Friday, May 22, 2015
It's been a crazy few days. And I mean crazy in a good way (for once). Here's the scoop:
1. I've been named the first-ever Children's Lit columnist for a wonderful website called Eat Sleep Write.
2. Dreaming Robot Press will publish my middle-grade sci-fi story "Leafheart" in the 2016 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. I'm especially pleased about this, both because I was also in the 2015 edition, and because the folks at Dreaming Robot are outspoken advocates of diversity in kidlit.
3. Urban Fantasy Magazine will publish my weird, funny tale called "The Duchess of Fitzrovia," which I wrote a couple of years ago during a trip to London.
4. Strange Musings Press will publish my story "Motherlode" in the anthology Alternate Hilarities 2: Weirder Science. If you're a fan of my Webrid books, you'll enjoy the style of this space mining caper.
Items 2 and 3 are made especially sweet because both were revisions requested by the respective editors. This maintains a stat of which I am exceptionally proud: I have a 100% acceptance rate on stories I've been asked to revise. That's a darn good skill to have in this biz.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
My guest today is Catherine Haustein, author of Natural Attraction, a science-based historical romance. She shares her book's complex background.
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Science, Sexuality, and Classification
by Catherine Haustein
I’ve been a chemist for over thirty years and it’s a stimulating and often amusing career—in other words, good novel material. Like Clementine in Natural Attraction, I’ve frequently imagined that things would have gone more smoothly had I been a man. Setting Natural Attraction in a time of strict gender roles illustrates how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done.
I chose to place Natural Attraction in 1871 because it was a time of great social change. The theory of evolution and the discovery of sperm and egg cells were quietly ushering in ideas of social equality. Science was a train riding the rails of certainty and classification. And in the hometown of my ancestors, Singapore, Michigan, USA, ecological disaster was brewing. These coalesce in Natural Attraction.
Picking the best genre for the story was a challenge. I decided to write it as romance, not sci-fi. My family was involved in a Shakespeare Festival for a while and I appreciated the complexity of the comedies and the required happy ending, fitting with a romance. Science is filled with passion, curiosity, and the unknown just like romance and the two are very compatible. I also thought it would be fun to give a scientist a romantic liaison with a preacher to let them explore what they had in common.
Another challenge was giving Natural Attraction a Victorian feel without being weighed down by flowery language. I had Clementine be from a family of recent immigrants from the Netherlands, as my ancestors were. I had some characters use Victorian idiomatic expressions. I enjoyed incorporating a Victorian melodrama and theater into the manuscript and included patent medicines and the use of poisonous dyes in clothing as important Victorian touches.
One aspect I wrestled with was how to address sexuality and the transformation of Clementine into a man. I work in a male dominated field and had an inkling of the isolation she might feel as a woman who didn’t really fit in anywhere. I had help from men, particularly those at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, who offered suggestions on what it takes to be a man and the privilege and culpability that come with masculinity. This book is a romance pitched towards women but the comic look at gender roles should appeal to everyone who’s ever felt stuck in them.
But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?
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Thursday, April 30, 2015
Creating complementary main characters is a skill which, if mastered, can lead to great fiction. Today Sandra Ulbrich Almazan explains how she developed the women in her new novel, Scattered Seasons.
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From the Fab Four to the Fem Four:
Designing a Quartet of Characters
by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan
It happened nearly twenty years ago, while I was reading Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. I read a description of the Beatles’ four-fold synergy and thought I’d like to write a story about a quartet working together to create literal magic. From that idea, I slowly came up with a group of four women who each had a type of magic associated with a different season. They were originally called Season Lords, but I changed their name to Season Avatars for a gender-neutral term.
While the magic concept was important, even more important was creating a group of characters with different but complementary personalities. There are different tropes for doing this, such as the Four Element Ensemble, the Four Temperament Ensemble, or even using blood types. (Warning: all these links lead to the fun but time-sucking TV Tropes website.) I chose a simpler method, which I’ll refer to as “Brain-Body-Heart-Soul.” This was also inspired by a description of the Beatles. (Fans may disagree on who played what role within the group. I see John as the brain, Paul as the body, George as the soul, and Ringo as the heart.) Each of the four Season Avatars plays one of these roles within the group.
Gwendolyn, the Spring Avatar, is also the leader of the group. Her job is to heal people and coordinate the magic shared by the Avatars so they can perform tasks togethers. As a noblewoman, she’s had the most formal education of the four, so she’s the “brain.”
Jenna is the Summer Avatar and has plant magic. She’s the most sensual of the quartet (so she’s the “body”) and frequently has to remind Gwen to have fun and not focus constantly on her duties.
