A Quick Note

The Leeth Dossier is a sci-fi/fantasy series about an unusual girl, set in our world about 50 years from now: and 25 years after magic unexpectedly returns. It opens with the book Wild Thing (2015), and continues with Harsh Lessons (2016), Shadow Hunt (2017); then (Violent Causes) (2018?), Lost Girl (2018/19?)....
Find Wild Thing with Google

Friday, 1 September 2017

Author view: Wild Thing (from the inside)

(This is a companion article to my Author review: Wild Thing (from the outside))

By a view from the inside, I mean, very much focusing on why I wrote what I did — the stuff behind what's on the page.

Origins

Certainly the story grew organically.  The seed, as I've written before, was a fictional tragedy, the death of a much-loved character.  To try to ‘get over' that loss, I wanted a replacement who was at least as engaging and fascinating to me.  This was in our long-running Shadowrun fantasy role-playing campaign, which had by then been running for a couple of years.  One of the others (Hi, Dean!) suggested trying the martial artist character archetype.  And I don't know where the idea of the character being an assassin came from, but I think it was accompanied right from the outset with the certainty that the character should be lovable.  Yeah, a lovable assassin.  Even I could see that that would be a challenge, but a challenge was what I craved.  And from the outset, my subconscious was telling me a female assassin would have more scope for that.

Sadly, I think my subconscious was spot on.  Factored into the idea, I'm sure, was an awareness that the average woman is physically weaker than the average man; that women were under-represented in positions of authority (even today; even more so back then, around 1991).  And her age?  Well, there's a similar intrinsic power disadvantage suffered by the young, due simply to their lack of world experience.  It's why we hold the natural and correct assumption that adults will care for and nurture children.  Sadly, this isn't always how things work out in practice.

So even at this early stage, Leeth was starting to coalesce from the shadows, struggling towards her own birth.

Lovability?

If a character is to be likeable, we need to have sympathy for him or her.  I also admit I wanted the challenge of creating a killer who people would care for and relate to.  I knew it would be a hard task, but why not set the bar high?  There was certainly an element of hubris in this, I confess.  But I'm very glad I had the confidence to try.

The next steps had some purely rational elements: the central obstacle to an assassin winning our hearts, is just how wrong that ‘profession' is.  That's a massive negative to overcome.  To gain sympathy, there needed to be something pretty significant to weigh the scale more heavily in the other direction.  I think the first piece of the puzzle might have been the idea of innocence: that she would not know that what she was doing was wrong.

Wait, what?  Not know that killing people is wrong?  Are you kidding me?

No.  That seemed central, to me: that she would embody most of the virtues we want in our heroes, or even just in our friends.  She would be courageous, and loyal.  Happy, and positive.  Wanting to do good, and help people.

Filling in the gaps

From that point, I think Leeth almost created herself.  Who would an assassin be valuable to?  Well, criminal organisations, or governments.  Choosing a government clearly gives lots of scope for moral and ethical issues to be raised.  (Though even a government, I hope, would be unwilling to deliberately groom a child as a killer.)

But a magical researcher, who was unfeeling, who wanted a subject for some research he or she felt was of enormous importance, I could imagine him focusing so utterly on his experimental goals he entirely disregarded the moral and ethical dimension of raising a child.  If he considered himself to be carrying out an experiment rather than raising a child, then the plausibility of the misstep was high.  It also had enormous potential for high stakes: from horrible consequences to massive personal growth.

If our assassin's suffering exceeded that of her victims, maybe she could earn our sympathy, I thought?  And what a Hero's Journey she would have ahead of her: her ignorance could not last forever.

Yeah, even at this stage, it was clear the character would have depth, and might be someone original and powerful.

So Leeth came first, and Harmon moments later.  She would obviously have to be raised more or less in isolation, under Harmon's ‘care'; that led to the invention of the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction.  Just the name almost sketches out the Institution.  Then we needed a clandestine government agency with a use for an assassin, especially one who had no moral objection to killking, yet who wasn't a psychopath.  ‘Eagle' came next.  Then Mother and Father: the codenames a deliberate highlighting of just how far from reality their roles really would be.  The rest of the Department filled in needed roles while keeping the numbers as small as possible, for logical secrecy and budget reasons.

The final piece

The final piece was: what question would be so big, so valuable to answer, that it would plausibly justify even an emotionally stunted person from realising the wrongness of his own actions?  How about, what made Magic develop in a person — where Magic came from, why it returned?  I had read Julian May's The Many Colored Land series, where the metapsychic blossoming was often a response to impossible stress.  This idea struck me as deeply true: that often we don't know our capabilities until we're pushed to our limits, like an animal is most dangerous when pushed into a corner, or a mother lifting a car off their child.  Hence the idea of stress being ‘the secret ingredient' of Unfolding.

