Archive for May, 2013

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Howl’s Moving Castle

First off, if you’ve come from a link somewhere to tell me that Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t part of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles–yes, thank you, I know.

For people who’ve been along for the ride, this month we read Howl’s by Diana Wynne Jones to see the same genre (in this case, fairy tale satire) presented from another point of view. (Also, this is one of my very favorite books and I always appreciate a good excuse to pull it off the shelf again.)

Whereas both the EFC (as I am now calling it, as I am sick of typing out the whole thing) and Howl’s purposefully twist fairy tale tropes, they do so in different manners. Both have main characters that run contrary to some trope. In the EFC, Cimorene is a princess who hates doing princess things. Mendanbar is a king who despises formality. Morwen is a young, pretty redheaded witch with non-black cats (and a major subplot of the third book is her non-traditional witchiness). In Howl’s, Sophie knows any adventures she attempts will go wrong because she’s the eldest of three siblings, and so she doesn’t bother looking until adventure finds her.

However, both stories are completely different in feel. Both stories have magic at their core, yet the execution is completely different. Also, Howl’s has a link to the real world which is explored just enough to drive you crazy trying to figure out how things work.

I have to say, after reading both, that I like Howl’s better. I think it’s a better crafted story and, while it’s based on fairy tale tropes like the EFC, there’s enough original concepts in there to make everything more interesting. (This may be because Diana Wynne Jones was further into her writing career than Patricia Wrede even though all the books came out at the same general time.) In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to extend our little readalong to the next two books in the series, Castle in the Air and The House of Many Ways. (I’ve read Castle before–it’s not as good as Howl’s, sadly, but I haven’t read the third, so that should be exciting for everyone.)

If you didn’t read Howl’s with me–you should. It’s a fun read–the characters are interesting, the banter is fun, the plot is original (how many hero/ines spend the majority of a story ninety years old?), and the magic is intriguing.

For those of you who watched the Miyazaki movie (in general or for comparison with the book)–the plot line starts out the same, and then wildly diverges about the time Sophie goes to visit the king. I adore both, but they’re very different animals in the end. Also, Miyazaki makes it an anti-war statement. The man is quite creative about getting his morals into children’s films, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

So! Castle in the Air for the end of June. I’ll see you then, Squiders! And, as always, your comments and questions are welcome in the comments.


The Pros of a Day Job

When I tell people what I do, they say, “Oh, that must be nice, doing what you love for a living!” Well, Squiders, now that I’ve worked both sides of the line, I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t be quitting your day jobs anytime soon.

(I will preface that if you can make enough money from selling your fiction to do that full-time, more power to you. This post is not for you, you lucky bastards.)

“But, Kit,” you say, “you get to write and edit all the time. That must be awesome!”

Here was my day, Squiders. I wrote a 1000+ word article which required about three hours of research. I proofed and content edited about 30 pages of a novel. I proofed and formatted about 20 pages of a formal report. And then I got a headache from staring at the computer too much.

The problem with doing writing and editing as a job is, well, it becomes a job. I spend all my time chasing down rogue commas, and, when I finally–if I finally–get time to work on my own projects, I’m already worn out from editing and writing and I’d rather do almost anything else.

Your day job may not be your passion, but here’s some things you get out of having one:

  • You can focus on something else for awhile. Your subconscious mind will work through plot issues and craft prose for you while you work, and when you get to writing, you’ll be ready to go.
  • You may not get to write as often as you like, but it’s almost always a pleasure when you do.
  • Steady income! Important for supplying yourself with chocolate and plot ninjas.
  • Your co-workers secretly think you’re cool.
  • On that note, you have co-workers (probably) and don’t have to have “water cooler” conversations with the dog.

Your brain likes to compartmentalize things. I’ve found that now, since I do all my freelance work on my desktop, it’s almost impossible to write fiction here. Believe me, your brain thanks you for letting it do other things every now and again.