Ysabel, the Fall Avatar, has animal magic. As the heart of the group, she’s friendly and warm. She’s a diplomat who wants everyone to get along and will mediate when the others argue among themselves. Gwen and Jenna tend to argue a lot, so sometimes they need a go-between.
Finally, Kay, the Winter Avatar with weather magic, is the soul of the group. Although all of the Avatars originally obtained their magic from the God or Goddess associated with their season, she is the most pious and the least likely to question her God’s will.
Of course, it wouldn’t be satisfying to make each character one-dimensional, a person fit only for a certain role and no more. Each of the Avatars comes from a different type of family and a different background. Some of them have talents in non-magical areas, such as music, drawing, or sewing. They all have different personal challenges to overcome as they learn to work together. Each of them will get her own book, starting with Gwen in Scattered Seasons, to tell her part of the overall story.
I look forward to introducing them to you.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015
Always a pleasure to welcome Milo James Fowler to Jester Harley's Manuscript Page. I admire anyone who writes as well and as consistently as he does, who shows such determination to get his work out there, and -- most important -- who isn't afraid to put some funny in his science fiction. I'll let him tell you about his latest project:
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Meet Captain Quasar
by Milo James Fowler
For me, writing fiction is all about the characters. And when I create a protagonist I enjoy, I can't help but write more stories for him.
When I came up with Captain Bartholomew Quasar back in the spring of 2010, I was going for a mash-up between William Shatner's James T. Kirk and Dudley Do-Right from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (but in Quasar's case, things seldom ever go right). He's one of those classic pulp heroes with a heart of gold whose narcissistic tendencies often land him in hot water. The captain hasn't changed a whole lot in the dozen other tales I've written, but his relationship with Hank and the other characters is deepening with every story, as Quasar realizes he needs them in order to continue being as awesome as (he thinks) he is.
I don't write hard science fiction with a whole lot of actual science in it. I focus on the characters, and everything else I just make up—or I rely on osmosis to filter enough jargon into my brain from all the SciFi that I've read. I do my best to aim for universal themes and relatable characters, and I try to shoot for a high entertainment value that transcends any barriers to enjoying these space opera tales.
I hope readers can laugh at Bartholomew Quasar and root for him at the same time. He's ridiculous, but there's something about his fallible nature that most of us can relate to on some level.
My debut novel Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum started serialization on April 20.
Captain Quasar is out of time.
Pursued by vengeful Goobalob toll collectors, savage Arachnoid bounty hunters, and formidable Amazonians, Captain Bartholomew Quasar must do whatever he can to keep the crew of the Effervescent Magnitude out of harm's way. All in a day's work—except time is not on his side.
Torn from the present to relive his past, he vows to keep mistakes from occurring the second time around. But is he doomed to repeat the past? Or can he erase his regrets?
Villains will be vanquished. Lives will be lost. Bonds will be betrayed. Heroes will be heroic.
Join the crew of the Effervescent Magnitude for a hilarious time-travel space adventure the likes of which you've never seen.
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You can learn more about Milo James Fowler on his website.
Read more about the series and subscribe to it here and read the teaser/prologue right here.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
No, I don't believe that computers make us more creative. In fact, I tend to agree with Annie Proulx who, like me, writes all her first drafts by hand. She's made statements to the effect that typing your words the first time through makes you think less carefully because the process becomes "facile."
Yet I cannot deny that technology has a huge impact on the act of writing for publication. The frustrating thing, though, is that we must wade through an ocean of tech and decide what really matters. It's something I think about a lot, especially when I get frustrated by yet another program or machine I have to learn about. Today I offer a few ways in which embracing change and actively learning new skills has benefitted my writing career:
- Income opportunities. I have picked up two regular freelance jobs (one as a website fact-checker and one as a social media manager) from writing colleagues because of tech skills I've acquired. This, in turn, helps me remain a freelancer rather than going back to the traditional working world.
- Promo opportunities. If you can run a blog, keep a website updated, and post regularly to social media, you certainly have a leg up the steep slope of Mount Marketing. These days, I'm amazed when writers don't have an active, organized Web presence. Not that I don't still have a ton to learn!
- Ease of editing. For some, it's novel-writing software like Scrivener that makes the difference, but even getting to know the ins and outs of Microsoft Word can change the editing and revising stages for a writer. And now there's Word for iPad, and a dedicate cloud service called OneDrive that gives you editorial access to all your documents on all your devices. Yay!
- Ease of submitting. Duotrope. Submission Grinder. Submittable. Query Tracker. Google Drive spreadsheets. There are many ways now to keep really detailed, sophisticated records of what we've submitted, to whom, and when. And often, we can find out how long to expect responses to take (based on real user data, not just what the magazine editor says). I always have at least twenty pieces out looking for homes, so programs like these truly help me stay sane.
