Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (3 of 3)

Because I’m an introvert who sucks at social obligations (see the two posts mentioned below) I’m looking into ways I, too, can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the third of these three.

A Problem:

Like most (maybe all?) people driven to write novels, I grew up reading dozens of novels a year for fun. College classes slowed me down a little, but not much. Likewise, marriage, children and a full-time job only put a dent in my addiction of choice.

It took writing books myself to bring my favorite pass time to a complete halt. And I’m still sad about it. Turns out I can do almost anything and read all I want, except write.

I’ve already written about how I use (and enjoy) flash fiction to stay current in my genre. And I’ve written about how I follow a limited number of blogs and online groups, trying to be supportive of them while refraining from comments.  I make an effort to stay away from others all together.

Today, I’m considering the rare times I do read a novel these days, and why.

A Solution:

Most of my reading today is done for blog tours, providing reviews for others like me, trying to gain attention for their self-published or small indie press published works. I’m sympathetic to their aims and I try to be positive in my reviews, while still being honest. Often the books aren’t chosen because I’d choose them off a shelf, but rather because they are available for review.

I’ve discovered there are genres I need to avoid.  I already knew I lacked the gene to appreciate true horror novels, or anything grisly or gross. Now I know not to sign up for anything with the word romance in the description. (I’ve nothing against romance in real life, I just prefer my plots to be less predictable.) Recently I’ve learned to be careful choosing YA novels too. I’ve enjoyed some, but they need to be pretty special before I get emotionally involved in teenage troubles.

“Then what do you read?” you may ask. Good question, as I’ve just eliminated a lot of  what’s written. I do like crime novels, science fictions, and most fantasy. (It can get too dark and grim for me out on the edges.) If I stick to this, I find I generally enjoy any reasonably well-constructed story and can say something good about it. That’s nice for me. It means I got to read a book. And it’s nice for the author. They got one more positive review.

The Problem with the Solution:

To be honest, reading to write reviews doesn’t feed my addition. It doesn’t fill some longing deep in my brain. Why?

I read these book the way I used to read assignments in school. I skim and I skip and I barely touch down, just enough to render a fair review, the way I used to do when I had to produce an adequate paper.  Yes, I often enjoy the story, but not the same way I enjoy a leisurely immersion in another world.

And, the truth is, these are often authors still early in their own learning curves. Even though they’ve accomplished the remarkable feat of producing a full-length, coherent novel, they often have habits I want to avoid, not emulate.

To write better, I decided I needed to read better as well.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to take short vacations from writing, to read a carefully selected novel. I’m turning to award winners, to those books highly recommend by friends and to stories whose descriptions call to me for one reason or another.

I have two rules as I read these books. Well, actually three. The first is to take my time and enjoy the book. The second is to keep my eye out for ways I can grow as a writer. (No, the two tasks don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.) The third is to write a review of these books as well. Even acclaimed authors can use a little a more praise.

Next up for me? Recursion by Blake Crouch and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.

I know I’m not the greatest literary citizen with these few techniques, and I never will be, but I am managing to produce my own fiction while no longer groaning every time someone mentions being “a good literary citizen.” I’m willing to call it achieving a balance.

 

Free through Monday!

Storms are in the air. Flickers of Fortune always makes me think of lightning.

The nice people at Amazon let me give away copies of my book once every 90 days, so what better time than now to offer it for FREE .

My hope of course, is that you will download the book, and then read the book. In fact, my hope is you will like the book so much that you actually go ahead and buy one of the other books in the collection. Hallelujah!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  For now, just DOWNLOAD THE BOOK.  Let’s see what happens after that. 🙂

(Flickers of Fortune is available for free from Nov. 7 through Nov. 11 2019.)

It Don’t Come Easy

I’ve been thinking about Ringo Starr a lot, mostly because someone just told me he was turning 91, Really? That seemed so hard to believe. With good reason. It isn’t true. He’s turning 79 on Sunday.. Yes, that is still old but ….. it isn’t 91.

