Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Which Way Should We turn? Ushering in the New Publishing Era…

As many of you may know, I've been pretty big on the thought of traditional publishing. I'm a fan of the Big 6, let me tell you! And in all honesty, it would be a total dream come true if I had one of my books published through them. It would be a dream come true if I had one of my books published traditionally, period… through an indie press or otherwise!

But as many of you also know, the publishing world is shifting… sort of tilting on its side right now. Getting "published" is not nearly as hard as it once was. Now we have e-readers that (to my chagrin) pretty much eliminate the need for paper books. (Not that they eliminate the want for paper… I will always be a paper lover, myself. There's nothing quite like opening a brand new, physical book to the smell of freshly printed ink on white or cream paper. Mm-mmm!)

Not only do we have the e-readers, but with the dawn of digitalized books, the way of the indie publisher has become much more traveled than it ever was before. The Self-Published are not as far down the reading list as they used to be. Once at the bottom of the proverbial publishing shark tank, now there are authors out there making more money, selling more books, churning out even more reading material a year, and gaining more fans much faster than they would have if they had gone a Big 6 rout. There're people like Amanda Hockings and Joe Konrath that pretty much make their living on just writing books. (Isn't that where we all want to be someday?) Then there's John Locke, an originally self-pubbed author who just signed with Simon & Schuster, and managed to do the seemingly impossible as well: hold on to his e-book rights. These people and many others have dipped their toes into the waters of Indie Authorship, and they've succeeded. Not only that but they've kept their rights: that's something that all authors wish for, but few actually see happen.

And then we have people closer to the Christian Publishing World and the genre's included in Christian Speculative fiction (the genres that interest me. ;D) . We have Jeff Gerke, who started his indie company Marcher Lord Press around the years of 2007 and 2008 in order to fill a niche market that he saw needed filling. Now his company is topping the list of indie publishers interested in Christian speculative fiction, and several MLP books have won awards in the Christian industry… we're talking the Christy, here, people: the highest award to be offered in Christian Fiction! Author, Jill Williamson, has already won two Christies for her Blood of Kings trilogy, and I know that several other books have been nominated in the past, as well as books that have been nominated for other awards. (I know there was another author that won a Christy, or who was at least nominated for one... hmmm...)

We also have Scott Appleton, who started his Indie Company, Flaming Pen Press, in order to publish his book, Swords of the Six, which sold over 3,000 copies in one year and went on to be picked up by AMG – one of the leading traditional publishers of Christian speculative fiction. He now has a contract through AMG for all seven books in his sword of the dragon series. FPP also published Kestrel's Midnight Song, the amazingly engaging fantasy written by 19 year old Jacob Parker. Kestrel's Midnight Song went on to receive a Children's Moonbeam Award and (if I remember correctly) also sold over 3,000 copies since its release last September. Now FPP is getting ready to release a new novella titled Out of Darkness Rising, written by the talented Gillian Adams. (And I mean talented here, people… I've read some of her work already. It's truly inspiring.) The novella is set to be released in the summer of 2012, and I know that it will be a success.

Next we have Port Yonder Press, run by Chila Woychik (I hope I spelled her name correctly) which strives to appeal to the artful, the literary, and the speculative. PYP is getting ready to release a new speculative work titled Dawnsinger, written by Janalyn Voigt. I've been looking into this book for a while, people… I'm totally stoked about reading it when it finally comes out! PYP has also released the book Sylvari: an Anthology of Elves in which one of our fellow teen writers, Christian Miles, is published and in which our very own Mirriam Neal has some of her beautiful illustrations displayed.

And of course we can't forget this new movement by Bestselling Christian Fiction authors Christopher Hopper, Wayne Thomas Batson, and the brothers Christopher and Allen Miller. They've decided to start a Writing/Publishing Guild titled Spearhead, in order to provide quality Christian Fiction for readers of all ages. They've given new meaning to the words "Indie Publishing" since they've set out to be independent together, and I just have to wonder where this movement will go? Already they are releasing books through their Guild… (I believe that one such book is titled "Mech-Mice" written by the Miller Brothers, and Wayne Thomas Batson's newest work "Ghost" is (or else soon will be) available through the guild as well, as will Christopher Hopper's latest book in his White Lion Chronicles.)

Then last but not least, we have Andrew Peterson and Rabbit Room Press. Andrew Peterson is an award winning Christian Songwriter who also writes Christian Middle-grade Fantasy. (I'm a fan of both his songs and his books!! :D) In the past, the first two books of his Wingfeather Saga have been released through Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Random House. But just recently, Mr. Peterson released the third book in his series through his own company, Rabbit Room Press, and let me tell you… it's just as good if not better than the first two books! (Expect reviews of all three of his current books in September for the CSFF Blog Tour.) Just within the last month I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Peterson in person and ask him about his books. I said that I saw he had published The Monster in the Hollows through his own company, and I wondered why. His reaction was similar to Mr. Batson's blog post about the new Spearhead Guild: he'd published his book through his own company because he thought he could get it out to his readers faster and more efficiently than if he had to wait for another publisher to do the work. Besides that, he'd come to know the business and had sort of created his own brand, what with his song albums and his books taking over Christian America. Why not publish the book himself? (disclaimer: Those were not his exact words, but you get the gist. I can't remember exactly what he said, word for word… but I can lay down what I remembered of the conversation in my own words.)

Could it be made any clearer? The world of publishing is shifting severely. In my mind it's pretty well balanced out 50/50 at the moment between Indie Presses and other larger companies, where it used to be about 90/10… or perhaps an even smaller percentage for those who took on publishing by themselves. And everything is quickly tilting towards indie publishing and ebooks. Even for those who are opposed to the change, there's no stopping the advance. It's happening… all around us. Constantly. And now Borders, my favorite bookstore, is going out of business… mostly because of the rising success of e-books and the seemingly decreasing need for traditional bookstores. Amazon is taking over everything.