Your turn: How does the digital world color your writing life?
Thursday, March 19, 2015
My guest today is Lynn Wolf, an award-winning poet and a published editor and author. She has also written, produced, and acted for the independent filmmaking community. But, of all her talents, I'm most intrigued by Lynn's ghostwriting. She kindly agreed to share some insight into that field.
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The Writer Behind the Curtain
by Lynn Ellen Wolf
Hello, I'm Lynn Wolf, and I'm the voice behind the curtain. I'm a professional ghostwriter, and I'm able to fulfill my love of writing by helping writers fulfill their love of storytelling. While some people consider it 'cheating' to have someone else write their book, that's not what ghostwriting is about. At least, that's not what professional ghostwriting is. What we do is help people who have great stories to tell, but might not have all the writing tools to tell it. Quite a few times I've also been approached by a storyteller whose native language is not English, and they just need someone to write their story in English. Either way, it's a win-win situation for both of us.
I wasn't always a ghostwriter; I've done my fair share of writing in my own name, in various pen names, and have gone through the same submission and rejection process as every true aspiring writer. I've studied, practiced, and I continue to refine my craft with workshops and daily writing exercises. When I started editing for other writers, I found that I loved coaching, teaching, and showing other writers how to develop their own writing, and from time to time, a few people asked me to write for them. They had a story, but they didn't have the confidence or the time to study the craft. Well, I had the time and the craft, so my services evolved to include ghostwriting.
The best gig for me is when I'm approached by an author who knows their characters, knows their story, and has a good idea of where it begins and where it ends. My job, then, is to flesh out these characters and tell that story in such a way as to please the readers. So far, my collaborations have been both pleasant and successful. It's not important to me that my name be on the cover; I'm just proud to do the best I can and to see a smile on the face of the storyteller who created the world inside.
Being a ghostwriter isn't for everyone; it's difficult sometimes to quench the ego, or to write a story as someone else sees it when I see it differently. I must maintain an open mind at all times and remember that the story isn't mine; I'm just painting by numbers – the picture my client drew needs color, and I wield the brush.
One of the best payoffs for me, though, is that I am deeply inspired by the people I work for. I find myself driven to write more for myself and finish some of those dusty WIPs I set aside long ago. I'm happier about writing and don't see it as a job so much as I appreciate it as a gift.
When I first started studying the craft of writing, I couldn't have predicted that I'd end up as a writing coach and ghostwriter – and loving it –but that's exactly where I am. I love my clients, love their stories, and I'm grateful that they trust me with the brilliant expressions of their imaginations.
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Want to hire Lynn Wolf? Inquiries may be sent via email to lew[at]lynnellenwolf[dot]com.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Today's guest author was determined to see her fictional world through her character's eyes, or, more accurately, through her character's other four senses. Elizabeth Watasin's Medusa features the romantic adventures of a blind woman in an alternative Victorian London. Intrigued? Read on!
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I would like to thank Anne for the opportunity to talk about my latest release, Medusa:
I also like my characters empowered, in that Elvie should not feel deficit as a blind person (she has no longing to be sighted), desires to be accepted by sighted people (she certainly has an opinion on the sighted's lack of understanding of her world), and doesn't need to be the “facilitator”, shall we say, of a sighted person's personal heroic journey. Elvie gets to be the adventuresome heroine, which, not too much to my surprise, emulates a real life sightless adventurer I was happy to discover during my research: James Holman (1786-1857), who set out to travel the world. With only enough money to travel “native”, and often alone, Holman managed to journey through (per the title of his book), Africa, Asia, Australasia, and America.
Now I don't have Elvie travel beyond London, but just experiencing messy, noisy, smelly, and sometimes astounding Victorian London itself, beyond the doors of the Institute of the Blind (where she resides with her friend and stick for hire, Ellie Hench), is adventuresome enough. To boat for the first time down the Thames, hear Westminster Clock chime, or enjoy the air and sunlight in bucolic Brompton via electric horseless carriage can be singular experiences to a blind person's senses.
I didn't give Elvie super abilities, but the virtues and fallacies of haptic perception in a sighted world. At least, I tried my best to do so, and it was a rewarding experience being in her world. Frankly, I was reluctant to leave it once I typed “the end”. As a reader, you will join her in adventures as one blind, fall in love as one blind, and thus experience more about our world than we sighted can know. I hope you enjoy MEDUSA: A Dark Victorian Penny Dread.
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Learn more about Elizabeth Watasin on her website.