A second source confirmed for me it had to be true because Ringo was about ten years older than the other Beatles. Also not true.  Paul McCartney just turned 77. And while we’re at it, over the next week Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac turns 76 and Patrick Stewart (my favorite Star Trek Captain of all time) will turn 79. There is a lot of talent in that late 70’s group …. but that isn’t my point

I’m more interested in why Ringo got dissed so easily. Is it because he’s always been that Beatle. The one we all though was lucky to be there. Could have been any drummer, right? Maybe. I’ll bet it’s not that simple.

Because I’m not a huge Beatles fan, I don’t have strong feeling on the subject. Ringo only wrote one song I like, but I do like it a lot. Lately I’ve been struggling with some things of my own. Publishing my sixth book next week and getting push back that it’s not that good. A couple of bad reviews of my other books. No, not just bad, snotty. I don’t mind a bad review.  I do mind a snotty one.

I’ve been asking why in the world I’m bothering to put my writing and myself out there so people can shoot me down and make me feel like shit. Am I masochistic? No. Desperate for attention. I don’t think so. Bored. No, I’ve plenty else to do.

The only answer I can come up with is I believe in my writing and in myself. I wonder if Ringo believed in himself through all the snide jokes about how he didn’t matter. I’m just curious.

Today, Ringo does appears to be a healthy and happy 78 year old. Money isn’t everything, but according to Wealthy Gorilla  his net worth  as of 2019 is $350 million dollars.  I think that can buy a lot of solace for people thinking he’s turning 91.

Anyway, enjoy my favorite Ringo song.  I’m singing it in my head a lot these days.

… is still a thousand miles.

I used to love the expression “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I say used to, because back when I was starting a lot of  journeys, I needed all the inspiration I could find to get going.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot more finishing of journeys, not the least of which has been the heavy editing and re-releasing of six novels I wrote between 2010 and 2017. Another writer may have patiently refined these books for a few more years before they ever saw the light of day, but not me.  I got them out there with a flourish before I realized they had only gone about half as far as they needed to.

I think, and hope, that I’ve now gotten five of the six of them to the end of the road. Two days ago I made “Flickers of Fortune” available on Kindle and in paperback. It replaces the longer book known as d4 and is a more reader-friendly telling of the tale.

You know what? It was a LOT of work to get this all the way done. Not fun creative stuff, but I-just-want-to-quit-this-shit-and-go-take-a-nap type work.

Why stick with it? The satisfaction is the final product. I’m genuinely proud of it.

And, I’ve gained a new saying. It isn’t nearly as pithy, but it is true.

 

 

 

That’s her!

The appearance of main character Ariel was always well formed in my mind. She had long, thin, straight red hair. She was tall and slender, with an athletic body. She was confident, with a bit of attitude. She is the only character I captured on one of the original covers,  although it was from the back.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the main character (from the front), so  I needed my new designers to keep my vision of what Ariel really looked like.

By the time we started the cover for Flickers of Fortune, the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Design had already implemented their way of dealing with people like me, who are picky about their MC’s physical appearance. On the previous book, they sent me six potential models to choose from. I expected to see a half dozen or so redheads auditioning to be Ariel. I was surprised when I only got one.

They were spot on. She was Ariel. Not a single modification needed.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Ariel to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had other photos to choose from. DDD selected one in which she looked similar, and it would have worked fine.

Looking at it forced me to see other photos of this model, however, and I found several I liked so much better.  Doesn’t she look so much more interesting in the other three photos?

I persuaded DDD to try an edgier look and I was happy with the result. So were most people in my informal focus group, although one person thought she now looked slutty. Sigh …. Not what I intended.

Other people’s opinions aside, I decided to go with this vision of Ariel. I think it’s really her.

 

 

The fifth one

The fine folks at Deranged Doctor Design and I are getting pretty good at working together, I think. (It would be interesting to find out if they feel the same way.) We’ve both learned that I care so much about my main character that the process goes better if they send me photos to look at before they begin.

This time around they knew they’d found my Ariel and only sent  me one option. They were right; she was perfect.

Cillian, the other main character to be featured, appeared perfect too. I’d struggled with whether fellow psychic and love interest Siarnaq should be featured on the cover instead,  or perhaps Mikkel, the other love interest. In the end I picked Cillian. While there is no romance between him and Ariel, he has the most important precognitive skills and he goes on to play an important role in book six.