Disagree, Squiders? Anyone else work in writing/editing and have any thoughts on the matter?

Working Past the Beginning

So I’m finally getting to work on my chainsaw edit, but, like all my stories, I started in the wrong place and have to write a new beginning. (I know, I know, I’m so backwards. Most people start too early, I always start too late. Go figure.)

I was really excited about getting to work, so I sat down, got out my new outline, started to type, and…was unimpressed.

Beginnings suck. For some reason, they always feel bad. Either they don’t work the way you plan, or you feel like you’re writing crap, or, especially in a first draft, your characters just aren’t jelling.

And then you get frustrated. And you either give up, or you keep trying to rewrite it until it doesn’t suck, and either way, it is a huge time suck.

Here’s a secret…your beginning doesn’t have to be perfect.

So, how do you get the motivation to move on?

You tell yourself whatever you need to. Tell yourself that you’ll come back to it, that it’ll read better when you’ve got a little distance. Tell yourself that you can have a cookie. Tell yourself that your family will still love you.

Tell yourself that you can come back and fix it after you’ve written the rest of the story and know what the beginning should be.

Me, I’m not worrying too much right now. Yes, this is a second draft and I know what my beginning needs to be, but I’m still keeping my options open. Aside from the straight opening, I also have flashback and in media res openings if the straight one doesn’t work.

Don’t let your beginning get you down. There’s so much story awaiting you, if you let yourself get there.

Tips for New Freelance Editors

I’ve been working as a freelance editor for almost two years now, and I found myself wandering to the coffee shop a few days ago, mulling over things I’ve learned and what I wish I’d known when I started. So I thought, hey, maybe other people’d like to know–I know how unhelpful a lot of the websites out there can be–and so this post now exists.

1) Ask for a sample before you give an estimate.
This I learned the hard way. I had someone come to me and offer less than I would normally take for a 150K word novel with the promise of more work in the future, and I mistakenly said yes because at the time I wasn’t getting a lot of novels and would have liked the repeat business. Because this was someone who’d written several books, I also gave them a short turnaround time because I assumed they understood basic grammar and punctuation. Oh my god, mistake. By taking a look at a few pages–and I recommend this for any project longer than about 25 pages–you will be able to see how much work needs to be done, thus being able to set an acceptable rate and time estimate for the project.

2) It’s okay to stay local.
95% of the freelance work I do is local. There’s tons of freelance job websites out there that either list jobs they found on places like craigslist or allow people to list jobs that they want people to bid on, such as at Elance. At the beginning, I tried all of them. But I’ve found it’s been much more beneficial to advertise locally. First of all, people prefer to work with someone close to them. They know that, if needed, we can meet in person or, if they need to reach me by phone, we’re probably on similar schedules. Plus it’s allowed me to significantly limit the amount of time I need to spend looking for new business on a weekly basis.

3) You can raise your prices as necessary.
When I first started, my rates were pretty cheap. Part of that was that I didn’t know what I should be charging (a lot of websites told me $30/hour, but I didn’t think anybody was going to go for that), and part of it was that after lurking about on websites, like the above-mentioned Elance, I didn’t think people were willing to pay for this sort of thing. (Now I know that the people on Elance are delusional.) You can see what you competitors are charging and adjust your rates from there. And, as you become busier and get more experience under your belt, you can raise your rates to reflect that.

4) Don’t take on more than you can handle.
Freelance work is very hit or miss. Some months it’s like the middle of the night, when even the crickets are silent. Some days you have five people email you for quotes, and then not a single one of them hires you. Sometimes, you suddenly have three big projects on your hands and you’ve got to juggle all of them. The temptation is there to take on any projects that come your way, just because you don’t know where the next one is coming from. But know your limits. Know how many hours you can put in in a day before your brain turns to mush. Know how many different storylines you can keep straight before you start confuse one story for another. Each project requires your full attention, and if you start getting sloppy because you’re trying to do too much, it’s going to be hard to get any jobs at all.

