Archive for May, 2010


Fiction as Dark Alchemy

“All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.”  -Ernest Hemingway

 Last night I made an appearance at the Jewish Book Council’s Meet the Author conference.  In part, I talked about the fuzzy no-man’s-land between fiction and fact.  As I see it, fiction is a web of imagined events and people mixed with real memories and emotions, shot through with a creative impulse to create a new story reality.

 LADY LAZARUS pulls much more from history than the other stuff I’ve written up until now.  I’ve mined my family history, Jewish mysticism, and WWII history to create a new world, populated by imaginary characters.  Do you ever worry you are appropriating stories that aren’t “yours” to write?  Picasso reassures us by saying, good artists copy, great artists steal.  But I am sensitive to the charge that I am taking tragic recent history and mining it to weave a new, fantastical history of my family. 

 My answer to this may be self-serving but I believe it nevertheless – though it’s important to be respectful of the experiences and viewpoints of the people in your life, and of people generally, you still can write any damn thing you want to.  That very sensitivity will give you greater insight into your own story and where it veers away from actual experience.  Just be ready to accept the consequences, especially the unintended consequences, of writing honestly and hard about what hurts (to steal from Hemingway here :-)).  Just as you have the right to write whatever you want, your readers can have any reaction they want to what you write.

 What say you?  Do you tread lightly when your writing is informed by the real-life experiences of other people?  Or do you figure that, hidden by the veil of fiction, you can follow the story where it leads you, because the alchemy of fiction itself makes the story yours?


keeping the balls in the air

A few days late, but I was overwhelmed this weekend launching my website!! This is also why my first three blog entries are magic district cross posts, no time to write three new ones! But I promise there will be new and unique content forthcoming. In the meanwhile, enjoy the pretty rollovers!

Everyone knows the famous Checkov quote, “If there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third.” It’s one of the best bits of writing advice I’ve ever heard, but in my line of work, writing adventure fantasy, I’ve had to make a few adjustments… “If there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third, then fired again in the fifth. By act 9 they should have morphed into cannons, and by act 13 the main character will be dual wielding them as planet destroying deathstars with hilts.”

Ok, that’s a little over the top, but hopefully you get my point. Lots of times my stories start with a magical system, some new and interesting way for the world to work. As soon as I have this in mind, I start working on a way to break it (or letting my husband break it for me). I think of this as player character testing. You know in role playing games how players will exploit every tiny trick of the system to get more power? I think this is the natural human reaction to constraints, which is what all systems are at their roots – power limitations. So when I get my characters and sit them down in a new world, the first thing I do is try to think how they will break the system, or at least abuse it horribly. It’s the best sign they’re acting like people and not like cardboard.

The down side of this is that with every new book, things get a little more out of hand. Characters need progression — new challenges, bigger stakes. Those secret power dueling pistols you showed in book 1 are old hat by book 3. You have to go bigger, cleverer, and the threat has to get bigger as well. And if you start big, like I did, then when you reach book 4, where I am now, things are REALLY big. That’s why I thank any power who’s listening that I made a plan at the start of this. So while things will get up to universe altering changes by book 5, hopefully they won’t get stupid.

That’s my biggest fear, really. I’ve seen so many series that start off amazing and just get stupid at the end, mostly because the characters have outgrown their world. They’re simply too powerful, nothing’s a challenge anymore. So I deliberately set my power scale at the very beginning in the hopes of avoiding this problem. I wanted big, dangerous, flashy, interesting, but not unbelievable. The important thing is that I haven’t left my main set of powers, my dueling pistols. Sure they’ve gotten bigger and crazier, but I haven’t had to change the rules of my world to accommodate my now very powerful, late series characters, and I never intend to.

Of course, we’ve still got 1 more book to go…


Kid Ninja Redux

Today I have some lovely art to share!  This is a comic strip of KID NINJA that Moviemaker kid and I did on Bitstrips.  I learned about this easy to use comix tool at the site of author Geoffrey W. Cole — it’s a fun way to play with ideas and present them in a graphic form.  My little guy got really excited by the prospect of putting his story into pictures, and started planning some new ideas with the graphics in mind.  Might be a fun way to jumpstart your own ideas, or just to procrastinate 🙂

Have a fabulous week!


supporting your writers!

