Just wanted to let you Aurian and Jin loving kiddos know, I wrote a companion piece to A&J a while back. It’s about Morda, Bonemaker and Emperor, and his rise to power through, well, what winds up being a lot of blood and gore. I’m posting it in installments on Wattpad, for your free and fancy enjoyment. If you miss Aurian and Jin, you might want to have a looksee.
Writing: The Wrong Word
Something I need to tell you, for this story to make sense–in the real world, in my ‘real job’, I frame pictures for a living.
I know. I know. I’m the only person you know who does that, probably. But anyway.
A few years ago, a lady came into my shop. She had an oil painting with her, and wanted to get it framed fairly quickly. It was a nice painting–a landscape, I think. We chose a nice frame to go on it.
“Just to warn you,” she told me, “I only finished it a little while ago. It’s still wet.”
I touched one of the edges lightly. Sure enough, the paint was still gummy, as it is on a half-dry oil painting.
“Okay,” says I. “Thanks for letting me know.” And I wrote a few words on the ticket to let everybody else know, too.
I didn’t think anything more of it until I handed her a copy of the ticket. She looked it over.
Her eyebrows went way, way up. She was looking at the title I’d put on the piece: and, under it, at the condition.
Oh, shit, my brain said to me, as I realized what I’d done. She opened her mouth.
“…tacky?” she said. “You think my painting is tacky?”
Luckily, she was a nice woman, and once I’d explained it to her she thought it was pretty funny.
Why am I mentioning this? As a lesson, writer friends.
‘Tacky’ was, absolutely, the most accurate word to describe the condition of the painting. When an oil painting is half-dry, as that one was, the texture can hardly be described any other way.
However, in that situation, the most accurate word wasn’t the right word.
Why? Because no one wants to see a ticket with the word ‘tacky’ scrawled on it, describing their own artwork. If I’d taken a second and used my person-brain I would’ve figured that out. But I didn’t–I used my framer-brain instead, which is slow and socially inept, but really good at fractions and things like how to apply gold leaf. And my framer-brain, touching the picture, said tacky.
I got lucky. If I’d been in that lady’s place, a framer probably would’ve died that morning.
Some words, no matter how accurate they are, aren’t the right words in a story, for reasons your social-brain will tell you, if you give it a second. Tacky is probably never a good word to describe someone’s artwork, even if the texture fits that description perfectly. It’s better, in such a case, to say the painting is ‘wet’, even though it isn’t, strictly speaking. People will understand what you mean, and you don’t run the risk of misleading them with your word choices.
Another example: I’m writing a story which features twin brother exorcists (I know, I know). I wrote a scene recently in which they were debating a bunch of lies someone had recently told them, and this sentence happened:
“Oh, brother,” Deacon said.
Deacon is, of course, interjecting due to the ridiculousness. To his brother, Derek.
To his brother.
Is it an interjection? Is it a call for help? If I used that phrase, who the hell would know?
It’s exactly the phrase he would use in that situation. But it’s not the right one.
I guess what I’m saying can be summed up thusly: when you’re debating word choice, spare a moment of thought for the audience. The right word is, after all, only the right word if everyone understands you, and situational circumstances can affect whether people will understand you or not.
In a scene where someone is pooping, no one should stub a toe and say shit.
In a scene where two SeaWorld employees are feeding killer whales in a tank, neither one of them should talk about how they’re drowning in something plentiful, or how difficult it is to stay above water.
Sounds easy, no? It’s harder than you think. (A phrase which, in turn, shouldn’t be used if your geologist MC is cracking through rock strata).
The exception is, of course, when you’re going for a deliberate pun. I leave you guys to figure out when that’s applicable, as puns usually speak for themselves.
But there is nothing–nothing–more painful on this Earth than an unintentional pun.
There isn’t an easy way to avoid it, sadly–except to be on your guard, and have a beta reader or two. Other people tend to notice pretty quickly when an explorer makes ‘no bones about’ the skeleton he just found in the ruins.
Today’s story begins with the phrase which had begun many a morning for me:
So I was in line at Starbucks.
Judge me. Go ahead. Because I’m sure you always have time to hunt down an indie coffee shop. I’m sure you and your indie-coffee-shop-finding buddies enjoy the sweet nectar of free-trade hubris in recyclable cups every morning, with a soupcon of disdain for people who don’t shop at farmer’s markets available in organic creamer-form on the dash.
No? Boo hoo.
Anyway, I was in line at Starbucks, and I noticed it was taking the guy in front of me a while to get his drink. Six or seven minutes sort of a while: in Starbucks language, that’s geological ages. Like, I was checking my phone wishing I could die.
When the barista was finally done sacrificing to the coffee gods, or whatever it is a barista has to do to produce a cupload of soylent coffee-substitute, I could see why. The thing that had been produced–this coffee-esque item–was a modern marvel. It had more sugary shit on top of it than Miley Cyrus after a night on the town. There were sugar drizzles, sugary whipped cream, flecks of sugar, chocolate sugar scrimbles. It was probably four thousand calories, and provided enough diabeetus to keep four third-world countries in insulin for the forseeable future. It probably had extra pumps in it.
