Ad Astra 2015, day 3: The hero’s journey and the story promise

I lied. Last week I’d said that I’d be reporting on fairy tales this week. Turns out that my notes from that panel were less than a page (!) I was enjoying rather than making notes, again (bad Mellie). So I’m fast-forwarding to the last session I attended at Ad Astra this year.

Panellists: Catherine Fitzsimmons, Cathy Hird, Kelley Armstrong, Nina Munteanu

the hero's journey panel

KA: The first stop on the hero’s journey is the ordinary world. Science fiction and fantasy authors can struggle with this because of the urge to info-dump. We want to share all the details of our intricate world building. You can’t jump straight to the call to adventure, though. You have to set the stage.

NM: The call to adventure is often refused and may require the appearance of a mentor figure.

CH: Refusal is an interesting moment, though. It’s great conflict.

NM: Threshold guardians are another great source of conflict. In most cases, your hero will need help to defeat or circumvent them. Mentors or allies. The descent and return must be accomplished by your hero alone, however. Your hero must transform.

KA: That’s the return with the elixir. Sometimes, though, the hero does not refuse. Sometimes, it’s awesome. I’m in! Hella yeah! And sometimes the threshold guardian just doesn’t want the hero to get hurt. It’s still conflict. It’s just not so overt.

NM: It’s the belief in the quest that carries the hero over the threshold. The mentor believes in the hero. The threshold guardians do not.

CH: In Tanya Huff’s The Enchantment Emporium, the quest is hidden.

NM: The story promise requires the hero to progress on the journey to its ultimate fulfillment.

CF: There has to be a hint, even when the quest is hidden.

KA: Even romance novels follow the hero’s journey.

CF: Literary fiction can be more metaphorical.

CH: Two people may want to achieve the same goal, but in different ways or for different reasons. In some of the epic stories, things fall apart. Every King Arthur has his Mordred.

Q: Is the hero’s journey a western convention?

NM: The template aspect is western, but Campbell studied cultures all over the world to identify the pattern. The basis of the hero’s journey is universal.

CH: The hero’s journey doesn’t fit with some of the eastern stories, though. They can be more cyclic in nature. The Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi is an example.

CF: It’s a matter of interpretation.

KA: If you want a simplified version of the three act structure: chase your character up a tree; throw rocks at them; have them climb back down.

NM: In the third act resolution, the hero’s resolve must be tested.

And that was time.

Next week: The Ad Astra 2015 wrap post with my usual picture of my bookish purchases.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Advertisements

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Put the pen down and back away slowly

Editing your work

Quick note: My apologies. Last week I mentioned that I would be getting uncanny, but I realized (only today when I opened my notebook) that the panel on the new weird, speculative fiction, and uncanny literature was one that I sat back and enjoyed rather than taking copious notes. I guess I needed a bit of a break (!)

In any case, I did take notes on the self-editing panel. And here they are 🙂

Panellists: Julie Czerneda, Anne Bishop, Monica Pacheco, Kelley Armstrong

Self-editing panel

AB: I used to write a scene because I wanted to follow the path for the story. Now, if I know a scene will likely be cut, I can run through it in my mind without writing it.

MP: Do you edit as you write?

KA: If I edit as I go, I’ll never finish. My first drafts are quick and dirty. The faster, the better.

JC: I just finished two fantasies, two literally, sweeping epics. Now I’m writing science fiction, so I find it easier to write to a word count goal. Still, I like to write quick and dirty, though.

AB: I write my first draft to tell me what the story’s about often. Anything goes at this stage and I use a strange font. It tends to free me up.

MP: Where do you start?

JC: If something is bothering me, I’ll deal with it right away. If it can be left until I edit, I leave myself a signal in the text. I use “OOO” so it’s sure to stand out.

AB: I used to be comfortable making notes outside the document, in a separate notebook. Now I write notes inside the document in different colours.

JC: My computer has defaulted to Canadian English and now I have to make a special pass just for that.

KA: As I write, I can flag what needs work. I use Scrivener.

MP: Are you harder on your work than an editor?

