Rachel

Heists

At Crime Reads: Planning a Heist with Your Spouse

Not quite what it sounds like, unfortunately! It sounds exciting! But no, this post is about co-writing a heist novel with your spouse.

In the pages of our first heist together, we competed with each other to introduce new twists, upsetting the other’s carefully constructed plans. We found it to be a unique piece of our cowriting—one we’d never discovered in our previous novels—with two authors, we were able to build more reversals, some that even caught each other by surprise. 

This is Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, who have previously written romances. This heist story is, oh, it’s a YA heist novel! I didn’t see that coming. It’s called Heiress Takes All.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Owens isn’t thrilled that her dad’s getting remarried…again. She’s especially not thrilled that he cheated on her mom, kicked them out of their Rhode Island home, and cut Olivia out of her rightful inheritance.

But this former heiress has a plan for revenge. While hundreds of guests gather on the grounds of the gorgeous estate where she grew up, everyone will be thinking romance—not robbery. She’ll play the part of dutiful daughter, but in reality she’ll be redistributing millions from her father’s online accounts. She only needs the handwritten pass code he keeps in the estate’s safe.

Wow, she sounds vindictive. Even vicious. This description did not do nearly enough to persuade me the dad deserves to have millions stolen by a brat daughter who’s mad he’s getting remarried. That’s what this sounds like to me. Granted, the reviews do a better job persuading me she’s got more reason than teenage pique to steal a huge amount of money from her dad. How about putting that in the description, not leaving it for a reviewer to communicate to potential readers? Here’s how this story starts.

I really shouldn’t have worn heels to my very first heist.

They cost me only seconds on the stairs, possibly less. Seconds might be critical, though, in moments like this. I reach the bottom steps, then the dark wood of the basement corridors, where I pause to pull off my pumps.

Ugh. More lost moments.

The instant they’re in my hand, straps hung on my rubbed-raw fingers, I run.

Footsteps pound behind me. Not the ominous rhythm of two feet or even the hectic syncopation of four. This is a crowd.

The long passageways I’ve ducked into mock me with their formality, their elegance. The white baseboards give way to pink paint; deep, dark hardwood floors where the balls of my bare feet thump with every step, crown molding which … I only know what crown molding is because Dad would not stop pointing out to guests that the crown molding dated back to the 1800s.

I mean, it’s not bad, but I’m not that interested either. I know the authors have to set the scene, but this seems like the protagonist is paying an awful lot of attention and spending a lot of time thinking about the decor, considering she’s running away from a crowd of people. Also, I don’t know why her fingers have been rubbed raw, which makes me wonder whether the act of pulling off her shoes cause actual physical trauma to her fingers. That seems unlikely. But what other activity could have led to this kind of injury? I’m paging ahead through the sample and I still can’t tell. The authors are leaving us completely in the dark about what this girl just did that has resulted in her running away down dark basement corridors (dark, but the baseboards are white and the paint is pink? How dark can they be?). I guess the description is supposed to suffice as orientation for the reader, but I would actually like more orientation right here in the story.

Well, never mind, moving on. This definitely makes me think of a recent-ish Book Riot post: Get Ready to Read 10 of the Best Thrilling YA Heist Novels

I didn’t actually look at the post, just thought — when I saw the title — oh, heists, I like heists, I should look at that sometime. Well, this is certainly the time. What thrilling YA heist novels are we talking about? I wonder if Heiress Takes All is on the list. Also, I’m once again pausing to say to myself, “YA Heist Novels” is a whole category? Who knew?

Oh, look at this, the Book Riot post appears to have been sponsored by the publisher of Heiress Takes All, which is Little, Brown. I didn’t realize Book Riot had sponsors. I’m guessing that Little, Brown thinks this is a good time to get people thinking there is a category of YA Heist Novels.

Anyway, this post begins: If you’re down for thrills and screams, in these next novels, you’ll find heists that take you to highs and lows you won’t expect, intriguing plot lines, untrustworthy characters, and endings that you think about even days after finishing the book. If you’re a fan of adventures, secrets, and complex challenges, you’ll want to read these thrilling YA heist novels right away.