(On a related note–why does it not bother people to order things with extra ‘pumps’ of stuff in them? Nothing natural–nothing–has ever been pumped into anything. Anyway.)
This quivering gelatinous pile of almost-coffee–this southern-style cream pie rendered as a potable liquid–this degenerate fuck-you to good taste and simple living on all seven continents–was picked up by its proud owner and, unceremoniously, slurped down on the way out the door.
As though he got one of those every morning.
As though it were perfectly normal–perfectly–to suck down a sugary showboat that took some poor kid seven minutes to make on the way to your car, balancing your phone in your other hand.
Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when we all want a fancy ten-layer coffee beverage. There are times when even I, diabetic curmudgeon extraordinaire, am okay with paying eight dollars for a frappa-crappa-cuppa-zuppa-mocha-latte-hazelnut.
But these times aren’t every day. I want one of those maybe once every three months, and even then I usually ponder the craving for a month or so (‘how badly, really, do I want a diabetic coma?’). And I usually get a small. And I tip the poor barista.
Don’t listen to all those people who tell you whether or not to kill your sugary-sweet darlings. They don’t know what the hell your darlings are–you do. Some of them might have literary merit. Just like, sometimes, that ridiculous coffee confection is just the thing you want–sometimes, you need fillings and a serious sugar-coma.
Writing, my dears, is the Starbucks of the soul.
Most of the time, you should probably go for the plain black coffee of prose. A pack or two of sugar if that’s how you like it, some milk or creamer if you’re that sort of person. Nonetheless: plain coffee. It wakes you up. It gets the job done.
If you drink mostly plain coffee–if you keep your writing style simple and direct–it’ll only mean you appreciate your moments of prosey frappa-mocha-fucka-whatever better.
Because it’s hard to appreciate two pumps of extra whatever-you-pump when you’ve been having it every day.
And plain black coffee isn’t so bad–there’s a lot of subtle difference in plain black coffee. You might even argue, for that matter, that the person who can wax rhapsodic about a cup of plain black coffee is a gourmet–whereas the person who waxes rhapsodic about a cup of sugary, milky, coffee-putrescence is a future diabetic.
It’s up to you, of course, to decide what the appropriate amount of time between frappa-fuckas really is. But, believe me here–there is one. I know, I know, you’ve all heard that old adage, kill your darlings–it’s true. For the most part.
But if you kill all your darlings–if you drink nothing but black coffee from now until the end of time–I can’t help it, I find that a little sad. There’s a fun, sugary part of your soul that no one else will ever see again, that makes your writing what it is. And, sure, indulging in it too much is bad for you–but a little self-indulgence, from time to time, is medicine rather than murder.
The expression ‘kill your darlings’ teaches us, wrongly, that something is harmful to us just because we like it. And, like the Starbucks coffee, it certainly is, if we let it rule us–but if you use your darlings judiciously, if you pick the best of them and apply them with care, there’s no reason that bit you like shouldn’t stay in.
Just because you like it doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.
And in the end, you should be getting a second (or third, or fourth) opinion anyway. If they give your sugary baby the axe, maybe it’s not quite time yet. But if they don’t, let your darling live.
Because people who never ever get a frappuchino are just a little bit soulless. You need to play a little, give in to your cravings a little. They’re part, after all, of who you are.
Unless, of course, you hate frappuchinos. In which case: get one once. Just so you know. If you don’t break the rules ever, you’ll never know what happens when you do.
By the way, this whole post is me not killing a darling. There’s nothing we like over here in Emville like extended metaphors…regardless of how well they work.
Fun With Words: Electioneering Edition
Well, guys, my little blackboard of words is full once more, so it’s tiiii-iiime…for fun with words. It’ll be especially fun for my American friends, who’re all probably just as sick as I am of election coverage…though the election itself isn’t for another year.
I noticed I was having a word-trend about halfway down and decided to go with it. After all, what makes your political opinion sound more justified than a few snappy words in there? The last one, in particular, will probably come in very handy as you debate the merits and drawbacks of our next potential commander-in-chief.
So hoist up your red white and blue, make up a brief statement about Our Great Nation, and enjoy the sensationalist and information-starved election coverage as it’s meant to be enjoyed: with a bunch of big snarky words, so you look smarter while disagreeing with everybody.
A NOTE: I’m not interested in your political opinion. Really, I’m incredibly not interested. I tried to keep my examples fairly cross-party, but of course more of them stick to Donald Trump than to anyone else. Donald Trump is like the statement piece in the well-to-do living room of election politics. You might like it, you might not–but you’ve got something to say about it, and it’s damned hard to pretend it just isn’t there.
Verjuice–a sour juice made from unripe fruit, previously used for medicinal and health purposes, now mostly used in cooking.
Example: Every time someone mentions e-mails, Hillary Clinton looks like she’s just taken a shot of verjuice.
Mendicity–The state of poverty or beggardom; the state of being a beggar.
Example: Bernie Sanders is very concerned about the current mendicity of the US–however, his Republican counterparts complain his platform would make the country even more mendacious.
Cavil–A petty objection.
Example: Ted Cruz’s cavilling might actually cost Planned Parenthood some funding some day.
