Archive for February, 2008

Text Wranglers

February 24th, 2008

You write your story or novella or book alone. You might get criticism–excellent or otherwise–from Beta readers or workshops, but the hard work of putting words on paper is done by you and you alone. (Let’s not spin into the question of collaboration. I’m trying to make a point here.) So say you send the story or book off to a publisher somewhere and–Glory of Glories!–they accept it. From that point on, for better or worse, you’re hip deep in collaboration.

Writing is a solitary occupation. Publication is a group exercise. Continue Reading »

Reader Questions: How do you Pitch the Multi-Volume Series to Publishers?

February 14th, 2008

Reader Adam S queries:
Most publishers I’ve seen ask for a portion of the novel you’re hoping to have published and a synopsis of the story. So where does the multi-volume novel fit into the picture? The publisher isn’t buying all the books right away, just the first (in case the first doesn’t sell well), so the synopsis should be only the first story, right? Do they need detail about where the entire story is heading? Because other than the last scene in the series and a few locations and events along the way, I don’t know what happens between the end of the first book and the end of the last book. How did you handle this with the Crown of Stars series?

First of all, the publishing world has altered significantly since I sold the first book in the Crown of Stars series. The winds of change have howled through, and the paperback rack in the front of the store looks markedly different than it did five years ago much less than it did in 1995 when I sold the partially-written King’s Dragon (then with the working title of Dragon’s Heart) to DAW Books.

I believe I may have sold the Crown of Stars series as a potential trilogy on the basis of a five page synopsis. Which I doubt, after multiple computer changes, I even possess any longer. Nor would that synopsis bear much relationship to the books as they were finally written, although certain plot elements would stand out as unchanged. However, I was able to do that because I already had a track record with DAW Books, having published four Novels of the Jaran with them. In addition, I made the deal for Crown of Stars in the wake of signing a contract to collaborate with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson on The Golden Key, also for DAW Books.

In this case we’re talking about a multi-volume series by a new author, in today’s market.

It’s an entirely different kettle of worms now. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are hot. Young Adult remains very strong. Second world fantasy in a series still sells, and I am pretty sure can sell well, and publishers are still looking for new voices, but it isn’t as wild as it might have been ten years ago as people scrambled to find the next Robert Jordan. Laurel K Hamilton is the new Jordan in terms of marketing strength and coat-tails, if one must use that analogy.

Also–and this is important–I’m neither a publisher or an agent. Publishers and agents will have different perspectives than mine, so anything I say must be understood as filtered through my limited understanding and experience and my own biases. Booksellers will have a valuable perspective on this also; seek out their opinions, if you can.

In general, however, and in a simplistic form, this is what I would say:

1) publishers like series.

A strong series generates reader loyalty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with standalone novels, but in marketing terms a standalone novel is a new sell every time even though there may be other compelling angles (reader investment in a particular writer, forex). A series is a known quantity, a story-line or characters or world the reader is already invested in.

I don’t say this to suggest you should write a series over a standalone novel (publishers like standalone novels, too). Or that standalone novels are morally superior to series. Me, personally, I read both with equal pleasure (as long as I like what I’m reading).

2) Think about how you want to structure the volumes and the story within each volume.

You can write a true multi-volume novel (or trilogy) in which each volume is incomplete, a part of a larger whole (think Crown of Stars), or you can write installments in which each individual novel stands more or less alone with some form of a complete plot which is resolved by the end of the book while also advancing a larger overall plot (the earlier Harry Potter books are examples of this method).

To market to market to buy a fat pig?

Have a complete first novel.

In these days where you want a strong follow-up close upon your first publication (no big gaps between books), I personally think you’re better off with a second novel in hand as well, but it isn’t required.

If you have a complete first novel, I suppose you should include a synopsis of that novel, but you absolutely (I think–more knowledgeable folk may know better) must include a synopsis of the rest of the larger story 1) to show that you know where you’re going with this and 2) so the publisher can see you have a colorful journey and a firm destination in mind and larger plot on which they will judge how well the material will hold up to being extended over multiple volumes (you want a fat narrative not a thin one).

