Not Fine At All

Today I have a guest blogger! The talented Liz Powell shares a lighthearted take on her writing process. Liz is the author of Hunted and Otherworld. When she’s not working on deliciously angsty romance and fantasy novels, you can find her on Twitter or Goodreads.

 

Liz: My writing process goes more or less like this…

1) Am in the middle of boring non-writing task, e.g. washing, squashed under someone’s armpit on the Tube, eyes glazed over staring at Excel at work, when lightning bolt hits brain. An Idea has arrived. And now I MUST WRITE THIS NOVEL IMMEDIATELY, THAT’S IMMEDIATELY, ABANDON EVERYTHING AND LET’S GO!

2) Two thousand words in. Wow. Fingers raw from typing, maniacal grin plastered to face. It’s 2am but that’s fine. This is GREAT. Imagining bookstores lined with my novel, signing copies for adoring fans. Being interviewed at premiere of film adaptation. Phone ringing off the hook. What’s that, Harry Styles? You’re begging for the lead role?

3) Ten thousand words in. Wireframe plot of nonsensical lines of dialogue and thoughts beginning to crumble. Self doubt sets in. Perhaps…this novel is not the one… No, no. Don’t be weak. Persevere. You’ve got Harry Styles’ future acting career on the line here!

4) Twenty thousand words. Am by now a mess of rewriting and anxiety. Imagining crawling to the end of this novel only for it to be submitted to agents and laughed at as the most droolingly pathetic excuse for novel-writing they have seen in their sophisticated lifetimes. Have sweaty nightmares of rejections with simply the words HA HA! scrawled in red pen, a la the Nelson Muntz Literary Agency. Spend hours rewriting one paragraph. It’s 2am, but everything is Not Fine. Not Fine at all.

5) Draw diagrams of plot movements to calm brain. Realise nothing actually makes sense. How does one write bad guys? Would anyone ever, truly, be so maniacal? Research serial killers and find that, disappointingly, many real bad guys are just pathetic, not even in a Love-to-Hate them way.

6) As writing exercise, consider re-writing the Harry Potter novels from Voldemort’s point of view. That will teach me how to make a sympathetic villain!

7) Wait. Where can I find an accurate source about Voldemort’s family tree?

8) Three hours into a wikipedia spiral about silk moths, when disaster strikes. No, it’s not a silk moth, it’s a silk worm! Three sequel’s worth of content shelved. Panic well and truly setting in. Twitching in sleep. The words HA HA! swirl around my brain. Voldemort re-write not even a worthy distraction. Everything is exceedingly Not At All Fine.

9) Lay awake at night and suddenly, BINGO, lightning hits again. We can make this work, brain! Just…get rid of those nasty, fetid thirty thousand words you’ve already done. Look. Nice fresh clean page. This time…this time it will be The One…

Originally posted on the SFFChronicles.com forum and reblogged with Liz’s kind permission.

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Writing Boys, Part 2

*contains mild spoilers for Heart Blade and Night Blade*

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Some of my boys: Alex, Ash, and Ben, art by Corinna Marie

There are a LOT of articles and blog posts floating around out there at the moment about how to write great female characters. This is clearly an important discussion: YA fiction has a lot of amazing ladies, but otherwise female representation in science fiction and fantasy is…not always great.

The first two books in my urban fantasy Blade Hunt Chronicles series, Heart Blade and Night Blade, have a lot of strong female characters. I have warriors, and leaders, and healers, and yes, even villains. I have women who rule with their heart, women who use their brains, and women who depend on sheer grit and determination. They have different sexualities, different backgrounds, and a variety of motivations. I was pretty happy with my ladies as I wrote them, and I like the way they turned out at the end of the process.

That left the male characters. I was determined to do a good job on my boys, and try and give them the same nuances I gave my ladies. This meant taking them to dark places sometimes, or throwing them into the emotional deep end.

One of my main characters, Ash, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. No wonder, poor lad: his mother was killed in front of him when he was a young teen, and that led him to question the path his father set out for him. By Book 2, he’s having recurring nightmares, and carrying a lot of anger to go with that self-doubt. With Ash, I wanted to show readers that our book heroes are also allowed to be insecure about their place in the world, to crumble and break down at times, and just be a little fragile despite broad shoulders and a sword in their hands.