Bunkum–Nonsense, empty talk. Particularly nonsense thrown about insincerely by a politician. Apparently, this word originated in Buncombe County, North Carolina–I love it when my people spawn something excellent.
Example: If I hear any more of Donald Trump’s bunkum about Megyn Kelly, I’m going to become a Fox News reporter myself and be twice as mean to him.
Quisling— A person who collaborates with an enemy force, thus betraying their own people. This word comes from a Norwegian army officer named Vidkun Quisling, and his story is worth a look.
Example: I’d support Hillary Clinton more if I didn’t worry she’d wind up being a quisling to the American middle class.
Pareidolia-– Seeing things that aren’t actually there because they resemble some other thing. F’rinstance, seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, or a face in the light and bumper setup of the car in front of you. This is another word you’ll want some background info for.
Example: I know my pareidolia is getting out of hand because every time I see Donald Trump, I want to shoot the two mad muskrats currently feasting on his skull.
Snuggery–a small space made to be comfortable and cozy, such as a den or a study.
Example: It’s sweet to see the snuggery Rick Santorum has made for himself in the Christian Evangelical Right.
Bloviate–To speak at windy and greatly exaggerated lengths about something. This is a word coming back into popularity lately: probably because it’s what our politicians do a lot.
Example: I’m sick of Donald Trump bloviating about his wealth.
Widdiful–Worthy of being hanged.
Example: If our nation’s presidential candidates weren’t such a widdiful bunch, I might have more faith in politics.
I received an anonymous comment a few post back, and dad GUM if it didn’t give me the best fricking idea EVER.
We’re going to do an advice column. Because…well, why the hell not? It’s super fun. My advice is occasionally good. And this tickled me to tears. So.
If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in a post, feel free to add an anonymous comment to any post, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I prefer writerly questions, but hell, I’ll take your day-to-day too. Do I have credentials? No. Aw, hell no. But I have opinions in spades.
A writer friend told me I could count on you for advice about a sticky writerly situation. I’m up a creek; I’m dancing in the frying pan contemplating the fire; I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea (not that I’m particularly religious). I’m… well… wordless!
When I named my lead, I gave him a common name anyone would recognize. But then I gave him a shortened nickname that he prefers to be called–and no one knows how to pronounce it! Not only do my beta readers get it wrong when they talk to me, someone posted a review on AMAZON with INCORRECT PHONETIC PRONUNCIATION!!! Now EVERYONE says it wrong! (Okay… at least the ten people who bought the book get it wrong.)
What should I do?? Slap my beta readers around? Send a pipe bomb to the reviewer? Add a pronunciation guide to the start of each book? (Ew, he’s the lead in a SERIES! On the other hand, now that Amazon pays for lends by the word…)
Could you please reply on your blog, maybe dedicate a column to the care and feeding of readers? (I wouldn’t want friends or family to see the mail in my account while they’re violating my privacy.)
Embarrassed in Edenton
Dear Embarrassed in Edenton, (Changed your location, in case of beloved close-to-home privacy violators. Hope that’s okay!)
There may be questions in life to which pipe bombs are not the answer. However–they’re questions I never want to ask.
Pipe bombs aside–after all, internet stalking an Amazon reviewer can get tricky and downright tiresome, once you’re over the initial gonna-get-you thrill–I’d say you have a few choices.
First off–if people you know are mispronouncing the name, kindly and politely correct them. They won’t mind–after all, how would they know? This way, you at least don’t have to hear it all the time. That’s probably the worst part of it–just hearing it. Trust me, I just wrote a story called The King’s Might, and the main character, Jalith–his name is pronounced Hay-LEETHE. Of course, no one other than me really knows that, so, you know. I walk around all day, EVERY day, with the heavy knowledge of that (doubtless global) mispronunciation, JAYlith, like the burden of Atlas on my shoulders.
But Jalith is how I see it.
So, Atlaslike, I wander the earth.
That’s the thing, though. After those inital few people you talk to have been slapped into sensibility, you have to decide: just how important is the correct pronunciation of this nickname to you?
Because, even if you put a giant bold note in the front of the book, people are still going to mispronounce it. It’s just one of the failures of written communication. I didn’t understand that the name Telemachus, the son of Odysseus in the Odyssey, wasn’t pronounced ‘telly-machus’ until I was about sixteen, and happened to hear the name pronounced for the first time in high school English. In SPITE of the fact that my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology had a glossary (with phonetic pronunciations!) in the back. In SPITE of the fact (and this one is amazing, I know) that I took Greek. At least, I’m pretty sure I’d taken Greek by that point. But you get it, anyway.
If it bothers you deeply, check and see if there’s somewhere you could write in a scene in which the pronunciation of the character’s name matters. Maybe a barista calls his name to get a coffee and he has to correct her, someone makes up a rhyme about him, he’s picking up an order left under his name, something similar–I don’t know your story, so it’s hard to say exactly what this might be, but you get the idea. People are far more likely to notice something IN the actual story than a note or aside. People tend to skip those.
Of course, you should only do this if you can do it without forcing it too terribly. But if you can, it’s probably the best way.
If you can’t, and you want to at least stake a claim on the right pronunciation, a glossary or a forward note does sound like your only other option. Of course, it sounds like you’ve already published, so precisely how much work you’re willing to go through for this is up to you. It wouldn’t affect your novel negatively, I don’t think, so there’s no harm in adding it. After all, it didn’t ruin Tolkien.