Ah hah, didn’t see this coming, very strong SFF flavor to this Heist list. What do you suppose the list ends with? You might have guessed it, even though I didn’t:

Good choice, Book Riot! I’m liking the whole list better now — I mean, if The Thief is on this list, then the list was put together by someone whose taste aligns with mine to at least some extent. Though I like most of the sequels better than this one. Personally, I think it’s hard to beat The King of Attolia, though I know a lot of people put The Queen of Attolia at the top and I can see that. They’re neck and neck for me. “Nahuseresh, if there is one thing a woman understands, it is the nature of gifts. They are bribes when threats will not avail.” Priceless moment!

Hey, you know what else might count as a heist novel??? I thought of this because any post at all at Book Riot always makes me think of this. But you could actually view Watership Down as a heist novel! Not the whole thing, but getting into General Woundwort’s warren and out again, that’s an actual heist!

Of the others, this one looks promising: A Tempest of Tea

On the streets of White Roaring, Arthie Casimir is a criminal mastermind and collector of secrets. Her prestigious tearoom transforms into an illegal bloodhouse by night, catering to the vampires feared by society. But when her establishment is threatened, Arthie is forced to strike an unlikely deal with an alluring adversary to save it―she can’t do the job alone.

Calling on some of the city’s most skilled outcasts, Arthie hatches a plan to infiltrate the sinister, glittering vampire society known as the Athereum. 

Criminal mastermind, vampires, tea … good cover too. From the top reviews, I gather this first book might end on a cliffhanger.

Anybody got a good heist novel to recommend? SFF or otherwise, doesn’t matter. I’ve got one, from a long time ago:

The story in The Great Train Robbery is based on a real heist, which gives it something difficult to capture in fiction, though I don’t think it’s all that closely based on the real crime. Crichton included a lot of description of the history and the historical setting. I really enjoyed it.

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Update: Calmer week, smoother progress

Still a lot going on, but the week just past nevertheless seemed less cluttered. Let me see, what was going on?

All right —

1) I listened to and approved the first chapter of the RIHASI audiobook. This narrator is distinguishing characters more by vocal style than by changing her voice. I think it’s working quite well (that’s why I made her an offer in the first place). I’m looking forward to listening to chapter two!

2) The technical difficulties for the audiobook of MARAG got ironed out, so that’s now in review at ACX. Whew. Another week or so, probably. They’re usually pretty fast.

3) Finally wrote the first all-new chapter for SILVER CIRCLE. Then I smoothed out the next, already complete, chapter, so that the stuff going on at different locations all braids together.

I have now clarified for this story how cellphones and laptops work. That is, I knew for sure that if government agencies could track everyone via their cellphones, that could be a problem. I was ignoring that problem, but it was becoming more urgent to sort that out. So, I asked on Facebook, “So, how can you hide your phone from cops and the FBI and whoever?” There was more to it on Facebook, but that was the idea, and it was really funny to me because last week people I know from work and wherever were saying, “Wow, for a minute I really wondered if you’d become a survivalist or something! Then I saw the #AmWriting tag and that made a lot more sense!”

Anyway, that was highly helpful, I got some great information, and now I know how everyone is handling this, given that they have very good reasons for not wanting cops or the FBI or anyone to track them. So I went through and smoothed out phone use all the way through the story, which was crucial for being able to braid the flow of action together.

I’m mostly through the next new chapter now as well. Or at least, that chapter is started, which pretty much counts as nearly through it. Beats me what the chapter number is. I’ve lost track. There are going to be about fifty chapters total. I think I have about ten to go. I haven’t been writing them in order, which makes it a little hard to remember.

4) I think the audiobooks for the DL series will be underway sometime this week. I could have gotten the original cover artist to do audiobook covers, but I got distracted by playing with Canva and wound up asking Commenter Mona for advice about that because she is into graphic design and cover design.

Mona was super helpful. Therefore, last week I went from “This will never work, I need to scrap this and just ask the original cover artist to do audiobook covers,” to “By gum, I think I can actually do this.”

The covers are quite different from the ebook and paper book covers, of course, but I don’t care — lots of books have very different covers for different editions, after all.

I’ll do a post about this cover process later — it was fun to do!