With all that in mind, I've started seriously rethinking some of my previously unwavering notions about becoming published. I'm still a firm believer in traditional publishing, paper-back books, the Big 6, and physical bookstores. But now I'm starting to see Independent publishing as a possible option as well. I've considered it before, of course (who hasn't?) but the idea is starting to grow on me more and more. I am just not sure anymore whether I want to pursue publication through traditional means (with a possible agent, and queries, and lots of waiting involved, and so on…) or whether I want to step up to the task, be the entrepreneur that I've always known myself to be, and start an Indie Press of my own.

I just don't know anymore. *shakes head* And it's quite conflicting.

However, I have been weighing the options. I've been asking myself the questions that need to be asked when it comes down to new businesses … How would I do it? What would it be called? Could I handle it? Who would be willing to step out with me? What about marketing? That sort of stuff.

My dad had his own business since before he married my mom. Granted, he was an artist, but then again, writing is a form of art too. And he became known throughout the states! (but don't look for him on the internet… he never was very web-savvy; his business took off simply through word-of-mouth and personal advertisement. We had rough times, but so does every other business. *shrug*)

I keep wondering that if my dad could do it and succeed, then why couldn't I? My mom and several other respected people that I know have always told me that they think I should go indie as well. I know I have the spirit for it, and the drive. I know that I'm the type of person who strives for success and perfection… and I never stop striving for it. (yes, I do know that about myself… it's a complicated knowledge, but it's what has kept me in Jr. College for 3 years and will keep me in Jr. College for another 2 before I transfer… Double major here. *points to self* <_< It's that drive that has also kept me rewriting my books until I feel that they are perfect… which also tends to drive me crazy. But in a good way. Lol! :D) I'm the type of person who can look at the impossible, see possibilities, and then I will try to make those possibilities happen.

So why couldn't I start an Indie Company? Why not? I've always known I'm supposed to work in publishing… I just
KNOW it. So why not?

I don't know the answer to that question yet, but I've decided that while I'm considering the options I will look at the problem through two different perspectives. I'm still rewriting SOTD, and I will continue to work on my query and cover letter as well, while also considering publishers and agents for both of my current WIPs as I work to stay up-to-date on the publishing news, markets, and venues. But I've also decided to think out a few things, just in case I do choose to go Indie. I thought I would post some of these thoughts here, and see what you, my readers, think of them. Perhaps you can give me your input to consider; advice and thoughts are always welcomed. I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard work… in fact, I quite expect it to be hard work. And should I plan to explore this option, I will definitely work hard at it. (And, hopefully, I won't be alone in my endeavor either… but I'll present those thoughts in a later post.) I'm just saying that I'm considering it.

First of all, if I went Indie I would want to publish other books, not just mine. I have a passion for creative writing, especially speculative fiction, and especially for the Middle-grade and YA. I know that this passion is real because every time I start to talk about it, something jerks around in my heart and I just want to start crying. My Grandma says that a person's true passion and calling will make them cry, so I know that this calling is real; I know that God has called me to write, and I know that no matter what, I will strive to keep writing and keep spreading His messages and my passions for as long as He allows. I want to be an encouragement to other writers and I want to spread my passion through my words (and I'm starting to think that my passion would touch more people and spread much farther and faster if it wasn't simply limited to only my writings and perhaps a traditional publisher… What if I could help other writers and authors who aspire for the same passions that I have? Wouldn't that be great?! *looks around, then clears throat* ahem…). I want to help other people understand the wonders that are waiting within the pages of a good book; I want to help people use their words to explore the wonders of the amazing, magnificent, breathtaking, ultimate possibilities revealed in God… because with Him, ALL things are possible! Not just some things, but ALL things. And I know that I could do just this by starting a company whose mission shares my passion. I've been thinking and praying about it a lot lately, and while nothing is really set in stone or decided yet, it's just starting to feel like this might be the right road after all.

Second of all, I've been thinking about branding and names. A company name must symbolize everything that the company represents. I think I would mostly be looking to publish speculative fiction (as that is my preferred genre), but I would also be open to looking at other forms of literary works such as poetry and creative essays and short stories for anthologies. I myself like to write poetry, creative essays, and short stories, so why would I try to exclude them?

But what sort of name can capture all of the eclectic marvels that make up the essence of Christian Speculative Fiction… while at the same time including opportunities for those poets and literary writers out there who share similar passions?

That's when I started to really think about the word "eclectic". When I think of "eclectic", for some strange reason a picture of a Magpie comes to mind. Those birds seem extremely eclectic to me; much like crows or ravens, they are always looking for shiny objects that they can take to their nests and keep as treasures and they are curious and not afraid of humans. But unlike crows and ravens, they don't have the symbol of evil hanging over their heads. Some people call them thieves, but if you really think about it, they are treasure-hunters. And as an Indie Press, that's what I would want my company to represent… not in the money sense, but in the essence of passion and words. There is a richness to a well told story that just cannot be denied. I would want to find those stories, polish them up, and let them shine. The only difference would be that instead of hiding the shinies away in my nest, I would want to spread them out to as many people as possible. It's only then that this zeal can be truly shared… when people are touched by the hand of God through the passion of a writer. And so, I've decided that if I ever do step up and take the mantle of an Indie Press (or perhaps I should say "when", as I would now claim that the idea is becoming more and more set in my heart), I would call my company "Magpie Publications", or something along those lines. It is the only brand name I've ever considered that actually feels right.

Third of all, I've been thinking about marketing. I know it would be a difficult obstacle, and perhaps the biggest hurdle that my company would face. Especially since I have not yet taken business or marketing in college. However, I also know that the resources are out there for those who have the drive to seek them out and use them, and I am willing to do the research. I know that I have that drive. It's what has kept me going as a young writer, it's what has made me look past the hardships of college and see the reward at the end, it's what will continue to drive me in life until my aspirations are appeased and I have created new goals, and then it will help me reach those new goals and beyond. It might be hard, but I already know that; nothing in life is made easy… nothing. And I don't give up easily; I know I have what it takes, and the doubts I might have whispering to my mind are not big enough to sate my thirst for truth, nor chain my dedication or God-given zeal. With God all things are possible; I just have to keep remembering that. Perhaps the marketing plan that I present in my query for SOTD can be built upon in order to create the perfect marketing plan for an Indie Company. *shrugs* Who knows? But the possibilities are limitless!

