IWSG: November 2018

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Still a bit nervous about my upcoming presentation at our public library next week. I’ve got my notes written and my PowerPoint presentation done, so I’m as prepared as I can be. Don’t know if I’m afraid a lot of people will be there or that no one will show up. At least a handful of my writing group members say they plan to attend, so I’ll have support!

Question of the Month: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

I’m not even sure I understand this question. I *think* it’s asking whether my creativity as a writer has spilled into the rest of my life? I’ve always been a problem solver, so for me, it’s writing that draws from my natural creativity—my stories are puzzles to be solved via creative means. I put characters into situations and then have to get them back out. The most fun is when my subconscious has planted all the seeds and I don’t even realize it until I’m writing the resolution and everything falls into place.

And ICYMI: Faebourne is now available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback! (Well, the paperback is pre-order, but it comes out next Monday, so it won’t be a long wait to hold it in your hands!) If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can even read Faebourne for FREE!

When mild-mannered Duncan Oliver is abducted by the Milne brothers and taken to their legendary home of Faebourne, his unexciting life becomes much more interesting. Adelia Milne has been cursed, and Duncan is her chosen champion to break the spell. Duncan may not be a hero, but he is a gentleman, and he refuses to leave a lady in distress. He becomes determined to take on the quest on Miss Milne’s behalf.

Meanwhile, an unlikely rescue team forms in the pairing of Duncan’s best friend George and valet Davies. As they set out for Faebourne—and also perchance to learn more about Davies’ obscured family history—what begins as an unequal partnership quickly blooms into friendship… and possibly something more.

Read the first chapter here.

Nope Book Tag

This is an old one that I only recently heard about, but I decided to do it despite it being old news.

1. A NOPE Ending – A book ending that made you go NOPE either in denial, rage, or simply because the ending was crappy.

I love, love, love Tana French’s In the Woods, but I recall being disappointed that it left many questions unanswered. It’s been long enough since I read it that I can’t remember specifics, but I do have the lingering sense of having wanted more from the ending.

2. A NOPE Protagonist – A main character you dislike and drives you crazy.

I know so many people adore Lila Bard in the Shades of Magic books, but ugh, I can’t like her. She feels like a cliché to me and something of a Mary Sue.

3. A NOPE Series – A series that turned out to be a huge pile of NOPE after you’ve invested all that time and energy on it, or a series you gave up on because it wasn’t worth it anymore.

I read all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when I was in high school and college, and I was pretty excited when she went back to writing them a few years ago. But I just could. not. finish. Prince Lestat. So I don’t know if I’ve changed or the writing has become…something… I dunno, but just nope.

4. NOPE Popular Pairing – A ship you don’t support.

You know, I don’t read a lot of the books that prompt this kind of reaction. I guess I do feel like Peter Grant + Beverley Brook is a bit forced, though. That relationship just does not add anything to the stories for me.

And though I know this is a book tag, can I just say that I can’t understand the Sherlock/Molly thing. I just don’t feel that one at all. (Nothing against those who ship it.)

5. NOPE Plot Twist – A plot twist you didn’t see coming or didn’t like.

I didn’t find the unearthing of Gwenllian to benefit the Raven Cycle very much. I don’t know if that counts as a plot twist, per se, but it was a moment that could be plucked out of those books—the character could be, really—and nothing lost.

6. A NOPE Protagonist Action/Decision – A character decision that made you shake your head NOPE.

Bad decisions make great stories, right? But I think pretty much everything Bella Swan did (and I only read the first two books, couldn’t even go on) just felt like NOPE to me.

7. NOPE Genre – A genre you will never read.

While I hesitate to say “never,” I probably won’t ever pick up erotica. Not my thing at all.

8. NOPE Book Format – Book formatting you hate and refuse to buy until it comes out in a different edition.

I don’t *hate* ebooks, but I tend not to read them. I’ve got so many downloaded that I will probably never read because my first inclination is always to reach for a physical book.

