Shattered

How do you go about piecing your muse back together after years of watching it crumble away?

It’s an interesting thought. I have on my hard drive so many broken pieces of story that fit together somehow, but the bits that glue them into a whole are missing. The connecting parts of the story are often the most challenging, I think – writing a¬†riveting, gut-wrenching scene is bliss compared to the arts and crafts that is transitional scene writing. The interesting bits are the only ones I’ve managed to produce, and my ability to put it all together has been hampered in the past few years. I would love to release the novella hanging out in my hard drive, if only I could will it into a cohesive story.

Something happened in my third year of residency (I say, horrified that third year was over 2 years ago) – the burnout burned through my passion for medicine and my passion for writing all in one. There are flashes lately of what once was, flickers of a still-burning fire that demands attention. As the burnout from my profession heals so, too, does my ability to think creatively. It’s a slow process which would take organization that I seem to lack in these weeks leading up to my specialty medical boards. Some system must be created to make sense of the madness that is my dropbox, but alas, there is not time just yet. Soon.

Ah, well. Perhaps for now I can release one of the tasty bits.

Perhaps someday something recognizable will emerge from these clippings.

From an opening scene in Forsaken Lands Book 3: Redemption –


The cold breeze of morning hit Aia’s cheeks. The wind brought to mind winter turning to spring – the sunlight on her skin was contrasted by a brush of ice. She breathed deep, suddenly at peace. The dew on the grass brushed her ankles.

Where am I?

Her eyes opened and she was greeted by a landscape of green fields surrounded by mountains. A fence encompassed much of the land. The snort of a horse startled her, and when she turned to look she froze.

The man brushing the mare had Teveres’s stature and hair color. If it weren’t for his age lines and soft, blue eyes she would have sworn it was him. He wore a priest’s tunic under a cloak and glaced at her only briefly before returning to his task, as if he’d seen her a thousand times before.

“I…” Aia’s voice faltered. “Dayle?” It had to be Dayle, Teveres’s father. Everyone said they looked so much alike…

“Yes,” Dayle’s voice was eerily familiar, too.

Fear settled in Aia’s chest. “Am I…am I dead?” she stammered.

“No, of course not,” Dayle patted the horse, who took the cue to walk off to graze. Dayle turned his attention on Aia. He smiled. “It’s good to finally meet you, Aiasjia.”

“How do you know me?”

“I know.” He shrugged, “No need to waste time. I’m not certain how long we can remain here together.”

“Where…is here? Why isn’t Teveres here instead of me? He’s the one-“

“Here is temporary. It isn’t real – and it is. I assure you, it is not a dream…not quite.” He looked up at the sky, which indeed looked very real. The sun appeared to be rising, chasing the shadows away. “The gods are here.”

Aia waited for him to finish the thought, but it seemed that the thought was already finished. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“They are here,” he motioned, “they are angry.”

“At me?”

He waved the idea away. “They do not see you.”

“Seems that you’re just as forthcoming as your son,” Aia sighed.

“When you look at the grass do you see each blade, appreciate every weed in the field? Or do you see the grass as a single collective feature of the land, and know how it makes you feel?”

Aia groaned. “If the gods want to talk to me then they should just do it. I would listen.”

“They speak all the time, child. They are not like us. They are…other. We draw human bodies for them, but that is not what they are. They need us and we need them, and you, the Deldri, are truly Children of Elseth.”

“I’m not sure I believe in all that anymore.”

Dayle approached, placing a hand on her shoulder. That felt real, too. “This is no myth. This is very important, Aiasjia.” His voice was pained, tears brimming in his eyes. Dayle’s energy shifted and Aia reached out for his thoughts.

She nearly stumbled backwards. His resonance dazzled her with its shattered-ness, a thousand crystals vibrating furiously just trying to remain whole. She couldn’t pick out clear ideas, distracted by his soul’s beautiful brokenness.

“You’re dead,” Aia said breathlessly. “You should be dead.”

“Aia,” he begged, “listen. The gods may not see you but they do need you. Nivenea needs you. Our people will be consumed by the blight and the land will die if you do not act. You must do as Mareth has told you: go to the Northsea.”