My point is, though–in the long run, people will mispronounce. They’re just going to do it. And you’re right, probably more now that someone had laid the turds of mispronunciation all over your Amazon page (pipe bombs and a reply are both, sadly, not a recommended solution). But, if I were you, I wouldn’t let it keep me up too late at night–these folks still enjoyed your story. And, if they check out your blog or twitter or whatnot as well, you might have some side opportunities to school them on it as well.
Here y’go, first part of TKM for you. In case you’re blind or you don’t usually follow me, this story will be available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and All Those Other Places very soon (7/21/15). It’ll be free to start out with through Smashwords, and .99 on Amazon until I can make it free there as well. Hrmmhrmmm. My gift to you.
The girl had been down in the earth for a long, long time.
She had once–weeks ago, months ago, maybe even years ago–been a bright and chubby little thing, full of laughter and smiles. But they had been traveling through the Mountains of Vigilance–her parents had turned away, for just a moment, to consider the crossing–and she had fallen, playing on an outcropping of stone.
She had fallen into a ravine. She had fallen father, deeper. She had fallen into this place, this sunken city, cold and dark and lonely. There had been dead brush, to save her from the worst injuries, but there had also been silence, and limitless dark.
She didn’t know if they had tried to find her. They probably had–she had been well loved.
There were mushrooms and lichens to eat, glowing faintly in the dead libraries and bedchambers of the swallowed city. There were pools of water, dripping from cracks in the wall and forming in buckets and plates from long ago. There was a constant filth, a mixture of soot and new soil that wouldn’t scrub off. There was the sound of her own voice, echoing down the endless stone halls.
There was nobody else.
She was sure of it. Looking and calling had been the first things she had done. Her mother had taught her this, to look and call if she got lost. No one will hurt you, her mother had said. You’re only a child. They will help you find the way back to us.
The little girl remembered her mama, and her papa, and in this dark place, lit only by phosphorescent fungus and the eyes of sightless creatures, she wept.
There was nobody else, and no way out. All the paths curved downward. All the doors led downward.
She didn’t know how many tons of rock were over her head. She had walked down many hallways here in the dark, gone down many flights of stairs. She could feel the weight of it all above her–crushing weight, impossible to lift or navigate.
All paths led down.
Even when she tried to turn around, go back the way she had come, all paths led down.
Which is why, when she woke in this dark place at some unspecific time–it could have been midday, for all she knew, and she could have slept a hundred years–she was surprised to hear voices.
They were indistinct, these voices. Gauzy shreds of whispers. Barely real. She had to strain her ears to catch them, and her hearing had become very keen indeed.
But they were voices. Up ahead.
She ran. She left her tattered cloak and the handful of mushrooms she had planned for breakfast behind her.
Down, down, down. All the paths went down, but the rock overhead didn’t seem quite so crushing, the place quite so airless.
And, like her mama had taught her, she called. Her own voice seemed deafening in the darkness, a thing meant for the world of light and movement.
“I’m here!” she screamed. “I’m here! Here!”
The echo came back to her: here, here, here.
The voices–were they louder now? Sibilant whispers. They might have scared her, if she hadn’t been scared for so long already.
Her little boots were loud against the paving stones, flap flap flap. She ran through what must have once been a great hall, its ceiling extending neverendingly up into the darkness, ornate columns receding with each footstep to her right and left. She passed through a meaner hall, its columns plain, its ceiling low.
The voices were almost deafening now, hissing, whining, cajoling.
There was a door in the hall. There was frieze on the door, a hunting scene, figures so worn they were barely visible. The voices came from behind the door.
“I’M HERE,” the girl shouted, with all her might.
From below–though how there could be more below, with all she had traveled, she was not sure–there were cracks and scrapings, as though something vast had stirred from its sleep.
The door creaked open.
Inside, in a room that was dark but not quite as dark as it should have been, it was very cold. The girl wished instantly for her forgotten cloak, for the stout fur vest that existed somewhere above with her parents. Frost coated the walls and the flooring, turned the few furnishings remaining into half-visible lumps.
There was a man in the room, lying on one of the tables. She thought he was asleep, until she crept closer–though he lay very still, his eyes were open. They were the color of old blood. His breath–so shallow it might have almost been her imagination he breathed at all–let wisps of white frost into the air.
She might have been afraid of him, in the world up above. He lay so very still, and the face underneath his long pale hair was as cold as the room around him. Here, he was the only other person she had seen.
She jumped into his arms, buried herself in the ancient blanket someone had wrapped around him. He blinked, once, twice. He raised himself a little off the table. His movements were slow, careful, and filled with terrible certainty.
“Hello, child,” he whispered. “Are you, then, the one the earth powers have chosen to wake me?”
“Help me,” she said. “You’ve got to help me. We were going through the pass–through the mountains. I fell. I can’t find mama. You’ve got to help me find my mama.”
“Shh,” the man said. “Shhh.”