If, for instance, your plot consists mostly of “and then there was another encounter” – you’ll have more trouble selling a publisher on the idea of a multi-volume novel. If your plot shows significant chance of twisting turning layering and depth, they’ll be more interested. I’m not actually sure how detailed the synopsis needs to be. I have written few synopses, all of which were pretty sketchy, and even then I’ve never followed those outlines. But you must show you have a long, large plot in mind that can sustain multiple volumes. That doesn’t necessarily mean a detailed 50 page outline; a sketchier outline can show off the big plot questions as well, but you have to be sure to highlight the Bigness and Epic-ness of your plot if you’re going sketchy.

Your strongest selling point remains a well written and exciting first volume, that shows off your capabilities. Show them two well written and exciting volumes, and it’s likely an even better sell because they’ll see volume one isn’t a fluke or the result of ten years of painstaking labor that suggests volume two won’t follow for another ten years.

Beyond that? I’m not sure there is more to do except to start sending material to publishers. Again, as much as the market has seen an explosion in urban fantasy, there are still plenty of new secondary world fantasy writers breaking in and getting a great deal of attention. The market is open. Good luck.

Meanwhile, if any of you all out there have specific insights into the synopsis, I’d love to see your comments here or as posts in your own spaces (if you do that, please flag them here–thanks!) because it’s not a subject I can really say much about on as I am a notoriously poor synopsis/outline writer.

Points-of-View

February 4th, 2008

Kate Elliott asked me to repost something on point of view, for those readers who’ve some confusions.

Point-of-View, or POV.

For a quick overview, here are some definitions

 


First Person

This is the “I” story.

The broken shutter in the window creaked a warning. I flung myself across the table, covering as best I could my neat piles of papers, as a draft of cold wind scoured into the room…

The benefit of first person is its immediacy. You are really inside the head of the person telling the story. This is good for character stories, but not as good for certain kinds of tension stories. You can therefore say that first person’s focus might not be on what happens so much as how it happens. In other words, we know a first person protagonist lives; we just don’t know what that means.

A first person narrator can therefore be what is called an Unreliable Narrator. This means that what the person says about a situation, character, or action, might not be true. Readers can sometimes enjoy discovering that the narrator is unreliable–discovering, for example, that in spite of the fervent dislike of the narrator for a character, the reader comes to the conclusion that he’s really not the bad guy.

More notes on First Person under Omniscient– sometimes these distinctions are not as easy as they look.

 


Second Person

This one is fairly easy to describe, and you rarely see it, except maybe in very short horror tales, and in more experimental stories:

You walk down the stairs. You turn to the right, glancing in the window, where you see your neighbor eating his dinner. You bend and pick up a rock, hefting it in your hand, before you cock your arm back, and…

Karin Lowachee used it very effectively at the beginning of her science fiction novel Warchild. This one is almost always in present tense, as well. Present tense is currently very, very fashionable—when done well, readers like the immediacy.

 


Third Person

Now we’re getting to some complications. Simple third person is, of course, something like this:

Tom and Lisa walked down the street.

That’s clear enough, right? But if one of them acts, or sees the act, then we start getting into distinctions. Different critics, teachers, and writers have all kinds of labels for variations on third, and you can find them in writing books. Here are mine:

Tight Third

Tom and Mary walked down the street. Tom watched the swing of Mary’s hair against her back, and smiled when she caught him gazing at her. She took his hand. They gazed into each other’s faces, Tom thinking happily about the movie they were about to enjoy together. He was only vaguely aware of the squeal of brakes coming round the corner . . .

What ‘tight’ means is, we are tightly locked inside Ton’s skull. We cannot hear, see, smell, taste, or touch anything that Tom can’t. Therefore we do not see what Tom looks like, unless he’s thinking about his own appearance.

Now, you will find plenty of books in which a tight third POV is being used, yet the author does this:

Dark-haired Tom watched the swing of Mary’s blond tresses against her back, and his wide, curved lips smiled when she caught him gazing at her. She grinned back at his deep blue eyes with her azure orbs, and took his long strong hand into her delicate one…

I’ve found that most often in romance novels, where the reader expects a high degree of enforced intimacy, and constant awareness of physical attributes that emphasize the characters’ overriding attraction to one another. In a romance novel, the romance is more important than subsidiary action, so word choices and scene setup is going to demonstrate this.

NOTE: Some writers will slide quietly into omniscient just briefly with:

Tom was so wrapped up in Mary he was unaware of the squeal of brakes . . .