So what do you guys think? I know this was a pretty long post… one of the longest I think I've ever written… but if you've gotten this far and have any ideas on the subject, please let me know about them. I am very open to ideas right now. I'm not actually saying that I'm going to undertake this project soon… it may not happen for several years yet, (though I think it will happen eventually…). It's just been on my mind a lot lately and I thought I would share. What are your thoughts on the turn in publishing, or perhaps the changing market? What would you think about a new company such as the one I have envisioned above becoming a reality? What would you do? Feel free to share in the comments. :D


Monday, August 29, 2011

My “First Four Chapters” rule

Just recently there's something I've been noticing about my writing habits that (for some strange reason) I find extremely fascinating. It is the fact that my stories have (quite unconsciously – or perhaps subconsciously – on my part) started to form a stylistic pattern within the writing. Now, every writer has their own style of writing… or (if you are beginning writer) you will eventually develop your own style of writing with practice. Often times, writers think of "style" as simply word choice and a type of character development... perhaps your style revolves around short, concise prose, or your style is more first person rather than third person. *shrug* However, what I think we often overlook is story structure, which can be especially overlooked by pantsters (including me) who write almost everything straight off the top of their heads and try not to over-think plotline, character-development, and story building in the general sense. Pantsters don't plan story structure… we just take off. It's my belief that a book should be written as if it's being read; otherwise much of the excitement and mystery is taken out. (Outliners will probably argue with me. And don't get me wrong either… I totally respect outlining; I just don't do it well with creative writing.)

What does all this have to do with style though?

Now that's interesting. I'm a pantster talking about story structure and trying to relate it to style. Sound a bit ironic to you?

But the deal is – I've discovered that my subconscious has created a type of patterning story structure for my WIP's even though I write most things straight off the top of my head. I've only just (like within the last two weeks) started to take note of these patterns and they seem to largely accumulate in the first four chapters. So, being the extremely creative person that I am, I've decided to call the patterns my "First Four Chapters" rule.

Quite the original title, if I must say so myself. What, what?! *strikes basil stag-hare pose*

Here's how it works:

(And please note before we go much farther that these observations aren't actual "rules" to write by so much as they are consistent patterns that my writing seems to follow. I refer to them as "rules" because the occurrence has happened over the span of three to four rough drafts and revisions of different stories. Therefore I assume that these are patterns that my writings will continue to follow into the future, even though the act of following them may be subconscious. That is also why I refer to these patterns as "structures" in my stories, and associate them with my writing style. Just sayin'.)

We'll start with the first chapter.

In the first chapter I usually meet my characters where they are in that point of their lives. It's not always convenient for them, or completely normal, but it usually is where their stories start.

For instance, in SOTD, we first meet Curron in a tavern where he was called on as extra help, even though he usually works in the stable – this is also where he first sees Caellahn and overhears an interesting and dangerous conversation. In Eldrei, we meet my MC Tibain when he's having a sparing lesson in the early evening behind his house; as he and his guardian, Dakore, go back to the house, they are informed that some men (who are being rather secretive) have come to talk with Tibain's guardian, Dakore… which hardly ever happens. In The Spinner's Apprentice we find Aura and Ganeff (my rover MC and her supporting character) preparing to sack a merchant cart when a fae lord suddenly appears in front of them.

I continue working on the first chapter by building a setting and creating an Enabling Problem around my character and his (or her) actions, adding some shallow back story to the conflict – nothing too deep right yet; just enough that (hopefully) my characters and their problems start to feel solidified in the readers' minds. (Actually, in two of my stories, this has been accomplished with the main character listening in on a conversation he wasn't really supposed to hear… which is difficult if you eliminate most of the MC's sense of sight. <_<)

At this point in the story, I'm being descriptive, but I'm also trying not to reveal too much… especially about the main character: I don't want to give everything away right off the bat… instead, I want to build up a sort of mystery around them, just giving out enough information at the start that (hopefully) the reader starts to get interested in the character. I will work in more information as the story progresses, revealing more and more about the characters and the plot until finally the story ends with the last chapter. I want to have my MC's personality and back-story unfold with his choices and actions over the course of the story, leaving some mystery and intrigue in the first few chapters so as to encourage the reader to continue to the end of the book.

Of course, most of these goals are subconscious at the time I start writing, and so the actual process of writing the first chapter is not nearly as complicated as this post is making it appear. <_<

However, I have run into trouble in the past with the fact that I want to leave the majority of my MC's history in obscurity while I'm writing the first chapter. This is because (as readers have told me) I seem to describe outward details and the history of supporting characters as seen through my MC's eyes, rather than expounding on my main character and his (or her) plight within the first 3 – 5 pages. Instead, it would seem that I try to show my character's personality through actions and thought throughout the first chapter, rather than subtly included back story right away… or, if I do include back-story in the first chapter, it's revealed mostly through my MC's thoughts, rather than having it given to the reader in order for the reader to picture the character. (Does this make sense? Or is it just repetitive? O.o) According to what I've noted in my own writings as well as a few other books that I've read, this is not necessarily a bad style to follow, but apparently it is a rather complicated one. Unfortunately it also (apparently) means that it's harder for readers to relate to my MC's problems right off the bat. I'm working to remedy this little quandary, and hopefully before long I will have found the perfect balance between back-story and mystery.

I guess the easiest way to say it would be that I "set up" for the story in the first chapter, meeting my characters where they are in that point of their lives, and then I work on from there. Chapter one is also usually "lighter and brighter" than chapter 2 and 3 (as you will see in a minute).

On to the second chapter.