His father, Deacon, is dealing with the distance he allowed to grow between him and his son, and the feeling that he’s let his child down by not being there for him. He’s doing his best to bridge the gap, but this means that Deacon has been forced to rethink his own path in life and make friends in unlikely places. Deacon (and Ash) are descendants of angels, brought up as warriors and protectors. So Deacon’s unlikely friendship with half-demon Camille is emblematic of the sort of changes Deacon goes through.

Alex is probably one of my least complex male characters so far, even though he’s an almost-1000-year-old vampire. Alex is a leader with a cause, a former knight of the Crusades who took a vow never to drink human blood and is currently a Catholic monk, although he certainly wasn’t always celibate. I have plans for Alex for Book 3, though, and hope to dive into some of his backstory and his own internal struggles. No one lives 1000 years without a heck of a lot of baggage!

Ben is my new guy, who only joined my cast of characters in Book 2. Ben is one of my favorites; he’s a witch and an outcast, with a forbidden romance to top that off. He’s been banned from seeing his love — a witch from a powerful coven — in part because his boyfriend Gabriel is expected, as heir to his line, to carry on his family’s blood legacy by marrying a woman and having children. But also because Ben was punished for his parents’ crimes and is persona non grata in witch society, even though he was innocent and barely thirteen at the time. Ben is a mess of insecurity and low self-esteem, despite his amazing magical powers, but his heart is in the right place: he’ll always do the right thing no matter how hard it is.

I have a favorite bad guy, too. Half-demon Jude Raven is a bit of a bastard, really, but I love writing him. His bottom line is ‘how will this benefit me’, and he’s a sneaky, devious, cold-hearted genius. But what I like about him is exactly his utter selfishness. He can do good things, but only if they’re more useful than the bad things. He’ll analyze a situation and find the best way out of it — for himself. He’s got big choices to make in Book 3 and Book 4, and I can’t wait to see how I’m going to make him handle them while still remaining Jude.

There are plenty of good male characters around in fiction; my favorites are the well-layered ones who give us something to think about. If you’d like to read my thoughts on some of my favorite YA boys, check out my original Writing Boys post. And here’s the counterpart, Writing Girls.

Boskone 55 Schedule

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I’m really excited to have been invited to Boskone 55 as a program participant. This will be my fourth year at “New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention”, and my second taking part in panels. Boskone runs from February 16th to 18th in Boston, MA, so if you’re in the area, stop by. Not only is this a really friendly con, but it has great guests, panel themes, author readings and kaffeeklatsch opportunities. This year, there’s even a Regency Dance! Check out the Boskone 55 website for the full event schedule.

Here’s my own schedule:

Stories Before the Apocalypse

16 Feb 2018, Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Marina 4

We’re familiar with post-apocalyptic futures, from Max’s desert hellscape to Katniss’s dystopic districts. But what about right before the cataclysm — as doom and destruction loom large? How do people live? How do relationships change as we shift into survival mode? Let’s share our few existing “must-read” favorites, and discuss stories we’d like to see.

James Patrick Kelly (M), Juliana Spink Mills,  Julie C. Day, Alan Gordon, John Chu

 

Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!

16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs

Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?

Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills

 

It’s Not Always About Sex

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Harbor III

Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?

Darlene Marshall (M), Tamora Pierce, Juliana Spink Mills, E.J. Stevens, Steven Popkes

 

Easy as Pie

As I’m sure happens with all authors, I often get asked questions about my writing process. How long did it take you to write your book? How much editing work do you do? Who helps you revise? I thought I’d put together a rough recipe of how Heart Blade and Night Blade (Out soon in November! Shameless plug!) were baked, from pantry to table. Remember, this is how things worked out for me. Every author has their own way of doing things, and their own timelines, and so does each publisher. If you’re a writer, you need to figure out what works for you.

How to bake a novel (Juliana style):

1– First draft. Slow in the beginning, as I play around with ideas during a chapter or two, and then pause for worldbuilding, character development, and plot outlining. Picks up speed after a few chapters. Usually hits a lull at around the midway point, where I pull my hair out for a bit and despair of my writing skills. This ‘wall’ often means I went wrong somewhere, so when the way forward becomes suddenly murky, I find it helps to take a couple of weeks off to do nothing but read other people’s work and binge watch Netflix, while keeping things ‘on the backburner’ until I figure out where I messed up.

