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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Heart's Coda

Last spring I received an invitation to submit a story to an anthology of high fantasy. With such a tight schedule for the Collegia Magica books, I wasn't sure I'd have the time. (Still not sure I had the time!) The editor offered to send me copies of her previous two anthologies so I could see if I wanted to join in the third of the series.

The anthologies are called Lace and Blade, from Norilana Books, a small press that puts out absolutely gorgeous editions of classics, as well as some original works and these anthologies. Check out the luscious cover art for the first and second volumes.

Well, I read several of the stories in the two volumes, including the lovely novella, "The Night Wind" by Mary Rosenblum that had just been selected for this year's Nebula ballot. Not only was I impressed (and intimidated) by the quality of the stories, but I really wanted to have a story in the new one. So I told her yes. The due date would be August 1.

So, of course, the next thing was to figure out what to write. Length could be variable, wrote the editor. Write tight, but make it as long as it needs to be.

The only way I can produce short fiction while writing another book is to piggyback on one of my existing worlds. Which was quite all right, said the editor. And when I spun the bottle and got to thinking, the right project stared up at me.

Song of the Beast was not my first novel published, but I actually wrote it before Transformation. I always intended it to be a standalone, and I was happy where it ended. The primary story arc was complete and satisfying (certainly to ME!) But, in truth, I did leave Aidan MacAllister's world in upheaval. He had changed the world so dramatically that nothing would ever be the same. His personal story - a visionary musician imprisoned as his fame reached its height, released after 17 brutal years, unable to sing or play his harp or hear the voice of the god of music who had guided his musical development - led him into a wilderness where he hoped to repair half a millennium of injustice. And I never told readers whether or not he got the girl who helped him do what he had to do.

Needless to say, I heard from a lot of readers that they wanted to know what happened after. That was what I wanted to write.

But once I got to thinking about it, something unexpected happened. As I told the editor:

Like many authors, I don't believe that my heroes' and heroines' lives end on the last page of my books. Which means, of course, that when you check up on them long after the grand and terrible events are over, you occasionally discover that their futures haven't gone quite as you expected. Thus it happened when I looked up Aidan MacAllister, the visionary musician-hero of Song of the Beast. What I found compelled me to write "The Heart's Coda."

Forthcoming in Lace and Blade 3 from Norilana Books, February 14, 2010

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Proof is in the Pudding

One thing electronic copyedits did for my publishing schedule was to shorten the time from turning in copyedits until seeing proof pages! Well, it certainly seemed to shorten the time, because the Packet of Proof Pages from Penguin arrived last week while I was off having a great weekend at the Colorado Gold Writers' Conference.

Of course, just because they got them back to me quickly, it didn't mean I had a lot of time to work on them - about ten days. And darned if I wasn't just getting back into The Soul Mirror development! But, in general, reviewing proofs means one read-through and goes pretty fast. I just wasn't sure how things were going to look after my interesting experience with the copyediting.

So how did all those complicated copyedits hold up?

I was really impressed. Everything looked GREAT! It took only a few pages to realize that all the changes I was so worried about were correctly reversed, and all the tweaks I had made were incorporated smoothly.

Only one small thing did I notice (and, you observant ones will note, I mentioned it as a risk when I was writing about this process). Never have I needed to correct so much punctuation in proof pages.

The problem is that Word's TRACK CHANGES function draws lines from all these margin boxes to the place in the text where the change occurs. Just as when you're trying to type punctuation into an online form, the lines overwrite the punctuation, so you can't tell whether the period or comma is there just by looking. In TRACK CHANGES, you have to switch to FINAL mode (hiding all the layered corrections), to look for stray or missing puncs. And I just didn't have time to look at every line. So we're back to paper and pencil now. I mark them, return those pages, and that will be that.

The verdict: The Spirit Lens is done!

