Pick one . . . or two . . . or three

Which one do you like best?

Choices, choices!

If I could pick three, it’d be ISLANDS, the paperback CITY, and HOUSE OF SHADOWS — even though I think the reflection in the eye of the griffin is very clever and I like all of the griffin covers. Maybe I’m biased toward cool colors? People who work in ceramics say blues sell best, and as far as that goes, I’m just another sheep following the herd.

If I had to pick just one . . . honestly, can’t.

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Agent Rachelle Gardner had a post some time ago about how to think of good titles for your books.

I have kind of an anti-knack for titles: I can never think of anything good. Sometimes my editor and I go back and forth for weeks kicking titles back and forth and it’s all very annoying and tedious and unpleasant, especially when you never really like ANY of the suggestions.

Now, what Rachelle Gardner suggested was this:

a) Find 20 titles you love, all from your genre.

b) Make a list of 100 words (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) related to your book — words that evoke the setting or relate to an important character or capture the action.

c) Evaluate these words: Would any make good single-word titles? Any good combinations leap out at you?

d) Develop 20 possible titles which all:
i) have a tone that fits your book,
ii) convey the genre,
iii) don’t seem too generic,
iv) might realistically catch the eye.

e) Wait 24 hours and select 3-5 for a short list.

f) Send these to friends and have everybody pick their favorite.

Okay, now, if this process worked to generate fantastic titles, wouldn’t that be great? Unfortunately, only steps (a) and (b) are actually easy,and those don’t get you all the way to a title of your own.

Twenty great titles that caught my eye? No problem. I selected:

A Fistful of Sky

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Silent Strength of Stones

A Blue So Dark

Darkness Be My Friend

Retribution Falls

All Unquiet Things

Glitter Rose

Black Creek

Shades of Milk and Honey

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Butterfly Swords


Somewhere to Be Flying

The Life of Glass

The Paths of the Dead

The Sky is Everywhere

Past the Size of Dreaming

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Against the Tide of Years

From which you might (correctly) surmise that I like evocative, poetic titles. I suspect this is the hardest kind of title to come up with. My least favorite titles are merely a character’s name, which is too bad, since those would certainly be easier to think of!

Now, does this suggest anything for my current WIP, which for the sake of convenience I’m calling KEEPER, a title I dislike?

Ummm . . . well. If only.

How about THE MOUNTAIN OF MEMORY? I don’t much like that.


No? Okay, then.

How about GODDESS OF SHADOWS? Don’t much care for it, and it seems awfully generic. Is


any better?

THE WALL BETWEEN THE MOUNTAIN AND THE WORLD is obviously too long, right?


But isn’t “Kieba” kind of hard to pronounce, maybe? And also this is pretty close to just using a character’s name as the title, which is still not my favorite thing.


This is just harder than seems reasonable. Phooey.

Easier to quit fussing with the title and finish the darned book.

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Here’s a biting and fairly alarming post.

“Amazon would like to offer a Netflix-like subscription to unlimited ebooks for its Prime members. Business sites are all over the publishing companies to comply–after all, what’s a little monopoly between friends?

But as an author this stinks to high heaven. You know, that place where Borders is chilling on a cloud and crying into its celestial beer.

See, there’s no mention of author benefit–everyone is talking about the publishers and how they need to get with the times. But how, exactly, would we be compensated for this? Since it’s for their Prime members, who as Netflix has seen, would howl over a price hike, it’s possible this will just be lumped in, wrecking ebook sales and contributing further to the idea that the ideal cost for a book is $0.00. Not to mention the number this does on libraries.”

Read the whole thing. Like I said, fairly alarming. Can I have a crystal ball, please, so I actually know what the future of book publishing will hold?

I know, I know, a major run on those particular crystal balls, if they ever come up for sale. On Amazon.

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Steal like an artist —

“And Nine Other Things Nobody Told Me”

This is a fun list of advice for writers.

I laughed! It’s so true! YOU TOTALLY DO STEAL IDEAS. Where else are you supposed to get them?

A handful of my own examples, off the top of my head:

The Empire of Tolounn in THE FLOATING ISLANDS is totally Rome, recast into my world.

The Floating Islands themselves? Based on Greek city states.

The main problem in ISLANDS? Got the idea from the Roman invasion of Syracuse, as seen in Gillian Bradshaw’s THE SAND-RECKONER (a great book!)

I came up with Mienthe in THE LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH from a minor character from THE SAND-RECKONER. Though the two characters are (obviously) totally distinct, mine has a similar past history as Bradshaw’s. I didn’t even use a trace of the particular conflict that was central to Bradshaw’s minor character, but nevertheless, she was Mienthe’s initial inspiration.

That scene in THE CITY IN THE LAKE where the king doesn’t spurn his older son in favor of his younger? I wrote that because of a scene in CJ Cherryh’s FORTRESS IN THE EYE OF TIME where the king, dying, does continue to reject his older son. It was a brutal scene and, in CITY, when I found my characters in a similar situation, I gave my scene a different ending.