(My explanation of the first one was getting a bit confuzzling. If it confuses you, don't pay too much attention to it… Some of you know how it is when you are a writer… things happen in your story and during the writing process that you aren't exactly sure how they came about, or why, or how to explain them. *head-desk* Yeah… I'm pretty much your average aspiring author. ;D)

Moving on! ^_^

It's in the second chapter that I start to work in more character-background and I really start to give my MC a hard time. Another pattern that I've noticed in my stories is that there always seems to be an enabling problem at the beginning of the story that forces my characters into action. The "Enabling Problem" is a crisis set up at the start of the story that will end up compelling my character to drive the story forward, and that will also eventually force my character to pick up the mantle of Hero or Heroine for the book. (Usually my characters aren't quite there at the beginning of the book… building a hero or heroine from the ground up is not always easy, but it's so worth it. ;D)

While the REAL plight (and plot) of the story might be touched upon within the first chapter, it isn't really expounded upon until a bit later when my MC is (usually forced into) the thick of things. However, the Enabling Problem thickens within the second chapter and really helps to develop my character's personality and motive; it's usually (and subtly) introduced towards the end of the first chapter, and then builds up in the second chapter until something happens. Rather like one of those rubber-band boats I used to make as a kid with note-cards… the tension winds tighter and tighter until it can't wind any farther and either the rubber-band breaks, therefore disabling the boat, or the boat suddenly shoots forward in the water. My goal with the Enabling Problem is to use it in order for make my characters move farther into the story.

Make sense so far?

After all, you'll never really know a person until you've seen how they handle conflict and tension. Or, as my Grandpa would tell me, "If you REALLY want to get to know a guy, steal his wallet." How a person handles
conflict says a whole lot about their character and personality. And, as many writers know, conflict is also the most effective (and fun) way to move a story forward. It's also a great way to reveal certain traits about your characters that otherwise might not have been noted. The closer to the beginning of the story that these traits are revealed, the less likely that they will suddenly appear out of no-where when your character hits tension later in the book.

Believe me, I've read books that do just that. The character seems good, strong, sometimes even level headed… and then, maybe 6, 7… maybe even 9 to 10 chapters in, conflict hits and the character explodes. This just makes me feel like the character wasn't really thought through. By introducing tension at the beginning, you are actually subtly introducing character traits and personality traits to the reader so that they won't be overly surprised later on, and by the end of your book, they will feel satisfied with your character.

Besides, conflict and tension is fun to write and it induces action. No matter what reaction your character has to the problem at hand, it's what they do about the problem that moves the story. Sometimes (perhaps most of the time) my characters act out in the wrong way, thus forcing themselves into a different (maybe even dire) situation that sets up for the third chapter. (Sorry guys, but I do find it intriguing to torture my characters… They hate me for it, I know, but I just can't help it! *cue evil laugh* ;D)

So yeah… basically my second chapter = a serious problem rising up that forces my character into action and helps build up his personality within the story's setting. Usually he/she reacts to the problem in a way that causes more trouble for him/her.

There is also some more back-story worked in throughout (of course… because remember, I'm still trying to get the reader to relate with the character and care about him/her. Eh… I'm still working out the kinks. <_< But if you want an example of back-story done well in the second chapter, check out "The Fellowship of the Ring" by J.R.R. Tolkien.)

Now for the third Chapter:

My third chapter is where the enabling problem gets really serious and bad (think darkest hour, terrifying, you-would-wet-yourself-if-you-were-my-story's-character sort of stuff). Sometimes (actually, a lot of the time it would seem) the end of the second chapter gets much darker and more dangerous in order to prepare the reader for the third chapter. In other words, I (as the writer) buckle down and start writing the Enabling Problem into a rockin' climax. So you might actually say that in reality this step in my writing process happens over the course of two chapters.

However, whether it's my character totally and completely freaking himself out in the dungeon as he awaits his execution and remembers the horrific lynching of his guardian (as is the case with SOTD), or my characters running for their lives through the black of night with hungry (and angry) demon fire-wolves on their trail (Eldrei), or my MC trapped in a tiny box of a wagon in pitch darkness as a Living Nightmare tries to get in at her while her best friend fights the creature for both his and her life (The Spinner's Apprentice), my third chapters always contain the worst, darkest, and/or most dangerous part of the enabling problem. Always. I haven't quite figured out why yet. <_< But the pattern has remained unbroken for three stories, so I'm assuming it's something I do quite subconsciously, and I'm also assuming it's something that will probably continue to happen in further books.

Yet even though I don't understand how I always seem to have my Enabling Problem's climax fall on the third chapter, I do know this: sometimes you have to take your character into the darkest recesses of their minds in order to show readers who they really are. And much like with the second chapter and building the tension, it's best to reveal at least some of these character traits near the beginning of the story. You don't have to make them completely obvious (I don't think I've ever even tried to do that… <_<). You don't even have to have all of them out in the open… in fact, I highly suggest that you leave some reactions and thoughts for the later moments in the story when your character falls into the deepest darkest pit of despair and is being beset upon by his/her own personal demons… After all, the best part of this process is that with a dynamic character, your characters responses can change over the course of the story, or can at least become more developed and in-depth. The responses of people in real life are constantly changing and growing as time passes, so why not have the same thing happen with your characters?

Also, upon reaching the climax of the Enabling Problem, my character usually must make some sort of choice, and that choice will continue to push the story forward (like with the rubber-band boat).

So to sum up – chapter 3 = Enabling Problem's climax which serves two purposes: forcing my character into a dark, tight spot… and forcing them to make a choice which will ultimately lead into the rest of the story and the story's One Prominent Issue. (You know… that one huge problem that you build your whole story around… that one big problem that your character must eventually fix… that one. ;D)

Then, with the third chapter finished, I can start work on the fourth chapter of course.

