Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How a Baby Carrot Can Offer Wisdom

Today was one of those days where I had to pick and choose what got done, and the list was short. Way too short.

The weirdest thing that struck me in my "get the kids to school, get a few things thrown together at home, get clean so I don't offend my coworkers, and get out the door" frenzy had to do with baby carrots, of all things. There was a time, not very long ago, where I would never have considered putting a baby carrot into stew. Especially if I had old fashioned, peel 'em and cut 'em up carrots in the crisper. But life right now has begun to necessitate the need to cut a few corners, and the corner I cut today was to NOT cut the carrots.

Now this may seem like undue rumination on something completely inconsequential. But the deeper story at work here is that with every task I must do differently now that I am out of the house for ten hours a day, the more it makes me take careful stock of what's important and what's not. Yes, whole, large carrots are nurtitionally superior to baby carrots (so I'm told), but does that really matter when I'm going to steep them in a crock pot for 10 hours? Will my children feel neglected because I didn't cut the carrots into little coins? Part of me gasped in horror that I simply poured 2/3 of a bag of the little orange buggers on top of stew meat this morning. But the part of me that's thinking back on that now is laughing a little bit at how dramatic that felt at the time. Hey, at least I didn't use canned mushrooms. (We have to keep some sense of priorities here.)

It's no secret that my plate is heaped high right now, and my greatest fear has to do with the relationships I have in this world withering because I have so little time to commit to connecting.  My seven year old makes no secret of the fact that he is not on board with the idea of only seeing me for about a half hour at bedtime, for about for forty five minutes in the mornings the he doesn't have children's choir before school. (The other kids are in the same boat, but because they don't share my middle child's choleric personality, they haven't said anything.) Additionally, I often feel my connection to the stay-at-home and homeschooling moms I once joined on playdates and field trips stretched thin to the point of breakage. I don't want to lose those relationships, but we tend to hang with those we have most in common with, right?

So, carrots are small potatoes in terms of changing MO's. Friendships, parental connection, and running my household? A much bigger deal. I continually pray the Lord will reveal to me how I can possibly give the appropriate level of attention to it all. Oh--and there's those little things called BOOKS I should either be marketing or editing to release.

I keep reminding myself there are lessons to learn--even from accepting baby carrots in the stew instead of chunks I peeled and sliced myself. Working full-time while I have small children was never the path I anticipated, but it certainly has been full of obvious lessons. (Lessons in areas of my life I have otherwise been neglecting--namely, assertiveness, follow-through, and diligence.) Every time life sets me across the anvil, sure, I wriggle in the tongs and try to escape the inevitable hammer, but the fact is, without the tempering, what good am I? I don't want to be a strip of polished steel that looks smooth and ready, but once employed, shatters into shards. Even though sometimes I feel like life is trying to dash me to bits, deep down, I know everything I feel is pulling me too much is really just stretching me enough to grow.

So maybe those baby carrots are a little light in the vitamin department. They made up for it in provoking reflection. :)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Checking Off All the Boxes

The last quarter of 2011 has involved a pretty hefty pile of writing-related stuff, including:
Getting the first two Windrider books up and running
Looking ahead to the tasks involved in creating the print compilation
Designing or at least having my fingers on the situation with my cover art

And now...delving into potentially massive edits for Sword of the Patron.

As I've been doing all this, there are a couple of things that industry professionals have said that continue to ring in my ears. One is something Dr. Ted Baehr said. The gist of it was, "It's just as much work to go small as it is to go big." I'm finding that to be resoundingly true. While the places I may be able to focus my efforts and have influence may be different with a small publisher than a large house, there is no easy, sit-back-and-watch-it-happen route to getting books on the market. And once those books are out there, the task of finding new people to buy them is staggeringly hard. What the long term benefits of going small vs. holding out to go big are going to be, it's way to early to say.

The other words that are ringing even louder in my ears, especially as I look at the underlying structure of Sword of the Patron, are the items I learned from David (Wolverton) Farland in the week long workshop I took with him. I have a checklist on my wall of things I specifically took away from that experience, which stare at me in red ink every time I sit down to work. The checklist goes like this (and these items are not in priority order, just so you know)

Setting: Is my setting vivid--either wondrous or resonant? What specific ways am I creating spectacle in terms of setting?

Theme: does every scene serve to expound upon either primary or secondary themes?

Hooks: Am I raising questions at key points in the scene?

