Today’s book is one I had the privilege of beta reading. Dystopian steampunk inspired by Arabian Nights. It’s a tale of revenge, seduction, and palace intrigues in a steam-driven world that’s running out of water.
Oh man, guys. This looks so good. Alternative history where (a bit of) the Roman Empire survived into modern times. Military thriller. Strong female lead.
Keep reading: Author interview with Alison Morton
Australian indie author “sneaking some magic into a small town setting.”
Keep reading: Indie Author: Ashley Capes
I’m excited about this one. Sounds almost Narnian.
You had me at “passes through two trees at the local park and disappears.”
Keep reading: Author interview: Helen Jones
I’m excited to announce the launch of my first full-length novel, The Dream World Collective! If you’ve ever dreamed of quitting your job to live a life of depth and adventure, I wrote this book for you.
Think of this book as The Big Bang Theory moves in with Gilmore Girls. It’s got adventure and secret admirers and Ninja Santa debates and an imaginary gnome or two. (Well, Gnomunculus protuberans, to be precise.)
And the timing couldn’t be better. This book is perfect snowy weekend reading – cozy and funny and sweet, with a swirl of romance and a sprinkle of geek.
If you want to try it out before you buy a copy, you can read it for free on Wattpad, with new sections going up regularly.
But the print editions are gorgeous.
Get your copy of The Dream World Collective today!
Man. So much cool stuff in progress that I’ve barely had a chance to look up. Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth a bit.
So the big theme these days is getting one-time infrastructure-y tasks of various sizes out of the way. I have a bunch of things looming/nagging, like finishing my newsletter’s welcome series or publishing The Dream World Collective or launching a website for Clickworks Press. Bad news is they’re each a ton of work. Good news is once they’re done, they’re done (unlike, say, Hubris Towers, which is running on a 6-week cycle so only gives me a little breathing room before it starts back up.)
I’ve realized these looming tasks take up almost as much brainspace as whatever I’m actively working on, so I’m really excited about the prospect of getting them resolved. I think life will feel free and easy (relatively speaking) when I can settle down to just working on the next story and building Clickworks Press with more focus on the business/community side than the web development side.
My brain is a very busy place these days. Here are some of the top things on my mind.
Hubris Towers Episode 5
Bill and I have completed half a season of Hubris Towers. (Woo!) But Episode 5 is starting to loom, with a target release date of 10/20/15.
Bill has been awesome and finished the plan in record time. Usually we work concurrently, with him a few scenes ahead of me at any given time. This time he was diligent and I was on vacation, so (pending a final conversation and maybe some tweaking) it’s all on me to just sit down and write it at this point. Yup. Three weeks left to get from zero words to holding a published copy. So…no pressure.
That said, my lovely wife and daughter are going to be out of town for a week, so I’m going to have a lot of quiet free time, and my crazy goal is to see if I can just sit down and bang out the whole rough draft in a day. Or two. That would be amazing.
Newsletter Welcome Series
I want people who sign up for my newsletters to get a proper welcome. The trickiest part, setting up an optional weekly delivery of free Dream World Collective chapters, is basically done. Huge relief. Now I’m working on a few final pieces and I’ll be ready to kick this off.
I want to add an email that gives a little cool background on The Stone and the Song, but I’m having trouble figuring out an interesting angle that hasn’t been done to death already.
I also set up a fun little reader quiz, which was way too long to start with, so I’ve decided to break it up, with a few fun easy questions for starters and a button at the end to take the reader to the next level if they’re interested. Only problem is that means turning one email into about 3-4 that trigger each other when a person clicks the button. I’ve got the method down, so at this point it’s just busywork, but still adds probably several hours of work.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to launch this welcome series. It’s so much fun. It’s got Han Solo and secret tips on [REDACTED] and a sandcastle story and free access to a novel I haven’t even released yet. And no creepy tentacles. I think it’s going to be one of the best ways I’ve invented yet to make friends with strangers. So I’m also in the back of my mind trying to figure out how to let people who are already signed up for the newsletter try it out, both for testing purposes and because it’s awesome.
Clickworks Press Website
This one is crazy cool, though a little complicated behind the scenes. My vision is to build a website that will draw out what we love about stories, characters, authors, and each other, with specific and interesting prompts that go beyond star ratings or generic reviews.
Like, what if you got to talk about your favorite setting in a book, or your favorite food scene, or pick colors that go with characters, or rage against the villains, or whatever, and a bunch of other people were doing that too, and all of that got aggregated on the book page and made one big story of our collective experience with this book? And then what if you could do that with characters, too, and see all the main characters in a book, or all the stories a character shows up in, or all the stories an author has written, or read, and all the cool little things readers like about the authors, too, and about each other, and—anyway. Run-on paragraph.
And there’s more beyond that, but we’ll start there. Of course, building a website from scratch would be a big enough job even if it were a simple little e-commerce site, not a revolutionary new kind of online communal-story-lovefest. And I don’t want to wait until I’ve invented and built a whole story-love platform before I launch any of this publicly. So I’ve got this thing divided into phases, viz.:
Phase 1 – Visible, attractive front page. Links (if any) work.