The forth chapter may start out dark as I ease into it from the third chapter, but it usually lightens up a bit somewhere in the middle, when the Enabling Problem is (momentarily) resolved and the character is forced to move on into the story's much more Prominent Issue. This always happens differently, of course; no two stories are the same, or ever will be. Sometimes the Enabling Problem remains resolved for the entire story and that's the end of it. And sometimes (as is the case with Eldrei) the Enabling Problem is just a smaller piece of the Prominent Issue, and must be brought back later in the story in order for it to be resolved. Whatever the case is, my fourth chapter always works on resolving the Enabling Problem and moving the character forward into their initial role in the story. (You know which one… that role that you have sitting there waiting for your character to pick up… usually he/or she doesn't know about it at first and then certain events happen that force your character to pick up that role and become the hero/heroine [or perhaps villain/villainess] by the end of the book? That role. :D)

So, chapter 4 = resolved Enabling Problem and character moving forward to pick up the mantle of the hero/heroine of the story.

After that, I really have no plan. <_< As a pantster, I allow my story to unfold however it will. And even with these four seeming and subconscious "rules" guiding me through the first four chapters of my book and helping me with character building and setting and initial plotting, I still don't usually know what's going to happen from chapter 1 to chapter 2, or from there on out. Sometimes I write out notes to help me brainstorm ideas, and sometimes I journal my ideas down on paper (I almost never go anywhere without a notebook and a pencil.) Most of the time, however, I just sit down and start to write. If I already have a rough draft of the story, then I use that as a basic guide to help me work through the story's problems and pot-holes, and to continue to build up the story and setting into a believable world. If, however, I'm working on a brand new story… then I just start writing and it's almost like I'm watching a very detailed and complicated movie unfold before my eyes.

I didn't write this post trying to be all that instructive, or to establish any sort of new writing "rules" that should be followed. Rather, I just wanted to document something that I've been noticing in consistence within my own writings. I hope the information can be helpful, but if you are having trouble working through all of it, don't worry!! ^_^ Sometimes my thoughts can be confusing, I know: I have to live with them. ;) So if it seems like I started rambling and you can't work through the mess, just ignore it. I don't mind.

But to those of you who can understand it, I hope it is helpful as you continue studying the processes involved in creative writing.

Happy Writing All!!! *salutes writing friends with an elvish bow*


Friday, August 19, 2011

Have You Ever Wondered What My Characters Look Like?

Seriously, have you?

I'm not a writer who normally goes around looking for pictures of my characters.  Like, ever.  Actually, I'm more like the person whose afraid to try and draw her characters for fear she won't do them justice, and who doesn't want to look for a picture that similar to them, because she thinks they are just way too unique for that.  If I could just snap a picture of my characters right out of my head to show you, I would.  Really, I would.  That's just how I am.

But the other day, I decided to actually go looking for pictures that made me think of what my characters are supposed to look like.  And (surprisingly enough) I actually FOUND SOME.  No, really! :)  Total surprise to me.  I just don't expect that sort of stuff.

So without further ado, here are (most of) the characters of SOTD.

(Disclaimer:  None of these pictures are actually mine... they are just pictures that I found on the internet that I'm using for character inspiration, and they belong to their respected owners.  That is all.)

Now, let's start with Curron, shall we?  I found three pictures for him.  :D

So this is what he looks like initially.  Just give him slightly longer hair, and WALLA!  And, interestingly enough, he's actually clean in this picture.  That's right folks... Curron doesn't always look this prim and proper.  Comes with working in the Stables a lot.  And with being a lower class servant. ^_^


There ya go.  That's more like it.  At least for the beginning of the book.  And I like this picture because I just can't decide on what his face is trying to express.  Which is fine with me: it means I can put that face in several different circumstances.  lol!

NEXT! ^_^ (I'm having fun doing that.)

This picture is fun because it's what I think Curron might look like grown up.  Not bad on the eyes, I'd say.  I like 'im. hehe!

Ok, that's all for Curron.  Now which character should I show?  Hmmm... how's about Olan?  I think I only have one picture of him...

Just make him a little bit heavier, and have him scowl at Curron a lot, and there ya go.  When Olan smiles, however, he looks pretty much like that.  Which is good to know.

Now for Caellahn:

This is probably what he looked like the night he first showed up at Fort Gallant.

 And this is a close up.  Actually, I picture his hair maybe the slightest bit shorter.  And he has blue eyes.  But still.  Good looking, no?

Here... have another. ^_^

Slightly different model for the last two pics, but you guys get the idea.  The mysterious, good-looking ranger type that the author just falls in love with as she's writing about him.  Yeah, that's Caellahn. :D  I suppose it should be that I love the MC the most.  Which I do.  But it's just so fun to think up the mystery around Caellahn... because, after all, he is a man of deep mystery.  *twinkly fingers*

Now For Allim.  You guys haven't met him yet, but he's an awesome character.  In SOTD, he and his son are the leaders of the outcast Believers.  They are Burri, which is a race I picture to look more Arabic than anything else.  They come from the deserts of Southland.  Here's a mix of pictures of what I think he (sort of) looks like... just so you guys can get an idea.  The top one resembles him the most.  (guy from lost... can't remember his name... <_<)

Yep... nothin' says that the burri can't look handsome too. :D  Allim is middle aged, but very in shape... thus that last picture.

And now for Allim's son, Drugan.  I found the perfect picture for him as well.  He's two years younger than Curron, but he looks more mature for his age and is quickly learning leadership from his father.  I have two pictures for him.  The top one is a slightly older looking version, and the bottom one looks closer to the right age but needs longer hair.

Last but not least, we have King Morven.  I'm sure you're all wondering about him.

I couldn't find anyone that looked EXACTLY like him... but I found a few things that I think are close.  Here ya go. :)

The guy would be the king, of course.  Just give him a goatee... and perhaps some sideburns.  IDK... I can't remember what color of eyes I gave him, but I think they were blue... so you'd have to change his eye color as well.