MAIN FOCUS THIS WEEK: Making progress on SILVER CIRCLE, of course! I hope to be much closer to the end of the story by the end of June.

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Fathers in SFF

I was hoping I’d remember to do a Father’s Day post, and sure enough, I did, so here we are! But I’m not going to try to do a top ten list because honestly, I’m not completely sure that in all of SFF, there are ten fathers worth putting on a Top Ten list of great fathers. That’s why there’s so much repetition when you look at lists of SFF fathers — it’s all Arthur Weasley all the time, and honestly, he’s a pretty minor character, it seems to me. Granted, it’s been a good long time since I read the series, but still.

When I think of a list like this, I want a father who is:

–More than a minor character.

–Competent, because I can’t stand ineffectual characters and I particularly dislike ineffectual parents who ought to step up, but don’t or can’t or are just oblivious.

–An actual good father, not just an important character. Someone who acts as a father during the events in the story.

I’m going to stick to a Top Five list because that is actually doable.

1) Sam Vimes

I know a lot of the Discworld series get picked out as favorites, and actually I’ve never read the Granny Weatherwax ones — I should do that — but my favorite series in this world are the Vimes books, excluding the first one. The character arc in the first book is Sam pulling himself out of the gutter, and fine, whatever, but I prefer to skip that part and begin when he’s already the competent, take-charge, dedicated cop we all know and love from the other books. Also, he’s a great father. That Where’s My Cow? scene at the end of Thud! is marvelous. All the scenes with Where’s My Cow are marvelous.

2) Aral Vorkosigan

Aral is probably going to appear on every SFF Father’s Day list. There’s a reason for that. I think he only marginally counts as an important character once the focus shifts to Miles. BUT, Aral is an enormous presence in Miles’ life even when he doesn’t have a lot of time on the page.

3) I don’t want to pick just the obvious fathers, so how about Isaac Grant in Obsidio. In this YA SF trilogy, young protagonists get center stage, but I really liked Isaac, so I’m stretching a point. He’s competent, determined, and steps in as a dad not just for his own daughter, but for other young characters who have lost their own fathers. I particularly appreciate that Isaac is competent as a father, not just in other aspects of life.

I think all three books in this trilogy are excellent and great fun — which is not to say precisely plausible — but the wildly implausible plots are part of the fun. Here’s my post on the first book.

4) Derk in The Dark Lord of Derkholm. Derk has seven children, you may recall — Shona and Blade, who are human, and Kit, Callette, Don, Lydda, and Elda, who are all griffins. What a splendid, fun story this is. It’s not my absolute top favorite DWJ title, but it’s up there. And Derk is a committed, caring father, though I grant creating the griffin children is a little unusual.

5) Sinowa inGara. The reason I’m picking him for this list rather than Daniel is because Daniel is Jenna’s father, but Sinowa steps into the father role for practically every boy and young man he encounters. His central conception of himself is as a father, plus when he sees other men failing their responsibilities as fathers, he steps in there as well.

Anybody spring to mind for any of you? Who else belongs on this list?

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Reminders —

Just a handful of reminders in this post:

A) I’ll be pulling RIHASI at my Patrion about June 24. If you would like to download the epub there, now is a good time. Here’s the link.

B) Obviously if you haven’t preordered RIHASI yet and you would like to, this is a good time; here’s the link.

C) I’ve started a new Death’s Lady story, set during the lead up to midwinter and then going through midwinter. This is the first midwinter after the events of the series, so this is the first time Daniel and/or Jenna might possibly ask Tenai to open the way for them back to our world. This story is from the point of view of Taranah, the king’s aunt. The first installment of this story will appear in my newsletter, which you can sign up for here. I’m scheduling this newsletter to go out next Monday.

D) When the story is complete, I’ll drop it onto my Patreon. I have no idea when that will happen because I really have no idea how long this story might go. All these newsletter stories are appearing at my Patreon as they’re completed.

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Putting emotion on a page.

A post by James Scott Bell at Kill Zone Blog: Oh, What a Feeling: How to Show Character Emotions

Bell says, let’s consider an intensity scale from one to ten, with one being low intensity and ten being high. Then he says: My rule guideline is that any emotion below 5 can, and usually should, be named. If Nancy is worried about how the meatloaf will turn out, you don’t have to go into sweaty palms and racing heart. That’s too much (unless the meatloaf is being prepared for Hannibal Lecter and the cops are nearby). Just write, Nancy was worried about the meatloaf.