Well, I hope that helps someone out there. Now, back to work.

Turtleduck Press is Open for Submissions

Turtleduck Press, an independent publishing co-op specializing in science fiction and fantasy, is now open to submissions for people wishing to join.

Information about TDP, membership perks, and submission guidelines are available here.

While you’re looking at the submission information, you’re welcome to have a look around the rest of the site. Of particular interest may be our monthly free shorts, as well as the novels and anthologies we have available for sale.

Basically, myself, Siri Paulson, KD Sarge, and Erin Zarro have been having a grand time with TDP over the last three years, and we want to share the wealth and fun. If you think you’d be a good fit, please send a query our way!

And let me know if you have any questions about anything.

Oh, Distractions

Guys, I cannot focus on anything. Well, I mean, I can, because things must be done, but it’s kind of like being a kid at the end of the semester, knowing that summer is coming, and if you can just get through the last few assignments, you’ll be free, free BWHAHAHAHAHA

And that’s where the analogy falls apart, because, sadly, I am adult and I am never free.

But! My work is actually really fun this week, and if it wasn’t for nervous excitement, I would be quite pleased. I’m finally getting to dig into my edit for Shards, which feels lovely after so much plotting and prepping and making sure my characters were adding things to the story and making sure my chronology made sense and blah blah blah. And all my freelance editing work is on novels, and on novels where people understand how to tell a story, so that is lovely and not stressful as well.

But! This is the second paragraph I’ve started that way! Tomorrow! Tomorrow, my indie publishing co-op Turtleduck Press is opening for submissions!

And this is very exciting; when we started three years ago (!!!) we weren’t sure we ever would, but we’re having so much fun, and I’ve been so impressed with the work we put out, both the monthly shorts and the novels, and I’m super excited to hopefully find someone who fits, and then there will be even more awesome to go around.

But, on the other hand, it’s terrifying. If you’ve ever stepped foot into some writing communities, you know that they can be brutal on publishers, and while we’ve done our homework and done all the legal stuff and the procedural stuff (and are, technically, not a publisher), I also live in fear that we’ve somehow managed to commit some sort of heinous sin against the worldwide writing community and that we will have our heads mounted on pikes next to everyone else who’s messed up.

So the result is that my nerves are all a-tingle, and I’m excited and hopeful and fearful and anxious all at once.

So! You will see a formal announcement from me on Thursday about submissions, and until then I shall flail about like Kermit the Frog and distract myself with work and Deep Space Nine. (♥)

(And don’t be confused if you go to TDP and don’t see a submission page up. We’re going to spring it on the world all at once tomorrow.)


No Happily Ever After

So, as has been mentioned previously, I’ve been making my way through Star Trek Deep Space Nine over the past few months. (I’m currently moving into the later part of Season 3. I am looking forward to Worf showing up next season.)

However, I’ve noticed something that’s really bothered me, and that’s that Chief O’Brien and his wife fight almost every scene they’re in. Maybe because I was just a kid when I watched DS9 the first time I didn’t notice, but Holy Sepulchre, Batman, they never stop. It’s unhealthy, really. It makes me uncomfortable.

That got me to thinking. In the whole of Trek, the O’Briens are one of the few married couples that 1) are main characters, 2) have both characters onscreen, and 3) one of them doesn’t die. With it being such a minority, why have them be so unhappy? Yes, yes, I know conflict = drama, but at this point I’m wondering why they just don’t get divorced because it seems like everybody would be happier.

Anyway, I was brainstorming other scifi, trying to think of happily married couples, and the best I’ve got is Han and Leia in the books, and I admittedly haven’t read a Star Wars novel since I was 14 so maybe I missed things there too. Everyone else I can think of seems to be more of background characters.

I can think of a single example in a fantasy novel, Dragonsbane, and even then, the relationship’s not…normal.