So this post is way late and not at all what I meant to write about, but it keeps coming up, so I thought I’d put it here!

So my first book, The Spirit Thief, comes out in October. So far away! But considering I’ve been a published author for nigh on 2 years now, that’s relatively quite close! Now that this whole publishing gig is worming its way towards reality, people keep asking me how they can support my blinking, blind, newborn career.

Now, I have lovely friends and family and am honored and flattered beyond all telling that they would want to stick their necks and hard earned dollars out for me. But I don’t want them to waste their time or their money, so when they ask me “Rachel, what can I do to support your novel?”, this is how I answer, condensed in useful list form!

How to Support Your Favorite Novelist Without Spending More Than 15 Minutes or the Price of the Book You Were Hopefully Going to Buy Anyway

  1. Wait until 2 weeks before the book’s launch before doing anything – This is the most vital time for support. Any sooner and people might forget, any later and you miss those vital initial numbers that mean so much to publishers. You can of course talk it up earlier, but save anything big, and the actual purchase, until this crucial time.
  2. Preorder the book – Since you were (hopefully!) going to buy the book anyway, this is the best way to do it. Preorders boost an otherwise unknown book up the Amazon or B&N or whatever seller you prefer’s list. Strong preorder numbers lead to more and bigger book orders from retailers, which make your author look really good!
  3. Leave an honest, informative review – Of course, we all love good reviews, but honesty is the most important. A page full of glowing reviews that ultimately say nothing won’t draw readers, but even a 3 star review highlighting the book’s pros and cons can lead sometimes lead to sales. After all, one person’s gripe can be another person’s love. Hopefully, your author has written a book that earns your giddy fandom, but even if you didn’t like it as much as you’d hoped, write about it.
  4. Mention the book on your social media – Twitter shoutouts, facebook links, blog posts, they all help to raise a book’s profile. Even if the only people who follow you are your family and that guy from high school who kind of creeped you out but you don’t want to unfriend because you don’t want to be rude. You don’t have to spam or be particularly verbose, you even copy/paste the review you wrote for the book’s sales page, just say something and get the title out there. Every little bit helps.

As Cory Doctorow says, an SF writer’s biggest problem is obscurity. Anything you do, even if it’s just one post, can be a big help thanks to the ripple effect of the internet, and your author will love you forever.

(Also, when I was typing the above I misspelled Cory Doctorow’s name and Google’s (I use Chrome) spellcheck corrected me. Folks, that is fame right there, when your name is in Google’s spellcheck. )

Anyway, that’s my list. You tell me, did I leave anything out? Mess anything up? Let me know!


A Writer’s Vices

I’ve been working on revisions for DARK VICTORY, and recently I came to a major realization in the midst of berating myself for not “writing right” (breaking one of my own rules – no floggings).  The part of me that follows the rules, the part of me that strives mightily to please my teachers and earn my good grades – that dutiful, sweet, carefully-censored and forcibly civilized me – that me should *never* be in charge of getting the story out of the ground.  And despite all of my posts here and elsewhere that feature helpful tricks and tips, in the end it all comes back to this:

It’s the lazy, stubborn, disgruntled, jealous, vengeful, bitchy, daydreaming, and HONEST me who has the stories to tell.  And the way she goes about telling the stories – at the last minute, in a white-hot blur, with tears and curses and glasses of wine at 3 a.m. – is NOT the way the rule books tell you to go about this whole fiction career thing.  I guess the point of this little rumination is that your goal is not to “write right,” to write dutifully for an hour every day, to write the way the so-called experts – including me! — tell you is the proper way to write.  Don’t write for a pat on the head or for the A+ at the top of the page.  Write because you’ll die if you don’t, write because it’s exhilarating or simply too fun not to do it.  Write because you must get your revenge or your thirst slaked, or write because your heart is full enough to overflow. 

Instead of beating yourself up for your wayward, wicked ways, (like I do!) read the advice that many worthy writers, editors and agents offer you all over the wonderful blogosphere – but alter the directions to suit your writing road, to actual conditions on the ground.  Where good writing is concerned, rules are made to be broken, especially your own.  All that matters is finding the idea and bringing it as whole as possible onto the page.  Don’t you worry how you get it done.  The only thing to remember is what Stephen King says:  do not come lightly to the page.