By the way, email me the name and address of your favorite bookstore and I'll send a batch of Spirit Lens bookmarks. We want to make sure your store is well stocked!!
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Gritty Myth Goes Live

So I don't write short stories very often. When our local non-profit writers organization, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, asked me to contribute a short story to their anthology, Broken Links, Mended Lives, I hesitated. I was in the middle of working on The Spirit Lens, and I only had one piece of a story in my trunk. I really wanted to support the organization, though, so right after I turned in The Spirit Lens, I pulled out the fragment and spent a little time with it. If I could finish the thing in a reasonable amount of time, I'd submit it. Otherwise I'd pass.

The story was mostly a voice. A girl's voice. She didn't even have a name. But she lived in a pretty nasty world, and her story would definitely fit the theme of the anthology. Every "link" she had was broken.

As it happened, I had a lot of fun with it - and to my surprise, I was able to tell a whole story within the guidelines of 5-6K words. Well, here's how this nameless girl introduced herself:

My parents never told me I had Talent. Perhaps they thought it undignified for the daughter of a city magistrate, or believed it might frighten me or make me insolent. Or maybe they just left it too late, and had the lack of consideration to die of plague before warning me.

Now don’t think me unfeeling, but when one is ten years old and the whole world is dying of plague, or slaughtering each other for fear of it, or taking flight to escape it, one has little time to mourn, or even to recall why one should. When civilization has erupted into chaos, the next meal looms much larger in importance than past grieving.

Six years I spent scrabbling in search of that next meal before I trudged up a rock-blasted hill and through the iron gate of Fenwick Priory. By that time I had seen far more of men and life than was really necessary, and taking up residence with a group of similarly exhausted women seemed sensible. The sisterhood grew vegetables, kept to themselves, and did no good works to speak of. I had no illusion that this would be a permanent situation. The sisters didn’t seem that agreeable, and entanglement of any sort made me want to cram a shiv in someone’s craw.

"You'll tend a plot, Girl," said the bony Prioress, licking the beaded honey from a suckle blossom grown right out of the crumbled courtyard wall. "Each of us has one."

"Don't know how," I said and scratched my itchy foot on a cracked step. "Not opposed, but I never learnt. My parents called planting hireling’s work. I’ll scrub for you. Fetch and carry. Steal, if you want. I'm good at those."

"You don't tend a plot, you don't eat. Go or stay, as you will."

I stayed. The road had got tiresome of late. My boots had fallen to pieces, and a thieving tallyman had jacked my knife. Bare hands or sticks weren’t enough to fend off the skags now I was ripe. Last thing I needed was a squaller planted inside me. My own belly was empty half the time.

The story is called At Fenwick Faire, and I would call it a gritty myth.

The anthology is Broken Links, Mended Lives. There are some excellent stories in the anthology - some by published authors, some by authors who certainly should be. It is mixed genre - in keeping with the organization's membership - but I would estimate that more than half the stories are in the "speculative fiction" realm.

If you'd like to support an organization that works hard to educate and support aspiring writers, as well as catch some great talent, give it a try.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

So Right!

My friend Kathy pointed me to this blog post.


Yes, yes, writing is really hard. I had no idea, but then I never really wanted to do it either.

Though I loved to read, it had never been a dream of mine to write books. It seemed like it would be too hard. So it always surprises me how, upon hearing that I am a writer, so many people say, "You know, I've been working on this novel..." or "I'm going to do that when I retire." As in I'm working now, but when I don't have to work, I'll write.

Before I took up writing I worked full time, paid attention to my family, gardened, wrote letters, exercised, cooked, did needlepoint, volunteered, read multiple books a week, canned peaches and tomatoes, made jam, and numerous other things. And my house was always clean. Let's see, I try to spend some time with ES (Exceptional Spouse) and the kids when I can and they're around. I am dreadfully behind on my reading. I volunteer for one program a year. I still cook, more this summer with all the fresh veggies coming in (that was one of the objectives), but with far less variety (another objective.) And I obsess about my books (as anyone who reads this blog will know).

Watch out for what you're getting into, folks. It eats you alive!
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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Soul Mirror Redux

Here we go again. After intensive revision on The Spirit Lens, some family fun and summer timeouts, writing the Song of the Beast story, and spending almost ten days doing nothing but reviewing Spirit Lens copyedits, the new book has sat sorely neglected over the last few months. Scarily neglected, in fact.

