Archive for April, 2010

30
Apr
10

Author Toolbox: the three hooks

One of the biggest problems I’ve had with my writing is excess flab.  I have a bad habit of putting in scenes that I like (important, wonderful, fantastically written scenes) just because I like them, and not because that’s where they should actually go (or be in the novel at all). This led to really big, unsellable books full of tension killing, scared cow scenes that went nowhere. It took me a lot of editing (and a lot of bad feedback) to finally learn my lesson: just because a scene is good does not mean it has a place in your novel. The good ship book is a small vessel. There’s no room for scenes that don’t pull their weight. But I’m an author. I generally like everything I write on some level (otherwise, why would I write it?) So how do I know what DOES belong?

To combat this problem, I created a checklist I call “the three hooks”. Whenever I am planning a novel, the first thing I do is write out everything that happens. If I don’t know what happens, this is when I figure it out. Some authors can just get an idea and go, and I do that a lot, too, but in the end novels always come back to their essence: a pile of scenes leading the reader from the beginning to the end. Once I have this pile of scenes, either in finished or outline form, I take each scene and I apply a set of standards. For the scene to pass, it must:

  • Advance the story
  • Reveal new information
  • Pull the reader forward

Without all three of these elements, a scene, no matter how good or beloved, is just wasted words. A scene that does not advance the story, like a flashback revealing character information that is not pertinent to the story, may be brilliantly written, but it does nothing for the book. A scene that does not reveal new information, say a talking head recap scene, may be chock full of snappy dialog, but it does nothing for the book. A scene that does not pull the reader forward, say a break in the narrative where everyone is happy and all their needs are met, may be very cathartic for the author, but it does less than nothing for the book. In fact, I’d say a scene like that would give you negative progress. Resolved tension leads to put down books, and that is not what we want!

These hooks don’t have to be obvious (in fact, the more creatively you can hide them, the better things get), but they do have to be there to keep the story rolling. These are the hooks that keep your reader reading, the tiny little claws of interest you constantly need to wiggle into the reader’s brain to keep them turning pages. If every scene in your novel moves the plot ahead, reveals new and important information, and gives the reader a reason to turn the page and move on to the next scene, then you’ve got a book that a reader can not put down, and that is what it’s all about.

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27
Apr
10

Bewitched & Betrayed is on sale today

And it’s about danged time! I’ve wanted ya’ll to read it just as badly as you want to get your hands on it.

If you’re going to buy Bewitched & Betrayed for yourself or a friend, please buy it this week. As I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing me say, The New York Times counts first week’s sales toward making their bestseller list — as do some other bestseller lists.

For those of you who haven’t started the series yet, here are some really fun reviews of each book by a reader/reviewer who has just discovered the series, too:
Magic Lost, Trouble Found
Armed & Magical
The Trouble With Demons

I’ve gotten questions from some of you over the past week about the availability of the eBook version of B&B. Here’s the deal:

The eBook will go on-sale today at the retail sites below. I’ve linked to the B&B eBook or to my page on each site — with the exception of Apple. I’m not sure what the deal is with the Apple store yet. If any of you know, please enlighten me. ; )

B&N
Sony
Apple
Ebooks.com
Kobo (a Canadian retailer)

Now comes the not-so-great news. Amazon is still “negotiating” with Penguin. So until such time as terms are reached, Bewitched & Betrayed won’t be available on Kindle. Amazon has pulled the “Buy” button on all of Penguin’s new eBook releases. B&B could be available on the Kindle in a few hours, days or weeks. I don’t know and my editor doesn’t know. Unfortunately we have absolutely no control over the situation. This is between the Amazon and Penguin corporate folks. Let’s hope a resolution is reached soon.

Negotiations are also ongoing between Penguin and the ebook wholesalers that distribute to several smaller retailers, including Fictionwise, BooksOnBoard and Diesel. So the eBook version of B&B isn’t available from these retailers today.