And from there, I suppose the next piece was the idea that Leeth would be too stubborn; too grounded in herself to really question herself.  Not a self-reflective type.  A positive, energetic, irrepressible optimist. Who would not give in.  I deliberately made the two perfectly mismatched, each triggering the other into escalating shows of force and resistance.  The unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

Building the pressure until something exploded.

From there, it didn't seem a big step for Harmon to decide to try to create a new Archetype: the powerful female, equal to the male (yeah, Harmon doesn't think highly of women.  But then, he doesn't think highly of most people).  A Huntress.  And — it would not occur to him — a killer.  Harmon is a rationalist who disdains emotion, and considers it a weakness.  He's interested only in his experiment, not in raising a child as a well-rounded person.  Such a person could easily overlook the need to give a child any ethical instruction.  And if we place the child in an environment with no one to play with, precious few humans to interact with… and with a shadowy agency working in the background to let the situation develop… then all the ingredients are in place.

The sexual abuse

But why the sexual abuse?  Mainly, because it was about the worst thing I could imagine. It also seemed to grow naturally out of the story.  So we have a powerful character, a highly skilled martial artist able to kill with a single swipe of invisible ‘claws' — who can be rendered powerless by a simple whispered phrase.  Unable to tell anyone of it.

Not to mention, the abuse would leave scars.  Leeth is a person with serious character flaws.

Writing the book, it grew from the intimacy of their relationship: the two locked in their own little world, seeing only the other, a battle for control or independence, each egging the other on.  Leeth, unconsciously so as she matured; but set up, in that, by Harmon's own unconscious desires and self-deception.  Harmon is confident that he is rational and in control, oblivious to and in denial of his own human urges.

Naturally, as Leeth matures, she would gain strength and develop resistance She would start seeing through his deceptions, to the point where he loses control and sees his life's work about to turn to nothing — for him, an outcome so terrible that it leads to his betrayal of both her and himself.

The relationship between Leeth and Harmon is the keystone of the story.  Some reviewers are strongly of the opinion that the relationship is too extreme, that Harmon's actions are completely unconscionable, that a painful death is the only possible outcome for him.  That for Harmon, redemption is impossible.  Some feel little sympathy for Leeth, either: how can murder be justified?  What sort of monster is the author?

But these things do happen in real life.  Adults abuse children, horribly.  Some lock them in basements. Institutions which we expected to nurture and protect children instead harboured paedophiles who did things we wish we didn't have to think about. Some men still consider women inferior, unequal.  Women are under-represented as CEOs, as politicians and judges and leaders of countries.

What Leeth means to me

What I wanted to show was that spirit could be enough to overcome all that.  That Leeth would cope with everything Harmon would throw at her, and it would indeed make her stronger.  Leeth has one advantage, I suppose, at least when it comes to Harmon: he's not trying to destroy her.  He really is trying to make her stronger, and better.  He doesn't know what Leeth will become, and is even happy when she surprises him.

I suppose for me, Leeth shows that if you never give up, the people trying to stop you can't ‘win'.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Author review: Wild Thing (from the outside)

(This is a companion article to my Author view: Wild Thing (from the inside))

Apologies for the long gap in writing. I took a break, and also got sick with a very annoying coughing thing for 6-7 weeks, then just goofed off for a while, allowing myself a rest.

By a review from the outside, I mean, reviewing my book as if it was written by someone else, relying only on what’s on the page.   I’m doubtful it’s possible for an author to do this, but Lathalia, of the Marrickville Writers Corner suggested I do it (an idea seconded by CateM), to clearly state what the book’s about, since it treads some very dark ground, driven by a central relationship that turns badly abusive. But that bald statement actually gives a false impression of the book, hence Lathalia's suggestion...

I do try hard to be be honest and objective when I look at my own work, so maybe I have a slim chance of pulling it off.  In any case, I thought it sounded like a good idea, a challenge, and an interesting psychological exercise, to consciously try to look at my own book from the outside.

I’ll just mention an odd coincidence, too: Kesha’s song “Praying” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-Dur3uXXCQ) is currently in the charts, and the lyrics could have been written specifically for Leeth, about Harmon.   I think it's sadly clear that male abuse of women is still an issue to this day.  The overarching theme of the Leeth Dossier, though, is an exploration of the power and importance of emotions. Anyway…

First impression

On the surface at least the book seems of good quality: an attractive cover, and the blurb provides a good idea of the setting, without being too “explainy”.  The text inside is laid out following normal conventions, and with a very readable font. The novel seems a good length, though perhaps too long?  Divided into four Parts, it starts with a Prologue, which is also normally a warning sign.  But the opening sentence is fine, and the first page reads smoothly, sketching a picture that’s an intriguing mix of low and high tech.   We quickly learn a very young child is to be exiled from this odd commune or tribe because of a prophetic vision in which she will kill; more than once.  And, because something terrible will happen if the parents go with her, she’ll be sent away on her own.