Phase 2 – Full hierarchical catalog of Clickworks books and author pages.
Phase 3 – Readers can create accounts and log in and leave a basic snippet.
Phase 4 – First side game and more snippets.
Right now I’m almost done with Phase 2, and I think once that’s solid I’ll do at least a soft launch. At the moment I still routinely break the site as I make little tweaks and teach myself…wow, come to think of it, two or three programming languages plus a framework or two. Like I said, complicated.
But the super-cool part (at this stage) is that all the effort I’m putting in on the front end—(I mean…in advance. I think it’s more like the back end, in web development terms. Or the middle end. Anyway.) All this effort up front is creating the coolest setup. I’ve nearly got it to the point where I can just fill out a new book’s information once in a pretty, user-friendly form, and the right stuff will show up everywhere it needs to throughout the site.
Like, once I’ve loaded in a book’s information, it will automatically generate (as appropriate given the rules I’m setting up) a preview on the front page and on the summary Books page, link the book on the author’s page, and, with only one simple line of code (really a shortcode), generate a full book page complete with buy links to any platforms the book is available on, author bio(s), etc., with customized bits based on the book’s publication date and whether it’s available for purchase. (For example, if it’s available for purchase but future pub date, it gets listed as Coming Soon and shows pre-order links.) It’s a little like magic.
(For the curious techies among you, I’m building it with WordPress, making extensive use of the Pods plugin, which makes it easy to define and use custom post types and taxonomies, as well as providing pretty powerful templating tools. Let me know if you’re interested in hearing more. It’s super-sweet.)
I’m using Gumroad for direct sales and payment processing, and it’s quite elegant but not as powerful as I’d really like. Basically Gumroad has a super-sweet setup if you’re just selling items, but I want to be able to do cool micro-patronage stuff it’s not really built for and display information it doesn’t really make available in the ways I need, so I’m on the bubble. Stripe (and maybe Braintree) could do what I need, but I’d need to be a way better programmer before I’d feel comfortable using them. As I read the situation, Gumroad is a super-safe, simple way to get your products online and sell them, and it’s beautiful, but it’s able to be that simple and beautiful because it’s carefully focused on a specific task.
Things like Stripe have a powerful API (basically a way to program interactions with a site/app/service) that would let me do pretty much whatever I want, like make a charge to a credit card when some event triggers (say, we hit a support goal for a project a la Kickstarter), except I totally am not at a level where I’m comfortable just telling my website when it can go ahead and charge peoples’ cards. I make little mistakes from time to time, and I want to make sure that when I do, it results in things like a broken link or a page not displaying quite right, not someone getting double-charged or an author not getting paid.
So for now I’m sticking with the simple, secure, beautiful Gumroad, and dreaming of the day I can hire a proper developer, dig into the Stripe-or-similar API and really kick things up to the next level.
I’m not a firm believer in writer’s block, but I have my tough writing days just like anyone else. Today’s one of them. Or rather, it’s becoming one because I’m forcing myself to work on Frobisher instead of Hubris Towers. Writing Hubris Towers is currently about like eating kettle corn. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs, I can’t help but write a few more. Frobisher, on the other hand, is getting so long and clever and funny and deep that it’s starting to feel like there’s no way I can bring it to a satisfactory fulfillment, and now I’m getting toward the end where I really need to figure out the extra-clever solutions to the very interesting problems I’ve been raising.
And the thing is, if I were to just sit down and write some stuff, it would probably be, on average, just as good as all the other stuff I’ve written, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t be, and I could delete it and write some more. It’s not like I’m facing bears or razor guns or something.
But I managed to get myself into a mindset that’s more focused, I guess, on trying to figure it all out in advance rather than just writing it and giving myself more raw word count to shape into something exceptional. I’m finding every excuse and non-essential task I can find to avoid sitting down and actually writing.
It doesn’t help that my monthly target is looming, with 7,500 words left to write in the next few days (when I usually shoot for 5,000 per week).
I got out of it by making my goal easier. 7,500 more this month is too much to think about. Let’s start by adding 1,000 today. No, still intimidating. Maybe 500. Better, but that’s like half an hour unless I hit a groove, which isn’t looking likely. 250? Not at all scary, but what would I write? That’s still nearly a page and the whole point is I’m not sure what’s next
Bear in mind, of course, that if I were to just look at the page I’d probably manage to figure out what’s next. But so far I’m just arguing with myself while working on other things.
So I set a goal of 50 words. Seriously. That’s three minutes, one if I’m fast, five if I’m being ridiculous.
And it worked! Or at least it’s working. I’ve gotten moving on the writing, and as usual once I get out of my head and start spilling story it gets the flow going and soon I don’t want to stop.
There are a few reasons this works so well:
- It cuts out the cost of trying – I can attempt 50 words any time I have a couple minutes to spare
- It also cuts the cost of failing – who cares if I have to delete 50 words?