And for some fun news, B&B and my other three books will be available as audiobooks from Audible.com on July 6.

I hope all this information is helpful. I know some of you will stay up half the night devouring B&B. ; ) Because that’s what a lot of you have said you did with my past books. And using words like “devour”, “consume”, and “plow through” bring warm & fuzzies to an author’s heart. As does fussing at me because you had to stay up all night reading. It’s music to an author’s ears.

Let me know how you like the book. Post comments and email me; as always, I want to hear what you all think. These books are for you. And if you fall head over heels for B&B, please feel free to post a glowing review on the book retailer site of your choice. ; ) People do pay attention to reviews. Enough good reviews can (and do) tip the scales as to whether someone buys a book or not.

I hope you all love the book, enjoy yourselves, and have one helluva fun read! Ya’ll are simply the best fans and I’m blessed to be able to call you mine.

Hugs for you all!
Lisa

26
Apr
10

At long last! Covers!

So, with all the pretty covers on the side bar, I’d been feeling a little left out. However!!! Today, Orbit has officially debuted the covers for my first three books, all coming out this fall. I gotta say, they look pretty spiffy. You can see them all over at Orbit Books, but I reposted the first one here. I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but I can’t say no to Eli.

Be sure to check Orbit books for the other 2!!

For those who wonder how covers get made, here was how it went for me. My editor, Devi, asked me for character inspirations, you know, movie stars they look like, anything an artist could use for reference. Originally, the covers were going to be illustrated. However, that didn’t work out, so Lauren, the EXCELLENT art director at Orbit, and Devi, my awesome editor, got together and, after much deliberation and a few phone calls to run things by me, came up with these close face photo covers.  We agreed early on we wanted character feature covers, because the series is very character driven. I have to say that Orbit was wonderful at keeping me in the loop. I know a lot of authors have very minimal say in their covers, but my opinion was asked on multiple occasions, and the girl on the third cover was even changed when I objected that she didn’t look quite right. It helped that Devi agreed with me, but I felt like the team at Orbit really went out of their way to get the details right, and as an author that’s the best I could want.

Over all, I’m very happy with all 3 covers, but this one really takes the cake. So far as I’m concerned, Lauren went into my imagination and got Eli to sit still long enough to snap a picture. Couldn’t have been done better. I love it!!

22
Apr
10

Conference/Convention Season

I recently returned from my first convention of the year. It was a small regional science fiction/ fantasy con called RavenCon, and I had an absolutely fabulous time. I sat on about a dozen panels ranging in topics from the blush-worthy “Got Sex?” to the tech savvy “Kindlemania” to the very popular “What’s next in Urban Fantasy?”. I have spoken on panels before, (most notably a “strong female characters” panel with the super nice author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, Charlaine Harris.) but this is the first convention I have been an official guest. And wow, I had fun. I met awesome readers who asked great questions, and I got to spend time speaking to other writers who were all wonderfully nice and I had a blast talking with both on and off panels.

What I learned about myself over the course of the con is that I am absolutely horrid at talking about my own books and what I write about. Admittedly, by the end of the weekend I finally nailed down a two sentence ‘blurb’ about both my Haven series and my upcoming Alex Craft novels. This was absolutely mandatory because I was expected to say something about what I write in my introduction on each panel. You know that whole, “I’m Kalayna Price and I write . . . ” Drawing a complete blank in your introduction never looks good, so after a couple times I did finally figure out a quick way to talk about my series.

But after the introduction, I was quite happy to never mention anything about my books again and talk about the panel topic. The hardest panel I was on was called “book launch” about new and upcoming releases, which meant no topic to divert me from having to discuss my books. That was also my first panel—talk about awkward.

I have sat on both sides of the table at a convention, and I know from experience in the audience that the authors (or anyone else) on the panel making the ‘hard sell’ and making every single statement about their own books are annoying. That said, if an author interests me, I do want to hear at least a little about their work (particularly in relation to the topic on the table). There is a balance there, and I’m sure the exact line is different for everyone.