Aia shook her head, puzzled. “There’s nothing there. We have so much to do…and our friend Dmiri has brought help-“

“It won’t be enough,” his voice cracked and he turned his back on her. “You’ve started this in motion and yet you have no idea what you have done.”

“Started what? Where?”

“In Torvid’s Rest.”

Aia couldn’t organize her thoughts before Dayle faced her, a hidden object in one hand. He looked scared – desperate – decidedly incongruent with the composure of a Clergy. Aia’s heart skipped.

“Aiasjia,” his voice lowered and he stepped close to her. Gods help her, she didn’t have the sense to move. The look in his eyes was so earnest, inescapably sad. “Tell Teveres he is forgiven.”

Without warning Dayle revealed a long shard of what could only be ebonstone, the material Aia, Les, and Teveres had recovered for the Kaldari army at Torvid’s Rest. Aia was powerless to flee before he stabbed her in her core. Her scream was more of surprise than pain. There was a rushing sensation through her body, as if she were sucking in all of the energy in the world through the hole in her torso. Warmth flooded her, tingled over her skin, and despite what should have been an excruciating experience Aia felt nothing but reassurance. Everything was suddenly as it should be. Her vision spun into darkness.

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To KDP Select or Not to KDP Select

This post is targeted particularly at writers (and even more specifically indie writers). I’m about to get a little technical about things, which will probably be very boring if it does not apply to you… fair warning. ūüėČ

While working up Broken I came to a decision point: did I want to use Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or did I want to just do Kindle publishing + extended distribution on Smashwords? For those who are unfamiliar with the topic (and for those who are coming here specifically looking for a discussion on it), KDP Select is an optional agreement that an indie author can make with Amazon when they publish their ebook. Opting in to KDP Select gives Amazon 90 days of exclusivity on your ebook, meaning that you cannot e-publish your book on any other web-based outlets (Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, personal blogs, etc.) during the KDP Select period. During this time you make a 70% royalty on all sales and your book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99 Рno more and no less (this obviously limits the utility of using Select with shorter works better suited for a $0.99 price range). Once the exclusivity period is over you can either continue with KDP Select (automatic enrollment is selected when you start unless you change it) or choose to go with regular old KDP, the latter of which would allow you to then publish on other outlets as you would normally. It should be noted that none of these agreements affect print books, so you can do KDP Select and publish a paperback copy on Createspace without problems.

Amazon’s exclusivity alone would be rather meaningless if it did not come with some advantages, of course. In exchange for not publishing your ebook in other places, Amazon allows you access to certain promotional tools. You can choose to either list your book as free for 5 days¬†(which¬†can be spread throughout your 30 day enrollment period) or use a relatively new feature called Kindle Countdown Deals. During a countdown deal, you set your book price lower than the usual list price (even as low as $0.99)¬†while retaining the 70% royalty rate for a period of 1 hour to 5 days. During the course of the countdown deal the price slowly goes up. Amazon has a special section where it advertises countdown deals, which gives your book more visibility – some authors have claimed increases of more than 900% in their sales from countdown deals alone without additional advertising, which is pretty hefty. As a caveat,¬†you can only use a countdown period once during your 90 days. In other words, even if you only do a 1-hour countdown, once you use it you cannot use another countdown until your next enrollment period (as opposed to the free days which you can break up and use over time). You also cannot use both free promotions and countdown deals in the same period – you must choose one or the other.

Free days by themselves garner quite a bit of attention. When I had¬†Tragedy in KDP Select I ran some free days, and each time I did I saw more than 100 downloads. Of course, the issue with this is that many readers¬†will just troll for free books to download which they may or may not ever read, and this doesn’t always generate fans. Even if it¬†does generate genuine readers, it doesn’t necessarily help your sales if you don’t have any other books out yet. I think that KDP Select probably helped¬†Tragedy early on, but honestly I feel that the best thing to do to increase¬†sales is to produce more work. This is of course based on what I’ve read from other authors more than anything – I’m still trying to get to where I have multiple novels, novellas, and short stories out there.

As you can see, KDP Select comes with some obvious pros and cons. The promotions can be useful to spring a relatively unknown book into the hands of readers, but you can only choose one kind of promotion to do per period. You cannot sell on other outlets, and you have to price your book at a minimum of $2.99, which may or may not be reasonable for your particular work.