This would be Morven out hunting.  And he has longer hair.  The Morven in my story has shaggy hair, but it's not actually long.  I found a lot of the pictures of the men I looked for had long hair, but I never picture my male characters with actually shoulder length hair.  hmmm.... If you cut this guys hair shaggy up to about the bottom of his chin and taper it back around his neck, you might have it. :D

And that's all for now.  I'll leave you with one last picture...

GWALCH!  No really, that's the characters name.  He actually works in the palace, but you wouldn't know it by looking at this guy... however, if you cleaned him up a bit and made his hair whiter... maybe put him in some good clothes, you'd have him.  Gwalch really does look like this in my head.

And that's all.  Next time I'll have to do pictures of the characters from ELDREI.  See ya later. :D

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Journey with "Song of the Daystar"

Every writer has a different story behind them, a different path that they've taken that has led them to where they are now.  I have always loved to read the stories of other authors I admire, and hear how their stories were first born.  Most of these tales involve obstacles and doubts and some wild inspiration - all of which encourages me in the end, because I can SO relate.

So this is the story of my current project, "Song of the Daystar", and maybe I'll be lucky and it will inspire someone else.

Song of the Daystar started life at the beginning of 2006 as a rather short and choppy three page writing splurge titled When the Winds Change, and the "first chapter" was called The Secret of Ice, which actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of the so called first chapter.  That short and extremely messy splurge was stuffed into a digital folder called, Other Writing Projects, and didn't come out again until the spring of 2007 when I learned about a Christian contest for High School students called "The Tweener-Time Competition".  The object of that competition was to write a 25k chapter book, and the winner of the contest got a publishing deal with Bethany House, and a scholarship for Bethany Christian College in Indiana.

At the time, I didn't know what I was going to write: I just knew that I really wanted to enter that competition.    So I sifted through my writing files, and suddenly found that little, tiny writing excerpt in my Other Writing Projects folder.  I pulled it out and started to type.

No, I didn't have a plot.  I had no purpose for the story whatsoever -- well, except for 25,000 words when I finished.  I had NO idea what was going to happen or what the point was.  I just sat down and wrote.

Oh BOY have I come a long way since then!!

I didn't win the contest (of course) and I'm very glad I didn't.  Now, having come as far as I have on my writing journey, I would consider it a disgrace to have such a ramshackle piece of work on the market. *shudders*  Seriously, it's the stuff of my nightmares.

Of course, that was all before I started taking writing seriously.  Up until then (actually, up until a year after that) I had done little to no research on the creative writing process.  In fact, I barely knew about the internet, and I was already 18 and 19!!  Not that I cared for the interwebz all that much.  Myspace was still popular, and Facebook was just starting to thrive.  I wasn't allowed to touch either of them, of course, lest some mass murderer found my information and came to get me :p  And, of course, we had a dial up landline service (still do) which never worked correctly and took absolutely FOREVER to load.  <_<

With the end of that contest came the end of my interest in the story for a while.  I laid it aside and didn't pick it up for another year.  I was too busy working on another writing project, and felt like I had finished Song of the Daystar and there was no point in trying to kick a dead horse.   But in the winter of 2008 I became tired of working on my other story, and wanted something new for my tired eyes to look through.  So I reopened that old "dead horse" document and sat there for hours reading through it.

It was awful.  *Shakes head sadly*  Really, there was nothing "good" about it.  Like I said earlier, it had no point... and it also seemed to be lacking any sort of a middle.  Besides that, the end was extremely short and disappointing  and the beginning... well, it meandered every which way without motive.  My characters were dry and uninteresting, and the settings were all general.  In short, it was a disgrace to the writing world, and sadly it was mine... my very own Frankenstein Literary Monster.

But instead of burying the grotesque creature back in the shadows of my dusty digital folder, I decided to try and fix the darned thing. ;)  There just had to be a way to save it, for as the saying goes "One man's trash is another man's treasure".  Only this time the story was both my trash and my treasure.  I knew there had to be something I could pull out of it.  So I decided to keep some of the characters and start fresh, only with the newer version of the story I decided to brainstorm first.

Not outline, mind.  I had to do paper outlines for my High school work, and  had decided to detest them with almost every fiber of my being (It wasn't until later when I started college that I discovered the true value behind outlining).  No, this was just brainstorming.  I came up with a few more characters and gave them a real purpose.  Then I went farther and decided to give the story itself a purpose, since I didn't like the way the first draft had hopped, skipped, and jumped all over the place.  I tried to come up with a theme for the book (though it didn't stick in the end and I had to eventually toss it), and I also changed the title.

"It will just be an experiment," I told myself.  "It probably won't go anywhere in the publishing world anyway... and it's not like it has to either.  But maybe, just maybe, I can use this old thing to improve my writing.  And if I can do that, then maybe I really CAN get a publisher to look at me one day."

So I rewrote that story.  And rewrote it.  And rewrote it.  All in all, it went through the rewriting process four times before I finally decided to try to send it out in August of 2010.  I still didn't know if it was ready, but I'd felt at the time like I'd given it everything I had... how could I polish it any further?  I'd been vigorously studying the writing and publishing world.  I'd been reading every "writing how-to" book I could get my hands on.  I'd studied the current market.  I'd read and reread, and then studiously scoured through the words written by my favorite authors until my eyes were sore and I was exhausted from staying up too late.  I loved every minute of it, and truly I knew I was still a baby in the world of creative writing, but I'd felt like I'd taken my little experiment as far as I could take it and it needed to be set free.

So I started querying.  And of course I received a lot of rejections.  So I started praying to, and I felt like God told me to submit SOTD to a new, independent publisher called Flaming Pen Press.  It was so new, in fact, that it was just getting ready to release it's third book, Kestrel's Midnight Song, in September.  However, I'd been following the publisher's blog, and researching them, and I'd been following the author of KMS as well... (Jacob Parker was actually the very first follower at the P&P, even before I knew he was another writer. :D)  I learned that Mr. Appleton's book, Swords of the Six, had been picked up by AMG, which showed further promise in the company, and I decided to give it a try.  I started by emailing Mr. Appleton a few questions about his company and manuscript submissions (I wanted to get it right, after all), and he was kind enough to answer my questions and give me a few tips as well.  He even suggested that after I submitted my manuscript, I should start rewriting the book YET AGAIN, because usually publishers will want a revision to strengthen the book before they actually agree to publish it.