Stakes: Am I making things matter? Are the circumstances difficult enough?

Conflicts: Does every scene serve to either deepen or broaden the conflict?

Hierarchy of Beats: Am I writing to my audience with the emotional beats of my scenes in mind?
Now, this one, I admit, requires a little explanation. Because I am writing fantasy for an older teen to adult audience, and because my primary reader will likely be female since I am a female writer with a female protagonist the hierarchy of beats I've decided I need in my work is all follows (and these are in priority order):
  • Wonder
  • Adventure
  • Romance
  • Horror
  • Humor

If I am not hitting one or more of these beats in a scene, generally, the scene is dead weight, and it needs to be trimmed or cut. The trick is hitting all the beats in the correct proportion without bloating the story just to get the beats in.

As I look into potentially deep cuts to SotP, I keep finding I'm either narrowing the conflict instead of deepening it, or else I'm eliminating something in the top three beats in the hierarchy. The book feels like a stack of fruit in the produce section, and I'm trying to pull out 30% of the stock in the bottom quarter of the pile, and praying the rest of the display doesn't come rolling out at me in a avalanche of embarrassing disaster.

Now, admittedly, there are about 3,000 words that can go without question. I had a sense they would be on the cutting room floor even when I was selling the book at a conference back in August, so I had already severed emotional ties to the content. I wanted to retain the character in question to use in a later book so that I wouldn't have to create a new character for a coming scenario, but if I'm being truthful, that's one apple I can pull from the rows at no risk.

But the other 7,000 words--those are proving their elimination diffuses the danger. That much I can see despite my myopic author's view of the story.

I had really hoped that having the manuscript out of my hands and head for about three months would bring me back to it with a professional detachment that would make it easy for me to carve it up now that the time has come. But in some ways, it's become harder now. As I look at each passage and recall the sweat and tears involved in crafting it, I feel like I'm throwing away a long friendship. Yet at the same time, I know we as writers need to step back and take an impassive look at things, through the lens of our editors' input, and make the hard cuts.

I haven't gotten to the right answer here yet. And that's probably why this blog post sounds like I'm thinking out loud more than a cohesive commentary. I'll likely be posting occasional updates to the editing journey, and I hope they will be a help to my writer friends who read this, and at least an interesting peek at the process for the non-writers.

For now, it's time to get back to analysis of this ol' work in progress.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Off Without a Hitch

Well friends, the day is here...the day the Windrider Saga continues, with Book 2: A Greater Strength available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. I am so humbled by the flurry of interest and support that so many of you have shown as the ebooks have gone live. If you are interested in purchasing but haven't yet had the chance, here are links to the book in its various locations for your convenience.


Barnes and Noble

Annnnnd Smashwords

I hope you enjoy, and if you do, please tell a friend. Thank you for your continued support of new authors and small publishing!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Greater Strength Cover Goes Public

The cover for The Windrider Saga, Book 2: A Greater Strength is officially done, and I am very proud of the awesome team who put it together. Thanks to Morgan and Ken Knott (photographers), Jon Mills (graphic design, photo manipulation) and Christina Hess (consultation) for helping me make my little map into something so much more.
November 22nd is fast approaching, and I'm thrilled to announce the coming release of the second tale in the Windrider Saga. A Greater Strength continues the story begun in Book I: Divine Summons. 
Loner though he may be, Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast knows he cannot hope to accomplish his newest mission on his own. He and his comrades have managed to avert the disaster of their king’s abduction, but all is not well in the elven capital of Delsinon. Six precious Talismans of Passage slip farther from the elves’ grasp with each moment they contemplate a solution. Vinyanel’s superiors send him to reclaim what enemies have stolen.

He assembles an unlikely squadron and leads them from the back of his silver dragon mount and friend, Majestrin. Their guide: a rogue who once attempted Vinyanel’s assassination. A stealthy marksman, a bookish warrior who fights with grace, and a prophetess for wise (though sometimes annoying) spiritual guidance fill out the ranks.

The journey to the far reaches of the continent confronts Vinyanel with temptation, betrayal, and his own frailties, and all these threaten to unravel the mission. Acting as a vessel of justice is easy--but mercy? That requires a far greater strength.

I hope you will join the ranks of those who have already enjoyed Divine Summons and pick up your e-copy of A Greater Strength on Tuesday, the 22nd. If you haven't read Book I yet, it will remain at the promotional price of just 99 cents for a limited time.