We only see “Sara” briefly in this scene, right at the end, but her innocence comes across well. It’s quite moving. For people who are very spoiler-sensitive, I’ll next move straight to…

Overall assessment

By the end of the book, the overall impression I feel is that Leeth, although deeply flawed and badly abused, is more than equal to the daunting challenges facing her.  She demonstrates that with enough spirit, you can withstand and find your way past (or straight through!) any challenge.  She seems to me a unique character, too, mixing unworldly innocence and deadly strength.  She does and says things that made me laugh out loud – and cry, too.  She has a long journey ahead of her though, starting as she does from a belief that it's fine (even good) to kill people, and working as a government assassin while still tangled up with her ‘Uncle’.

But Leeth never gives in, demonstrating an almost archetypal ability to escape control.   Leeth is irrepressible. The book is aptly titled.

Detailed impressions and vague synopsis

Part I opens with the slightly creepy Dr Harmon acquiring the eight-year-old Sara for adoption, but really, to be the experimental subject for his research, at the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction.  We learn snippets of world history and watch Sara over several years, raised pretty much at Harmon’s sole whim.  He wants to force magic to develop in Sara, and believes stress is a key element in this happening.  Sara comes across as happy, energetic, and trusting.  She makes friends with Faith, a cyborg ‘wardog’ that helps guard the Institute, and Faith’s owner, Mr Shanahan.  She also manages to penetrate the security to visit ‘Godsson’, a mad inmate who is perhaps the most powerful mage on the planet.  Her intervention, aged 9, to help Godsson was both touching and dramatic.

Part II: Years pass, Harmon continues his manipulations, and it seems the imaginary creatures Sara ‘hunts’ in the grounds may be real, and outside anyone’s expectations.  The Godsson situation – his annual ‘attacks’ – also continue, slowly worsening, though only Sara believes them to be real.  While across the country, something terrible changes a murderer into something even more chilling.  Sara’s stubborn determination to ‘help’ during Godsson’s annual attacks become a serious source of tension.

Part III: Sara is now seventeen, and beginning to break free of her Uncle’s influence. Determined to overcome her growing resistance, refusing to allow his experiment to fail, Harmon resorts to drugs.  At this point, things get very dark indeed.   Harmon’s abuse of his position worsens, going deeply into the category of criminal behaviour.  He gets his wish: Sara Unfolds, though not as he had expected, when he realises he’s never told her it’s wrong to kill.  On an outing soon after, Sara kills, unaware the warped killer, magically drawn to her, is at her heels.  Sara – now rechristened ‘Leeth’ – escapes arrest only when a DNA match fails, due to behind-the-scenes plotting by some shadowy figures.

In Part IV, the situation with Godsson comes to an explosive crisis, with Leeth demonstrating both her spirit and her foolhardiness.   Harmon finally realises he has a tiger by the tail, and the book moves to a dramatic climax.  And then continues, apparently calming down… except, as Harmon takes things to a new level, the shadowy figures finally step into the light, in an intervention that changes everything.

(In my next blog article, I’ll review the novel from the inside: why I wrote the book as I did.)

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Writing: from Idea to Page

From 13th to 17th April, 2017, I visited Perth for the first time and attended SwanCon 42. SwanCon is Australia's longest running speculative fiction convention, and this was its 42nd year, with a theme of honouring the work of Douglas Adams. They had wonderful guests of honour, and a huge range of panels and activities — generally about four talks on at the same time across the day from 10am 11pm or later, along with four or more activities running in parallel, from board games, to live action role-playing to console gaming to children's and other activities.

(Michael Troughton and Sean Williams holding up the SwanCon costume party sign, with Alan Baxter keeping an eye on the effervescent crowd.)

SwanCon 42 was held at the Metro Hotel, Perth, doing a heroic job supporting the convention (and feeding a large crowd several times a day). The hotel strained at the seams, but in my view they can be proud of the job they did.

I must say I was also impressed by the dedication of the organising committee, and their ability to fix things and cope when things unexpectedly went wrong.

This is just a short piece to record and share some notes I made as homework for one of the two planned panels I was on. It's a companion piece to a related panel focussed on publishing (and hence, is over on A Toe in the Ocean of Books). (I just intended to type up my notes, but saw they'd be a bit too cryptic if I did literally just that.)

The topic of the panel discussion (organised by Michael Cogan), was "Writing: from Idea to Page":

"Have you had a story in your head for ages you want to tell the world but not sure where to begin? Join our panellists who have been there and done that. Gain some tips and ideas on how to get your story idea down onto paper."