More on that later. Meanwhile, if we’re using tight third, how do we get across what Tom looks like?

The easiest solution is for him to look into a mirror. This has been overused a lot, but it’s still useful if you’re not obvious about it. In other words, it’s boring if a character stands in front of a mirror staring at him or herself. But if they react, then it’s more realistic, and thus more interesting. So, instead of:

Tom stopped to look in the mirror before leaving for his date with Mary. He studied his blue eyes, his wide, curved mouth, his dark hair, his excellent cheekbones, the carefully tended two-day stubble on his chin, that looked just like the guys in the Matrix movies . . .

Bor-ring! Do we believe in Tom? Except for the bit about Matrix, which might raise a faint laugh, he’s dull and rather arrogant-seeming. So:

Tom raced down the stairs, knowing he was late. Mary might not wait–she felt it disrespected her, if people kept her waiting, but she couldn’t know about his flat tire, and the extra work his boss had stuck on him, and the fact that Tom’s watch had fallen off when he changed the tire, so he lost track of time. He glanced in the mirror as he ran by, and caught sight of a young guy with tousled dark hair, a wide mouth that reminded him suddenly of his dad, worried blue eyes, and, oh no, oh no, was that a big old honking zit forming right on his stubbly chin? Oh, great, Mary would never notice the expensive haircut he got just for her, the new silk shirt, the flowers–she’d be staring all night at that zit…

Tom becomes a little more real here, yet we still get plenty of details on his appearance.

Another way to get his appearance in is to slide in details as the story progresses.

This takes more time, obviously, but it doesn’t draw attention to itself quite as much as a one-shot description. Such as:

Tom closed his hand around Mary’s, intensely aware of how thin her fingers were, the fragility of the bones. He hoped she wasn’t disgusted by the calluses on his palms from all his weightlifting. He admired the swing of her pale hair against her back. Funny, until now he’d always been attracted to dark-haired girls, he’d always thought because that was what he was used to, coming from a family of dark-haired people, but as soon as he met Mary…

So we’ve got Tom. How do we get into Mary’s mind? We can’t in tight third. That’s called head-hopping–jumping from one person’s thoughts to the next. If we want Mary’s POV we’ve got to end the scene from Tom’s POV, and continue the story with a scene from Mary’s. Now, if you switch too often, the reader gets too distracted, like watching too many MTV jump-cuts. Many authors restrict themselves to one POV per short story, or per chapter; some writers successfully handle more.

Okay, one last observation on third, what I think of as Camera View.

This is where we stay outside of anybody’s head. Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett used this one, many years ago. In this POV we see the characters as if a camera is watching them, but we never hear anyone’s thoughts. Like:

A hand reached for the door, which opened. Out stepped Tom. He looked up the street. He stiffened when he spied Mary waiting at the corner, her blond hair blowing in the breeze. Soon they were striding down the street together, their gazes locked. Then around the corner sped an SUV moving far too fast, just as Tom and Mary stepped off the curb . . .

Camera-eye tight third is sometimes called “dramatic third”—it’s a kind of long-distance shot, and thus can be very close to Omniscient as it views without access to any thoughts, leading the reader to winnow out clues to the characters’ inner lives from the description of their actions.

This variety of approaches within third person indicates there are various degrees of depth available within each point-of-view. A writer’s voice emerges not just through word choice and type of story, but how he or she slides from long-distance reportage to close-in, claustrophobic stream of consciousness. Many readers love the enforced intimacy of romance novels, wherein the reader is told who the hero and heroine are, how they felt, etc; other readers prefer a neutral voice talking mainly about ideas, the characters only sketchily described. Some writers preferred never to share the inner lives of the characters, but provide painstakingly recorded clues, like Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway. A close look at the most enduring classics (ones people read for pleasure) seems to indicate that most readers prefer a dramatic change in distance between the reader and the characters: sometimes intimate, sometimes from a distant vantage that permits readers to come to their own intellectual, moral, and even emotional conclusions.

Omniscient

Or the God’s-Eye view. This one is the way most 19th century novels were written. In this view, which we can call omni for short, the narrator can get into anyone’s head, or follow anyone.