KA: Yes. I’m my own worst critic. Working with a great editor teaches you a lot, though.

JC: How do we know when to stop?

KA: When the publisher rips it away from you. We do the best we can in the time we have.

AB: I learn from the audio book version of my novels. Where do I need dialogue tags and where can I use an action beat or piece of description?

JC: I learn the most from my editor’s comments. Sheila doesn’t give me any praise, just notes of what to work on.

KA: If you’re critiquing, you have to be positive.

MP: You have to be careful not to crush spirits.

JC: You have to recognize the good in your work. It was a triumph when Sheila called me up in the middle of the night just to tell me she’d cried twice while reading my manuscript. Because she’s not big on praise, I knew I’d nailed it.

AB: You don’t want to edit the heart out of your story, either.

Q: What’s your editing process?

AB: I print it out, read through it, and make notes by hand.

KA: I put my first draft aside for at least two months while I work on something else. I print it out and mark everything up with a red pen from page one.

JC: I also print it out and edit my drafts by hand, but I like to edit in a separate place from where I drafted.

Q: What do you do about editorial comments you don’t agree with?

AB: My editors know I’m fragile. Most of the time, I can come around to seeing things their way, but it I can’t, I find I have to express why I think the scene or line is essential to the story. If I can offer a cogent explanation, the editors come around to seeing things my way.

KA: The majority of the editors I’ve worked with are great. I know them and what they want to see. We’ve developed a relationship. Some are dead wrong, though. You have to be willing to defend your work.

________________________________________________________________________

And that was time.

I learned a lot from these writerly women. I hope you did, too 🙂

My Next Chapter update and another Sundog snippet will have to wait on tomorrow. I have a retirement party to get ready for (!) Not mine (I wish), but two lovely ladies from the BEA hive at work. I’m the comic relief O.o

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: After acceptance, the fun begins

Panellists: Suzanne Church, Arlene F. Marks, Kelley Armstrong, Monica Pacheco, Charles de Lint

After acceptance panel

KA: I was reading at the University of Waterloo, and a question came up that really caught me off guard. That was my biggest challenge: getting used to answering scary questions about my stories.

AFM: I started on the editorial side of the business. When it came to working that process with my own book, what surprised me was the number of times I had to read my book. It’s a test. If you don’t get sick of your book after reading it 20 or 30 times, it’s a good sign.

SC: I’m a rule-follower. When I heard back from my first editor, I got to work making all the requested changes. What I had to learn was that editors aren’t infallible. You have to learn to fight for your work, when necessary. When you hear from an editor for the first time, read a comment, and then take a drink of tequila.

AFM: My first published novel was with Harlequin, the publisher for whom I edited. A fellow editor suggested I write my book, but when I submitted it, an editor was assigned who was a frustrated author. I went through four rewrites without a contract. Eventually, I went over the editor’s head, but that was only possible because I had a 12-year working relationship with Harlequin.

KA: My Canadian publisher sent out advanced reader copies (ARCs) and wanted me to write a couple of articles. I did, but what stuck out was my stance that what I had written was not horror. There was a terrific backlash from other writers of horror.

MP: I was working with an author under contract. Three days before the book was due, her computer crashed. We had to come forward, explain what happened, and ask for an extension.

CdL: The original cover for The Riddle of the Wren was a collage. I thought it was crappy. My editor, Terry Windling, advocated for me and ended up doing the cover for free.

SC: The promotional piece is challenging, too. Start three months before the release.

KA: Just realizing that I had to promote my own book was a shock. I don’t have what it takes for event planning and blogging. The most important thing I learned, though, is to thank your readers.

MP: Publicists are not magicians. Promotional materials can be as much work as writing the novel.

CdL: I agree with Kelley. Connect with your readers. Find common ground. Recommend the books of other authors that they would enjoy.

SC: I talk about hockey more than I talk about writing. One of my surprises was that you have to convince the library database to feature your books so that libraries will pick it up.

AFM: Never underestimate the value of friendships. Come up with cool swag ideas for your supporters.

MP: At one party, we handed out LED flashlights.