But when you go over 5, you should show the emotion. The goal is to help the reader feel, not just know, what the emotion is.

And by “show,” he means physical reactions, actions, dialogue, setting, thoughts. I like the inclusion of “setting” here. Bell uses a Steven King excerpt to illustrate:

It was a Motel 6 on I-80 just west of Lincoln, Nebraska. The snow that began at midafternoon had faded the sign’s virulent yellow to a kinder pastel shade as the light ran out of the January dusk. The wind was closing in on that quality of empty amplification one encounters only in the country’s flat midsection.

Fading light, dusk, wind, emptiness. We are being set up to feel the inner life of the character even before we meet him.

I mean, I wouldn’t immediately want to read this, but Bell isn’t wrong. King is establishing the character via the setting, which is a great thing to do.

Good post, good examples. Also, I happened to trip over related posts at the same time I noticed the one above, so also —

Writers Helping Writers: How to Avoid Clichéd Emotional Reactions

When our character’s feelings are clear and logical, they trigger the reader’s emotions, making it harder for them to put the book down. Character emotion is, in my opinion, the most effective and longest lasting hook in our bag of tricks, so it’s imperative that we get it right in our stories. 

Emphasis in the original. This post declares that you should know your character, including their general style, their emotional range, and their response to stress. The post then offers two examples of characters whom we know and how we express their emotions in a way that is true for each character. The examples are interesting. Let me show you the first tiny, tiny bit of each snippet of dialogue that is supposed to express emotional responses appropriate for each character.

***

A) Character A: Dionne
Personality: Respectful, cautious, sneaky
Emotional Range: Reserved
Fight-Flight-Freeze Response: Flight
Emotional Dialogue Cues: Speech gets short and clipped; fidgety hands; doesn’t meet people’s gaze

“So how’d the party go?”

Dionne plastered on a smile and buried herself in her Instagram feed. “Great.”

“See, I knew you’d have a good time. Who was there?”

Her mouth went dry, but she didn’t dare swallow, not with Dad watching her over his coffee mug. Despite the hour, his eyes were bright and searching, twin spotlights carving through the mocha-infused fog.

Next

B) Character B: Beth
Personality: Bold, confrontational, impulsive
Emotional Range: More demonstrative than reserved
Fight-Flight-Freeze Response: Fight
Emotional Dialogue Cues: interrupts people; volume rises; defensive physical cues

“So how’d the party go?” Dad asked, sliding into a chair at the table.

Beth looked up from her phone, her heart rate kicking up a notch. “Fine.”

“See, I knew you’d have a good time. Who was there?”

She rolled her eyes. “Sarah, Allegra, Jordan—you know, the usual.”

***

The thing I find interesting here is that both of these examples sound to me A LOT like ChatGPT or some other AI generated them. To me, the reactions of both Dionne and Beth seem weirdly over the top and overly physical and just overdone, in a way that feels to me like generated dialogue. So, I opened up ZeroGPT and entered the full sample of dialogue from each sample provided by the post. One came back human and the other 40% generated. I tried another couple detectors and both came back human. I guess my conclusion is that they sound pretty bad and fake to me, but my personal sense of fakeness is either not that great, or else detectors aren’t that reliable (or both).

Regardless, I suggest that it might be best to dial it back from “her heart rate kicking up a notch” or “plastered on a smile.” These kinds of “SHOW THE EMOTION” tags look seriously overdone to me. I like movement tags, but I don’t like these movement tags at all.

I’m trying to think about what I mean by “overdone” here. Here’s what I mean: Using “her heart rate kicking up a notch” as the second line of dialogue in a conversation seems —

(a) self-conscious; like the author is thinking, “Oh wait, I need to show the emotion here, how can I show the emotion?”

(b) overdone; like why would someone have this huge reaction to a simple inquiry about how the party went? In context, this might work fine. At the tippy top of a snippet of dialogue, with no obvious reason to feel anxious about this conversation, it just looks bizarre.