My most excellent fellow panellists were Satima Flavell, Glenda Larke, and Meg Caddy.

I think that collectively we provided good information. Please understand this is not a record of what we all said, but merely some notes I made beforehand as a memory jogger. Some of these points were made by other panellists independently, in their own words. Because we had only an hour and there was a lot of ground to cover, only some of these notes were covered in the talk.

So, in no particular order, these are my notes:

Look for the heart of your story — what is the key thing that is the essence that's driving you to write the story? What is it that is special and unique about your story that's pushing you to bring it to life in other people's minds?

For the above navel-gazing, there are a few ways of looking at your story, through the lens of words, that may help you. They'll help you most if you do it once you've got a good feel for what you want to do; but you can do it at any stage of the writing process. And it's simply to try writing the blurb (the short description designed to tell them readers just enough to intrigue them — maybe 100-200 words); and/or to write down "the elevator pitch" for the story (what you could say in one breath while to someone who asks "What's your story about?"); and the theme of the story (what is it exploring?). I'd add you can also try to create the "tag line" for your story (what might appear on the front cover if it was produced as a book).

People often talk about plotters vs "pantsers", or people who outline and meticulously plan vs those who fly by the seat of their pants and just write and see what happens. Use whatever works for you. You can also mix and match. I'm mostly a "pantser", but I've found that a sketchy outline (just bullet points) often provides a useful anchoring framework that I can work within or ignore as I see fit. You can use one method for the whole story, or different methods for different parts or at different times. E.g. I tend to use outlines when I need to solve some complex plot issue, or work out how on Earth the character could get into, or out of, some tricky situation.

That kind of leads me to the beautiful piece of luck that writing can help you write… When we create stories, we use three parts of our minds: the rational part, the unconscious, and our memory. Now, imagine trying to construct an entire novel in your head: working it all out and then just sitting down and start typing it up. Crazy, right? But you can paralyse your creative writing by trying to do that same kind of thing for much shorter things than a novel. It might be just a scene, or even just a piece of description.

Sure, spend some thought and try to work things out in your head: it's far faster and less effort than writing it down. But if you find you're not getting anywhere, or going around in loops, then just sit down and start writing.

You write stuff down so you don't spend 90% or 99% of your mental capacity just remembering everything. The blank page is not your enemy, it's your friend. It's an external part of your memory that can hold your thoughts and ideas effortlessly to free the rest of your mind to work on everything else that will go into your story. So, write stuff down that will be or may be useful: ideas of all sorts, bits of the story, sections of dialogue, possible bits of plot, a cool situation or setting… whatever you like. Once it's written down on your "external memory surface", it won't be distracting you at inopportune times saying "Don't forget me!"

And here's a related secret: once an idea is written down, you've basically put some very well-behaved modelling clay down that's ready and willing for you to shape it and improve it. It doesn't have to be anywhere near perfect when you write it down. There's an excellent quote from Terry Pratchett: "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story."

Read a lot. Write.

Always be looking for ways to improve what you write. Read about writing; read advice from others (Google searches will tend to find you stuff that is popular with other people); get reviews from other writers. But most of all, write.

Writing is a very learnable skill: you learn it by writing, while consciously trying to improve. (I don't mind literally all the time: that would be distracting and unhelpful when you're "in the flow" and creating!) But be open to learning new stuff, and finding weaknesses in your own work. It's very learnable, but it's also one of those skills that requires thousands of hours of practice.

Know your characters. Know your world. You can learn about them by writing down whatever you dream up for them! Don't write this stuff down thinking it needs to go into your story: it doesn't. It's so that you, the author, gains a deeper understanding of some of the key things in your story. For your characters, the personality is more important than their appearance. So make sure you pose yourself some fun questions about them that will give you a deeper understanding of what drives them. What music do they like? What food? What clothes do they love or hate? What do they spend money on? What piece of clothing would they put on first in the morning? What thing did they love most as a child?

Likewise, pose yourself some suitable (and helpful) questions regarding the setting.

Write these things down in some kind of background notes file. Use enough organisation so that you don't lose them, so you can find them if you need to remind yourself of them later. Write them down: it will help you remember, and it's more practice in writing.

Look for a writer's group and participate. But bail out and find another or form your own if you're not getting what you need from the group. I highly recommend the

Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror — reviews by other writers are the DNA of the site/community, and the site itself is wonderfully powerful and helpful in sharing and reviewing among the members. It costs US$50/year, which is super cheap for what you'll get from it (because 99% of the value comes from the members themselves writing and receiving reviews), and you can even try it for a month for free. I feel sorry for other genres that they don't have a site as good as this available to them.