If a character has parents, they’re not safe either. So many main characters are missing a parent for some reason, whether they disappeared, were murdered, have been separated in order to keep the kingdom safe, etc.

I don’t know. It seems to me like you could keep the level of tension and drama pretty high and still let a character have a spouse. Not all aspects of life have to be terrible to keep a reader/watcher interested.

What do you think, Squiders? Can a married couple be happily married and still allow enough conflict? Do you have examples of where it’s done successfully? (Speculative examples, preferred.)

Fighting With the God of Thunder

I’m working on what I call my chainsaw edit of a paranormal romance novel (where I look at the overall structure of the novel and make all major changes to plot, character, flow, etc.) and I’ve found myself running into some issues with a side character.

But not just any side character–this particular one is Thor, God of Thunder.

I don’t particularly like writing side characters. I think they’re hard to do well and they complicate things. I like to stick to important characters (this isn’t necessarily main characters–it’s pretty much any character that is present throughout the story and directly affects things) and background characters.

When I originally wrote this book, Thor was unplanned. For that reason alone, it was necessary to look hard at him to see if he was affecting the plot in a negative manner. But he’s not, and he’s fun, and I rather like him a lot, so after careful consideration, I’m going to keep him.

Of course, you can’t just have a character in a book because you like them, however. So I’ve been working at integrating him into the plot. This has been slightly difficult. I need him to be important enough to justify his being there, but not so important that he’s pulling things away from the main characters and/or making major modifications to the plot at this juncture.

I may have finally figured things out, however. I hope to start any necessary rewrites next week, so we’ll see how things go.

Have you ever had a character that didn’t quite fit the first time through? Did you take them out or leave them in? Or can you think of a character in a book/movie/TV show/whatever where you’ve wondered why they were there?

Fiction in the Foreword

Forewords are odd bits of a book. You don’t see them a lot in fiction works, but when you do, it tends to be in books where the author is purporting to have “found” the manuscript somewhere and, through whatever means, is now sharing the manuscript with the masses.

Let’s take The Princess Bride. Excellent movie. Better book. If you read the book (which I highly recommend), you are treated to a long introduction by William Goldman about how his father (who was from Florin himself) used to read the story (written by one “S. Morgenstern”) to Goldman when he was a child, and he got his own son a copy but his son said it was boring, and when Goldman went to read it himself, he discovered his father had only read him the good parts. So The Princess Bride is just the “good parts” of Morgenstern’s story.

Except, of course, Morgenstern, his story, and the country of Florin don’t exist. (The deception actually goes deeper than that. Wikipedia informs me that Goldman doesn’t even have a son–just two daughters.) Goldman made it all up to enhance the story.

(He does it quite masterfully, too. I was pretty sure neither Morgenstern or Florin existed, but the longer he went on the less sure I became, and I did eventually take to the internet to make sure I wasn’t crazy.)

Goldman is probably the best example. I’ve read other stories where people attempt to do the same thing–make up something in the forward to enhance the story–but usually it doesn’t work as well. Sometimes it reads tacked on, like the author didn’t bother to put enough thought into it to make it at all believable.

All the examples I can think of involve “found” manuscripts. I read the first book of a mystery series starring Jane Austen, where the author said she found the “diaries” among some correspondence to Jane’s sister. And I recently finished The Legend of Broken where the author had “found” the manuscript and some accompanying notes by some 18th century historian or some such. (He actually had extensive end notes from this historian, explaining word etymology and historical customs and blah blah blah, and it made it read like a textbook. I had to bypass them completely to enjoy the story, and I felt bad because he put so much work into it, but honestly. Bleh.)

House of Leaves is another example, though at least the narrator’s story eventually blends into the found manuscript.

Most of the time, I think making up something in the foreword reads like a gimmick, or doesn’t ring true. How do you feel about it, Squiders? Any really good or really bad examples you can think of?

(But, seriously, go read The Princess Bride.)