(c) metaphorically strained. Twin spotlights carving through the mocha-infused fog, really? This kind of phrasing, at least here in this snippet of dialogue, doesn’t look creative and fun to me. It looks silly. And on top of all that, I guess at least some of these bits of dialogue look —

(d) cliched, or an AI detector wouldn’t be tagging any of it as possibly generated.

And, I also sort of think that when you ask yourself to many questions about your characters, and write out character descriptions, and pin them down in a character sheet like:

Personality: Bold, confrontational, impulsive
Emotional Range: More demonstrative than reserved
Fight-Flight-Freeze Response: Fight
Emotional Dialogue Cues: interrupts people; volume rises; defensive physical cues

You are just asking for a problem with being too self-conscious about your characters and too self-conscious about what they do and say and how they do and say everything, when there’s really no need for it. I want to say, “How about relaxing and just writing the character like she’s a real person?” Which says a lot about me as a writer, I know that, and much less about how anybody else should write. But that spotlights-through-a-mocha-haze does look silly to me.

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Edible Geology

Have you ever heard of Geobake? Looks like it’s a contest put on by the Geoscience Society of New Zealand.

Here’s the winner for 2024: This cake represents the columnar jointed basalt found in the Dunedin area, specifically the Organ Pipes. It has a red velvet sponge inside to represent the mafic basalt, and a black sesame-based meringue arranged in hexagonal columns with a dusting of cocoa to mimic the Organ Pipes’ weathered grey surface.

This is amazing. The whole idea is amazing. I love it.

Click through to see this winner, plus a cake that shows “an example of a normal fault that has occurred following the deposition of numerous layers of geological strata. leading to the uplift and offset of the strata on the footwall side” and a gingerbread geologic map of New Zealand.

Here’s the 2023 post, which features — very neat! — a braided rivers cake, very suitable as we visit the braided rivers of Tansan in RIHASI. “Slope-derived sediment deposited on braid plains creates bifurcating channel networks which typify braided rivers.”

Here’s the 2022 post. “Kirsty’s entry depicts Volcanologists sampling fresh lava to gain information on its chemical properties.”

Here’s the 2021 post. “This sourdough bread loaf depicts a basaltic lava eruption. The lava is erupting both from a vent (top) and through subsurface lava tubes. The different dough colours/flavours represent different temperatures of lava—yellow is the hottest, orange is slightly cooler but still molten, and black is cooled, solid basalt.”

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Ensemble Casts

From Writers Helping Writers: Structuring an Ensemble Cast with Plotlines

This caught my eye because Silver Circle is a heck of an example when it comes to an ensemble-cast novel.

POV characters: Natividad, Miguel, Alejandro, Justin, Ethan

Other characters, OMG, there’s no end to the list.

Important continuing characters: Grayson, Ezekiel, Thaddeus, Keziah, Riss, Cassie, Etienne, Colonel Herrod (General Herrod now, but whatever), Lieutenant Santibañez, Sergei Vasiliev, Martya, Anya. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but this ought to be most of the important ones. Plus some may make an appearance later, though they haven’t stepped on stage yet.

Important new characters: A black dog named Gerhard Breault, a black dog called Gris, a black dog named Diego Martinez. Luis Santibañez’s uncle, Senator Santibañez. Keziah’s cousin Malik. I think that’s it for really important new characters … no, wait, also Vitya, the kid who was infected by, if that’s the right term, the poroniec demon.

Massive number of characters. You recall I was trying to think of subtitles involving the idea of “scattering before the storm” for the first book. Silver Circle starts off with one thing after another piling up, it’s very exciting and fast-paced, and then the characters do scatter. Initially, Natividad and Alejandro are both in one group (with Grayson and some others), while Miguel (and Cassie) are off in another direction, Justin (and Keziah) are off in a third direction, and Ethan (with Ezekiel) are off in a fourth direction. Then things happen and groups get reshuffled, so that Natividad and Alejandro are separated, Ezekiel joins Natividad, and Thaddeus joins Ethan. Justin and Keziah remain together.

