“Liking” that means really liking, not just Liking

Silent Symmetry received a very short, but positive review today.

The reviewer wrote that she (I think it’s a she) likes “getting free books to see how I like the author.” At first I glossed over this, but then realized that she had managed to succinctly encapsulate the entire raison d’etre behind running free Kindle promotions like mine for Silent Symmetry that ends today.  It’s to give readers an opportunity to get to know you as a writer, as simple as that. If you’re an unknown author, then by definition they don’t know you. And the reality is that people buy a novel because of the author’s name as much as because of the story or the reviews. (I, for example, am still waiting with baited breath for Cervantes to come out with a new book because I thoroughly enjoyed his last one. Come on, Miguel, get a move on…)

Cervates_jauregui

Cervantes was, quite literally, an egghead.

Actually (thinking aloud here, as per my typical blogging methodology), it’s not so much the author’s name, but what that name represents that matters. Maybe an author makes a reader laugh out loud, or feel warm and fuzzy, or excited, or sexy, but whatever that feeling is, it’s exactly what a reader hopes will be repeated with the author’s next book. And THAT is what my new reviewer was talking about. If she likes the feeling, she’ll come back for more.

Maybe I should get a T-shirt made with a big Facebook Like logo on it…

New short story

Right now* I’m working on a new short story that will appear in a collection of works by indie authors sometime around the end of the summer. It’s a good way to get back into the swing of writing fiction every day before I head out into the uncharted territory known as Starley’s Rust, aka the sequel to Silent Symmetry that some people seem to be clamouring for.

The story is science fiction. I’ll post its title in the next couple of weeks as a teaser, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a photo. It’s significant in the story.

ALMA_Prototype-Antennas_at_the_ALMA_Test_Facility

Ever been teased by a radio telescope? You have now.

(Can we still say “stay tuned” now that everything’s digital? “Keep your eyes glued to the screen” seems a bit much. “Heads up – there might be a tweet flying by!” could work…)

Oh, and the story features one of these.

Teasing over. Back to work.

*DISCLAIMER: Obviously right now I’m writing a blog post. That’s because I took a short break from the story. But I’m publishing this post and getting right back into it. Promise.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

New baby (aged 4-8)

In the midst of putting out my YA novel Silent Symmetry and editing the manuscript of my contemporary novel The New Sense, I’ve also been planning a third ebook release: The Christmas Bat, an illustrated children’s book for 4-8 year-olds (and their mothers who typically buy these books). The title character is a bat called Barry who isn’t into Halloween like his brothers and sisters because he doesn’t like scaring people. So he decides to get involved with Santa and make kids happy at Christmastime. But then things start to go wrong…

Image

They can be cute. Honest!

I wrote The Christmas Bat about 5 years ago for my little boy Sacha, and even though he’s now a much bigger boy, he still loves the story. So much so that he thinks other kids would like it too. Now that I’ve figured out how to self-publish ebooks, publishing this one shouldn’t be a huge effort. Except that it needs pictures. And my drawing ability isn’t much better than the 4-8 year-olds that the book is intended for.

To cross this hurdle I had a meeting yesterday with a young illustrator called Tatiana who is not only extremely talented, but also has a style that is influenced by the Soviet cartoons she watched in her native Ukraine as a child. This is great because the illustrations for a children’s book ideally should be as memorable, engaging and fun as possible. They need to reflect the feel of the story, but also capture and bring its characters to life. Tatiana’s essentially foreign esthetic will help make The Christmas Bat stand out from the crowd.

Judging by the preliminary sketches I saw yesterday, Tatiana will be more than capable of giving Barry and the other characters in The Christmas Bat their own personalities. I’m really excited to see what she does next. It’s one thing to picture what the characters you have created on the page look and act like, but quite another to see them take shape from someone else’s imagination.  Our goal is to make The Christmas Bat available for Kindle Fire, iPad and other colour devices in time for the 2013 Holiday Season. And the best thing about the project is that it’s great fun!

Oh, and have you ever wondered how Santa delivers presents to houses that don’t have chimneys for him to climb down? Read The Christmas Bat when it’s published and you’ll find out the surprising answer!