Oh, but I DO hate movie/TV tie-in book covers. I won’t buy those.

9. NOPE Trope – A trope that makes you NOPE.

Alpha males. A gruff bad boy that just needs the right woman to soften him. The overprotective type that comes off as controlling. Nope to all that.

10. NOPE Recommendation – A book that is constantly hyped and pushed at you that you simply refuse to read.

Well, to be fair, any time someone says I “have to” see or read something, I’m that much LESS likely to do so. I’m contrary like that. But I don’t care how many people recommend Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale to me, I’m probably never going to read it. It just doesn’t sound interesting to me. My loss, I guess.

11. NOPE Cliché/Pet Peeve – A cliché or writing pet peeve that always makes you roll your eyes.

Scenes in which two characters are arguing and then suddenly they start kissing. Arguments are not foreplay (at least not for me).

12. NOPE Love Interest – The love interest that isn’t worthy of being one. A character you don’t think should have been a viable love interest.

Pretty much any Sherlock Holmes story that puts Holmes in a relationship (but especially if the relationship is with Irene Adler). I nope right on out of books that do that.

13. NOPE Book – A book that shouldn’t have existed.

Did I mention those new Lestat books? Also, with many apologies to Uncle Stevie, but Dreamcatcher was awful.

14. NOPE Villain – A scary villain/antagonist you would hate to cross and would make you run in the opposite direction.

I know they’re dead, but the Dane twins in A Darker Shade of Magic were pretty damn creepy. I’d definitely avoid them.

15. NOPE Death – A character death that still haunts you.

One Day by David Nicholls. Movie was terrible, but the book made me ugly cry, and that’s very difficult to do if there aren’t animals involved.

16. NOPE Author – An author you had a bad experience reading and have decided to quit.

This is probably going to be somewhat… I don’t want to say “controversial,” because that’s not it, but it’s something I’ll probably get a lot of backlash for. But I don’t read Neil Gaiman anymore. I think he’s a lovely man, and I’ve enjoyed much of his work, but I never could get into American Gods, and I picked up one or two other books now and then, but they just didn’t work for me. And I don’t know if I outgrew him, or if the tone of his work changed, or what. I can’t even say I’ll never read him again. I just haven’t in a long, long time. But I do still admire him as an author.

Books I’ll Probably Never Read Tag

This one is making the rounds, so I’m not 100% sure who to credit for it… Whoever you are, thanks for the blog prompt!

1. A really hyped book you’re not interested in reading.

Just about anything by Kristin Hannah, really. Or Liane Moriarty. I tried one of hers once and could not get into it. There’s something about literary women’s fiction that puts me off. I can’t identify with the characters at all.

2. A series you won’t start/be finishing.

Everything I’ve read about the Court of Thorns and Roses books is just a no for me. I also tried reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and couldn’t get into it, so I won’t continue on that one. Same with the Game of Thrones books. (Yes, okay, A Song of Ice and Fire.)

3. A classic that you’re just not interested in.

Just about anything by Charles Dickens. We had to read Great Expectations in school, and it was excruciating. Though not as bad as Les Misérables. So I won’t read any more Victor Hugo either.

4. Any genres you never read.

I don’t read erotica. Not my thing. Not into westerns or hard sci-fi either.

5. A book on your shelves you’ll probably never actually read.

I’ve had Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on my shelf for a long, long time. Watched and loved the television adaptation but will probably never actually heft the book to read it.

Facts About Faebourne

I was planning to do this as a video, but I still haven’t figured out how to make *good* videos, so I’ll just post this instead for now. May yet to a video later.

The ebook version of Faebourne is out now, and the paperback will be out in a couple more weeks. However, I’ve had a few questions come in, so I thought I’d answer them. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Fun Fact: Davies was originally named Michaels. This was before I decided to write chapters from George’s and Davies’ points of view. At first, the novel was going to be all Duncan. But then I thought it might be fun to follow George and [then] Michaels as they went to “rescue” Duncan. As I began writing those chapters, it became increasingly clear that George and Michaels were falling in love. Well, I couldn’t have George + Michaels. And George is such a George, so Michaels had to give up his name. I think it fits him just as well.

