planned for publication October 2015.

 

Do you have a blog?

I babble about a variety of topics here:

Lela’s Blog

I am more writer specific on The Willow Branch’s page:

The Willow Branch

Interested readers can find the first couple of chapters of The Willow Branch there and on Wattpad.

I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr.

 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Like most writers, I would write if nobody else read my scribblings. People who check outThe Willow Branch will find a fantasy with Christian influence, but also a Christian fantasy with human realism. That was a deliberate choice on my part, in hopes of writing a book that is more than just a market share.

 

Well, that concludes this interview. I encourage readers who get into epic fantasy to take a look at Lela’s offering when it becomes available. Thank you Lela, for allowing me to interview you!

 

Publishing Checklist   Leave a comment

Most people think the big thing is writing the book – and it is! You can’t publish anything if you don’t write it.

But then there’s …

Editing, which requires enlisting alpha and beta readers or paying loads of money that broke writers don’t have until they become published authors and probably not even then. (CHECKED DONE)

Cover art – I’m not really an artist, but I’ve got great Publisher and decent Paint skills (CHECKED DONE)

Then there’s promoting the book. Notice I put this BEFORE publishing, because a self-published author needs to build a network BEFORE putting a book out there so that someone will know when you publish. (CHECKED IN PROGRESS)

Formatting for publication. Smashwords and Amazon have standards and since there’s nobody checking my work, I have to check it myself. Getting the Word (or equivalent) document to conversion readiness was a new skill. (CHECKED DONE)

Buying the ISBN. I’m an independent author, so my publisher (me!) has to buy an ISBN for the book I am publishing. I bought 10 because my calculations say I’ll need more before the Daermad Cycle is complete. (CHECKED DONE)

Create a Press Kit (CHECKED DONE). Upload it to my website (IN PROGRESS)

Converting to the various formats required to upload to Smashwords or Amazon (CHECKED IN PROGRESS). If my laptop screen hadn’t broken, it would be accomplished now, but it isn’t. Maybe the screen will arrive today and I’ll report tomorrow that I’ve reached this goal.

Announce online Launch Party via Facebook (COMING TO A LAPTOP NEAR ME THIS WEEK). Party to be held October 20 (barring unforeseen circumstances)

Upload to Smashwords (COMING TO A LAPTOP NEAR ME THIS WEEK).

 

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