Accept criticism and try to learn from it — if you sense it's been given honestly, i.e. with good intentions. But keep in mind that no piece of writing will please everybody. Just because one person doesn't like or ‘get' what you're saying, is not a reason to change it. But if two people tell you that a specific thing didn't work for them, it probably means there's something odd there. But if they tell you how to fix it, they're probably wrong: only you can know how to alter that piece to avoid that reaction. (Paraphrasing Neil Gaiman, I think.)

On the subject of improving your writing, go back to some of the stories you love. Actively study them and try to work out why. The consider whether something like that would be something you'd like to do, and start practising doing it.

Look for your own writing style — every writer has their own distinct style. ‘Different' can be good. But to get a feel for how other writers work, and the range of literary devices that are available for you to use as you see fit, try some exercises of writing a something in the style of an author you admire. Something reasonably short, just so you get a feel for how that technique works. Stretch your writing muscles.

Less is often more. If you can express something in fewer words, without changing the feeling or the meaning, then those words will have greater impact. (I think of poetry as like distilled alcohol: it's strings of words that have been super-concentrated so they pack a powerful punch.) Pretend you have a word budget: you kind of do. The reader will appreciate you using only the words you need to achieve the effect you want. Omit details which the reader can fill in for themselves.

Trust your readers' intelligence. You don't need to spell everything out for them. They will enjoy figuring stuff out and piecing things together for themselves. Don't spoon feed them, or lead them buy the nose. Leave them room to exercise their own imagination, too.

If you write something odd, readers (especially if you're little known), are likely to think "Oh, look, there's a mistake." and be thrown out of the story. So, when you are doing something deliberately odd, make sure you also provide some subtle hint, some indication, that lets the reader know that you know it was odd. Then they won't think "Mistake", they'll think "Ooh, weird, what's going on here, I must read on."

It's less effort to learn the writing craft by writing short stories, simply because when you find problems in your writing style and go back to fix them, there's proportionately less to fix. But if you are not interested in writing short stories, or don't like them, then don't!

Do have a go at writing poetry. It's hard! But valuable. Learn about poetic devices, too. Sometimes they're useful to use in prose, a little.

Keep a pen and pencil beside your bed in case you have a great idea as you're falling asleep or waking up. Write it down. Ideally, with some light on, even if it's just enough to make sure your sentences don't run over the top of each other.

Think about flow. I see books as made from lots of interleaving flows operating across a range of levels. At the bottom level are the words of a sentence, which give you both the flow of the sounds but also a flow of meaning, and emotion. The rise and fall of these flows lead to a rhythm in each. Very similarly, when the sentences are showing a dialogue, or just letting us see the flow of ideas inside someone's head, the ideas should usually flow smoothly, each one connecting somehow to the next. Until, of course, you signal that that thread has stopped. Mostly, these flows will connect smoothly: but you can get a lot of impact from jarring or breaking the flow, provided you have done it consciously for that purpose.

The next level up are paragraphs, and then pages, and scenes, and chapters, and the whole book, or books. There are flows in pace, in density of writing, in emotion, in intensity, … any sort of quality you want to imbue in your story. Gradually learn to be aware of these flows.

You do need to vary the rhythm. Monotony gets boring pretty quickly. But don't just vary the rhythm randomly: be aware of the flows, and build and release the rhythms to create the effects you want in your story. This applies across all the levels.

Unlike literary fiction, other stories must have a plot, not just a story. (A story = "this happens, then this, and this". A plot = "this happens, and because of that, this happens, and that leads to this.)

Trust your unconscious. You can set it working on a creative problem by thinking about your problem, feeding in or refreshing your mind by consciously going over the information relevant, that may include all the requirements that the solution must satisfy. Consciously be aware that you're doling this to feed the raw data to your unconscious so it can get to work on the problem. Then do something else that will distract your conscious mind. And every now and then, do a little revisit to the problem so to keep things bubbling along. Sooner or later, the solution will pop into your head.

None of these are rules. Even if they are, if you know you're breaking a rule, but you're doing so for a good reason, then that's almost always going to be fine.

So there are lots of things to learn about writing, but it is a very learnable skill. But the work you put into learning about writing should be small compared to just writing your stories. You learn writing mainly by doing it. Don't think that you have to learn everything before you can "start to write". Just write.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Free and discount ebook giveaway

This is just a very short note to let you know I'm participating in a three day free and discount book promotion with a whole bunch of other Indie authors. The Support for Indie Authors-organised bargains (within GoodReads) consists of over 100 books, covering literary, young adult, and seven genres. Here's a detailed breakdown:
  • 20 sci-fi
  • 40 fantasy
  • 20 romance
  • 12 mystery & suspense
  • 8 horror
  • 15 LGBTQ
  • 15 literary
  • 15 humour
  • 8 young adult
  • The promotion started at midnight (PDT) on March 31st (so that was 6pm AEST, or 7am UTC). It ends on April 2nd.