There was calm to him. Terrible calm. Though she should have felt comforted, should have been overjoyed, she felt only lightness, only unending cold. His hand twisted through her hair–a hand nearly skeletal, white as frost, thin and long-fingered. She didn’t want him to touch her, but it had been so long since anyone had held her, had comforted her.
“I’m looking for someone, too,” he said. “A boy. He’d be–about your age, perhaps a little younger. A golden-haired boy.”
“I want my mama,” said the girl.
The man smiled. It was not a comforting smile, and there was little pity in it.
“Your mama is long gone,” he said. “There is no time, in these deep places. There is only the earth.”
She began to cry. She had forgotten why, precisely–she had forgotten why she was unhappy. The tears froze to her cheeks. The pale man picked them off, his spiderlike hands gentle.
“Your home is here now,” he said. “You are the Waker, and for you to be the Waker there must be something of the old powers in you. Did you hear the voices, little one? Did the earth speak to you, as it speaks to me?”
She nodded. She remembered, vaguely, thinking the voices were something else–human voices. The memory was tinged with white, as though seen through a thin sheet of ice. It was silly, to have thought they were human voices.
They were the voices of the earth–of the hefenta, of the deep powers of earth. And this man–this man was their creature. She knew it, somehow, though she did not know why or what precisely it was she now knew: the earth was a part of her people, the Norchladil people. The cold was in the bones and the blood.
The man wrapped the blanket around her. She noticed, distantly, how very old it was–the threads breaking with the gentlest touch, something staining it that may, long ago, have been blood. The man’s robes were stained as well, their style ancient. Even as she watched he drew the robes closer to him, and they brightened and whitened, as though touched by frost.
“Who are you?” she asked. Though she knew the answer–though her bones, and the ancestral memories inside them, knew the answer.
“I’m a magician,” the man said. His mouth twitched. “A Northmage. A relic of a time long before. A ghost. The worst sort of ghost–a ghost that knows your name.”
And, bending to adjust the blanket–bending so his cold breath blew right in her ear–he whispered it to her, in the old language of blood and death and the angry earth.
And she was no longer what she had once been.
Some things are that simple.
“Come,” the man said, standing and stretching his ancient bones. “If we’re to find the boy, we’ve much work to do–and you’ve much to learn. Macher tanith ii, they will call you–she who is servant of the dark world.”
Twisted up in his hair, a white comb winkled–the warrior’s comb, malat ma’a. The man withdrew it, held it out to her–its teeth were sharp and long, and its weight was cold and deadly in her hand.
“You shall hold this, for a time,” he said. “You shall learn of its power. But don’t grow used to it, for it must go to the boy. We shall pass it along, when the time comes for me to deploy you.”
He was almost handsome, creature of ice and frost that he was. His hair like white silk, his eyes the same blood burgundy as the eyes of the carving on the comb.
She could almost love him, almost. After all, who else did she have to love?
“Papa,” she whispered. The word died unheard in the airless dark. The man had turned, begun to walk. He didn’t turn around or even pause to witness its death.
Her last thought, as the final pieces of her mind that belonged to her dissolved, came to her in a strange woman’s voice, a voice she no longer recognized or cared for.
No one will hurt you. You’re only a child.
What’s Up With Me, III
It’s time for another all-encompassing ‘what I’m doing’ sort of post.
Obviously, the answer right now is typing.
I have new and exciting crap to tell you about my own crap, which you hopefully read. While I know this post will leave you with a spring in your step and the tender refrains of love music by lute echoing in your ears, please, try and contain your joy until I’m done typing. Really. I hate it when dreams soar prematurely.
1) The King’s Might
My Aurian and Jin unrelated novel, The King’s Might, will be out 7/21/15. Will you like it? I bet you will. It’s more serious than A&J, and far grimmer, which people seem to like, for some reason I don’t completely understand. It’s also about princes, which people also seem to like.
Oh, and one other thing. It’s going to be free.
Yes, you read that right. PERMANENTLY FREE OH SWEET BABY JESUS LOVEJOY JUMBLEBUBBLES. So even if you don’t like it, you haven’t lost a fucking thing, honey. (There will be a post in not too long about my decision to do this, and why I’d do such a silly thing. It’ll be edumacational.)
I wrote another novelette. Sorry, I can’t seem to stop doing it for some reason. It’s about Morda the Bonemaker, and his time as a child in the Joyous Wood. I’m still trying to decide what to do with it, but hell, it’s there. I have this vague plan where I do a few of them–I had a great idea for one about the making of the Sundering Sword–and maybe do a little compilation bookthing. But I don’t know. Just in the throwing-stuff-around phase on this one.
I haven’t talked about this enough yet. You know what’s surprisingly delicious? Cucumber chips. Put a little salt and vinegar on those bad boys, a light dusting of chili powder, let ’em dehydrate for fifty years or however long it takes where you are. SO TASTY.
Anyway. Lemme try this again.
3) Aurian and Jin.
I’m going to start running free sales on the ol’ A&J through Amazon once more. The first one of these, for one day only, is this weekend: Saturday, June 28th, 2015. I’m hoping to get a few more reviews in time for Little Bird’s release this September, so, you know, buy my stuff and whatnot. (The Antidote will not be free. Because, come on, it’s ninety-nine cents. If you’re that bad off and you want to read it anyway, contact me and I’ll damn well buy it for you.)