I sincerely thank all of you for your continued support of family-friendly fantasy fiction.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Completely a Non Fantasy, Non Writing Post

My life involves about a hour and a half of driving per weekday now that I am employed outside my home, which gives me a lot of time to mull things over. This has been great for my writing in some ways, because it forces me to brainstorm before I sit down to type, since my typing time is so limited. But sometimes, the ideas aren't flowing, and my brain wanders to other pursuits.

For those who know me from my youth, it will come as no surprise to hear that I have a lingering obsession with music education--marching band at the high school level in particular. I know that is a weird thing to care about at all in my late thirties, but for some reason, the formative things that happened during my marching band years have stuck with me. These years were the focus of some of my thoughts as I drove this morning.

A big factor in my nostalgia for that time of my life is an individual by the name of Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser. (Dr. Tim to those who know him from his leadership seminars.) I couldn't help but check recently what Dr. Tim was up to, besides writing band method books that I sell on a regular basis at my day job.

I was a little surprised to see how few band leadership seminars Dr. Tim is doing of late, but if I'm being realistic, I realize it's not reasonable for him to be charging around like he did 20 years ago. He admittedly was on the road 50 weeks of the year at that time--and he's certainly earned the right to slow down after all this time. That right coupled with the untimely passing of a major band leadership icon, George M Parks (who often partnered with Dr. Tim in teaching Band Leadership Training and Drum Major Academy) justified to me Dr. Tim's more limited schedule of student leadership seminars. But that got me to thinking. Who will carry on teaching students how to lead when Tim decides it's time to hang up the ol' mace?

The disturbing reality is the answer is maybe no one.

A large number of the friends and family I have in music education whether directly or in a supporting industry, sing the same mournful refrain. Kids aren't interested in leadership, and teachers are too busy just trying to keep their programs alive in the face of budget cuts, apathy, and student overcommitment to myriad activities to promote anyone going the next step from participant to leader. I believe this is a picture of our society as a whole. We lack deeply informed individuals who want to lead out of an altruistic desire to better the world. Certainly those people exist, but I don't think we've done a very good job in building many more of them in the generation to come. And I believe their numbers are too few to stand against the tide of selfishness so prevalent in western society.

And thus, people like Dr. Tim have fewer sold-out students to teach. And the world eventually ends up with fewer advocates for long standing icons like the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has gone bankrupt in recent months.

So to avoid the risk of ranting without posing any productive thoughts on the matter, what do I think we should be doing about the lack of students who desire training in leadership?

First, I think adults have a responsibility to demand dedication to a very few or even a single pursuit in their children. Breadth is not proving itself better than depth. Music education is great for this, because it requires consistent practice, even when it's hard, even when it's not fun. The fun comes later when you have gained a mastery of your skills and can share music with the world.

Second, I think students have a responsibility to stand up and show others that leadership is a great thing. That standing out from the crowd is a tenet of success. The small percentage of kids who still want to lead because something in their innate wiring prevents them from doing anything else need to do everything they can to spread that spark to their peers. Force the lowest common denominator higher in your areas of influence, and the effect will ripple outward.

Maybe Dr. Tim won't teach huge packs of crazed drum majors all over the country again, but I sincerely believe if we are to have a hope of pulling our fraying society back together at all, we need to relearn a love of and respect for the skills of leadership. Aside from encouraging my own little brood in that direction, I don't know what else the Lord will call me to do to that end, but my unshakable passion for leadership in the arts is keeping my ears open for whatever marching orders emerge.

Lead on, friends, and equip others when you can.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hey Friends...

I am certainly behind on getting this link out to you, but editing, cover design, a full time job and a family will do that to you, I guess. But I wanted to offer a huge thank you to Heather for her balanced and succinct assessment of the first book in my Windrider series. Go read her thoughts at the link below, and do let Heather know you dropped in. Thanks a million!

H.A. Titus's feedback on Divine Summons

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Holidays in Fantasyland

We're closing in on what I call the "legitimate" holiday season. (I summarily reject the notion that "the holidays" start with Halloween.) The impending arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas has me thinking a little bit about the calendar in the other world I occupy--the one I write in.

I will admit, the calendar of my world is an area I have neglected pretty fully. I have a general sense that there is a Yule Feast in the winter, a day of celebration that is especially enjoyed by the forest gnome population, that Midsummer's Day is significant in celebrating blessings and abundance, and there was once this dwarvish holiday/event invented in my world charmingly dubbed the "Boulderkegger." That one is a long story, and I didn't actually make it up, but the genius of it seemed too good to pass up. Well, good if you can overlook the way it doesn't exactly exemplify the virtue of temperance.