    I've made Wild Thing free for all three days (actually, a bit more: both before and after). Unfortunately, because Harsh Lessons's Kindle Select Term ends (rolls over) on March 31st, the best I can manage is to make it free on the 1st and 3rd days: Amazon have no way of pre-allocating free days in the next term, nor can they set the price to free on the current day, even if you do it at the start of that day.

    The purpose of the promotion very much aligns with what I think is the key issue for authors working outside the traditional publishing environment: being discovered by readers. It also helps readers discover books they've never heard of. And who knows, some of those writers in the promotion might become your next favourite author! So I'd encourage you to have a browse of the titles available over there at the Support for Indie Authors event.

    Various writers there have been working hard creating promotional images for the event and sharing them for all the participants to use. C.B. organised a Thunderclap; Christina McMullen organised the event and put together the event site, and all the authors helped with promoting and discounting their books. One member, Missy Sheldrake, even made a couple of promo videos you might like to check out, and uploaded them to Youtube here and here!

    I'll be back at work on Shadow Hunt from April 1st, having received an interim critique of the 1st 200 pages from Dave at ThEditors.com on Friday night. (He said it's looking pretty good so far.)

    (I'll post this same article over on my other blog.)

    Monday, 27 March 2017

    March 2017 news

    This is a very brief update on what I'm up to.

    I've teamed up with a bunch of other authors from Support for Indie Authors (not the talented Aussie singer/songwriter, Sia!) of Goodreads) who will be running a large free-or-discount book promotion event from March 31st - April 2nd. The site will go live on midnight of Mar 31st at VM's Spring Attack, when a big bunch of books will appear.

    In other news, on Sunday March 26th I uploaded a draft of Shadow Hunt to Amazon, to make it available for pre-order on April 30th. Dave is still working through his final critique, but felt that April 30th sounded a reasonably manageable date for me. But I will be busy between now and then!

    Right now, I'm basically doing some marketing type stuff, as well as doing what I can to get Shadow Hunt ready for publication, while waiting for Dave's final critique. Jon Marshall has kindly acted as a Beta reader (x2), and said the book is noticeably better after my revisions following Dave's critique of Jan 11th. But Jon had some notes/comments, which I'll be working through this week.

    I will also be attending Swancon 42, April 13th—17th, the speculative fiction convention in Perth (Western Australia). It'll be my first visit there. I think the flight is over four hours — it's a big country!

    In the meantime, I've made myself a little list of all the things I need to do between now and the end of April. My dream is that I'll have the ebook ready before that, and will be able to publish earlier. And that I'll be able to use the last week or two of April to prepare and get the printed books ready, once again via IngramSpark.

    I also have several blog articles that I plan to write (both here and on A Toe in the Ocean of Books): including a Q&A article from some good questions from my first fan.

    Excelsior!

    Wednesday, 15 February 2017

    Shadow Hunt blurb

    Blurb writing is so hard! It's definitely an art, and one I struggle with. Each time I craft a version I'm happy with, and ask friends and other writers and colleagues to review it, I always get valuable feedback, pointing out problems I hadn't seen.

    I've received lots of useful feedback for this and my other blurbs. As a result, I feel I'm slowly learning how to write a blurb. Below are some of the comments I've had, that highlight problems to keep an eye out for. Mostly these comments have been for different versions of a blurb — although sometimes the comments have been for the same version, but from different people! (The highlighted item is the critical point.)

    • It wasn't until the end of the blurb that I discovered the MC was a young woman.
    • This blurb won't make much sense to someone who hasn't read the previous books.
    • This blurb says too much about what has gone before, and not enough about this story.
    • I don't get a sense of what the story is.
    • The final paragraph implies there's some choice the MC has to make — but you've given us no information regarding what that choice is about.
    • There's not much of the personality of the MC coming through.
    • You're using too many hedging constructions like "this, but that" or "although one thing, also another".
    • You're trying to say too much; what's the heart of the story?
    • You're giving away too much: just give us hints about what happens. Show us enough to make us ask questions. Intrigue us.
    • It's too long.
    • It's too short.

    So it's definitely an art. I've also heard it said that a blurb typically goes through hundreds (or even a thousand) revisions, in traditional publishing. I think mine go through about a hundred or two. The blurb for Shadow Hunt has probably been reviewed about fifty times by others, and about seventy times by me, so far. This time I really think I have something that's good: close to good enough for the back cover, at last? Then again, I also thought that three times before.

    One worthwhile thing I did recently was posting the blurb on facebook, and asking people what they thought of it. From that, I received lots of critically valuable feedback. (I'd received similar feedback on Friday night from some friends, but I didn't understand the why behind it, then.)