So here are my questions for you. Have you ever been to a fan conference? Did you check out the author panels? What were your favorite topics/authors, and how did they balance relating the topic to their books?

Happy Thursday everyone!

19
Apr
10

100%, 100%

Today I thought I would talk about something it took me 3 novels to learn in the hopes that I can make other people’s lives easier.  I’m a pretty cautious person. I hate gambling, I hate using things if I only have a few left, I hate taking a risk with my money or time or valuables. This caution unfortunately transmits into writing. Say I’m writing a novel, and suddenly I have this great idea. Like, amazing idea, an idea that can carry a series. What do I do with this idea? Or say I had a fantastic world secret. I’d drop tiny hints, never show my hand. Used to be, whenever my brain tossed these gems my way, I would save them, play it safe. After all, I don’t want to put all my ideas in one basket, or tip my secrets too soon.

Back when I was first submitting The Spirit Thief, the criticism I got the most often was that I needed more. More secrets, more world, more cool stuff. This was very hard for me. I had so much cool stuff for the book, but I was holding onto it. After all, these were amazing ideas/secrets, I needed time to set them up properly, I couldn’t just waste them on the first book in a series! But as I got the same criticism over and over again, I finally realized that, if I wanted to WRITE all those books I was saving ideas for, I’d have to make THIS book a lot cooler. So I threw caution to the wind (or, more accurately, released my deathgrip on caution slowly and painfully before lightly placing it on the window sill) and went all in. I stuffed every cool idea I could into The Spirit Thief. I dropped big hints at the world secrets, laid everything out like a Sunday Las Vegas Buffet, lobster and all.

And it worked. Suddenly, everyone really liked my book. They wanted to read more, and so I got a chance to write a second book. And even better, despite all the ideas I crammed into the first book, I still had plenty of awesome secrets and ideas.

What I’m trying to say is that, unlike most everything else in the world, writing does not benefit from caution. Ideas are not a finite resource. In fact, the more secrets and ideas you use, the more you have. Readers read to be entertained, so give them everything. Give them fireworks and grand drama and lobster and the whole three ring circus. Don’t hold back with your novels, don’t save your ideas for later.  Spend them. Use everything you have like you’ll never write another book again. It doesn’t matter, you’ll have more ideas, better ideas. But to really write a book that will thrill and surprise, you can not be conservative or cautious. You have to give 100%, 100% of the time, because that’s what readers deserve. You are an entertainer, and whether you’re working a sidewalk or the Luxor, you have to give every performance everything you’ve got.

Break a leg!

14
Apr
10

You might be a writer if. . .

Below are some of my personal factoids that definitely peg  me as a writer.  Let’s hear yours.  Comment with some of your own.  Let’s have fun with it.  ; )

You sleep with pen and paper next to your bed — and the stove and the couch and the dining table and the shower and the toilet and the. . .

You have a favorite punctuation mark. My editor’s trying to wean me off of em dashes — good luck with that.

You have a favorite pen. Uniball Signo 207 with the comfi-grip in black ink. Uh, what do you mean there are other colors?

You get caught up in plotting your next scene and put the cereal in the fridge, and the milk in the pantry.

The stacks of your old manuscripts and rejection letters officially constitutes a fire hazard.

You desperately want Crayola tub markers so you can write down all that great dialog that comes to you in the shower.

You love restaurants that put a big sheet of paper over the table cloth and leave you with a handful of crayons.

You’re talking to a real, living, breathing person and suddenly stop and listen because one of your characters interrupted you.

You think sleep is way overrated. Who needs more than three hours anyway?

Your novels are backed up on your laptop, your husband’s laptop, two thumb drives, and you’re seriously toying with the idea of getting a safe deposit box.

And finally, you know your a writer if you look at yourself and see a writer. Everyone else looks at you and sees an obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive insomniac with a pen fetish.