The first draft phase would probably take around 2 months condensed, but in reality it’s longer then that because writing gets paused for things like school holidays, day job stuff, other commitments, etc. Much as I love my made up worlds, real life is an actual thing!

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Working on the first draft of Night Blade

2 – Revision notes. While writing the first draft, I’m sending out individual chapters to my critique group and noting feedback. I’m also keeping a list of things I’ve realized will need changing or adding after the first draft is done. I don’t revise much at the initial stage of writing, so I end up with a huge pile of notes in my nearly illegible handwriting. Up to this moment, no one has seen the entire thing yet – there would be no point as the first draft is in part a brainstorming activity in itself, and I make a ton of changes afterward.

3 – First major revision/rewrite. I may have done smaller changes to the first draft along the way, saving each version under a new file name each time. But this is when I do a full read-through and revision. First I organize both my personal notes and the comments from my critique partners. Then I rework the entire thing. Now it’s ready to be seen…

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Organizing Heart Blade edit notes

4 – Beta readers. I send my manuscript to a few writing buddies who are kind enough to beta read the whole thing for me. They send me their feedback, which I consider and work into my manuscript. I dive into another round of edits, fixing things my beta readers have pointed out. Last read through, fixing minor details.

5 – Deliver manuscript. It’s time to hand my manuscript in. The novel is pretty much as tight as I can get it without further eyes on it. Now I wait for feedback from my publisher. Bite nails.

6 – Final revision. By now, I’ve received the official editorial notes. Anytime I get major feedback, I always read through it all and then give things a few days to sink in, and to come up with solutions to problems. Criticism is hard, but very, very necessary. No one wants to rip your work apart; they want to help take out the wobbly bits and build it stronger so the building soars. (And now I seem to have strayed from baking analogies to architecture. Oops.) Heart Blade, my first Blade Hunt novel, needed a full rewrite. My editor didn’t ask me for this, just for revisions, but I felt the changes I wanted to make went deeper than simple edits could handle. There was a lot of character building I wanted to work on. So it was easier to rewrite the entire thing from scratch, using the previous version as a reference, which I did over six manic weeks of non-stop work. With Night Blade, though I did rewrite a few sections entirely and added a chapter or two (and deleted another), I was on firmer ground, having all of the work I’d done on the precious book to guide me. This stage might include a few back-and-forths; Heart Blade went through three rounds with my editor before it was declared fit for consumption.

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Checking notes during final Night Blade edits

7 – Copyedits. Now the whole thing goes to the copyeditor, that saintly person who will make sure I haven’t done ridiculous things with commas, or named my Space Council different things on different pages. (Spoiler alert: there are no actual Space Councils in the Blade Hunt Chronicles. Or actual space. I mean, space is there, I haven’t erased it or anything.) After the copyeditor has had their say, the manuscript comes back to me so I can go over all the suggested changes and approve them. I thought this was going to be boring, but it was rather fun. And eye-opening! Once copyedits are approved, the almost-baked-book goes to my proofreader, who acts as a final set of (very sharp) eyes on the whole thing. Again, the manuscript returns to me for approval of changes.

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Going through Heart Blade copyedits

8 – Dish and serve. It’s ready! There’s nothing else for me to do, in production terms. Now it’s all up to my publisher, and next time I set eyes on my story it’ll be a shiny new ARC, and then an actual-factual book, fresh from the oven and piping hot. It’s time to relax, and enjoy. Easy as pie. A really, REALLY long-baked and complicated pie…

(I don’t actually have a book-pie image. So please enjoy a cup of tea and some sweet treats instead.)

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Night Blade, book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles, will be out on November 7th. Cover reveal coming soon!

Buy book 1, Heart Blade, here.

By the Sword: a writer’s guide

After I’d written my first couple of drafts of Heart Blade, the first book in my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, I thought it would be cool to maybe watch some sword action in person. Luckily for me, I found out there’s a school not far from home that teaches Historical European Martial Arts, with emphasis on longsword. I went for a one-off lesson, and was quickly smitten.

My instructor at Laurel City Historical Fencing, Christopher Valli, has been an awesome source of inspiration and research for Blade Hunt sword scenes, as well as being kind enough to revise all of those scenes when I got to the editing stage of Heart Blade and Night Blade (out in November – shameless promo moment!).