One reason to divide everyone up is so that I don’t have to deal with so many important characters in any given scene. The other reason is because plot-related things are taking place all over and different people are handling different parts of this. The plethora of characters and the fast-moving sprawling plot both contribute to this story being a bear to work on, though when I re-read the 600-odd pages I have right now, I was pretty pleased with most of those pages.

But back to the topic. What does the linked post say about ensemble casts?

Typically with ensembles, the trick is that the characters and their plotlines have to somehow be connected to or influencing each other.

We have Frodo, a lead, with his own set. He has an external journey of taking the Ring to Mount Doom, an internal journey of his struggle with the Ring, and a relationship journey with Samwise.

Then we also have Aragorn, another lead with his own set. Aragorn has an external journey with the war, an internal journey over taking his place as king, and a relationship journey with Arwen (and arguably Eowyn).

The Fellowship also breaks down into more plotlines. Merry and Pippin have their own external, internal, and relationship journeys (though to a lesser degree), and so does Gimli. Eowyn, Arwen, and Smeagol are other notable characters who get their own personal journeys.

Every character, though, is ultimately connected into the world/society plotline with the war against Sauron—they are each influencing or being influenced by it. So this is the glue that holds the sets together.

Most of the bold is mine.

I think this is basically true, in the sense that the broad plot is the glue. It’s not just that all the characters are “influencing or being influenced” by the war against Sauron, either. They are all also influencing or being influenced by the other characters, though this may take place at a distance and the characters may not know that themselves. That is, at the end, Aragorn knows that he’s trying to draw Sauron’s attention away from Frodo and Sam, but they don’t know anything about that. They only know that Sauron suddenly looks away from the lands around Mount Doom, giving them a chance to make that last heartbreaking effort to get there.

Of course you know what the basic goal is for everyone in Silver Circle — the initial goal, anyway. It’s to get rid of the witches. This proves to be more challenging than everyone involved might perhaps hope. It also doesn’t turn out to be the ultimate goal. Regardless, the linked post is quite right: this goal, the war against black witches and black witchcraft, is definitely the glue that holds everything together. And yes, everyone is influencing everyone else, probably in ways that won’t be clear to the characters themselves until the end, if then.

Here’s a different and interesting idea from the linked post:

However, on the rare occasion that [the characters are not linked together by the plot and are not influencing each other], then often the glue is the theme. You could technically write a story where the characters never cross paths, nor fit into a greater plotline, but they each have a journey about the same theme

And that’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Except to me, that seems more like an idea for a set of short stories. Pity the author of the post didn’t suggest a work of some kind, either a story collection or a novel, structured this way. I guess for this to be a novel, everyone would have to be in the same world — it would be more elegant if they all intersect in ways the reader sees, even if the various characters don’t influence or even notice each other.

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Update: lots of incremental progress on all fronts

There’s so much underway, it’s honestly hard to keep it all straight.

1) I loaded a new epub of RIHASI this past Saturday, but I may do so again because I tripped over one (1) more typo, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, even though it is apparently invisible to all readers. Oh, and there were more than two dozen typos in the first epub I uploaded, which is so many! Although I appreciate notes about how that isn’t SO many, it kinda seems like a lot to me.

2) I’ve just this morning made an offer to a narrator for RIHASI. This will be the first female narrator for this series. Rihasi both begins and ends this novel, which makes her the primary protagonist, so that’s why I decided to go with a woman as a narrator. I liked her audition quite a bit — I got four very solid auditions out of the auditions that were submitted. This narrator has a good feel for the sentences and tone and did a pretty good, but not exaggerated, job of character differentiation. I hope this project will move smoothly ahead and that the audiobook will be available maybe a month or two after the release of the Amazon editions.

3) The audiobook for MARAG is finished and as soon as certain hopefully trivial technical difficulties have been solved, I will be hitting the “approved for review” button. I expect this audiobook will be available long before the end of the month.

4) I like the narrator who did MARAG. He differentiates characters well, his overall vocal quality is good enough, he is super easy to work with, he is fast, and he makes almost no “typos” while narrating. I am going to move ahead with Death’s Lady ebooks with this narrator. He’s agreed to do the whole four-book set. He’ll start that as soon as the technical difficulties with MARAG have been ironed out.