- It gets my logistics in line – once I’ve done my 50 words, I have my tools in place and my Scrivener project open and ready for more
- It forces me to look at what I’ve got so far, which gets me thinking about the story again
- It provides an easy win. Once I’ve got 50 words (which is almost immediately), I can go for another 50. Then another. Then why not 100 this time? And by then I’ve finished 250 and that’s a quarter of a day’s production. A few more of those and I’m breaking actual targets.
So that’s what I’m dealing with today. Really am excited to see what I come up with for Frobisher now that the story’s open and growing again, though. In other news, I’m nearing completion on the paperback layout for The Stone and the Song. So much exciting in so little time! Stay tuned.
A writer wants to express how amazing her books are, but she can’t seem to pin down which details are the ones that will catch a new reader’s attention. Will she be able to overcome her misleading instincts, or will years of effort and emotion be wasted as her stories gather dust in endless obscurity?
Ok, so that was a prototype.
I just read a book by Libbie Hawker called Gotta Read It! – Five Simple Steps to a Fiction Pitch That Sells. I recommend it. It’s an inexpensive purchase and a quick read, and gave me good insight into what I currently find one of the trickiest parts of my job as an author: writing compelling product descriptions.
A couple quick takeaways (one of which is from her recent appearance on the Self Publishing Podcast, which also includes tapirs):
– Authors tend to write about what’s unique about their books, while it’s often more effective to show a reader how the book is like other books they’ve loved.
– Authors often try to summarize the plot and/or describe the awesome story world, which can do more to dilute the story than to promote it.
While the main substance is fairly familiar territory if you’re at all acquainted with how stories work, I found a lot of value in the simple and effective way it gets applied to writing product descriptions and the extremely practical, actionable steps. Plus Ms. Hawker just seems very fun and smart (in fact, she’d probably want me to call her Libbie), and she also writes historical fiction, much of it set in ancient Egypt. Can’t argue with that.
Through all this I also discovered Libbie Hawker’s blog, which has some great posts on the writing life and the publishing industry, from the perspective of a smart, frank, and funny successful full-time novelist.
Link: Gotta Read It! by Libbie Hawker
The more I think about it, the more I’m having trouble defining ‘magic’ in the context of fictional worlds. You could say it’s performing unpredictable, incomprehensible, or impossible acts, but the most satisfying fictional magic has a system behind it, sometimes a whole science. It’s not inexplicable or arbitrary, though it may be difficult.
But engineering is difficult. If you have a world where a small class of people can, through their arcane arts, create a pile of stones that hold each other up in midair over a rushing river, such that people and even whole cartloads can pass over them dry as a bone, is that magic? No. It’s a bridge.
At least, I don’t think that counts as magic.
Let’s get a couple red herrings out of the way early on:
- Illusions don’t count; if it’s just a clever use of curtains and trap doors, that’s not magic for our purposes.
- I think we can also exclude the purely arbitrary; call it chaos. If it’s fundamentally, inherently inexplicable (not just obscure or difficult), it’s more tautological than magical. A whale appeared because a whale appeared. Poof.
Ok, I’ve been trying, but I can’t seem to get away from Clarke’s Third Law here. The tricky one is technology. Broadly speaking, we could define a technology as something that systematically harnesses natural forces in order to carry out a process with greater power and/or efficiency. That’s off the top of my head, but I think it’s a decent start.
So why is a laser gun technology and a staff of lightning magic? They’re both tools that use knowable (if obscure) systems to harness natural forces to accomplish something with more power or efficiency.
It’s not about a visible causal chain, chanting spells instead of yanking a lever. Plenty of technology uses invisible, mysterious forces. Like a radio. Or an airplane.
It’s not about complexity, or simplicity, or incomprehensibility, or difficulty. It’s not that science is systematic and magic is fuzzy; some of the best magic systems ever written are the most rigorously systematic. (Why else are schools or universities of magic such a common trope?)
It’s not that science is more egalitarian than magic; you could (and many stories do) have a technological or scientific elite working as a secretive ruling class. It doesn’t make them magicians; in fact it’s often a running tension that the ignorant populace thinks they’re sorcerers even though they’re not.
And what about the fuzzy boundary? Is teleportation magic or sci-fi technology? What if you call it apparition? Is alchemy science or magic? (Or both? Neither?) Is Asimov’s Second Foundation advanced technology or rudimentary magic?
But if there’s no clear difference, why are the categories so persistent? Even if we can’t pin down the definitions, most of us can easily categorize a list of tools or actions into magical or non-magical. Fireball. Dynamite. Resurrecting Aslan. Destroying Alderaan. Summoning demons. Warp drive.
The closest I’ve come to making sense of it is that magic involves crossing a boundary between worlds. Depending on the story this could mean drawing on metaphysical energies, crossing into a fae/interplanar/supernatural realm, seeking divine power, or whatever.
Next project, of course, is to define ‘worlds’ more rigorously in this sense of it, but it seems that as long as something is explicable entirely in terms of one world, it’s scientific/technological (or natural), but when it involves crossing boundaries, it’s magical.
What do you guys think? Leave me a comment and let me know.