My mistakes in that early draft of Heart Blade got me thinking about all those sword fights in fiction, many of which are probably wildly incorrect and highly cringe-worthy to experts. I tossed a few questions to Chris, and here are his answers…

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Juliana: What is the most common #swordfail in fiction?

Chris: The biggest pet peeve of mine is the idea that European swords, particularly two-handed swords like the bastard sword or longsword, are heavy and unwieldy. As you’ve seen, Juliana, the average longsword is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds and well balanced. Many authors and movie fight choreographers think of European swords as big heavy blunt objects, not the graceful weapons they are.

Juliana: Name a favorite book or movie where the sword techniques are accurate…

Chris: Well I may be a little biased as I was consulted, but I love the fight scenes in Heart Blade. I loved reading about a character practicing longsword using Joachim Meyer’s cutting square exercise; its one of our standard warm-up exercises at Laurel City Historical Fencing, and one I practice on my own regularly.

My favorite movie fight scene has to be the dueling sequence in The Princess Bride. I credit that movie as being a big influence on me, from playing with sword-shaped sticks as a kid, to starting to study Chinese swords and weapons through my teen years, to getting into HEMA in college.

Juliana: Which real life sword master do you find inspirational?

Chris: My favorite period sword master is Paulus Kal. Master Kal was a member of the Gesellschaft Liechtenauer, a group of sword masters in the German tradition. During the 15th century, Kal served Duke Ludwig IX of Bavaria as a sword and wrestling master, and also led a contingent of cannoneers in defense on a siege of the castle. He later went on to serve Archduke Sigismund of Austria (who by the way had one of the finest examples of Gothic armor!).

Over his career as a sword master, Paulus Kal left behind several manuscripts on the Liechtenauer tradition. His manuscripts covered the use of the longsword in and out of armor, sword and buckler (a small shield), large dueling shields, fighting on horseback, a duel between a man and woman, wrestling, and dagger. Copies of his manuscripts are still around today and I regularly reference them for our HEMA class.

Juliana: Please share three hot tips for writers planning on including swords in their work.

Chris: 1 – Research. Decide what kind of time period you’re looking at writing about, and what types of weapons would be used, then reach out to martial arts schools, fencing groups, reenactment groups to learn more about how the real sword would have handled. Maybe even try it out yourself! Take a class, try cutting some water bottles or tatami!
2 – Visualize the fight, make friends or family stand in and really imagine how a scene would play out.
3 – Remember, katanas aren’t magical items that can cut through anything!

Juliana: If you could own any fictional sword, which would you choose?

Chris: Amoracchius, one of the Swords of the Cross from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. In the lore of the Dresden universe, three swords were forged from the nails from the Cross and have been used over the centuries to defend against the forces of darkness. Amoracchius is the sword wielded by Michael Carpenter and is designed liked a medieval two-hander. The fact it can slay demons and vampires just makes it cooler!

Laurel City Historical Fencing is located in Winsted, CT, USA. You can find more information about Chris and Historical European Martial Arts at www.laurelcitysword.com, and watch demonstration videos on the school’s YouTube channel.

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Taboo Or Not To Taboo

A guest post by Jo Zebedee, author of Abendau’s Heir, Sunset Over Abendau, Abendau’s Legacy, Inish Carraig, and the brand new dark fantasy release, Waters and the Wild.

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When I started my first book – which eventually became Abendau’s Heir – I had nothing more in mind than writing something that had been floating around my head for a number of decades. What I intended was to confront the concept of the ‘chosen’ one and challenge it. Which meant the poor main character had to go through an ordeal. That ordeal turned out to be a lengthy torture regime, including a rape.

Now, in genre novels rape is the great taboo. It is often used for weak plot reasons. It brings about accusations of gratuitousness quicker than practically any other trope. And, to add to the fun, torture isn’t that far behind it… And all in a debut novel….

I’ve often asked myself if I would have the guts to write something just as hard hitting as Abendau again. If I’d have known then what I know now (that many people would find the book too dark, that it might define me as the dark little bunny in the writing group), would I do it again?

On the face of it, Waters and the Wild, my latest book, is a million miles from Abendau. There is no torture. There is no rape. The darkness within it is subtler and less confrontational to the reader. But there are still themes within it which will challenge a reader and which were not the easiest to write about.