KA: Chocolates are bad promotional tools. They get eaten. Give out screen cleaning cloths, bags, pens, useful things. Every time someone picks up the pen you gave them, they’ll be reminded.

AFM: Bookmarks. Leave that shit everywhere.

SC: Wine is expensive, but cool. Everybody loves cake.

CdL: Giving stuff to kids is fun. The more creative you can get, the better. I’ve written songs to go with my books. I had an artist draw pictures of the characters, sign them, and leave them for the fans.


And that was time.

Tomorrow: I’ll be transcribing my notes from Jane Ann McLachlan’s workshop.

Next week: Ad Astra gets uncanny . . . and my Next Chapter update 🙂

Ad Astra 2015, day 2: An agent and a publisher walk into a bar . . . who do you approach first?

Yes, day 2 has finally arrived!

First, a reminder of my disclaimer

These posts are composed of my notes. Often, because of the scheduling, I enter sessions after they’re already in progress. I write by hand, so as I’m writing what I believe to be a salient point, I may miss the next one. I do my best to catch as much as I can, but things will be missed. Also, if, in my haste I recorded something incorrectly, please don’t be shy about coming forward and letting me know. I will correct all errors post-hasty once informed of them.


Panellists: Monica Pacheco, Ryan McFadden, Kelley Armstrong, Karen Dales, Mark Leslie

Agent or publisher panel

MP: By the time a book hits the shelves, it’s already 1-2 years old, so to speak. Don’t follow trends. What’s selling now won’t be what’s selling when your novel comes to market.

ML: Is it fair to say that trends are what’s currently selling, plus some kind of twist?

KA: I’ll reiterate: don’t write to trends. There’s no point.

KD: If you focus on what’s hot rather than what you’re passionate about, your readers will detect it. Readers can tell when you’re being disingenuous.

ML: I was at a conference and I pitched my idea for a book without having written it. Dundurn said yes, so I started writing in April. The book was published in October, so that will give you some idea how quickly things can come together.

RM: If I was at the “bar,” I think I’d hit on the other writers. Craft is more important than your ability to sell yourself. Writers will introduce you to their people. Those people can be some very valuable contacts.

KD: I’m working as a freelance editor right now and the way I came by the job was through pitching a publisher. I was talking to an author and asking where I should send my work in progress. The author suggested her publisher. I pitched, and not only was I able to get a contract for my WIP, but I also became an editor for them.

ML: Sometimes I might consider a market inappropriate for me, or a piece inappropriate for the project I’m working on, but for someone else, it may be a perfect fit. I remember working as an editor and having to turn down a great story because it wasn’t suited to the anthology. I recommended that the author submit his story to Writers of the Future. He did, and he won.

MP: We read everything in our slush pile. We’re looking for that gem, and we won’t overlook any submissions.

RM: Networking is everything.

KD: If you’re working with a freelance editor, research them. Develop a relationship. If you’re working with an editor who works with a traditional publisher, it’s different. The money the publisher is willing to invest can change the dynamic.

KA: When you work with an editor for one of the big five houses or their imprints, it’s more important to be aware of what the publisher’s guidelines and preferences are. The individual editor may be gone by the time your book is printed.

ML: What are the differences between Canadian, UK, and US markets?

KD: Canadian and UK publishers are more consistent. In the US, I’m all over the place.

ML: In one instance, the managing editor gave me notes before I even started writing.

KD: The editor has to be an advocate for the author.

KA: Networking, as mentioned, is great, but don’t get sneaky about it. Don’t invite me out to coffee just to get a recommendation, or to ask me to read your manuscript.

KD: Don’t go fishing. Go make friends.

ML: Look at the long game.

MP: So much of the industry is based on relationships.

KA: Don’t do anything electronically that you wouldn’t do in person. Having said that, if someone asks you what you’re working on, be honest. Talk about it positively.

MP: The bottom line is to be professional. Don’t self-denigrate. No scented paper or bribes, please.

Q: Do different publishing houses have different quirks?

ML: Dundurn loves Canadian authors. In fact, you have to be Canadian to be published by Dundurn.