4) What the hell should I do next?
I’m going to stick a poll in this post to ask YOU, buddy. Because I’ve got like twenty thousand things going right now, and, while I’ll probably finish at least half of them, I’m curious as to which ones you guys want me to finish FIRST. I like to feel important and liked. Or, well. Important, at least.
And I like to do things for you guys. And about the only thing I’m good at other than writing is baking, which doesn’t transfer to the internets too well. So, tell me what to write and I’ll do it.
A note: all of these projects now have at least 10,000 words on ’em, which is about where something has to be for me to be fairly sure I’m going to finish it.
So I’ve been working on this sci-fi dystopian kind of thing lately. I know: travelling oft-travelled ground. But it’s fun. And fun is what I need, because all this editing is most DEFINITELY something other than fun, probably something four-lettered. It’s a revamp of an old story I’ve had kicking around in various forms forever: a little worried I’m veering into the territory of cliche, but hell. You gotta have fun sometimes, and to hell with the cliche-ery.
It’s the story of Moll Coulter, a former criminal of uncertain background who’s had her memory partially erased by Sunrise City Gov. It’s got all that chewy Blade Runneresque dystopian stuff in it. Moll does recover her memory, about halfway through–when she discovers that, not only is the world around her not what she thinks, but the people she trusts are perhaps not the people she SHOULD be trusting. Fun tipple includes Soyful Noise, a Christian soy-product conglomerate, home products made from a combination of soy product and cockroach, a brief but informative lesson in how to kill a law officer with a grappling gun, and a man, the mysterious Thelonius Crowe, with a Coat of Many Colors. Yes, they say things like ‘oh my Dog’ and ‘cheese us rice’. Taking the Lord’s name in vain went out with the ascent of Soyful Noise, and they’re nothing if not creative.
Worth continuing? Lemme know.
The Girl Who Almost Burned Us
It was Friday–a Bright Day–and Moll Coulter was dreaming of apples.
She had put the blackout skins in the windows yesterday morning, when she was still relatively sober, and had therefore done it relatively well. In one corner of the window, the skin had begun to peel, and a single batonlike ray shot through, ending in a hot white coin of light on the floor. Moll shifted and turned in her sleep, as though the brightness bothered her.
In her dream, the apple twirled, backwards and forwards, on its stem. It was perfect, unblemished, round. There was a smell that rose up from it–a smell that Moll, who had never seen a real apple in her life, associated with body wash and perfume and high class hookers.
It was a peaceful smell. Delicate. Moll felt intoxicated–which was nothing new. This intoxication just felt better.
“Ohmidog, Moll,” said a voice from outside the room. “Oh. My. DOG. MOLL!”
The apple disappeared, gone in a flash of white light. Moll was left, bleary-eyed, staring at the cracks in her bedroom wall. She yawned, stretched. Knocked three empty bottles of Admiral Soyton’s 150 Proof to the floor.
One bottle, rolling into the beam of light, cracked, exploded, and began to melt.
“MOLL! WAKE UP, MOLL!”
The bedroom door rattled on its hinges, and, after what sounded like a summary kick, snapped at the lock. Bobbitt, her enormous mass shrouded in a protective suit, rushed inward, dashed through the beam, and slammed the corner of the curtain back into place.
“Heyyy,” Moll said. “Bobbitt.”
“Are you INSANE?” Bobbitt screeched, her voice tinny through the suitspeaker. “Bright Day breaches are no joke, Moll. You could’ve burned us all in our beds. Lucky I saw the corner, coming home from work. Cheese us. One tiny hole–one pinhole–that’s all they say it takes. And you left a whole corner undone. That’s how the Alegharis died, you know. Rip in the Bright Day skins, too cheap to replace it. Tenement B burned to the ground.”
Moll blinked a few times, waited for her vision to come into focus. Bobbitt, her face sweaty and pink with exertion beyond the suit mask, was scowling mightily. All four of her chins wobbled dangerously downward.
Moll sighed. “Elaine was home, wasn’t she.”
“Yes!” Bobbit threw her suited arms up as far as the suit would let her reach. “If killing yourself and destroying all our possessions means nothing to you, yes, beyond those little factoids, Elaine was home sick today. You would have burned my only child alive in her bed. You would have–”
Bobbitt choked, sputtered. Wheezed. Looking at her, bent over and hacking, Moll did feel sorry.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Still hacking, Bobbitt gave her the finger.
“Look,” Moll said, sitting up. “I didn’t mean to. I just–”
“You were drunk,” Bobbitt growled dangerously. “I know. When are you not?” She fiddled with the suit collar, pressing buttons and twirling dials. There was a faint pop as the pneumatic seals loosened, and Bobbitt drew the suit helmet over her head and tossed it into a broken-backed chair.
“Find a new place to live,” she said at last. Moll would give her this: she sounded regretful.
“But,” Moll said, though at this point it was more just to say something than because she had any argument.
“Nope,” said Bobbitt. “Find a new place. Bright Day breaches, broken bottles on my floor, shouting obscenities where Elaine can hear them–you’ve become a liability. If we’d lived a hundred years ago, I might’ve given you a second chance–but this isn’t the United States of America anymore, Moll. This is Utopia. And there are no second chances in Utopia. Not for any of us.”