Gosh, I’m spending a lot on audiobooks this year. I really do audiobooks as a vanity project, though who knows, maybe over a ten-year span they might make something close to what I’m spending on them. (Maybe.)

The thing is, while I was watching ~3000 sales of the Death’s Lady trilogy at the end of May, I was also thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice if there were audiobooks available with links from this trilogy? Next time, if BookBub approves another featured deal for this trilogy, there will be.

5) I asked the Tuyo-series cover artist to make a boxed set cover for me for Tuyo/Tarashana/Tasmakat, with the subtitle “Ryo’s trilogy” and no volume numbers to confuse potential buyers. Previously, I thought this would be insane because of various limitations imposed on boxed sets. That is, you can’t price them above $9.99 without dropping to the 35% royalty rate (from the standard 70% royalty rate), and therefore a boxed set of these three books would have to be sold at a terrible loss … … … except no! Given the featured deal for the DL trilogy, I thought of a way to handle this.

I’m going to publish this boxed set at $21.99 or even $22.99 or something like that — really high. From the reader’s perspective, this is closely in line with the cost of buying the three separate books, which together add up to $21, more or less. However, because of the lower royalty level, I don’t actually want readers to buy the boxed set, so I’m going to price it so that it is just a tad more expensive to buy the three books as a boxed set than individually. I believe it will be worthwhile — very worthwhile — provided I can get a BookBub featured deal for the boxed set. That’s the actual point of making this boxed set at all. They’ve turned TUYO down a lot of times as an individual book, and while I’ll keep applying with it, I do think applying with a boxed set is a good deal more likely to be approved.

And THAT would probably be worthwhile. I can start by applying for a featured deal at $2.99 and work my way down from there and see what happens. I’ll try that later this year.

MEANWHILE

6) I’m moving ahead with SILVER CIRCLE. I had two chapters with missing final scenes — both those scenes are now written and those chapters are complete. I hadn’t written chapter 25 at all. I glared at this chapter, considered the flow of events, and turned that into the end of chapter 22 instead of leaving it as a chapter by itself. Then I finished that chapter.

Then I moved chapters around and renumbered them and moved them around some more and renumbered them again, and this is an ongoing project, let me tell you. There are chapters where a specific confrontation or attack begins and then a cliffhanger and the pick up to that cliffhanger can’t be a hundred pages later, so if I move one chapter, I wind up moving six. It’s really complicated!

But, for NOW, I think all the chapters are in a decent order, PLUS I am finally ready to write a new chapter. Which is exciting because it picks up an attack that began in a previous chapter. This is the point where it’s becoming possible that I may decide to kill someone. We’ll see.

7) Also, I’ve written maybe 7000 words of the new DL story from Taranah’s pov, so I have a good piece to drop into the next newsletter.

And that’s where I am at the beginning of this week! WHEW!

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Banes of our existence

From Writer Unboxed: Join me on my bender, fellow grammar geeks—here are a few banes of a recovering copyeditor’s existence. Today we’re diving into conjugational tomfoolery of some of American English’s most provocative participles.

I rather like the light tone here, compared to the ranting tone posts like this can take.

The pluperfect is the one I always advise authors to use care with, especially in flashbacks, where it can get a little thick and ridiculous—witness this perfectly correct sentence: “The yogurt she had had had had three weeks to turn green in the sink.” Ah, English, you whimsical little minx.

Pro tip: If you’re writing flashback scenes within a past-tense story, which is often where the pluperfect tense comes creeping in, signal that time shift to readers with a well-placed “had” or two here and there, but then drop it or your writing will seem cluttered

Pluperfect = past perfect, as you probably know. I think it depends on how long the flashback is, but if the flashback scene stretches out over more than a page or two, then yes, I think that’s exactly the way to handle it. I mean, use “had” several times as you ease into the flashback, and probably (I would suggest) several times as you ease back out of it. But within the main part of the flashback, simple past is most likely going to work better, even though I very much doubt you will ever be even mildly tempted to write a sentence with four “hads” in it, especially in a row like that. Actually, that would be a good place to throw in a comma:

The yogurt she had had, had had three weeks to turn green.”