Fun Fact: When I started writing, I thought Edward was the gay one and anticipated Edward and George getting together. The characters clearly had other ideas.

Fun Fact: Without realizing it until the book was finished, I gave the Milne siblings the same first initials as my three children.

Q: If the mirror shows a person’s true self, what did Aloysius see when he looked in it?

Oooh. Good question! I honestly don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just a fox. In fact, I also suspect Richard saw something slightly different from his usual reflection, and I wonder if that might be one of the reasons he broke the mirror? I’d love to hear readers’ speculations on this.

Q: You know that Lord Montcliffe couldn’t just give the title to his nephew, right?

Yes, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a bit clearer in the text. Davies would inherit the title whether he wanted it or not, but he could refuse to use it. And Lord Montcliffe could will his money and other property to his nephew if he wanted to disinherit Davies to any degree. Meanwhile, the nephew’s assumption is that he is heir presumptive because he (like most everyone else connected to Lord Montcliffe) did not know of Davies’ existence.

Q: Will they ever go back to Faebourne?

I sort of have this idea that at some point Faebourne will become George and Davies’ hideaway. When Davies is eventually pressed into marriage and/or when good will turns against their relationship and it can no longer be overlooked. As for the Milnes, none of them seem all that attached to the family home.

Q: But what happened to Aloysius?!

So much love for Aloysius! He went with Adelia and Duncan, of course. He’s Adelia’s guardian/familiar, after all. And probably wiser than Richard.

Q: No romance for Richard?

Honestly, he’s not interested. He’s asexual.

Q: What’s with Edward’s “kaleidoscope” eyes?

Well, remember that the Milnes do have fairy blood in their family line. Odd traits are bound to surface now and then. And no, I wasn’t riffing on The Beatles.

So those were the questions readers had (so far). If you read Faebourne and have questions about it, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer!

The Cocoons Are Opening

That title sounds a lot creepier than I intended. What I mean is that the butterflies are starting to emerge. The ones in my stomach. Because my presentation at the local library looms on the horizon.

I generally don’t mind speaking engagements, though I often prefer to be on a panel than be a sole presenter. Mostly I worry that the attendees will feel like I’m lecturing, that I’ll bore them, or that they won’t get what they came for—namely, that I’ll disappoint them. I suppose that’s a normal concern to have. (Is it? Please tell me it is!)

I outlined my talk months ago and had the PowerPoint partially done. Today I finished it, so I do feel more prepared now. It’s all information I’ve given at other venues in other ways, so this compilation is not entirely new, which means I’m comfortable with my familiarity with the material. That helps.

But the audience will be new to me. I think some of my writing group are planning to attend, and I don’t know whether that makes me feel better or more nervous.

All I can do is my best, I suppose. Hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be asked to speak at other venues too. I’ve done a few small writing conferences, but I’d like to do more.

Have you ever had to give a presentation? Do you get nervous? Any tips or tricks to keep the butterflies at bay? (No, the naked audience thing doesn’t really work for me.)

Proof of Skill

Today I read an offhanded remark on a site that said something along the lines of (paraphrasing): “Well, they’ve only ever self-published, which is fine, but it’s no proof of their skill as a writer.”

Hmm.

It made me wonder: How do we measure “proof of skill” for writers?

My guess is that we mostly measure authors by their sales, simply because that’s the easiest way. It’s quantifiable and concrete. And since publishing is a business, certainly sales matter. “Oh, So-and-So sold a bazillion copies of Bookity Book? Must be a great author!”

But there are plenty of books that sell a lot of copies that aren’t all that great. I mean, it’s subjective, of course, but just as many people seem to hate Twilight and Fifty Shades as love them. So sales aren’t necessarily proof of quality. They’re really more proof of appealing to a large (I won’t say lowest) common denominator.