Moll would also give her this: she was shaking her head. She didn’t smile. She didn’t look happy about it.
“I’ll give you until the end of May,” Bobbitt said. “That’s almost two weeks to find a new place. After that, if you aren’t out of here, I will personally throw you on the street, Bright Day or Dark Day or anything in between. And I doubt–I highly doubt–that your suit is in any better shape than your blackout skins.”
Moll nodded. It was all she had left to do.
“This breaks my heart,” Bobbitt added, after a moment of silence. “Just thought you should know. You aren’t a bad person, Molly. Elaine loves you. But what can I do? What the hell else can I do?”
Moll certainly didn’t know.
Bobbitt closed the door on her way out. The door, its latch broken, swung right back into an open position.
Moll sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes.
WW: KDP Select for Rank Amateurs
Just a quick blog here. I’d like to do a not-so-quick one, but that requires time.
I’ve seen a lot of internets either way about KDP Select free giveaways, and their uses for authors. Some people say their sales numbers surge after a giveaway, some people don’t. Some people find the (admittedly) vast number of people who download the book while it’s free, versus the not-at-all-so-vast number who won’t pay the one or two dollars when it isn’t, fascinating.
I’m among the pro-giveaway faction on Amazon. It might have to do with my status in life, or my lack of money sense, but there you are.
I did a giveaway on Superbowl Sunday. While the Patriots were playing the Seahawks, I was watching my numbers climb with unabashed amazement. I ‘sold’ well over a thousand copies. I topped charts, dammit. Didn’t quite break into the Top 100 Free–I think my highest ranking there was #139–but still. Hell.
And, of course, I got money for none of it.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m a young writer, mostly unpublished. Certainly unpublished in the genre I want to work in. I don’t have an agent to ship me about, or a publicity team to paste pictures all over Barnes and Noble.
Nor do I have a ton of money. I am, in fact, close to broke as we speak (payday is Friday. It’s homemade salads and bits of lunch meat for dinner until then). And I’m not a writer/marketing guru. No, no. I got stuck with a surplus of artistic talent, which, sadly, means I got all the business sense of a brain-damaged llama in a snowstorm.
What those free giveaways do for me–what I desperately need them to do–is offer ADVERTISING.
I wrote a good book. I know it, and I know if the right people read it they’ll love it. But in the glut of similar offerings on Amazon, who’s going to find it? You can’t tell from a blurb–at least, not when folks aren’t being supremely lazy–who can write and who can’t. And with the advent of indie publishing, readers no longer have that comforting middle man, the publishing company, to offer the crudest and most basic form of quality control. It’s a free-for-all in the world of cheap ebooks.
And, like in any free-for-all, the people who come out on top aren’t always the cream. Plenty of other things float, aside from cream.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent good money, money I possibly shouldn’t have spent, on paid advertising. It’s done nothing. Not a damn bit of difference. Maybe I’m not using the right places–I’m almost certainly not spending enough money–but the fact is, I don’t HAVE enough money to advertise well.
Review swaps and requests on Goodreads have also, by and large, been useless. I’ve given away several copies of my book, in the course of the past month. One person–one exceptionally kind and thoughtful person–was good enough to actually do the review. I know patience is probably key here, but I only have so much money, and no real way of giving the book away without spending some of it.
Long and short of it–the ONLY thing that’s worked, the only thing that’s boosted my sales and gotten my name out there enough to make a difference in the search listings, is free giveaways.
Yes, I’ve defied conventional wisdom and done the giveaways without having a second book out. No, I don’t much care. I’m not after the money–I’ve got a damn job.
I’m after the recognition.
Here are a few other blog posts about the nature of the KDP Select beast, and why you should or should not put your head in the Amazon Lion’s mouth:
Ben Zackheim–I don’t agree with him on a few things here: namely, he subscribes to the traditional ‘more than one book’ idea–but there’s a lot of useful crunchy information here.
M. Louisa Locke–One of the more level-headed explanations of what KDP Select can (and can’t) do for you. Damn, I wish I sold twenty copies a day.
Joanna Penn–Mostly just because Joanna Penn is a lady worth listening to.
Hugh Howey–Because Hugh Howey. Hugh Howey’s first WOOL story is a post-apocalyptic dystopian masterpiece, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
A LAST NOTE–
I’d like to see more of these blogs–what works/what doesn’t–from people like me, who’re just starting out at this and have very little money to put behind it. Not everyone’s an expert, and not everyone is ready to turn up their noses at 20 books a day in sales.
I’m certainly not an expert. I’d LOVE to sell twenty copies a day.
And I think more people are in my boat than the ‘successful professional’ boat. And, honestly–that’s marketing from two very different perspectives. I don’t have a name out there, or a ton of established fans–I work for every damn review I get from the ground up, and that’s frankly just how it is. I’m trying to build a base I can count on, and I’m doing it the hard way: the only way of life, unfortunately, for broke people.
I see a lot of writing blogs, by ‘bestselling’ indie authors, telling me what I’m ‘doing wrong’: some of which is done, not from choice, but the necessity of having a full time job and very little cash flow. I get a little angry at this, sometimes. I’m sure these folks have great advice to offer for people with all the time and money in the world, but not all of us have these things.