    The key realisation for me was that when I read a blurb, I want to know only the bare minimum to decide if I want to read the story or not. The only blurbs I read in their entirety are those by authors I don't love. For authors I know I enjoy reading, I read only enough of the blurb to get a general sense of the story and the MC; and for a series I love, I read the blurb after the book, not before.

    This means that for series, I think it's important for the blurb to say as little as you can: most readers will have read the earlier books. Other readers will probably sample bits inside the book to decide if they want to read it, or read reviews to get a better idea of what to expect.

    Anyway, here is my new version of the blurb. Is it good enough?

    Blurb for vol 3 of The Leeth Dossier, Shadow Hunt. (The tag-line is: "She thought she was hunting it"). It's 108 words long. (2017/2/28.)



    Leeth:  Experimental subject.  Government assassin.

    Threat to all humanity.

    2062, 26 years after magic unexpectedly returned to our world. In the Dumps outside New Francisco, eighteen-year-old Leeth is on the run.  She doesn’t regret sacrificing her future to save her friend, but both the ruthless covert agency she worked for and her controlling uncle want her back.

    Despite the loneliness and hardships, Leeth is relishing her freedom, and is still determined to honor the promises she’s made.

    But thanks to an insane mage’s tampering with meta-magical Archetypes, a uniquely altered killer is hunting her.  And in this case, what she doesn’t know can doom her — then everyone else.





    Progress

    I should give a brief status report. I've spent most of Monday and Tuesday working on the blurb, in preparation for Wednesday night's meet-up by the Marrickville Writers Corner, and following the feedback I received (thanks to everyone who reviewed it). On Monday I basically had a day off; much of Tuesday was devoted to family stuff; and Wednesday included the next step in the Solar Panel and Malfunctioning Battery saga. So my progress through Dave's extremely valuable critique has slowed: I don't think I'll complete it until E/Feb at the earliest; more likely, March 7th.

    As of Wednesday evening I was on p35 of 142pp of the 2nd half of the MS with Dave's annotations, which puts me on p238 of 491pp of the full, revised MS. I'm in the 100pp Fist Fest arc of the story, trying to cut the 30pp or so that Dave recommends, to fix the pacing. I also have a few new chapters to write. And then I need to polish all the new bits, then need to find a slot with Dave for him to re-review it, and then work through that critique (hopefully, much easier). So trying publish it E/March sounds impossible. But I'm still going to try!

    I tweet my progress each day, if anyone wants to closely track where I'm up to. Sharing that information also helps spur on. So I'm sorry if this revised schedule will disappoint people, but on the other hand, I'm confident you'd all want me to produce the best book I can.

    Now: back to the 'writing board'!


    Older versions of the blurb.

    2017/2/25, 110 words long.

    Leeth:  Experimental subject.  Government assassin.

    Threat to all humanity.

    2062, 26 years after magic unexpectedly returned to our world. In the Dumps outside New Francisco, eighteen-year-old Leeth is on the run.  She doesn’t regret sacrificing her future to save her friend, but both the ruthless covert agency she worked for, and her controlling uncle, want her back.

    Despite the loneliness and hardships, Leeth is relishing her freedom, and is still determined to honor the promises she’s made.

    But thanks to an insane mage’s tampering with meta-magical Archetypes, a uniquely altered killer is hunting her.  And in this case, what she doesn’t know can doom her — and after her, everyone else.

    2017/2/19, 91 words long.



    Leeth:  Experimental subject.  Government assassin.

    Threat to all humanity.

    2061, 25 years after magic unexpectedly returned to our world.  In the Dumps outside New Francisco, eighteen-year-old Leeth is on the run.  She doesn't regret sacrificing her future to save her friend, but the ruthless covert agency she worked for, and her controlling uncle, want her back.

    Despite the loneliness and hardships, Leeth is relishing her freedom.  She is also determined to honor all the promises she's made.

    But what she doesn't know, may do something much worse than kill her.

    2017/2/18, 163 words long.



    Leeth: Experimental subject. Government assassin.
    Threat to all humanity.


    It's 2061, 25 years after magic unexpectedly returned to our world. In the Dumps that fringe New Francisco, Leeth is on the run. She doesn't regret sacrificing her future to save her friend, but the covert government agency that's been training her as their assassin wants her back.

    As does her uncle, who still believes he owns her.

    Despite the loneliness and hardships, Leeth is relishing her freedom. She is also working out how to honor her promise to release Godsson from the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction — unaware the insane mage sees her as the key component needed to 'correct' human nature. His meta-magical construct, a shadow bonded to a ruthless killer, continues to hunt her. And is closing in.

    When Leeth sets out to hunt her magical opposite, unknowing, the stage is set — for an ending worse than anyone knows.

    Unless one girl's spirit can prove strong enough to forge her own Path.




