I've known Brad for a while. We met at GenCon a few years ago and he is one of the best guys around to talk to about being a new author. He is knowledgeable and willing to talk. I really liked his bit about the elevator pitch.
I'm a fan of elevator pitches and trying to come up with ones that succinctly describe a novel. In the case of my debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, think A Song of Ice and Fire meets Earthsea, with a Russian twist. I used it, in fact, to sell the book in the first place. I pitched it to Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books at a World Fantasy convention several years ago, and even though I was unagented at the time (most publishers no longer accept unagented submissions) he said to send it along. Four months later, I had an offer for not only Winds, but the entire trilogy.
I can probably best describe the tone of The Winds of Khalakovo by calling out a few of my literary heroes. I love George R.R. Martin's gritty style, though I'd have to say I learned more of it from Glen Cook than GRRM. I also love C.S. Friedman's relentlessly dark prose and Guy Gavriel Kay's lyricism and romanticism. My style probably falls somewhere in between those four authors.
The story itself is about a boy named Nasim, an autistic savant who has incredible powers but is unable to control them. Nikandr, a prince of Khalakovo, comes across Nasim and realizes he may have the ability to heal the blight that's been sweeping through the islands of the Grand Duchy. Nasim may also be able to heal the rampant wasting disease that strikes prince and peasant alike. But Nikandr soon discovers that others are hoping to use Nasim, but in very different ways. A militant sect known as the Maharraht hope to use him to cause untold destruction and to drive the people of the Grand Duchy off of the islands they once called home.
And so the race is on. Nikandr must unlock Nasim's secrets and keep him safe from the Maharraht, but it won't be easy. There's trouble brewing in the Grand Duchy. Old political divides are resurfacing as the Duchies fall victim to the indiscriminate blight and the deadly wasting disease. Can Nikandr reach Nasim before the Maharraht steal him away? Can he hold the Grand Duchy together long enough to do so? The answers are drifting on the Winds of Khalakovo.
The Winds of Khalakovo came out in 2010, and the second in the trilogy, The Straits of Galahesh, was released this past spring. The third, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, will be released early next year. For more, including a cool interactive map of The Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, please visit www.quillings.com.
As a number of my friends get ready to join the insanity known as NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d give you some of my tips for surviving it.
1. Outline your book. Do it before November. It’s not cheating. It’s being smart and giving yourself a roadmap.
2. Do you research ahead of time. Setting your story in an unfamiliar city/country? Look it up, read up on it.
3. Plan for each of your chapters to be about 2000 words long.
4. End your writing day on a cliffhanger. Stop just before something you really want to write. Sometimes, I stop writing in the middle of the sentence.
5. When you start up for the day, edit the last three paragraphs you wrote. No more, no less. That should get you back into the right frame of thought.
6. Be willing to give up TV and videogames. Be firm in your commitment to your book. Realize you’re going to have to contend with holidays and family visits. Instead of watching the entire game / movie you always watch, take an hour and write.
7. Ask your family, friends, roommates to support you and be respectful of your desire to write. Writing is work. It takes time. You need to concentrate on it.
8. Get a writing buddy. Challenge each other. Do word sprints. If you can’t write together at a coffee shop, see if you can write together online using Skype or a Google hang out.
9. Log your progress every day. Be aware of all you have written and all you still need to write.
10. Understand you just need to get the words down but also understand that, eventually, you’re going to have to go back and rewrite the book. This is your 50,000 word outline for the real book to come.
There’s more—make sure you sleep, make sure you eat, make sure you take walks—but all of it is based on what helps you the most. I can’t work with sound unless it is music without words. Bands like Midnight Syndicate, Two Steps From Hell, David Lanz, Arcanum. Other people must have silence or heavy metal. I do recommend a soundtrack and listening to the same set of music that inspires and enhances your writing.
In the end, whether or not you get to 50,000 words, if you try, you succeed and learn something. I’ve been a fulltime author for years now and I still try to do NaNo when my schedule allows for it. I don’t think it will this year. But even if it doesn't, I’ll be working on something. So know that I’ll be writing along with you all.
I was talking with Todd Gallowglas of the Genre Underground and he asked me how I advertise my books while not being annoying. The truth is, I’m not sure if I’m being annoying or not. But I do know none of my friends have pulled me aside to say, “Uh, Jenn, enough with the selling.” So, I must be doing something right. Here are some of the things I do:
Use social media with a personal touch – Twitter, Facebook, blogging, LiveJournal, GoodReads, etc. Be a real person on the social media of your choice. By this I mean, be personable. Talk about other things going on in your life. Yes, talk about writing and your books. Don’t forget the links to where to buy them but, overall, social media is about being social, not selling.
Participate in social media opportunities – This could be a Twitter chat. Or a blog interview. Or GoodReads giveaway. When given the opportunity to talk about yourself and your work by someone else in a finite, limited way, do it. And then give the readers something more than “this book is awesome.” Tell them about how you made it awesome. Or how your cat’s antics gave you the idea. Or a tip about working to your full potential.