Firstly, the book has a main character dealing with the day-to-day reality of coping with a mental illness. Whether she is mentally ill or whether fairies really do speak to her is largely irrelevant – because, whichever it is, it causes compulsions in her, bring anxiety and fear, causes her confusion and disassociation. That Amy has had these thoughts, or has heard these voices, since she was a child, is redolent of our modern era – where teenage mental health problems are growing and our services (where I am, at least) are stretched and support is often patchy.

But the thing that Waters and the Wild does (which has been picked up in even the earliest reviews) is question what that does to a wider family. The repercussions of mental health difficulties – not just Amy’s – reverberate through the book. No one is unscathed by it – because we are not islands and when someone we love struggles, we can’t just close ourselves off from it.

Up to this point, I’m on safe ground, I feel. I researched. I got feedback from people who were more knowledgeable than me and acted on it. I researched some more. I drew on whatever personal knowledge I have, or have been privileged enough for people to share. As with Abendau, I’m confident the themes that have arisen have been dealt with carefully, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

That’s before the book is released, however. Once it goes out as a published book, I no longer own that book.

With Abendau, I hoped I’d be recognised for writing a thoughtful trilogy about a character’s journey. Mostly, though, I’m known as the lady who writes great torture. Those 3000 or so words in a sea of 250,000 are what define the trilogy. With Inish Carraig, my Belfast-based alien invasion novel, I’ve had to come to terms with people reacting to a reflected Belfast in the book. It’s not why I wrote it, but that’s okay. It’s what resonates with so many readers.

What, then, for Waters and the Wild? I hope the dark mythology will stand out but, looking at early feedback, the character interactions in all their quirked and strained ways, are coming to the fore. The mental illness themes, too, are resonating. We’ll see where they all settle down and what the book’s identity becomes.

What I do know is that, for me, it’s only by writing challenging themes that a multi faceted book emerges. Which I suppose answers my question. Would I tackle hard themes again, knowing they might cause discomfort, and put some readers off?

Yes. Yes I would. Because I should be honest to the story, the characters and their theme. And I hope readers will find that I have been.

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You can buy Waters and the Wild here.

Add Waters and the Wild on Goodreads.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jozebwrites, and check out her wonderful blog posts on writing and publishing at her website, www.jozebedee.com

Summer 2017 Updates

Summer is here, bringing all the joys and challenges of kids on school vacation. It’s a lot harder to get writing-related things done when my not-so-little ones are around, but by mixing up the carrots (“we can go to the beach tomorrow if you let me work today”) and the sticks (“HALP! Leave me alone or I swear I’ll block your YouTube access”), I’m slowly getting to the end of my Night Blade revisions.

By next week, I’ll be ready to send my fight scenes to my sword instructor, Christopher Valli from Laurel City Sword. Chris revised all my sword and fight scenes for Heart Blade, and I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the ones I’ve written for Night Blade. My climbing scenes also need a stern revision, since my only rock climbing experience was years ago, in my teens. I’m counting on my brother Simon, an enthusiastic climber, to look those over for me. The internet is a great resource for many things, but if you have access to someone who can revise sections that require a certain level of expertise, I thoroughly recommend it.

After incorporating any new suggestions from my experts, the next step will be a final reread of all the rewrites and edits I’ve made to Night Blade, before it goes back to my publisher for a last look. Once we’re all happy, the book will be ready for the copyeditor to get her teeth into.

Very soon, I’ll be able to share the gorgeous cover art for Night Blade. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to work with not just one, but two extremely talented cover artists. Merilliza Chan was in charge of the beautiful cover for Heart Blade. For Night Blade, my publisher changed direction slightly, and handed the cover over to Tom Edwards, who does some truly amazing SF/F book cover work. The result is very different from Heart Blade, but just as fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and see what you all think.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 7.39.33 PM  A teeny tiny teaser… Cover reveal coming soon!

And speaking of art, Corinna Marie, who did the adorable character art for Heart Blade, is working on a brand new set of character pictures for Night Blade. There are a couple of familiar names among them, and a couple of new names, too – I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them as much as I enjoyed writing them! And yes, I’ll definitely be doing some character art postcard giveaways closer to launch date.

Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews – in July, my guest is fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, talking about horses in fiction.

Happy summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Here’s to beachside reading, lazy days in the shade, and a chance to recharge those batteries.

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