KD: Dark Dragon is interested in good storytelling. They like unique stories and voices.

KA: HarperCollins does amazing covers for their young adult books. Penguin random House is all around great. There was a poll in The Bookseller. Are authors happy with their publishers? The overwhelming response was that they wanted more communication from their publishers. 37% said that if they got an equivalent—not better—offer from another publisher, they’d switch. Subterranean Press is good.

RM: Smaller publishers are better at communicating with their authors. ChiZine, Dragon Moon, and Dark Dragon are like that.

MP: Tor is a dream to work with. Skyhorse Publishing is a good mid-sized, non-fiction publisher. Talos Press is interested in SFF. Simon & Schuster Canada has been very good to Andrew Pyper. They’ve sent him on a national reading tour.


And that was that.

Next week: What happens after acceptance?

The next chapter: January 2015 update

Technically, I could have written this post last Saturday, but I was still writing into the evening and I count everything up until go to sleep on the last day of the month. As is often the case, better late than never, right?

January 2015 progress

As you can see, I’ve continued to work on Marushka, the project I started for NaNoWriMo 2014. I had indicated in last month’s next chapter post that I wanted to work away at finishing my first draft of Marushka (total goal 75k words) and figured I’d manage this at about 5k words a month.

Well colour me blown away, I wrote almost 10k new words in January alone (!)

I continued to blog, but have stuck to my weekly curation posts and posting on Saturdays. I like this amount of output and time dedicated to the blog. It’s reasonable.

I also restarted my final pass on Initiate of Stone. It’s interesting. Back in December (I think), I shared a post in Tipsday by another writer who uses Jamie Raintree’s Excel worksheet. He had some excellent suggestions for tracking revisions.

One of them was that two words of revision = one word on the worksheet. I’ve implemented this, but in a way, it feels like cheating. In any given chapter I revise, I might, at most, change 500 words.

For example, I one chapter I revised, I cut out a page and a half to two pages of a battle scene that was a little long in the tooth, plus a few words here and there, tightening things up, etc. The chapter was over 3,800 words, however, and so when I entered my 1,950 words in the IoS column for that day’s revisions, it felt to me like I hadn’t done the work to earn that entry.

I’m still struggling with the idea, but revisions and editing are their own beasts. There has to be some way I can recognize the effort without artificially inflating my word count. I think the two-for-one word scheme is the closest I can come to doing that for now. We’ll see how that works out as the year progresses.

I also revised one short story for submission to an anthology call.

Totals for January:

  • IoS: 7,789 words
  • Marushka: 9,462 words 😀
  • Short stories: 34 words
  • Blog: 8,432 words
  • Grand total: 25,717 words (17,928 without IoS revisions)

Even without considering my revisions, it’s one of my best months outside November since I started tracking my word count. I’m amazed.

Progress summary as of Feb 7

This is something new that Jamie added to the 2015 worksheet that was not in last year’s: a place to put goals and track overall progress. I think it’s cool.

With IoS, I halved the total current word count of the last draft and entered that number as my goal in the drafting progress table (as per the two-for-one word scheme). This table pulls data from the monthly sheets, so I kind of had to do that in order for the table to make any sense.

I did the same thing for Apprentice of Wind and Figments. I do intend to proceed to those revisions after I’ve settled IoS. Because Marushka and Gerod and the Lions are still in the drafting process, I subtracted the word count as of the end of 2014 from my goal word count and entered that in the table.

I intend to write a few new short stories this year in addition to revising my existing ones for submission, so I figured 5k would be a good number of new words to aim for. NaNo is and always will be 50k.

Seeing how many words went into my blog last year, I thought 100k would be a good, round number to aim for there.

There is also a separate table for tracking revisions, specifically, this in pages. This table does not pull data from the monthly sheets. So I’ve entered the number of pages revised and the total number of pages manually. I’ll only be tracking IoS, AoW, and Figments in this way.

Because the table pulls data from the monthly sheets, the following progress reflects everything I’ve done up until today, not including this blog post.