The first thing to realize is that there is a narrator present, telling all stories. That includes third person. In tight third, it’s easy to forget this, or to mix the narrative presence with the actual author. In some cases they are indeed indistinguishable. In the example I put under third person, Tom did not hear the squeal of brakes, that is the voice of the narrator, popping in just for a second to give you an important fact for dramatic urgency.

Some people might mix the narrative presence with First Person. But here are two differences. The narrator can see into everyone’s head, and a first person protagonist can’t. Second, the narrator is not who the story is about. A first person story is usually some semblance of fictional autobiography.

In Jane Austen’s novels, the narrator almost never emerges from the background, but just once is a while she will sum up the action, or make an observation: here, from Mansfield Park, opening chapter 27, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can. . “. Conversely in Vanity Fair, Thackeray’s narrator strides out on stage, and lectures the reader directly about the story. He stops the actors in the middle of action ([an approximation] We shall halt here, before Mrs. Fussbudget sips her tea, and the motes of dust are still in the air, to consider now what we have learned about the wicked Mr. Nogoodnik) so the narrator can emerge once again and talk directly to the reader about the story, in order to really hammer in that point.

Sometimes the narrator was shrouded in what we call ‘frames’ to create a sense of reality, as if the story were true. Modern readers sometimes find the layers of letters at the beginning of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tedious and pointless, but at the time the book came out, with its scary cutting edge scientific experiments and extrapolations, the frame tale–as if the story was told in letters–made it seem as if it really had happened. Thus it functioned both as a science fiction novel, and as a horror novel.

Knowing who is telling your story and why is crucial in using Omni. The writer also needs to pay attention to transitions from one person’s thoughts to another’s, or there can be a confusion of pronouns. The successful omniscient authors do not try to get inside everyone’s heads, but choose the viewpoints that add the most dramatic tension; most often the dramatic viewpoints are those engaged in the action, but sometimes it’s from an observer’s point of view. For example, many fans of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings scarcely notice a two sentence shift into the point of view of a fox passing through the wood when Frodo and Company leave the shire, but that quick outsider viewpoint serves to add dramatic tension to the story, reminding readers without coming right out and telling them that the hobbits are indeed now out in the wide and wild world, far from the comfortable home they know.

 


Point of View – Third Omniscient

February 3rd, 2008

Point of view is a subject we as writers discuss frequently, for obvious reasons.

A reader recently asked me in email if there are any online discussions of the use of third omniscient in fantasy (and sf) as opposed to third limited; discussions of the latter are easy to find, the former not so much. I said that I thought that third omniscient isn’t in fashion these days, although there are examples of it in print.

So I’d like to open up a discussion here.

What are the peculiar problems inherent in third omniscient?

What books of old or now current have used this pov?

If you’ve used it, please discuss the why and how, if you feel so inclined.

From Penguin: A SCIENCE FICTION OMNIBUS ed. by Brian Aldiss

February 3rd, 2008

Penguin paperbacks have long provided readers with authoratative editions of classic literature from all nations and genres, edited by experts in the field.  Peguin regularly updates its classics, with new translations, new citations, new editors and different covers.  Thus Penguin’s Science Fiction Omnibus, published in Britain in November 2007, updates the Aldis edited SF Omnibus of 1973.

You can compare the 1973 edition’s Table of Contents 

here with the Table of Contents for this new 2007 edition here.  A thoughtful consideration of SF sparked by this new edition of Aldis’s Omnibus appears in the current Times Literary Supplement. 

You may not agree with every point Dinah Birch, the writer, makes, but its interesting to read.

[ Loneliness shadows science fiction, and is made more acute by its customary settings amid the emptiness of space, with solitary voyagers or beleaguered bands of adventurers encountering the hostilities of planets that deny the consolations of familiarity. The opening images of Walter M. Miller’s brilliant “I Made You” (1954) are typical:

“It sat on the crag by night. Gaunt, frigid, wounded, it sat under the black sky and listened to the land with its feet, while only its dishlike ear moved in slow patterns that searched the surface of the land and the sky The land was silent, airless. Nothing moved, except the feeble thing that scratched in the cave.”