As always when I've been away, I take the first couple of days to read through what's there. I can't really fault it, except that it's wordy and perhaps a bit repetitive in some areas. (And who is surprised about that?) The first three chapters feel pretty solid. But something nags about the five following.

There are lots of interesting tidbits. Our heroine - yes the narrator of The Soul Mirror is a young woman, whose family has been torn apart by the events of The Spirit Lens. Anne is smart, well educated, and braver than she thinks. She considers herself plain and very dull compared to the rest of her family. She has a terrible habit of thinking of what she really wants to say hours or days after the opportunity to say it. All of which results in a person who is very reserved. And she has nasty case of hayfever. Bummer.

But after being away from the story for a while (yes, this is a really good thing, even though that February deadline is much larger than it appears in the mirror) I could see two things:

First, there wasn't enough spooky music playing. Spooky music is not just for murder mysteries like this one, where bad guys are playing around with spectres and ghosts. Spooky music is what a reader hears when something bad is going to happen. It's what tells the reader that things are not going to always seem as peaceful as they are now. It is tension, of course. Tension signals potential conflict, one of those words writers sling around like reams of paper.

A story is populated by [we hope!] interesting people. These people want certain immediate things, whether it is a shelter for the winter [like Valen, in Flesh and Spirit] or to survive the rest of his horrid life without thinking about the past [like Seyonne in Transformation]. If the characters are realistic, they have longer term wants, too, as we all do, but sometimes they can't articulate what those are at the beginning of a story. But tension is the growing certainty on the reader's part that these poor people are not going to get what they want - at least not for very long. Tension draws readers into a story and keeps them reading.

In the case of The Soul Mirror, we're starting off four years after the end of The Spirit Lens. Though the overarching mystery posed in that story was solved, some strange things were happening in the world by the end. Anne is forced out of a self-imposed blindness and into the wider world, a place far out of her comfort zone. Trouble happens along the way (chapter 3) but then, godlike, I lifted her up and set her in the new place without allowing her to get a sense of the effects of the badness of the first book. No effects implies no unsettling certainty that she's found herself in the middle of things worse than she can imagine. No tension. No story.

The second problem, as one of my critique partners so eloquently confirmed: "Geez, Carol. This is all good stuff. She meets some interesting people. I can see clearly where she is. But...nothing happens!"

Well, yeah, OK. Once she gets through the traumas of the first three chapters and is dropped into this new place, Anne meets a lot of people, some nice, some not. She takes stock of her surroundings, hears some gossip, gets set up to look into some Very Bad Things that triggered the opening of this story. But in chapter 4 and 5, nothing of note really happens. You can get away with this for a chapter - maybe, but not two, and certainly not three or four. (Yes, by Chapter 8 things were popping.) But you need action to keep the story moving forward. We can't let Anne just observe and prepare. Being a retiring sort, she needs to be challenged with events.

Now this wasn't all bad news. Everything I had written was necessary. Most of it, I'll use (except for the usual reduction of wordiness and repetitions). Writing it got me into Anne's head and her world and the situation and her feelings about what had happened to her family.

So my work is set out for me. I need to consider the ramifications of the "strangeness" at the end of The Spirit Lens and thread them into the background as Anne arrives at the center of the new mystery. And once I've wired these chapters for "tension," I'll know what events need to happen.

I start back with the beginning of chapter 4, where instead of jumping ahead to find Anne in her situation, Anne and her escort are just approaching the gates of Merona:

"Will they truly shut the gates with all these people outside?" I asked. My crawling skin and buzzing skull worsened with every centimetre closer to the city. "We’re not at war — not with anyone close enough to threaten Merona." Not that I’d heard, at least.

"It is certain...disturbances...inside the city cause the gate closings." Duplais did not shift his roving gaze from the crowd, examining the multi-hued sea of faces as if the king himself might arrive to explain further. "Officious fools believe they can stay the wind by locking the gates."

Do you hear a bit of spooky music here? Let me see if I can go find it.

I'll keep you posted.
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