The justification there is the overriding rule for commas — the ur-rule, as it were — which is that, when in doubt, commas should be used in a way that enhances the readability of the sentence. Should you find yourself compelled, for some reason, to use four “hads” in a row, that’s the exact moment at which to remember this ur-rule.

On the other hand, in my opinion, the far more common problem with the past perfect is that a lot of authors won’t use it even when it is entirely appropriate, and that’s really annoying.

Nevertheless, the linked post has a lot of tips like this:

Al Roker may forecast the weather, after which he has also forecast it…at which point it has been forecast. Sweet lord in heaven.

And that kind of phrase kept making me chuckle, so by all means click through and read the whole thing.

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Passivity, Paralysis, and Restraint

A post at Writer Unboxed: When a Character Does Nothing: Passivity, Paralysis, and Restraint

Modern readers tend to like protagonists who do stuff, rather than those to whom stuff happens. Bold, feisty characters who choose, persevere, overcome, attain.

Largely true, but you could also say, “Modern authors tend to present protagonists who do stuff.” Readers can only enjoy the protagonists who are presented to them. It’s a bit like saying, “Readers of YA dystopias tend to prefer first-person narratives.” Do they? Or do they read first-person narratives because that became the standard for YA dystopia following The Hunger Games, and therefore if they want to read YA dystopia at all, they’d better be okay with first person?

Still, I think this thing about active vs passive protagonists is largely true. That is, I certainly dislike protagonists who are too passive, particularly if the protagonist is drifting through life, making occasional ineffectual gestures at doing things and then sinking back into hopeless passivity. I know for sure I’ve condemned protagonists who were too ineffectual, as in, for example, Wildwood Dancing. Beautiful story, protagonist just cannot get a grip and move decisively to solve the problem, it’s thoroughly frustrating. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the protagonist’s job to take effective action and the author’s job to make sure they do.

Paralysis, if it arises from any personality style that looks to me like clinical depression, would be worse. That’s the very last thing I want to see in a protagonist. I’m not sure whether that’s what the author of the post has in mind. Let’s see:

Passivity, as a trait, stems from a lack of force rather than a lack of means—a temporary (situational) or permanent internal condition that makes action impossible. … Think of William in Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. William is the book’s central character, but not the agent of the plot; he responds, generally by acquiescence, to what others want or do or fail to do.

As trauma theory teaches us (see, for example: Bessel Van Der Kolk), paralysis can occur when both fight and flight seem impossible and the only option is to freeze (the third trauma response). … Inaction through paralysis may be followed by regret, guilt, shame, and/or rash acts of over-compensation, which have their own consequences. In that way, the paralysis can actually fuel the plot.

Neither of those works well for me as a reader, but particularly not paralysis. This wasn’t exactly what I was thinking of. I was thinking of Hamlet, who’s indecisiveness and inability to act look to me like depression. This idea, of paralysis occurring when both fight and flight options are impossible, seems at least as bad. I have no desire to follow a protagonist through regret, guilt, shame, and/or rash action. I would prefer to see an effectual protagonist who takes decisive action, and then oops! Whatever the action was, it turns out to have unforeseen (and unforeseeable) consequences. Then you may see regret, guilt, or shame, but not for failure to act. I prefer that.

How about restraint?

Why would a character refrain from acting, which action seems so obvious?  From fear of the consequences, perhaps; better to stay invisible, and safe. Or from the desire to protect someone else, honor a pledge, or refrain from an over-sharing that would cause discomfort, confusion, shame. … Restraint might even be an act of generosity—holding back so the other person has a chance to step in, prove his mettle, and have the life he desperately needs. … [Restraint can be] a gesture of kindness and power.

Now we’re talking! That’s what I want to see! Suddenly I like the linked post much better.

I do think restraint is an undervalued virtue. Culturally, we like boldness, bigness—from the larger-than-life hero who singlehandedly vanquishes the band of attackers to the Everyman who finds his moxie and surprises us (and himself) by standing up to the big evil corporation. Restraint seems old-fashioned. Yet it’s the basis of so many powerful and enduring stories

I like all this. Not that I dislike singlehanded heroism. But I like this whole idea of having the protagonist exercise restraint so that someone else can step in and shine. That would indeed produce a powerful moment.

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