  • IoS: 10,145 words/72 pages, or 16% of goal
  • Marushka: 10,522 of 40,192 or 26% of goal
  • Short stories: 46 words, or 1% of goal 😛
  • Blog: 9,078 words, or 9% of goal

That’s pretty awesome.

In other writerly news

January saw the publication of “Downtime,” the short story On Spec purchased back in 2013. And, yes, I’m going to put that sexy Skeksis in your way again. As they say in one of my associations, I’m chuffed.

On Spec Fall 2014

Days afterward, I received a rejection of another short story, which, despite my best efforts, took the wind out of my sails. I know I should cultivate rhino-skin, but I’ve tried and I don’t think the goal possible. For me. At this time.

I missed one deadline for a special speculative issue of another magazine. It kind of blew right past me.

I did get my story submitted to Tesseracts 19, and I’ll be waiting on tenterhooks to see if this time will be the charm. I’ve been submitting to the anthology since 14, and I keep trying.

It’s what you have to do as a writer, keep writing, and keep trying.

And otherwise

Work has been a bit of a grind and it does not show signs of slowing up. For February, anyway.

I signed up for a five-session yoga class, and finished the last one this past Thursday. I enjoy yoga, but not the expense, or the time it takes from my already hectic life. So this is the only treat I’ve given my poor old body for now. I may well join up for the summer, if they offer the discounted membership again.

But life is good, overall. I’m making greater progress toward my goals that I thought I would, especially with the work hell.

Today, after I post this lovely thing, I’m progressing to IoS revisions, more Marushka, and perhaps working on one of those brand new short stories I told you about. Plus, the new season of Bitten (based on Kelley Armstrong’s series of novels) starts tonight, and I may fit in an episode or two of Log Horizon.

Tomorrow, another meeting of my writing/critique circle will take place, and I’ll be writing some more.

I’ll say it again. Life is good.

And so the chapter closes. See you next month!

The Next Chapter

CanWrite! 2014: Writing fantasy with Kelley Armstrong, June 20

I took a little break last week because of the blog tour and interview with Mat, but I’m back and ready to proceed with moar CanWrite! 2014 reportage.

I’ve been interested in Kelley for years, ever since I first heard Brian Henry’s story of how he helped hook Kelley up with her agent, effectively launching her career. Kelley’s version of the tale appears later in the workshop, so I won’t spoil it.

Everybody loves a good origin story 🙂

Kelley ArmstrongKelley was a dynamic speaker, hardly ever keeping still long enough for me to snap a decent picture. I won’t torture either you or her with my attempts. Suffice it to say that by the time my phone camera took the shot, she was in mid-speech. So here, instead, is the promo pic she gave the CAA to post on the conference page.

 

Kelley also likes to sit on desks as she holds forth.

Overall, I found her workshop a fascinating one. She frequently asked a question of the class and had us share our expertise, as a good facilitator should (corporate trainer kudos, Kelley!).

Without further ado, here are my notes from the workshop.


 

What is fantasy?

Set in an alternate reality; featuring non-human characters; plausible impossibility (Mel’s note: this was my offering. It’s from Brian Aldiss’s Trillion Year Spree.); mystical elements.

What about sub-genres of fantasy?

Steampunk (think Gail Carriger); urban fantasy (what Kelley writes); epic or high fantasy (Tolkien); contemporary; paranormal romance; speculative fiction; magical realism (Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic).

On writing rules.

There are rules for grammar, spelling, syntax, etc., but with regard to writing a fantasy novel, there are no rules, only guidelines. Following them can definitely improve your chances of being published, but we worry too much about rules.

Don’t worry about the market. Let’s look at an example of a sub-genre that has long been considered flooded.

Current market research reveals that with regard to vampire novels in the last eighteen months there have been:

  • Eighteen deals for new series or standalone titles;
  • Fourteen extensions of current series;
  • Three novels from established novelists in other genres; and
  • One debut.

The “Big Five” are still buying vampire novels. Movies and television series are still being made from these books as well.

Who are the Big Five?

  • Penguin Random House (imprint – DAW)
  • MacMillian
  • Simon & Schuster
  • HarperCollins
  • Hachette (imprints – Little Brown, Hyperion)

All of the Big Five have their imprints. You can publish different books with different imprints.