The first cover came back and I liked it a lot.

But there’s almost always a snag and this cover had two.

First of all, in the book, Ariel and Cillian can’t touch each other because it results in a painful electrical shock. That’s a problem given the way they are standing. I should have guessed the designer would put them right next to each other, but I didn’t, so I had to ask for a revision in which they were separated.

While we were at it, I also wanted more blue ocean in the background. So a design was produced with both corrections.

It had  separation and more ocean, but unfortunately, the beautiful blue on the left of the cover  got lost along the way. Also, a weird serpent like rock appeared off to the right.

This wasn’t going to work.

Then, someone pointed snag number two out to me. They thought Cillian, who is supposed to be in his forties, looked a little too old and could even be mistaken for Ariel’s father Alex, who is in his fifties. At first I didn’t think so, but upon reflection I saw the vague resemblance.

Would getting rid of Cillian’s grey and maybe his facial hair solve both problems? It seemed like it would go a long way towards distinguishing the two men.

So I requested  a revision with younger hair on Cillian, the blue and rocks  on the left put back, but the waves and water on the right left there.

This came back with two out of three. I definitely liked the younger looking Cillian and was happy to have my rocky cliff and thunderous sky back, but I’d really liked those waves and they weren’t there.

I will say, at this point it is tempting to give up. You feel like you’ve been enough of a problem and that the cover is close enough and you should just accept it and move on.

However, experience has taught me that covers matter a lot, and it is worth getting just want you want. So I sent this photo trying to explain what I was hoping for.

It worked!

The final cover is shown below and I don’t think I could be happier with it.

What a shame there is only more cover left to do. I feel like I’m finally getting good at my part in this.

Guess I’m just going to have to write more books, so I can get more covers done. 🙂

 

Finally

It’s interesting that the one cover I struggled with the most when I first released the 46. Ascending novels was for the third book. Interesting because the second time around, it’s been the same. The nice people of Deranged Doctor Design have sent me more varieties than either of us care to count. The first cover is shown  above.

I needed a more yellow sky. I needed a  new head for Alex. I needed a new body for Alex. I didn’t like the swirl. Or the new one. Or the one after that.

Finally I decided I didn’t want a swirl at all Just a bright light. Brighter. But with less dark edges.

Really, I’m not usually this hard to please. I’m not sure what it is about this story. Maybe, deep down, I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. I want this one to be perfect. I finally decided the version to the right was close enough.

Tonight I’ll send off the specs for my fifth novel, Flickers of Fortune. It was the other cover I had the most trouble with. Will history repeat itself?

 

The Sound of a Story

This was complicated enough. I’m overseeing the design of six new covers. I’m giving all six books no less than three separate edits, each one focusing on a different aspect of what will make a novel PERFECT. I’m setting up blog tours and assorted publicity for each book as it comes out, and for the first time I’m trying my hand at Amazon advertising to give these little glowing embers every chance to catch fire that I can.

I’m dizzy with it all.

Then my husband, supporter of my writing and all around good-guy, decides he’s going to read my books aloud so I can have audio books and he’s starting today. Wow. At first blush, this seems great. He knows the books. He has this deep, rich voice, honed from years in a classroom. And, he’s free. I mean, he has the time, but more importantly, he doesn’t cost anything. Narrators are expensive.

And then ….. I’m on the phone with Amazon trying to clarify requirements. He’s making many, many little files and I’m trying to find software to concatenate and convert them and really this just isn’t something I know much about or have time for right now. Arrrgggggg!!!!

You know what. It’s great. I’d rather have a wealth of opportunities coming at me than too little to do. Unlike Ariel, I don’t know  the future. I’ll take my chances throwing as many fishing lines out there as I can. Maybe I’ll catch something.

A Step Forward, a Step Back

Every part of self-publishing is an adventure. The process of having new covers made for my six novels has been no exception. I’ve been working with a group known as Deranged Doctor Design (you’ve got to love the name) and they’ve been great to deal with. We’ve been working on the cover for the second novel, Shape of Secrets, and just finalized the last step, the paperback version of the cover. Isn’t it beautiful? I especially love the beach on the back cover.