Well, at first I wasn't sure where to go with that advice.  How could I rewrite it yet again?  It was too painful to think about -- in fact, I truly thought it was useless to try for yet another revision.  I was burned out on it, you see.  But I figured I could at least get some feedback and see what other people thought.  I went to the writing forums I'm a member of and starting posting some chapters there.  Most of the answers were similar to each other: it was good writing - much better than my first draft - and often times they liked my descriptions and settings; I definitely had something good going, they said.  But something was still missing, they told me, and it seemed like they couldn't quite figure out what it was.  They encouraged me to keep writing though, told me they had faith in me.  They really helped me not to get too discouraged with the book, but they also kept me humble... kept me striving for the best I had, kept me learning to be better.

The problem was that I couldn't figure out what was missing either.

Then another friend of mine asked me if I would like to do a beta-swap, and I agreed.  I'd critiqued chapters before on the forums, and I figured it couldn't be much harder than that.  And really, it wasn't, but that's not what made my this beta-swap so special.  What made it special was the fact that my friend came back to me and told me what she thought was wrong with the story...

"It seems to jump from thought to thought," she said.  "I like your character, but I think he needs more... character.  More motive and more drive."  (she didn't say those words exactly, but it was along those lines...)

And I, of course, being so burnt out on the story as I was, I had to ask her what she meant.  We ended up having a long and very refreshing brainstorming session in which I decided to pick up the reigns of the dead horse yet again, and see if I couldn't get it rise up a just a little bit.

Surprisingly, I found that that "dead horse" wasn't dead at all.  In fact, it was very much alive... it'd just been stuck for a while, as if it were trapped in some sort of time-warp.  With the help of my friend, I'd found what was missing in that story and I was determined to fix it.  I also found my inspiration.  I started writing again - hard, and it wasn't long before I had two brand new chapters that were at least 50 times better than the old ones.  I posted bits of it to the writing forums I am a part of, and (much to my surprise and gratitude) the new chapters were highly praised.  At first I really couldn't really believe it, but after a couple months of working hard on the rewrite, I decided to pull out that old manuscript that I had subbed out and see if there was really that much of a difference.

There was.  In comparison to my latest rewrite, that old "finished" draft looks about as primitive as my very first RD when I first pulled it out again in 2007.

Not only that, but I now knew what I needed to work on my other WIP, Eldrei, and I started rewriting that manuscript at once  (the difference between the RD of that one and the rewrite is so IMMENSE, it's like the manuscript went from being a piece of rock to a shining butterfly overnight, even though it actually took much longer.)

Then I received the reply from the publisher I'd queried.  And he liked it!  Or rather, he liked the concept that I had in that old draft.  He  wasn't so sure about the writing though, and told me he was going to send me a revision request and perhaps a critique of the prologue and first chapter.

That's when I realized how much my friend had truly helped me.  I told the publisher that I'd already started revising, and asked if he would like to view the first couple of chapters, and he said yes.  I sent it to him, and his response was the most encouraging part of SOTD's progress of all; he liked it... very much.  :D  And he asked me to please resubmit when I finish the rewrite.

So that's what's brought my book, Song of the Daystar, to where it is now.  It's been a very long and arduous journey, but it's been worth every step.  I love writing more now than I ever did before.  And best of all, what started out as a halfhearted experiment - a mere dabble in putting words coherently together - became a project that's very close to my heart.  Slightly ironic, isn't it?

Since February, when I received the publisher's reply, Song of the Daystar has grown v.e.r.r.y. s.l.o.w.l.y.  But it has grown, and every bit of new writing is gone over and over again to ensure that it is at it's very best.  No more second-hand writing... I'm taking this whole thing to the next level.  I now have more faith in my story than I've had in it since it's beginning.  In fact, I believe it has every bit as much potential as my other WIP, Eldrei has (which is really saying a lot, coming from me. <_< )

So all in all, that's the story behind SOTD.  Now you know.  It's the proof that "awful" can become "excellent" when hard work, good writing friends, and solid critiques are involved.  No one starts out great, but we all tend to think we do. (I don't say that to discourage anyone, but the proof is definitely in the pudding.)  I hope my story encourages someone to take their writing to the next level.  And then the next.  And the next.  It will seem like you are "reaching" forever, but if you never settle for "better" and always reach for your best, you will always improve.  Then one day you'll look back and realize how far you've come,  and you know what?  By God's grace you'll still be humble, because you know that with Him on your side and you friends behind you, you can still do better yet.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some Poems from my Life

Hello bloggy friends. :)  I've been in a rather random mood lately, and the result has been that I've not been updating as much as I would like to, mostly because I feel that a blog post probably should have something meaningful or purposeful in it.  But today I've decided to take advantage of this random mood and do something I've been meaning to do for a couple months now, simply because I can: I've decided to post some random poetry that I've written throughout my life.  Perhaps I'll make a series of this; who knows. :)

This first one was written when I was 17.  This is actually a song.  I thought it would make a good walking or traveling song.  Perhaps I'll use it one day in my book sometime.)

Throw Me Out and Let Me Go

Throw me out upon the breezes
Let me fly, let me fly
Let me touch the rays of morning in the sky
Let me spread my wings and soar
Up in the sky forever more
Throw me out upon the breeze and let me go

Throw me up upon a horse and
Let me ride, let me ride
Let me take all my adventures in one stride
With a sword girthed at my waist
Let me hold a steady pace
Throw me up upon a horse and let me go

Throw me out unto the river
Let me sail, let me sail
May the breezes always hold a steady gale
To fill the canvas of my craft
And take me down the river’s track
Throw me out unto the river; let me go

Give me one last kiss for parting
Let me leave, let me leave
For if I could not go roaming I would grieve
Adventure’s calling in my wake
And my free heart it’s bound to take
So kiss me once but then I beg you, let me go.