But besides that, I have to admit I haven't put a lot of thought into feast days and celebrations, and I need to get to it, because every layer I add to my world makes it more believable and more captivating. But it's not as though I can just make a a handful of holidays and call it good. After all, if we have things like Boxing Day and Thanksgiving and Rosh Hashana and Valentines Day in this world, my imagined places and cultures will need to have observances that are particular to their cultures and spiritual inclinations, which then means I have a minimum of 12 different cultures to deal with--handling only one continent. And as always, I buy into my habit of letting the projection of the overwhelming size of the job prevent me from just starting the dang thing, one element at a time!

So that leaves me to pose a question to you, dear readers: which holidays in this world do you enjoy the most, and what about them resonates with you? By mixing, grafting, tweaking, and tranforming what already exists, hopefully I can come up with a holidays and observances element to my world that is both fresh and nostalgic at the same time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Who I Am vs Who I Am

My facebook status last night posed the question: do you ever feel like a racehorse who's hitched to a plow? Life is like that in many ways for me right now, and it's easy to look at the analogy with a negative, pop-culture-influenced cast. American culture tells us we need to "be who we are inside" and that anything less than that is a horrifying sin to be burned at the stake. If your an artist, make art, if you're an executive, lead, if you're a nurturer, care for someone.

Now, this all sounds quite good on the surface, and it makes my analogy of hitching a racehorse to a plow repugnant to those who ascribe to the "be who you are" mantra. Racehorses were made to be sleek. To run. To dazzle. As for plow horses--well, the only people who notice them are folks who have been suburbanites so long that when you drive by an old draft horse actually doing what it was bred to be good at, it's very novel. To put the glamorous racehorse in the place of the old plodder would seem a darn shame.

But then, when you really think about it, which horse is doing something more useful? The racer or the tiller? Perhaps there's some wisdom in hitching our racehorse, dreaming selves to the singletree of some honest farm equipment and just getting business done. I have always been a dreamer to a fault, and when you reap whimsy, you sow--well, nothing.

I'm in a bit of a plow horse phase of my life, and for this thoroughbred, that's a little tough  to swallow sometimes. But I know for sure that the Lord did not place me in this spot by accident, or to annoy me, or because he doesn't care about my dreams. More than likely, he knows my achieving my dreams will be much harder than I've ever guessed, and that I need to build up the muscle to shoulder what's ahead.

So my plan is to lean into the old collar and till the patch of rocky soil I'm on right now. It occurs to me that there's a reason God didn't give plow horses the gift of speech. If talking made them anything like us, imagine the complaining! I'm striving for dutiful tenacity, and if I can do that well, I know I can look forward to a surprising crop in a few seasons.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Have Bad Cover Art

In this publishing revolution we're all encountering, I am excited about a lot of things--mainly, the ability of authors who would may never see print due to the fact that they write in too tight a niche to be considered a good risk for a big publisher to now get their work into the marketplace. Whether it's better to go micro-publisher or to self publish in this instance still remains to be seen, but I think over the next few years, we're going to see some interesting statistics emerge about sales connected to both.

This is a work in progress to become part of a book cover
What I'm not so excited about in the self and micro publishing realms is hokey/cheesy/hackish cover art. Now, not all self or micro published books suffer this malady, but so many do that it's painful. What's even more painful is when an author posts this cover art in the world of social media, and so many of the author's friends say "How exciting! Hooray! Very cool," when they should be saying, "Your title is too small. Your stock art is dated. The photoshopping of this cover is really crusty."

It may sound mean to say such things when the author is excited just to HAVE a cover for his or her first book, but honesty is a new author's best friend. When there's still time to go in and make the art awesome, please, for the love of all that's good, tell your friends if their cover art needs something. That includes me. I don't want to have anything out there with anything less than a flawless cover, because in the world of fantasy, folks are drawn to epic, incredible images. And hokeyness reeks like roadkill in the summer.

I'll admit, I stand guilty of just keeping my mouth shut when cover art is abysmal, and this is my resolution to follow my own advice. If I want to keep publishing with small publishers, it's my job, and yours too, to make those small publishers look just as legit, if not moreso, than the big houses.