    And the feedback on the above was pretty consistent and uniform: although several people liked it, several others commented that it was still saying much too much, and greatly chopped back everything at the point where it starts talking seriously about this book. And also shortening the contextual paragraph ("2061..."). Sandra Wigzell noted "Those that have read book 1 and 2 will know the premise of where you are going.. less words more mystery" and "in another analogy... stop being a stripper and now dress like a Nun...".

    I had trouble with these shortened descriptions, in that none of them indicated the major plot arc. A few people commented that I had revealed too much (plot twists), until I realised they could not have meant plot twists (because I hadn't; and because every blurb in every series I sampled — about 10 — did indicate the major arc). But I myself don't read blurbs of series I like and authors I trust, because they give away too much. They don't give away plot twists, they give away the plot arcs. And I trust the author enough to assume they'll follow the plot arcs they've laid down previously, and I prefer to be surprised.

    That said, the blurbs I sampled all varied in how much of the arc they revealed: some were very vague (and I would not mind reading them before reading the book, if I had taken the chance), but some were pretty clear (and I'm glad I read the blurb only after I finished reading the book).

    So I think what everyone was really saying was that they want to know the bare minimum about what's happening in the book: just hints and clues, if that.

    My brother Matthew wrote: "I like Zen paintings. I love minimalism. People who distil a perfect moment with their media to its essence leave me in awe of their ability" and "giving advice is not easy. I just tell you what's in my heart and what I like."


    2017/2/17, 199 words long:


    Leeth: Experimental subject. Government assassin.
    Threat to all humanity.


    Sacrificing her future to save her friend is a decision Leeth refuses to regret. Now eighteen, she has escaped the covert government agency training her as their assassin. Hunted by her former colleagues, yet still desperate to belong, she is learning to survive in the society of outcasts bordering New Francisco. Hardship and loneliness bring freedom — and Leeth is relishing it. But darker agendas are at work.

    The manipulative Doctor Harmon still believes he owns her: Leeth must best him if she's to take control of her life. Deciding to involve her friend Marcie, however, may have unexpected consequences.

    Leeth also needs to learn to trust more wisely. Bound by her promise to release Godsson from the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction, she remains unaware the insane mage sees her as the key component needed to ‘correct' human nature. His meta-magical construct, a shadow bonded to a ruthless killer, continues to hunt her. And is closing in.

    When Leeth sets out to hunt her magical opposite, unknowing, the stage is set — for an ending worse than anyone knows.

    Unless one girl's spirit can prove strong enough to forge her own Path.



    Monday, 6 February 2017

    Shadow Hunt cover designed!

    I posted a quick status report over on my other blog, yesterday (A Toe in the Ocean of Books), focused on the procedural side of things. Here I'll just give an update on the writing side.

    Today I finalised (I hope!) the blurb, and Mirella de Santana finished her cover design, being very patient as usual with my fussiness. I love her work, and I hope you will too. Here’s the new cover:

    Blurb writing is tricky – it’s been through numerous revisions, including input from friends, other writers at the very supportive Marrickville Writers Group, and my editor Dave at TheEditors.com. Here it is:

    Leeth:  Experimental subject.  Government assassin.

    Humanity's doom?

     

    Desperate to belong, but hunted by her former colleagues, Leeth is now learning to survive in the society of outcasts bordering New Francisco. And despite hardship and loneliness, she is relishing her new-found freedom. But other agendas remain at work. The manipulative Doctor Harmon still believes he can control her; still believes she belongs to him. Only by dealing with him can she take control of her life.

    But Leeth has greater, hidden enemies who wish to use her. Godsson, the insane mage, sees her as the key ingredient in his plan to ‘correct’ human nature. His meta-magical construct, bonded to a ruthless killer, continues to hunt her. And it is closing in.

     

    The stage has been set – for an ending worse than anyone knows.

    Unless an eighteen-year-old girl’s spirit can prove strong enough to forge her own Path, instead.


    Following Dave’s detailed critique of the 1st half of the MS, and feedback from my beta reader (Jon Marshall – thanks for spotting some significant problems!) right now I’m working on polishing my changes while waiting for the detailed crit of the 2nd half. Then it will be full steam ahead. I’m also in the process of booking things to visit Swancon 42 in Perth, April 2017.

    I’ll need to decide the publication date for the ebook version, soon, and upload the draft MS to Amazon. I’m thinking March 15 – if I manage to complete it before then, I’m sure people won’t complain! It’s funny how each book seems to bring its own challenges and new things to learn. Or maybe Leeth is just intrinsically challenging! And Harmon, too, in his own way. I think my next post here will be from a Q&A session with an interested reader from overseas (my first fan contact!). He said he was happy to share our discussion (that largely focused in on the relationship between Leeth and Harmon), so after the book is ready, I’ll condense that into a post. Unless I find I need a break to preserve my sanity, and manage to make time before then.