In the case of¬†Broken I’ve been rather torn on the subject.¬†Broken is on the short end for a novella at 18,000 words (20k if you count the bonus material), so $2.99 is a bit of a stretch. However, I am very proud of this particular novella, and I don’t think that $2.99 is wholly unreasonable considering the quality and time spent, it just might be hard in a market where there are¬†so many free and $0.99 books. I’m also already on the other outlets with Tragedy and¬†Fathers and Sons, so it seems a little odd to have this one novella exclusive to Amazon.

In the end it’s only 90 days, though. If I go with a $2.99 pricepoint through KDP Select and it¬†doesn’t¬†work, and even if the promos do not help me whatsoever, I can open things up to other outlets and lower the price after one period. Some other authors have been successful with KDP Select novellas, as well, which has helped nudge me over the edge into trying it. It’s very hard to go with multiple distributors and then condense back to just Amazon, so this is a decision I will only be able to make once – I may as well give it a shot.

There you have a basic rundown of KDP regular vs. KDP Select, and my reasons for going Select with Broken in particular. I hope it was helpful!

In other news, I would like to congratulate¬†Chris B., Julia W., and CJ R. for winning the¬†Broken giveaway! For those who entered and did not win, please do check out the novella which releases on 6/26. Since I have decided on KDP Select there¬†will be some deals ahead, and you will be the first to know. ūüôā

Peace and long life.

When Inspiration Strikes: A Random Faerie Scene (AKA Fae and Folly Part 1)

This morning my Inconvenient Muse decided to trouble me with a new story idea, and I wanted to write it down so I don’t forget it. I was reading something about faerie stories on the internet while having breakfast, and began thinking about all the accommodations we would have to make for Fae people if they suddenly decided to become a part of human life. Perhaps I will return to this story someday after¬†Forsaken Lands is over… or continue it as a blog project as the mood strikes me. Not sure yet. ūüėČ In the meantime you may find this mildly interesting.


The lady behind the counter at airport security was giving me that look – the one that all the humans who didn’t know me liked to give. She looked at my passport, then at me, then back at the passport. Her thin lips twitched downwards at the corners. She was thinking about calling a supervisor, I was sure. It wouldn’t be the first time.

My given name was Starhunter, so named because as a youngling I spent hours looking up at the stars, learning the constellations. I learned to fly by night by the time I was twelve, or about six in human years. We Fae are rather literal with our names, and in the thirty-three years since The Reveal, the humans have come to expect certain things from us. Most of my people keep their given names; they wear clothing made from materials in the woods and avoid most human contact. Those that might on occasion choose to fly by air contraption would come with their Fae ID – printed on bark, of course – and clad like any other tribesperson.

I wasn’t like any other tribesperson. As a bridger I had a responsibility to interact with the humans on terms they would understand. I wore my usual human garb, fresh from one of many disappointingly boring meetings – a black pinstriped pantsuit, specially tailored to fit my 3’4″ frame and cut so my wings could hang comfortably behind me. My auburn hair was cut short and appropriately styled. I’d even used curling gel that morning to tame the natural frizz. On my human-issued passport was my mundane name: Amelie Fletcher.

“This…is…your passport?” the woman stuttered. I could see in her face that she was trying hard not to be rude. She had a classical midwest accent, by the sound of it. Probably from a rural area. Even though she was middle-aged and would have been¬†a child when The Reveal happened, I got the idea that she wasn’t very comfortable with my presence.

I smiled at her and casually tucked a lock of hair behind one pointed ear. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. I did my best to tone down the accent in my own voice. We Western Fae spoke in what humans might identify as an Irish accent, though to us the Fae and Irish accents were completely different. It was the ears, I imagined. Humans missed out on so much with their limited hearing.

“Traveling to Portland?” she pressed.

“Indeed,” I tipped my head amiably. “Back home, you know.”

“Hm.” The TSA woman chewed on her inner cheek a moment before shrugging. She marked my boarding pass and handed it back to me along with the ID. “Have a safe flight.”