So I’m going to try and post a little more on my experiences with self publishing. And I’m going to be honest. Because, if nothing else, I’m usually that.
Thank you, and good whatever-it-is-where-you-are.
WRITING WEDNESDAY: A Brief Note About Symbolism
I see a lot of people talking about symbolism as if it’s a lesson you learned in High School English, and symbols are delicate little seedlings you cultivate, nourish, and plant carefully in the fertile loam of your TOTALLY NON SYMBOLIC story so that some beret-wearing reader somewhere will pause in his Baudelaire recitations long enough to read your book, notice your flowering seedling, and go ‘oh, how clever’.
This is not the case. Symbols aren’t hothouse seedlings–they’re more like weeds.
The core symbols in your story are the things you can’t kill, no matter how hard you try. Round-Up, Killz, newspaper and winter frost–you could try anything, and it wouldn’t work. Symbols are dandelions, crabgrass, and clover. Symbols, in a word, fuck up your lawn.
They fuck it up, of course, because they’re hardy. Because they’re malleable, unkillable. Because they belong there–because they should be growing there. They come with the territory. You don’t have to do any extra work to get them in there–they’re there already.
What you want to do, if you’re a smart gardener, is learn to work around them. Deal with them. Otherwise, you’re going to plant some poison in there that kills your whole damn story.
Or, if you insist on the English Essay method–your delicate little seedlings, imported at some cost from Shanghai, where they know about these things in spite of the entire fucking city being paved, will die as soon as they touch soil. Because they don’t belong. Because they aren’t right.
Write your first draft. Just write it. Forget, for however many weeks it takes you, that you’re going to be the next Charles Dickens or Faulkner or whoever. Forget how pleasantly surprised you’re going to be when they chuck your Pulitzer at you. Forget all that back-patting self-congratulating bullshit and write a story.
After that, wait a while. Have a celebratory drink or five. Figure out where on the shelf you’re going to place all your awards. Whatever keeps your monkey chunky.
Go back and read. I could tell you to try and read it like it’s the first time you’ve seen it until I’m blue in the face, but that’s honestly close to impossible anyway, so just read it.
What jumps out at you? What do your characters keep looking at, what do they keep doing?
I’m writing a story right now about a young magician with a few mental problems who stumbles into a mess of real magic he isn’t quite equal to. He’s a sullen, hostile, brooding little person. He has, for many years, refused to acknowledge who he is or the truth of the place he’s come from.
What does Russell Attridge notice about people, first and foremost? Hair. Especially on women–especially dyed hair, treated hair, permed hair. He goes so far as to describe his mother’s hair as ‘the headdress…of some ancient peroxided Babylonian queen’. He judges women by their hair, almost.
I wasn’t planning on making hair an important symbol of Russell’s subconscious loathing of quackery and fakery. I wasn’t planning on hair being exemplary of the trapped feeling he gets around his mother, around his own illusions, which he knows are not real, and which in and of themselves symbolize his desperate yearning for the hidden magic and mysticism of his childhood. I wasn’t planning on a character’s hair–treated or not, kept up or not–denoting the character’s honesty.
In fact, I totally came up with all this after the fact. English major, remember? It’s what I do: make shit up. Green carnations. Art for art’s sake. Bullshit.
How, then, did it happen? If I didn’t plant my own tidy little literary orchids, how did they grow?
The answer is somewhat metaphysical, which you guys probably know I hate by now. But it is, simply–quit being yourself for a minute. Quit thinking about your writerly life, your possible Pulitzer, whether or not you’ll be making rent this month. When you are writing, be your character.
How, you might ask, is it possible for a slightly dumpy, happily parented twenty six year old arts professional to turn into a male magician who survived childhood abuse?
Well, I know men. I know magicians. I know people–adults about the right age–who’ve survived childhood abuse and neglect. I learned a LOT about magic, and abuse, and let what I learned influence how I thought. This isn’t anyone’s story but Russell’s. How Russell perceives his own surroundings will, therefore, be exactly how I perceive them, looking around as Russell. So it is what it is. And what I notice, slumping around a small Southern post-factory town with forgotten lockpicks in my pocket, is hair.
So you’ve got your tough weeds already. When you edit–pruning, for the sake of metaphor–all you have to do is cultivate them. Not too much–nobody wants to call more attention to weeds. But trim them, yes. Shape them. Make them a harmonious part of your literary garden instead of an add-on, or an eyesore.
Save the Phoenician sailors for poetry. Save the poppies and the games of chess for poetry. Let your prose ‘symbols’ be loose, and fast, and leave stuff open for discussion. The literary interpretation should be left up to book clubs and critics.
Your story should be you.
And if somebody doesn’t agree, fuck ’em. If you’ve thought long enough and hard enough about what being someone else might be like, it’ll be realistic enough. Believe in yourself. Other people can’t do that one for you.
PS–How many times have I ended a post with the phrase ‘fuck ’em?’ Probably a lot. I know.
If you want to read the first and second rough-draft chapters of this story I’m talking about, check ’em out here:
Or–yeah, I have to do it–buy my book.