How else might we figure proof of a writer’s mad skillz?

Less quantifiable is “buzz.” Which is to say, how much are you hearing about a particular book or author? (And, really, how much good are you hearing about it/them?) If many people are talking about a book, there are usually two reasons: it’s amazing or it’s offensive. It can, I suppose, even be both(?)…

So does word of mouth = proof of skill? Well, it = proof of marketing skill at least. But again, there are plenty of hyped-up books that end up being big disappointments and just as many hidden jewels gathering dust on shelves, and whatever ebooks do when they’re ignored.

Does being picked up by an agent and then a big publisher mean you’ve got amazing writing skills? Based on the comment that started this post, that still seems to be the gold standard. Even as we continue to say that self-published books are often just as good, and sometimes better, in quality, that they’re often more original because of the authors’ creative freedom . . . Deep down there’s still a sense of a need for gatekeepers to validate a book or author, an idea that books need to be “good enough” for an agent or major publisher, and books that were self-published clearly aren’t or weren’t. Never mind that self-publishing is no longer a last resort for many authors; they’ve learned they make more money and save a lot of time by doing it themselves. The stigma, alas, remains.

And I must say, of big-house books I’ve read lately, I’ve noticed a lack in editing quality in many of them. Now, I don’t know if that’s down to the authors or the editors involved in those books—I suspect many of the books were hurried out without enough proofing—but I’m just saying: having an agent and a big publisher doesn’t, in my view, immediately mean an author has skill. It could mean they had a connection to someone in the industry. It could mean they had a good idea that, even half-baked, the agent or publisher thought he/she/it could sell. It could even mean—yes, I’m going to say it—that they’re the token [insert diversity here] that the agency or publisher was looking for so they could feel good about themselves. I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in publishing, and I’ve seen it happen.

This isn’t to put actual, skilled writers down. This is just to say that the way we decide whether an author is “skilled” is . . . Biased a lot of the time. Subjective to each person’s preferences. There are a lot of factors involved. Being self-published versus agented and published by a big house—that’s not a definitive guideline as to an author’s skill.

The final facet of an author’s skill might be their actual craft, from the foundations of punctuation and spelling to the more lofty question of how they use words to build a story. BUT, again, not all of a writer’s ability can be determined this way. After all, a good self-published author probably hired an editor and proofreader. So maybe the author can’t spell and doesn’t know a comma from a semicolon but found someone to fix that problem. Maybe the story had huge plot holes that a development editor helped fill in. On the flip side, maybe the editor at that big publishing house was tired that day and missed a few things.

The key thing that set me off on writing this was the very casual dismissal of self-publishing I felt underlying the comment I paraphrased above. Not just because I’ve self-published a number of my books, but because to say something like that and not maybe define your personal criteria for “skills” feels a bit like a fly-by. Every reader has a checklist, whether they’re aware of it or not, of what they will and won’t tolerate in a book. They consider the authors who tick all their “yes” boxes to be “skilled” and authors who don’t, or who actively tick their “no” boxes, to be hacks. I’d like to think that most readers are open to self-published works so long as those books tick enough of their “yes” boxes, but I’ve seen readers in online groups have that as a “no” box: NO SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS. Sad but true. They cite poor experiences with self-published books as the reason for their prejudice, but have they loved every traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I doubt it, and yet they don’t boycott those.

I won’t claim to have answered the question of how to discern a writer’s skill. There are too many moving parts, and I think the largest part is that we won’t even all agree on which authors are skilled to begin with. What some readers treasure, others despise. What some consider classics, others consider trash.

How do you decide whether an author has skills? What’s on your reading checklist?

IWSG: October 2018

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I’m a mess these days when it comes to writing. I go from being hopeful and optimistic to plunging into the depths of despair and being sure no one will ever want to read my work.

By the way, look at the post below this one to enter to win a copy of my forthcoming book Faebourne. You can also read the first chapter via “Sample Chapters” on the sidebar.