Engage your audience – This is where you listen to the people who follow you. You ask them questions. You challenge them to a flash fiction contest. You ask trivia questions with your books as prizes. Yes, prizes are important. People love free stuff and if they are following you, they probably are interested in you and your stuff. Also, they probably want to be heard by you. I once spent a good hour on twitter figuring out how long it would take the world to notice if every person in a single state up and died. That became the basis of a book I’m shopping around right now.
Use all of the tools at your disposal – There are so many tools out there to get word of your book out there: reviewers, contests, release notices to magazines and newspapers, free fiction linked to the book, talking to your local bookstores and coffee shops. Heck, your sig file on your email is free marketing space. Writing a regular blog column either on your own blog or another’s blog. There are ways to get the word out—both actively and passively—without being annoying about it.
Support your fellow creators – Note that I didn’t say “authors.” By creators I mean artists, jewelry makers, script writers, sculptors, authors, and anyone who creates something whose work you admire. Social media and getting the word out is not all about you. Talk about other people who inspire you and why. We are all in this together, making the world a better place one creation at a time. Anything anyone can make that inspires another to dream great dreams is a hero in my book and worthy of lauding.
Lots of things are going on in my life. All good. All busy. All the time.
My Dangers Untold anthology has been released and it look wonder. We even have Dangers Untold review from Dark Media.
Millennium Knights, a Savage Worlds supplement from Savago Mojo, is coming out in pieces. The first piece, the Primer, is free. Play a 1999 James Bond type spy against the supernatural menace. Wear the tuxedo, load the Walther PPK, and save the world!
Colonial Gothic: Locations has been released. Four settings. So many secrets! Each town if fully described with events and mysteries. Campaign starters included for each one. I also really like the cover on this one. Rogue Games did good.
SF Signal Podcast #155 during WorldCon. I was interviewed by Patrick Hester. Also, here is a page to all of my podcast interviews.
SFWA Northwest Reading Series - The next event in the Seattle area (Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033 ) will be held on Tuesday, October 16 and will be hosted by Seanan McGuire, accompanied by Phil and Kaja Foglio and Jennifer Brozek. Please come and support your local authors. Besides, October Daye and Girl Genius! It's going to be an awesome time.
Finally, happy birthday to my beloved husband, Jeff. You are the keystone of my world.
I know Cat from conventions and the local coffeshop. I also know her writing and love it. I’m completely biased and I really enjoyed the Near + Far collection.
My favorite thing about Near + Far is that I was worried at one point that I couldn't write SF. I've never been a sciencey person. I like reading about it, but when it comes to numbers and metals and periodic weights, a little part of my head goes wandering off into the forest, gathering daisies, until the numbers have gone away.
But one of the cool things about science fiction is that it's social science too, and that's an area that interests me greatly. Some of my favorite books fall into this view, like Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean, Kay Kenyon's The Braided World, or Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan. That's where I went when I wrote science fiction, into mental rather than material science.
So there are space stations, but not much explanation of how they recycle their waste or what they're powering their solenoids on. There's war and biological weapons, but not much about the underpinnings of that. It's a little nerve wracking, because sometimes one thinks that to write science fiction, you must understand science fact.
And certainly science can inspire stories - a piece a friend posted about the impervious nature of plastic in our oceans ended up shaping "The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each," while biological engineering underlies other stories, like “RealFur” or “VocoBox.” But in each, the science is only a secondary character - it's what people do and think and say that matter in the stories, that move them along.
I’d always thought of myself as primarily a fantasy writer - both The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories as well as Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight are both chockfull of nothing but fantasy. But when I sat down and started compiling stories, I realized I had a lot more science fiction than I had originally thought. And that made me happy. Because I wanted to be an SF writer, to follow in the footsteps of the SF writers who’d shaped my reading growing up: Samuel R. Delany, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton, more than anyone else. I might not be able to operate a slide rule in a way Heinlein would approve of, but I could create a story that referenced his and talked about some of the things in it that bothered me. I was one of the gang, with just as much right to speak science fiction as the rest of them.
I’m still timorous around those who speak in numbers, those who understand the mysteries of subatomic particles or string theory. But I feel a bit more confident with this book in joining the conversation. I’m an SF writer too, dammit, and I’ve got the book to prove it. ;)
Those of you who have read me for any length of time know I’m a busy woman. I write, edit, game design, and publish. There’s not a lot more I can do. Except when opportunities present themselves in the form of Kickstarters. I really do believe in my “Share the Love” philosophy. If I can help you, within reason, I will.
So beyond supporting a number kickstarters with my money, I’m currently working with several kickstarters to help back them with my name and / or work. It may not be much but it is something I can give.
Cthulhu Playing Cards – For those who love Lovecraft and the crazy universe he created and then invited others to play in, Cthulhu playing cards are awesome. They have wonderful artwork and the add-ons are very cool. I’m helping out by editing the chapbook that is one of the add-ons. It will have stories by Kenneth Hite and Cody Goodfellow. The cover is to die for already.
Beyond the Sun anthology – This is a science-fiction anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I really believe we need more sci-fi anthologies out there. This one is featuring Robert Silverberg, Nancy Kress, and Mike Resnick. I’m helping out by offering a short story critique at the $100 or “Junior Officer” (#2) level. This critique will include a Skype call or an in person discussion about your story.