07
Apr
10

Exposition on a need-to-know basis

Exposition can be one of those things that drives me bananas, especially in the last few stages of revision, when I know everything about the story and can’t understand why no one else sees it. (This is also the part where I usually inform my husband that they called me mad, mad I tell you, but he’s used to that.)  It’s also a problem that’s particularly thorny for science fiction and fantasy writers, since we’ve got to introduce an entire world to the reader without bringing the story screeching to a halt.

It’s possible for large lumps of exposition to work — the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy runs on this, and it wouldn’t be the same without those asides — but writers are usually told to stay away from the infodump. For good reason; nothing kicks me out of a story faster than two pages of dry history before the action even happens. But dropping a reader in medias res can also backfire, especially if so much is going on that the reader’s left in the dust. I don’t often put down books that frustrate me in this way, but there have been a few that left a very bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the book.

The crux of it, for me at least, is balancing what the reader needs to know, what the reader already knows, and what will slow down the story. The first part’s easy to stumble over, especially in first drafts, because usually by that point I’ve come up with so much backstory and worldbuilding details that I just really want to share them all! I worked so much on it, why not add that twelve-page summary of Character X’s family history? (Well, because twelve pages will not make anyone care more about Character X, but will probably make anyone who did care stop.) I’ve poked fun at myself about this, such as in “A Serpent in the Gears,” where Charles stops himself from giving “the full explanation of merged versus autonomous citizenry and the Aaris monarchic system.” And yes, I’d actually written the full explanation in the first draft, changing it to that little jab when I realized what I was doing.

But this also works the other way (and this is often something I have to go back and fix in revisions, particularly in the Evie novels); there are certain things the reader needs to know early on, so that later events will have the significance needed. Building a mystery, particularly from a tight first-person perspective, involves a lot of this sort of information seeding, especially the kind where the reader doesn’t notice that they’ve got a vital piece of information yet.

On the other side of the equation is deciding what the reader already knows. Some of this is easy — if I’ve just made up the entire town of Thanapont and its rituals concerning the dead, then no reader is going to know a damned thing about it, and I can elaborate as much as I like (within reason; see below). But stories that are partly set in a recognizable world, or that draw on established mythology, are more difficult. This is where I often have trouble, especially if I’m playing off of a folktale as in “Goosegirl” or “Sparking Anger.” I tend to write my first drafts as if all of my readers will be familiar with my source material, and only later realize that I’ve made it completely incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t familiar with that source. The temptation to pause for a lecture is strong here as well, because at this point I’m usually so enamored with what I’ve learned that I want to show all my research.

This can also trip me up with some cultural expectations; if making a reference to “the happiest place on earth” is important to discovering the mystery, then I’m assuming everyone knows I’m talking about Disney World. Or, for another example, that everyone will know what the Curse of the Bambino was supposed to be. I often have to go back and decide what assumptions I’m making about my readers and what information I’ll need to provide. (In terms of serials, it’s another matter entirely — how much does the reader need to know about Evie from book to book? I’m still learning my way around this problem, and as I start in on revisions to Soul Hunt I’ll see how well I’ve tackled it.)

When I’m trying to write exposition, these are the two factors that come into play — but neither is as important as whether it will slow the story down. I try to do a lot of weaving exposition in around everything else (in the worst case, this can result in pausing a fight scene to discuss technique, which aaaargh drives me crazy and is why I don’t watch a lot of shonen anime.) And when working from a tight first-person perspective, if my narrator doesn’t know something, then I either have to show her learning it or use her ignorance as something for the reader to notice. For that matter, if she does know an important piece of exposition, then finding an excuse for her to remark on it becomes a new problem. There’s less of the “as you know, Bob” issue here and more of a “as I know, reader,” neither of which works well.

What exposition works for you? What knocks you out of the story, or makes you start skimming through in hopes of getting back to the action? Are there stories where the lack of exposition frustrated you? And, most importantly, what kind of exposition will make you stop reading?