This next one was again written when I was 17.  It's the story of the Matchstick girl, for those of you who have at least heard of the story.  It's rather sad though, but it's still one of my favorites.  I seem to have had a thing for poetry at 17. :)

Ode to the Story of the Matchstick Girl

(young matchstick girl):
When winter’s cold surrounds me in the dark of night
And my eyes are closed to all the frosted stars
I feel not winter’s presence nor his frosted breath
For long gone is my mind and though it’s cold, I’m warm
For I see not the icy limbs of frozen trees
Nor ponds of glass, the water powdered with the snow,
But to the golden summers past.  My eyes have turned
From fields of figured glass to glades of greening growth
I feel not the unseen hand of winter’s grip
Come stealthily through my clothes and grip my heart
For I am numb from cold, though warm with summers thought
And feel not when the soul and body part

(man walking by):
A lonely figure on the icy streets of town
A young girl rapped in rags with eyes now ever shut
Yet now she looks so happy in that frozen place
A gentle smile now permanently on her face
What thoughts she had in her last hour to make her smile
Now lie with her and never shall be known
They, her last comfort held upon the brink of death
Had etched a smile upon the lips turned blue with cold
Her innocence, now tattered shreds of memory past
Her lonely figure, peaceful but forlorn
She laid untended in the icy streets of town
For no one living knew, and no one mourned.

Well what do you know?  A poem from when I was 16. :)  That's the year I started writing Eldrei. lol!  It's fun to look back.

News From the Four Winds

I’ve heard the four winds calling
Softly come they to my ears
And I’ve asked them for news
As I stay lonely standing here

What news from you, oh West Wind
As  you travel far abroad?
What on your journeys have you learned
While racing sky unshod?

“I have seen the sun go setting
And the silver moon go down;
I’ve watched as all the rivers raced
Beside me on the ground
And I have seen no changes–
Only night and evening’s face.
In past live I beneath a sky
Of time and endless space”

Then will my head turn southward
And the South Wind will I ask!
What news from you, oh South Wind
Do you gather as you pass?

“I fear there’s nothing newer
Than what you before were told
The sky is getting dimmer
And dark shadows yet unfold
No news have I to tell you
O great deeds done in my way…”

Then I shall ask the North Wind
What he’s seen by light of day

Oh North Wind, Mighty North Wind
Tell me what it is you’ve seen.
The south and West have told me naught
With nothing new between.

“Well, I have seen stone fallen
And have watched trees grow old with age
But nothing new have I to tell
Though I be an ancient sage
But if it is the new you seek
Turn east then, my advice is
For she is young, the wind that way
Her news you’ll find suffices”

Oh East Wind, merry East Wind
North Wind says you hold the key
For news is what I’m seeking
And no old will do for me.
I’m searching for a story
What is it you have to tell?
And then I heard the East Wind
And her voice like silver fell.

“Oh I have news for singing
And not old is it, but new
For I have learned from West Wind
That no other kind will do.
So now this news I’ll show you:
It is better in display.
Look to the east, my friend,
And you will see the light of day!”

And so my eyes turned eastward
And no whisper could I find
To describe the lacey patterns
Of this intricate design.

Now stared my eyes in wonder
At the rose and golden hues
And I new that I had finally found
My little piece of news.

Another from when I was 16.  I liked poems that discribed nature or that told stories about children playing.  I was (and still am) especially fond of Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses".

Dance of the Heavens

It is time the sun sets on the kingdom of earth;
See her silently fold down her bed,
Pulling back quilts made of grass laden sod
And then tucking them under her head.

As she pulls in the last golden locks of her hair
And her gown slips back under the hills,
The Moon and his daughters slip into the night
For a ball decked with silvery frills.

They wear gowns made of silver and silver hair bows
And their shoes are of silver as well,
And their father is dressed in his best silver suite
With glass buttons and one crystal bell.

The Moon has a fiddle all shiny and bright
That he plays with a crystal-glass bow
And he saws on the strings ‘til they all start to sing;
Now up high and now purring down low.

The Star Daughters curtsy and then they all twirl
In a dance for the heavens to see,
All their lights bright reflecting in each little pool
Quite completing the fantastic scene.

But just as the dancers’ excitement is full
And the dance gets more wild to behold,
The first wondrous rays of the morning break through
In the east, turning silver to gold

As the sun pulls her covers back off of her face
And shakes out the gold locks of her hair,
Spreading warmth and bright light over hilltops and trees
And renewing the chilled evening’s air.

The Stars start to fade and their dresses go dim
While the Moon hides away in the hills
Leaving all to the sun who is having much fun
Warming each child’s windowsill.

Last one for tonight. :)  I like this one because I wrote it while I was thinking of the play times that my siblings and I had when we were younger.  I was once again 17 when I wrote this one.  It seems that since I've grown older, I've not written nearly as many poems. *sigh*

Bed Sheet Sails at Dinner Time

O mama, mama where’s the sail?
It’s time to chart my route!
But now I found my bed is stripped:
No sheets to sail me out!

I’m sorry Hun, the sail is gone;
It’d been through muck and mire
So I washed it with the laundry pile
And threw it in the dryer.

Oh mama, mama where’s my ship?
It must have blown to sea!
The current caught it by the dock
And sailed it without me!

Umm… Honey, try the kitchen;
I think you’ll find the answer there
For when I was making dinner, well…
I needed bad a chair.

Oh mama, mama!  I need food!
My ship is at the dock.
I need plenty of provisions,
My ship’s larder for to stock.

Now I can help you there, my dear
When ere you’re surly able
Come sail that chair up to my dock;
Your dinners on the table!

And there you go.  That's all for tonight; a small peak into my (slightly) younger years.  Hope you enjoyed it. :D