Photo credit: onkel_wart (thomas lieser) / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The power of storytelling

Beowulf is the name given to the oldest surviving English-language poem. One of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature,  it is a true epic, with a legendary hero: Beowulf of the Geats, a Scandinavian tribe.

The story begins when Beowulf receives a message from the Danish king asking him to come to Denmark and fight a monster called Grendel which has been terrorizing Heorot, the king’s mead hall (basically a huge private pub).  The Danes are in a right pickle. I mean, nobody likes the idea of being eaten by a monster while knocking back a few pints of mead, swapping battle stories and comparing lustrous facial hair with one’s fellow Danish noblemen. Yet they just can’t bear the thought of drinking at a different pub, so Grendel continues feasting on them.  In sunny Sweden, Beowulf sighs, goes, “Fine. I’ll put on a clean pair of underwear and set sail, even though the weather forecast is a bit nasty.

When he gets to Heorot he not only kills Grendel with his bare hands, but also slays Grendel’s mother (bizarrely played by Angelina Jolie in the 2007 movie version), thereby saving the Danes and receiving a free pint of mead for his troubles.

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

Geatland, 50 years later: Just like Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, Beowulf (now king of the Geats) is all set for a nice, long retirement, possibly contemplating a Baltic cruise with his wife or a leisurely trek through Tuscany in a motor home. Then a terrifying dragon attacks the country, burning everything in its path. Beowulf once again realizes that he’s the only man who is man enough to do a man’s job and sends his soldiers away so that he can take on the dragon single-handed. All except for one trusty fighting companion, Wiglaf (in the Mel Gibson role), who teams up with Beowulf in archetypal buddy film fashion and ultimately slays the fiery beast.

Sadly, our hero is mortally wounded during the battle. As he lies dying, Beowulf commands Wiglaf to build a huge burial mound called a barrow atop a cliff so that sailors returning home will remember his heroic deeds:

A barrow bid ye the battle-fanned raise
for my ashes. ‘Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
on Hrones Headland high uplifted,
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf’s Barrow, as back from far
they drive their keels o’er the darkling wave.

(Modern English excerpt from Beowulf chapter, 38)

No, Wiglaf didn’t say, “Huh?” on hearing those words; he actually went and built the burial mound. Here’s a photo of it, bedecked with cows.

Beowulf's supposed burial mound.

Beowulf’s supposed barrow, or burial mound.

Beowulf was clearly aware of his own heroism and greatness. His instructions to Wiglaf were intended to make sure that he went down in history. It makes sense, right? Build a big monument, just like countless other leaders have done in the centuries since. Yet here’s what’s interesting: the only reason that Beowulf’s heroic deeds are remembered today is because of the two unknown scribes who wrote the poem. One single copy of the work survived for over a millennium. Old English words beautifully transcribed in a crumbling manuscript have preserved the legacy of King Beowulf better than any physical monument could have.

This is the power of storytelling. It rouses emotions. It inspires. And it persists.

A scene makeover

This week I rewrote a scene from my YA novel Silent Symmetry, the goal being to make it a bit more suspenseful. I’m sharing my rewriting method in case it’s useful for other writers, either aspiring or already published.

When I need to give a fiction or screenplay scene a makeover I find it unproductive to work on the existing scene. Why? Because I’m too precious about what I’ve already written. Oh, those wonderful turns of phrase and deliciously appropriate vocabulary choices! Right. It wouldn’t need a makeover if it was so amazing…

Blank pages

The dreaded blank pages can be your friend!

So I find it best to set aside my original scene, start a new Word or Final Draft document and rewrite it from scratch. That way, the best bits from the first version of the scene should automatically pop into my head when needed, while the chaff will be forgotten. Even though most writers hate the blank page, it’s actually the most effective tool if you want to truly revamp your scene rather than simply tinker with it.

Then, when you have your brand new version, you can see whether it’s an improvement on the original and incorporate whatever elements you’d overlooked but were actually good (since the human mind, and hence this method, isn’t infallible).

Oh yeah – here’s some news – the Silent Symmetry rewrite is done. I started proofreading yesterday. Out loud (as I discussed in a previous post). It’s kind of fun and really is the only way to make sure the sentences flow and that you haven’t made any mistakes.

And now it’s time to get back to it!

[“Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net”]