The keiso in the (forthcoming) HOUSE OF SHADOWS? Got the idea from reading MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and GEISA.

You get ideas from everywhere! As they pass through your head and hands and onto your keyboard, you make them your own. That’s kind of what writing is!

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Firecracker Apple Cake

Okay, as promised! This cake is for those who like desserts that bite back, but I promise you it is FABULOUS.

The recipe is from Bon Appetit, the Dec. 2007 issue, and Bon Appetit notes that they got it from the Firefly Grill in Nashville. The actual recipe also includes spiced pecans to scatter on the top of the cake, which I have never made.


1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon (I use 1 tsp because cinnamon is not my favorite)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger (I use a heaping 1/2 tsp because ginger IS my favorite
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 C veg. oil (I think this seems like a lot and I subtracted 2 Tbsp last time I made the cake and will try using just 1/2 C next time.
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 3/4 C cubed apple (the recipe specifies 1/3″ cubes, I just zip the apples in a food processor and call it good. This is about 1 large or 2 small apples).


2/3 C packed brown sugar
6 Tbsp light cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks
1/2 generous tsp cayenne

Make the glaze:

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat four about four minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If you make this ahead, you will need to warm it to pourable consistency before you use it.

Make the cake:

Grease and four a Bundt pan. Combine all the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk together the oil, brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and fold together to blend. Fold in apple. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes and turn out onto plate. Glaze warm cake with half the warm glaze. Pass the rest of the glaze with the cake as you serve it.

The recipe suggests vanilla ice cream, but I never use it because I love the glaze and don’t think the cake needs anything else. In fact, I can eat the glaze out of a jar with a spoon. Mmmmm.

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Here’s an interesting test —

From the INTERN.

Okay, from the INTERN’s archives, which I’m reading partly because there’s some cool stuff in there but mostly because the INTERN is currently not posting new content.

So today I found this:

“Lately, INTERN has been conducting a similar test on manuscripts and library books. Here’s how it works:

-Open novel to a random page
-Read a couple paragraphs, or at most, a couple pages
-Can you tell what the conflict is, or what the character is yearning for? Can you explain, in just a few words, what these paragraphs are doing and why?

It can be as concrete as “she is trying to catch the rattlesnake” or as abstract as “he is struggling to understand his son’s anger”.

Some examples from INTERN’s handy pile ‘o’ library books:

In a random paragraph from “Small Island” by Andrea Levy: “character is having moral qualms over what to do with an expensive brooch she finds on the ground.”

In a random paragraph from “East of Eden” by Steinbeck: “character is deciding to punish two boys, even while having doubts about their guilt.”

In a random paragraph from “Lullabies for Little Criminals” by Heather O’Neill: “character realizes that she’s been so wrapped up in her own struggles that she hasn’t noticed her father’s life falling apart.”

In a random paragraph from “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene: “character is frustrated at his own inability to confront a friend.”

These are not carefully selected examples. These little conflict summaries are literally pulled from single paragraphs on randomly opened pages. Stab these books with a toothpick all you want—that sucker is gonna come out clean. At seemingly every moment in these books (except maybe in passages describing the scenery), there is some kind of tension or revelation going on.

If you stab your own manuscript with that toothpick and need to read an entire chapter before being able to identify some kind of internal or external conflict, you might have a problem. If you can’t identify what’s going in any particular spot in less than twenty words, chances are the conflict or tension is too vague (or there isn’t any). [Note: obviously, all books are different, and a surrealistic alinear epic space opera needs a different barometer than a linear coming-of-age novel. But still.]

Lack ‘o’ identifiable conflict (especially in the first few chapters) is a major problem with first drafts. If you can’t identify any conflict until Chapter 3, the book either needs to start at Chapter 3 or the first two chapters need to pony up. “

I pulled out a big piece of this post because the link is going to take you to all of 2009’s archived posts and you’ll have to scroll down pretty far to find this entry.

But how about that? Doesn’t that sound kind of fun to try? Plus don’t you think it would help teach you how to learn to summarize conflict in one sentence? [Which is helpful for writing queries and pitches, see.]

I just write ’em by feel, you know, but maybe I’ll try this out on my WIP just to see. Hopefully I can then nod smugly and say, “See? I knew I was doing a good job.” And if not, heck, maybe it’s time to revise a little more analytically than usual.

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This time, I mean finished with the copy-edited ms, except I want to go through it once more tonight and look at certain specific things. It’ll only take me one evening unless I forgot to note page numbers. I would certainly prefer not to look at every page. I will DEFINITELY not be reading every word.

What this particular copy-edited ms has demonstrated for me is:

1) My hindbrain does not get the difference between “that” and “which”, even though I thought I had it trained properly by now.

2) And apparently I have a deep conviction that the word “half” should be connected to whatever follows it by a hyphen.

Apparently my eye just reads right over these items, even when I think I am paying attention. Kind of embarrassing! On the other hand, I found and fixed at least half a dozen typos the copy editor missed, so Go, me!

I think I had better start using the FIND command to check “half” as part of polishing a new manuscript. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to search only for those instances of “which” that lack a comma in front of them.