<Kelley took a few minutes to review her most recently published novels and which imprint and parent publisher each was produced by.>

Bitten was the fourth novel I’d written. The three previous were, a novel about a private investigator (Mel’s note: my notes indicate PI, but it could be something else. My apologies to Kelley if I got this wrong), a traditional fantasy, and a Harlequin Romance, written for their Intrigue line.

Never write to the market. Write what you want to write. If it’s good, it will find an audience.

It takes, on average, about two years for a novel to be published.

Research is important, even in fantasy. Research your setting, history, weapons and armour, etc. Even if your world is a created one, there’s probably something in the real one it was based on.

Here’s how I define a few terms:

Myths have to do with the gods, demigods, avatars, or other similar beings. Folklore relates to fairies and other fantastic races of creatures. Each culture has its own. Legends are real people doing amazing things, generally blown out of proportion after years of retelling.

Can you “break” a myth and retell it in an original way?

Worldbuilding is all about research. You have to have rules and you have to be consistent with them. Or you have to create a convincing “in-world” reason for the rule to be broken.

Part of my research for one of my novels was In the Sleep Room by Anne Collins, a book about sleep deprivation experiments. I also looked into MK Ultra and other military experiments as well. For those who don’t know, MK Ultra was a program that attempted to create an assassin like The Manchurian Candidate.

Urban fantasy usually deals with some form of sub-culture.

How to write your way out of a corner (A.K.A. break your own rules).

First, you have to acknowledge the issue. Then, there are four ways out of your bind:

  • The magical whatnot – a mystical device that will supersede the rules.
  • The lost spell, ritual, or other knowledge – ditto.
  • A new or expanded power – caution: do not use often.
  • Mea culpa – just take responsibility for the “mistake.”

Be careful with these. If the solution to your magical bind sticks around, it can cause trouble for your story in the future (think the transporter as used in Star Trek: The Next Generation). You also don’t want your protagonist becoming too god-like. The easy fix can become a crutch.

Do not give any unnecessary details. If you explain too much, you are bound by the new rules you’ve created. Cover your ass.

How do I know another writer hasn’t already done “this”?

Don’t worry about it. There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them.

What’s the difference between high concept and low concept?

Every agent and editor will have a different definition of this. Sometimes it’s a matter of originality. It’s all in the execution. High concept usually involves global stakes. Low concept is more personal.

<We were then assigned the task of coming up with a concept statement, or logline, for our current works-in-progress. We shared them and critiqued them. Kelley came up with some very inventive ways to rewrite these offerings for greater impact.

The floor was then opened to questions.>

Q: How are you so prolific?

When I got my first deal, my novel was accepted on the condition that I could produce the second novel in the series—as of that time not written—in a very short timeframe. The publisher wanted to release them one after the other.

I was working in the IT field at the time, and though it was a big deal financially, I talked it over with my husband and he said go for it. I also had one young child and was expecting my second. It was a very scary time.

Everyone pitched in to make sure my life didn’t fall apart while I was taking this risk. My sister, who was conveniently in search of a job, became my business manager. When I had enough money, I paid for a housekeeper.

Value your time. Would you rather be doing laundry, or writing your next novel?

Now my kids are helping out too. It’s a family affair.

Q: How did you get your agent?

I’d been writing for a while, in the evenings and on weekends, while I worked. I took a workshop with a man named Brian Henry, and I asked him where I should submit my latest novel (Bitten). He read it for me and called me up one evening to discuss options.

He said, “Helen Heller would love this.” I gulped. Helen Heller? And then Brian continued, “I just can’t tell her what it’s about.”

Later, Brian told me about his conversation with Helen. He’d known her from his work in the publishing industry and he called her up.

“Helen, I have this fabulous new novel that you would just love.”

“What’s it about?”

“Werewolves.”

“Werewolves? If it was anyone but you, Brian . . .”

She read it, however reluctantly, but she loved it and she agreed to sign me as a client.

<The rest, as they say, is history.>