I winked at her, and privately enjoyed the look of shock on her face when I stretched my purple-and-blue mottled wings, filmy like silk. “I always do.”


Like it? Want more? Tell me what you think.

 

Sequel Syndrome

“I can only hope it’s true enough/That every little thing I do for love/Redeems me from the moments I deem worthy of the worst things that I’ve done…”

I always have a song to go with every scene. It doesn’t have to be playing the whole time I’m writing, but generally it has to be playing when I start writing, and I have to replay it periodically while the scene is going. The tone of my environment is very important for my writing performance. Lately I’ve been working on some Les-heavy scenes, and Les tends to be a Panic at the Disco kind of guy. So, for fun, I give you today’s scene theme music before I launch into our discussion –

Things have slowly been calming down in my personal life while they’ve been ramping up in my writing life (two different lives, of course). The sequel is now at 52,000 words and climbing, and the further I go the more appreciation I have for every sequel I’ve ever read, particularly the good ones. Ask anyone who has talked to me in the last month and a half, and they will tell you that at some point I mentioned “book two” and some variation of “kicking my ass” in the same breath. Until the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from horrible writer’s block/writing anxiety and self-doubt, even as I’ve received praise from readers about Tragedy.Both the joy and the torment of writing is stretching yourself – forcing yourself to understand a new viewpoint, solve a new problem, or sharpen a new literary skill. For me, the sequel has been a challenge in ways I could not imagine.

I knew Suffering (which I am considering renaming to Sacrifice, but that’s beside the point) would be more complicated. At the end of book one the world opens up, and book two is all about the flood of information and the fallout from the climax of the previous story. In the beginning I’ve got four separate groups of people doing their own thing, which later consolidates to 2-3, depending on how you count. I thought to myself, sure, juggling that many plots/subplots is going to take a lot of mental energy, and that’s going to be hard. There’s going to be more action, which is not necessarily my fort√©, and also more interpersonal development; figuring out how to stay true to your characters while ensuring they have an actual arc takes a bit of a deft hand.

The problem I didn’t anticipate was the variable independent of my actual story – the problem is I’m writing a sequel, and sequels are just plain difficult. I’ve written two full novels by this point in my life, one that is published and one that never will be, but until now I’ve never written the continuation of a larger story.¬† Problems of writing a sequel widely include ruining something that was previously good, worrying about disappointing an audience,¬†writing a story that is “all middle,inconsistencies, and my personal white whale, obsessively wondering why your sequel rough draft looks nothing like your beautifully polished first novel (I never claimed to have a rational muse, just an inconvenient one). One need not list the many sequels which failed to live up to their debut counterparts *ahem* but they are legion, and consumers have almost come to expect that the second installment of any story, regardless of the media form, will be somehow diminished.

Of course, there are some sequels that managed to dodge the sequel syndrome. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was actually my favorite of the series, and was pretty well-received by most readers; The Wrath of Khan is known to be one of the great classic¬†Star Trek movies. The Two Towers is also well-regarded in the arena of sequels (and again was my favorite of that series), and nobody in the movie world should forget The Dark Knight as perhaps one of the best movie sequels to grace the screens (bias here – I adored Dark Knight). These sequels share several common traits; they stand well on their own as stories, in general, and they deepen the observer’s connection to the characters in some way. In Khan we had the heart-wrenching moment of Spock “dying” behind the glass. Dark Knight had its own fascinating arc within the Joker and his ever-escalating trail of violence. Many blogs out there in the world seem to agree that the keys to writing a good sequel are – as you might guess – the very opposite of what makes a bad sequel.

All that said, I’m doing my level best to avoid the sequel syndrome pitfalls by keeping things interesting, getting the plot moving, and throwing in a few surprises. It helps that one of my characters is unpredictable by nature, giving me a great tool to liven things up from time to time. As to the anxiety of ruining the series and the problem of trying to edit before I get words on the page, I’ve decided to forcibly restrain myself from editing as I type. The rough draft looks perhaps even rougher than it already was, but at least things are moving now. I have to remind myself that Tragedy wasn’t beautiful in its first iteration, either.

The learning curve sharpens. To you, dear reader, I leave a question: what do you think makes a good sequel?