Question of the Month: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

Major life events usually disrupt my writing. Even minor life events can do that. This past summer, not only were the kids home but my husband was on sabbatical. We did some traveling and a lot of outings, which was a lot of fun. We made wonderful memories. But I got almost no writing done for three months.

As for writing helping me through things, sure. I sometimes write in a stream-of-consciousness way in order to figure out how I feel or what I think about something. It’s a good way to drill down and get to the roots of problems or ideas.

Suspending Disbelief

I saw an interesting question posed on Twitter this morning: “How does an author create a tale that allows readers to suspend disbelief?”

It made me think of those YouTube videos where people pick apart movies for how unrealistic they are. We do that with books sometimes, too. So what makes the difference? Why are we willing—even eager—participants in some fiction and resistant to other?

I believe there is a natural barrier between us and fiction. We understand, when entering a book or movie, that it isn’t real. There is a sense of, “Make me believe it.” The author’s job, then, is to make that barrier permeable.

Think about all the things that pull you OUT of a story. Characters that don’t behave in ways that seem realistic, for example, or stilted dialogue. Sometimes it’s the world that doesn’t make sense. If a fantasy author has created a town or country or planet, it still must function within parameters that readers relate to. The place may be very different from Earth, the characters may be aliens, but there are some universal truths that we rely on when entering a fictional world. Touchstones, if you will. If the internal logic of the world doesn’t hold up—if every few minutes the reader is saying to him- or herself, Why did they do that? Why is this world set up this way? It makes no sense, no society would be built this way—the barrier is too solid.

So if you want to create something really different, you have to lay the groundwork of there being very good reasons for things. It can’t be because “it’s always been this way.” There needs to be an explanation of WHY it was ever that way to begin with.

Another reason people begin picking stories apart is sheer boredom. If nothing interesting is happening, the reader begins to look for something else to entertain them, and your world or characters may be the victim of their detachment. When you’re really into a book or movie, you’re carried along on a wave as the plot and characters move along. You feel immersed. Later, someone might point out a plot hole and you’ll say, “I never noticed.” But, boy, when you’re bored you notice everything.

Think about long car rides, looking out the window, trying to find anything interesting to look at. Or, if you grew up going to church, synagogue, some house of worship, think about sitting there and looking around at people, the walls, the chairs/benches/pews. Every stain, crack, speck of dust came to your attention. That’s what happens when a reader is bored, too. They start gazing at the wallpaper and noticing the wrinkles, rips, mismatched seams.

Boredom, then, is one of the particles that forms that barrier to fiction. The reader shouldn’t ask, “Why am I here?” He or she should want to be there, in your world, with your characters. They should never want to leave.

These things don’t only apply to fantasy and sci-fi, though the barrier to those is probably thicker. Authors of these kinds of books have more work to do to make their worlds and characters believable. But even real-world based fiction must give readers compelling characters and situations that, even if far-fetched, the reader can be made to accept.

I love Tana French’s books, but there is one called The Likeness that really stretched my believability. The entire premise is predicated on a detective who looks so much like a murder victim that they insert her into the victim’s world to root out the killer. The book is well written and entertaining, but I still had trouble giving the premise credence. And since no reliable reason was ever given for the, er, likeness . . . Sure, “long lost twin” is weak, but I’d believe it over random chance.

What pulls you out of stories and/or makes them unbelievable to you? Which books have you encountered with this problem? Did you finish the book or put it down? Let me know your thoughts!

You Know You’re In an M Pepper Langlinais Novel When

My son was trying to figure out what would make the list. But my books are all so different! There are some things that are in most but nothing, really, that is in all. Does that make me inconsistent? Or just original?

Still, I wanted to try.

  • You are in a big manor house of some kind.
  • Someone nearby is gay. Maybe more than one person, but at least one. Might even be you!
  • You need to solve a mystery or complete a quest.
  • A supernatural or magical element may appear.
  • Snark. You or someone near you has it.