The “feeble thing” turns out to be a man, about to be destroyed by the suffering robot that he has created. The story is recognizably a reflection of Frankenstein. It serves, like Frankenstein, to caution against the dangers of scientific progress pursued with no thought of moral consequences. This bleakly admonitory tone repels many readers. It is the business of science fiction to alarm, in the sense of providing the excitement of thrilling dangers, and of scaring readers with the prospect of a future in which human values are threatened. Ruthless invasions, apocalyptic plagues, wars and famines, dying stars, mechanized intelligences and predatory civilizations, have been its favourite devices. Fredric Brown’s “Answer” (1964), a piercingly brief story, points to the hazards of the internet, years before it was invented. Scientists link every computer on earth in order to ask a single question – “Is there a God?”. The answer is immediate: “Yes, NOW there is a God”. The warnings of science fiction are endlessly inventive, often witty, and sometimes salutary, but they do not make for comforting reading. ]

When I was a tad, far back in the days when there was little if any SF and even less F on television and in the movies and in the bookstores, these anthologies and omnibuses were among my most prized discoveries for reading, and re-reading, and re-reading even more times than that.  I didn’t realize it, but these kinds of collections were teaching me what was good about SF, and how it worked, through an infinite variety of treatments and approaches, only limited by the number of stories and writers that could be included.

Love, C.

Put Poetry in Your Blog Day

February 2nd, 2008

Two Visions of Vampires by two enduringly popular poets:


“Oil and Blood
By William Butler Yeats

In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli
Bodies of holy men and women exude
Miraculous oil, odour of violet.

But under heavy loads of trampled clay
Lie bodies of the vampires full of blood;
Their shrouds are bloody and their lips are wet.

. . . y, otra . . .  from Byron’s The Giaour  . . . .

A turban carved in coarsest stone,
A pillar with rank weeds o’ergrown,
Whereon can now be scarcely read
The Koran verse that mourns the dead,
Point out the spot where Hassan fell
A victim in that lonely dell.
There sleeps as true an Osmanlie
As e’er at Mecca bent the knee;
As ever scorn’d forbidden wine,
Or pray’d with face towards the shrine,
In orisons resumed anew
At solemn sound of “Alla Hu!”
Yet died he by a stranger’s hand,
And stranger in his native land;
Yet died he as in arms he stood,
And unavenged, at least in blood.
But him the maids of Paradise
Impatient to their halls invite,
And the dark Heaven of Houris’ eyes
On him shall glance for ever bright;
They come—their kerchiefs green they wave,
And welcome with a kiss the brave!
Who falls in battle ‘gainst a Giaour
Is worthiest an immortal bower.

But thou, false Infidel! shall writhe
Beneath avenging Monkir’s scythe;
And from its torments ‘scape alone
To wander round lost Eblis’ throne;
And fire unquench’d, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as Vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father’s name—
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek’s last tinge, her eye’s last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o’er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallow’d hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection’s fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!
Wet with thine own best blood shall drip
Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip;
Then stalking to thy sullen grave,
Go—and with Gouls and Afrits rave;
Till these in horror shrink away
From Spectre more accursed than they!

   

Wild Cards: American Hero & other interactive web fiction

February 2nd, 2008

Tor’s new Wild Cards website has been spiffed up and updated, with information on the mass signing in Albuquerque today with most of the Inside Straight authors. Moreover, Tor has just launched the American Hero website, the fully in-character blog and promotional website for American Hero, the superhero reality television show taking place in the Wild Cards universe and a central part of the plot of Inside Straight.

There are twenty eight characters on the show and we’ve got illustrations for all of them from the amazing Mike Miller. More, all of the authors have been writing confessionals from the standpoints of their characters. Up now for Week 1 are Joe Twitch (created and written by Walton Simons), Spasm (created and written by Daniel Abraham), Drummer Boy (created and written by S.L. Farrell), and Rosa Loteria (created and written by yours truly).

Rosa Loteria portraitGo over and take a look. Ask the characters questions. Of course, the contestants are all busy with challenges on the show, but who knows, some of them might answer. (Mine are Rosa Loteria and The Maharajah.)

This is also kind of exciting as an author since it’s a new publishing venue. I’ve seen website expansions to the content from movies, most notably the rather amazing Donnie Darko site which had some neat fiction which expanded the movie, and likewise the (now long defunct) website for the Point Pleasant tv show. But this is the first time I’ve seen extra web fiction content being done for a series of novels and anthologies, especially author created and owned.

Anyway, please take a look and see what you think, and also, let’s talk about the web as a venue for new fiction in general.