One-Shot RPG – One Shot RPG is designed to be played with two people and I thought that was wonderful. I love the idea of playing this what-if game with my husband. When I was approached by the creator to submit a story for the stretch goal anthology, I had to say yes. I could see a One Shot story in my Mowry universe without thinking twice.
I think crowd-sourcing is an excellent way to get smaller projects off the ground and I think a lot of them are worth supporting with more than money. It’s why I do it.
I met Myke Cole at Worldcon 2012. I asked him to tell me something interesting about his forthcoming book, FORTRESS FRONTIER (Ace, Jan 2013) and he told me what was at the heart of the book. It makes me that much more interested in the series.
When I was in Baghdad, people kept asking me if I needed anything. There were constant offers of help from friends and family: food, books, movies. Anything I wanted, anything that would get me through the long months.
Honestly? We were covered. Camp Liberty had the equivalent of a Wal-Mart where you could buy everything from flat-screen TVs to survival knives. Heck, you could even order a car, provided you were willing to pick it up once you got back stateside.
Anothing thing we had was a video library on the network, which everyone pulling a late night shift on watch wasn't supposed to be availing themselves of.
It was on just such a late night watch that I . . . ahem . . . accidentally hit up the video library and came across the 1964 film ZULU starring Michael Caine. It's a Hollywood stab at the unlikely battle of Rorke's Drift, where just over 150 British troops (many convalescing from wounds) successfully defended a position against 4,000 Zulu warriors. It had the hopeless odds base covered, which is sort of a staple in all good war films, but the thing that really resonated with me was the portrayal of the hero, Lieutenant John Chard (played by Stanley Baker).
Chard found himself thrust into a situation for which he was completely unprepared. You have to remember, Chard was a Royal Engineer who (at least according to the movie) had been sent to Rorke's Drift to survey for the construction of a bridge. Sure, he wore a uniform. Sure, he was a was a soldier, even an officer. But the truth? He wasn't a commander, wasn't a warrior, wasn't ready not only for a battle, but for a battle with odds that utterly hopeless.
Tom Hanks' character in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN shared the same situation and the same qualities. Utterly unprepared for what faced him, he simply shrugged, kept his fear and doubt to himself, and put one foot in front of the other. In what seems an utterly inadequate response to something as serious as an overwhelming horde of enemies determined to kill you, they fake it 'til they make it.
And make it they do.
That concept fascinates me. It's not a new idea. Heck, it's practically a trope in fantasy and science fiction. But there's something incredibly inspiring about watching the little guy, frightened, unprepared, hopelessly outclassed, just put one foot in front of the other. Not confident, not cocky, just plodding doggedly, because he can't figure out what else to do. You grit your teeth and you bear it.
And sometimes, you win.
That's the heart of FORTRESS FRONTIER. I hope folks find it as inspiring to read it as I did to write it.
Caller Unknown: Book One of the Karen Wilson Chronicles!
Art by Amber Clark.
Is it not fab?
It captures everything I wanted in this book.
When you have had an active younger life with all the bumps and bruises therein, you get used to going through your day with pain. I have had back and knee pain for more than an decade now. Some of it due to injury, some of it due to my weight, and some of it due to getting older.
About a month ago, all that changed. My back pain flared up. Instead of being just part of life—background noise, if you would—it came front and center to the point of distraction. Also, I started having shooting pains down my legs in certain situations or my coccyx going numb after sitting for a while. This meant a doctor’s visit ASAP. Which turned into an MRI visit and painkillers/muscle relaxers.
Through it all, I had to keep working. I’m a fulltime freelancer. I don’t get sick days. Well, I do. It just means I don’t make money or advance my projects when I’m sick. September was scheduled to be stupidly busy and I knew it. This whole back pain thing was inconvenient at best. Fortunately, one of the best painkillers I know is writing. At least, until you stop writing and then everything is worse.
However, now that most of what I need to get done this month is done, I realize what kind of toll working through the pain has taken on me. I’m burned out and cranky because of it. I’m glad I’m recognizing it and have the opportunity to do something about it. I’m going to take the rest of the month off. I’m going to nap, read, watch movies, and only do what I want to do when I want to do it. That should help.
Just knowing that I’m giving myself permission not to work makes me feel better. I’ll still do email and phone calls and all that, but the rest of the time is mine to do with as I please.
Just a reminder, I have openings for my "Tell Me" blog posts for November and December.
There are two kickstarters I'm involved with:
Beyond the Sun - a sci-fi anthology about exploration. We need more sci-fi anthologies. Seriously.
One-Shot - I'm part of the stretch goals for this RPG product that is designed to be played with two people. It looks wonderful.
And then there are a number of reviews involving me. All of them pretty good. Really. I am grateful for the reviews and their positive tone.
Genre Reviews has a lovely review of my @dawbooks anthology, Human for a Day.
The Geek Girl Project reviews The Lady of Seeking in the City of Waiting and really likes it.
To the bone gives a four star review for Dangers Untold, one of my newest anthologies.
A reader reviews The Beast Within 2: Predator and Prey and likes it for the most part.