Oddly enough, the part requiring the most revision was the color of the spine and the insert on the back. I was determined for it to be orange, the designer wanted something in the burgundy/brown family. Finally she suggested this more transparent look and I loved it.

But no decision is without ramifications. The cover for the first novel, One of One, was finalized a few weeks ago. I love it, too, but take a look at the cover for the paperback.

It needs a semi-transparent spine and back cover inset now too, doesn’t it? Lucky for me the designer at DDD agreed, and One of One is getting its redo right now.

I’m starting to get a feel for the cascading ramifications of making a decision when you really, really want all six covers to match. One of One will be released in January about the time that the new cover for book three is done.

Should be interesting. I really hope we don’t come up with something on cover three that is so great, I have to stop and redo covers one and two again. What do you think are the odds?

Then of course, there are still covers four, five and six coming along. Like I said, it’s an adventure.

Review: The City and The City

Summary: I’m in awe of this book, and I like to think that I don’t awe easily. It has stuck with me since I finished it; the surest sign of an effective story. I give it a 4.8/5, the highest rating I’ve given since I started this decimal point thing.

What I liked least:

  1. The quotes and reviews on the cover and at the front. That may seem an odd complaint, but this book was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago and I put off reading it because everyone made it sound so depressing. Anything billed as a Kafka-meets-noir-crime-novel doesn’t go to the beach with me, yet this book could have and should have. I wish I’d read it years ago.
  2. The end. I might as well get it out here at the start. I’ll say no more about it, but there were so many ways for this story to go and while I can think of much worse endings, the one that happened wasn’t one of the possibilities I wanted. So it goes.
Author China Mielville

What I liked best:

  1. Everything else, but I’ll try to be more specific.
  2. The author takes an absolutely ridiculous premise, answers your every objection to it while telling the story, and leaves you accepting an alternate history wherein two independent city states exist in the same geographical place, each refusing to see the other.
  3. Once you make that leap, you start to realize how believable the premise is because it touches on ways real humans behave. Then you start to find examples of unseeing all around you and I don’t know how long that goes on for because it’s been a week now and I’m still doing it. I may never stop.
  4. The book is not depressing, at least to me. The reason is that many if not most of the characters have a shred of human decency in them and the main ones hide kind hearts under their tough and expletive laden exteriors. Yes, the overall style is crime novel noir, with a touch of cold war spy and splashes of absurdity, but any time we actually get good guys and gals trying to do what’s right, I’m willing to stand up and cheer.
  5. Main characters are well fleshed out given the author’s sparse strokes. Inspector Tyador Borlu of the City of Beszel’s Extreme Crime Squad, the book’s protagonist and narrator, won my sympathy during the opening scene as he looks out for the young drug dealers who come forward when they find a body. He cemented my high regard when he met the dead girl’s parents and noted how “Grief made them look stupid. It was cruel.”
  6. When Borlu is forced to meet and work with his counterpart, senior detective Qussim Dhatt of the ignored city Ul Qoma, one sees through Borlu’s eyes and is lead to think the man is a jerk. We discover, along with Borlu, how much the two detectives have in common.
  7. I’m female, and I judge how a writer handles his or her women characters. Mr. Mieville treats them all as people, a refreshing delight. In particular, constable Lizbyet Corwi is a tough capable detective, no less female for not being some man’s love interest.
  8. The book is a mix of ingredients one would never expect to work as well together as they do. There is humor, as residents of each city joke about how their weather is better and visit their local Starbucks, which of course has shops in both cities. There is mystery and suspense, some of which surrounds a 2000 year old archaeological dig that may hold the secret to the origin of this bizarre arrangement. Some things are never solved or explained, others reach a satisfying conclusion.
  9. Finally, this author won me over with his dedication. It’s to his mother, which is common enough, but he adds that he “wanted to write a book that my mother would have loved.” Wow. I wish I could have met his mother.

I often get asked to name the writers who inspired me as an author, and I have trouble coming up with a list. Part of the reason is I tend to be inspired by specific books, rather than bodies of work, and the other is the degree to which the list has morphed as I’ve aged.

My approach is to keep a short list of books I can point to and say “I’m trying to write that well.” The City and the City has placed itself at the top of my list.