Okay! In other news! The most popular desserts last night were:

1) The apple cake, even though I warned people up front about the cayenne. Everybody tried a small piece and nearly everybody loved it. I will post the recipe sometime this week.

2) The cheesecake. The rosewater didn’t come through as strongly as I’d hoped; I should have used a full Tbsp instead of two tsp. But it was popular anyway because hey, cheesecake.

3) The peach pie, which unexpectedly appeared in my kitchen — Mom was baking, too — so I didn’t make the brownies.

The least popular? The chocolate chip toffee cookies. Isn’t that interesting? The only dessert with chocolate AND the most familiar dessert AND the one with the smallest portions, and everybody dissed it. The rest of the cookies are now in the freezer and I will gradually eat them all myself, which is not a sacrifice.

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Copy editing . . . still in progress

I love copy editors!

I am told that my writing is very “clean”, but nevertheless there is a pretty good handful of typos.

I think the job of a copy editor is not the same for, say, journalists as for novelists. What a copy editor does for a novel is:

a) look for and correct typos, such as teh instead of the.

b) look for missing or incorrect grammar, such as periods missing from the ends of sentences.

c) look for repeated words, such as “devastated” used twice in three sentences. (I really hate repeated words — well, most of the time — and they can be hard to spot, so I love having another set of eyes looking for them.)

d) Fix actual grammatical errors, such as (for me) changing which to that. (Honestly, I thought I had the back of my brain properly trained for this one, but evidently I still miss it sometimes. Unless gremlins go through my manuscript and introduce errors. Which sometimes seems plausible.)

e) standardize the style to fit the house style — that is, I prefer “Thaddeus’ jacket” to “Thaddeus’s jacket”, but Orbit’s house style dictates the later. I don’t have to worry about this when writing, because the copy editor fixes it.

e) look for inconsistent spelling in the made-up words in the book. Like I spelled a character’s name “Nerenne” 58 times and “Necenne” twice and the copy editor marked every single instance of the name to confirm the correct spelling.

f) look for inconsistent descriptions and stuff. Anybody’s eye color change halfway through? The copy editor will (hopefully!) catch this.

g) mark every single dash and every single bit of italics for the typesetter, even though this stuff is already in place in the manuscript.

What the copy editor does not do:

Mess with the writing. Every single time the copy editor suggests a change to the prose, the change is flagged for author approval. (Usually they are good suggestions.) I think this isn’t necessarily the case for newspaper editorials — I think sometimes copy editors smooth out clunky writing there — and I have no idea whether its the same for nonfiction.

Check for factual accuracy (as far as I know; maybe they’re supposed to but it doesn’t come up much with fantasy novels (I read one fantasy novel, though, where the author referred to a “mink” every time she meant an “ermine” and the error drove me just frantic since the two animals are NOT THE SAME — the ermine is less than half the size of the mink, for one thing — so fact checking is not actually irrelevant to fantasy).

Exercise dictatorial power over my grammar. If I want to break a grammatical rule, which I certainly will do to produce a specific “feel” to the sentence, then I stet it back to the original. But the copy editor makes me think twice and three times about all deliberate nonstandard grammar, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

Critique the writing. Although! My favorite copy editor EVER broke this rule to write “Love this!” in the margin at one point in CITY IN THE LAKE, and believe me, I did not complain. If you’re copy editing for me, feel free to insert compliments!

After this, last chance to remove typos comes with the page proofs. There shouldn’t be ANY TYPOS LEFT, but there will be. (Gremlins, remember?) This is the stage where I ask my Mom to read the manuscript after I’ve gone over it. She’s the sort of reader for whom grammatical errors light up in neon. Plus it expands her horizons as a reader, since she never reads any fantasy but mine.

So . . . all done with the copy edited manuscript! Except I made a few notes about things to look at again and that will take an extra day, but I can’t do it tonight. I’m having a potluck at my house and I’m making all the desserts, so not a chance I’ll get to this!

The desserts:

A cheesecake made with raspberries and rosewater.
An apple cake with cayenne both in the cake itself and the caramel glaze.
A lemon pudding cake.
Brownies with walnuts and an apricot glaze (if I have time).
Chocolate chip cookies, for the non-adventurous. Though it’s an odd recipe. But very good.

The apple cake is just to die for if you like a dessert that bites back. I’ll try to remember to post the recipe.

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New cover!

Check this out:

Isn’t this lovely? It should be very close to the actual cover.

HOUSE OF SHADOWS will be coming out next spring. If you get the impression from this cover that it’s got a kind of geisha thing going, you are correct! I had just read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and Geisha by Liza Dalby and that gave me ideas.

The world in HOUSE OF SHADOWS has a scattering of details that might evoke Japan, but only to a minor extent. My keiso are not exactly like historical geisha, either. I thought it would be fun to pick up the idea of geisha as accomplished artists and professional companions, but I went even further that that — I completely separated the geisha role from prostitution and then had fun fitting the “flower world” into the wider world of the novel. I think it turned out rather well — I’m looking forward to seeing what readers think!

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