I’m an Author!

I have a website, at long last. And in something like record time, for a major project. Does that make me, officially, an Author? That seems to work for some writers, but I’m quite happy just being a Writer. The site doesn’t claim either one, but it does have its own domain.

You’re invited to meander over and see what’s on offer. There are pages for each of my published works, complete with short excerpts, a look at the hand slaves world, and the first of what I hope will be many free short stories. I’ll be blogging, posting short science fiction reviews, and ranting about science fiction, in all its glorious and not so glorious permutations. There will also be teasers about stories in development.

http://csmcclellan.com/

When Readers Misinterpret Your Book

I hadn’t planned to write a post for several more days, but an interesting thread came up on Kboards and reminded me of something I discovered yesterday on Goodreads. The thread asked, “How do you deal with being misunderstood, or your work being misinterpreted?” This is something that every writer probably experiences sooner or later, even if you’re an obscure unknown. If you’re a critically esteemed writer, there will be articles and even whole books dissecting your work and interpreting it in a multitude of ways.

It’s inevitable that some reader somewhere along the line will seriously misinterpret what you’ve written. If it happens in a review and it can can turn potential readers away, you can legitimately be upset. But there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. Public rebuttals don’t work very well, as many misguided authors have learned, to their regret.

What made the thread so pertinent for me was that I receive a lovely review of Hidden Boundaries on Goodreads. What caught my eye on the book page was something I don’t normally pay much attention to: the genres that readers have chosen for a book. It was startling (to say the least) to realize that three readers had put it in erotica and BDSM. The novel is primarily about the loss of freedom in a slave society, and it does evolve into a rather unusual romance. But there is absolutely no sex in it, much less any hint of BDSM.

Which makes me think that those readers are so dominated by their preconceptions about slavefic that they imagined something that wasn’t there. In other words, they interpreted the book in terms of the genre they were expecting, rather than what it actually was. Their choices are particularly ironic since I wrote it as a reaction against slavefic being almost entirely devoted to sexual encounters. Those three readers help confirm the notion that readers will always bring their own biases and preconceptions to what they read.

The only lesson here is that you can’t control how your readers see your book, and there’s no point getting upset about it.

 

Transitions

You may have noticed that this blog looks a bit different. Changing the theme and trimming it down are part of a larger change in my overall approach to blogging and being in the public eye. Changing the name puts it more in line with its intent, which long ago stopped being about the progress of my writing.

Promotion of my own published work will be taking place on the website that’s now in development. I’ll be blogging there, also, but it will be mostly about books that I find interesting, and about various aspects of science fiction and fantasy. I’ll be posting free short reads there (motivation to actually finish some stories), and may eventually invite readers to sign up for an email newsletter.

Now that I have my own header up, I’m not too happy about the way the theme handled it, so I’ll be looking for another, equally simple theme. Besides all that grey space being extremely ugly, I don’t like themes that force readers to do a lot of scrolling before they get to any text. So expect more changes.

 

Ready, Set, Go!

I finished NaNoWriMo on the 25th, with 52,600 words, and have started the complicated job of revising and editing. Since all those words have to be integrated with the original novel, there will be (already has been) much murdering of my darlings. Whole chapters have already disappeared, and other chapters are being combined in preparation for more blood-letting.

I was surprised that I could come up with an additional 50,000 words and even though I never want to do another NaNo this way, it was worth it. The challenge of writing brand new material and trying not to create new plot holes while filling in old ones was exciting, even while it was exhausting and frustrating. One of the side benefits of working on something that was written five years ago was seeing how much I’ve learned since then.

I hope to have all the pieces of the puzzle where they belong by the end of the month, and ready for more detailed editing. Also in the works is a major rewrite of New Serfdom, the novel I wrote in 2012; the completion of several partly written stories; and two nonfiction books.

Because all that isn’t enough to keep me busy (I still have time to eat and sleep!) I’m working on a proper author’s website that I hope will be ready for the public sometime in January. And I joined Kindle Write On. For anyone who’s familiar with Wattpad, it’s something like that site. More about that in a future post.

Once More Into the Breach

Or how to tell lies in public. It wasn’t meant to be a lie when I said I was done with NaNo for this year. I didn’t add to my word count for four days, even though I did do a little writing. I really felt that there were no more big chunks of text to be added, just little dribs and drabs that wouldn’t amount to much.

Maybe I just needed to chill for a while, because whatever was blocking my brain let go, and the ideas started flowing again. I really didn’t think it was possible, so today, at 41,600 words and the rest of the evening, plus seven more days ahead of me, it still seems pretty amazing. I think that’s why writers keep plodding along even when nothing seems to be happening. Because, eventually, something does happen, and it’s always an unexpected something. For me, that’s just as thrilling as winning the lottery would be for someone else.

Relevant to this is a question someone asked on the NaNo forum the other day. Whether it’s acceptable to write a story within a story. The simple answer is yes. When I began writing Gift of the Ancien (originally Gift of Blood) it was with the intention of including three or four “interludes,” which were essentially short stories about events that might have taken place before the events of the novel.

When I started planning for NaNo, I decided to place one of those at the end, as an epilogue, and integrate the rest in various ways. One was expanded and became the first chapter. Another became a short story written by one of the characters. The very last thing I would have expected was for another of those internal stories to show up, but that’s what happened.

They aren’t just random stories. They’re all fictional imaginings of what Ancien life might have been like at different times in history. The story that has become the epilogue is about the plague that started it all. Another is about an Ancien family’s tragedy in Renaissance Italy. The new one, which was inspired by a discussion between two of the novel’s characters, takes place in 19th century America, when a few Ancien families wanted to escape the wars of Europe. All these stories are a natural outcome of the novel and expand it in a way that info dumps or backstories could do, but only in a clumsy sort of way.

I still don’t know if there’s enough for me to reach 50,000 words, but what I got out of quitting for those four days makes that almost unimportant.

NaNo is Over – For Me

I finished up yesterday (the 17th), with 35,000 words. Now it’s on to the heavy lifting, the slicing and dicing that I hope will turn Gift of the Ancien into a successful novel. When I look over the chapters and snippets that I’ve written since November 1, I wonder why the novel I see now was invisible to me when I created it several years ago.

But having gone through the long process of thinking about it, reimagining it, and understanding my characters better, I realize that’s why good novels can take years to write. And that says a lot about the current generation of writers who are boasting about how many novels a year they are writing, and how many copies they’re selling.

It’s possible to write a decent novel in just a few weeks, one that keeps readers engaged, that doesn’t trip you up with poor grammar, and that might even have a style of its own. But I seriously question whether you can expect that novel to still be around in a couple of years. A visit to any well-stocked used-book store will impress you with the endless shelves of novels you’ve never heard of, by writers you’ve never heard of.

I know I’m a decent writer. I hope to become an excellent writer. I don’t expect to write anything that will become a classic, something that’s still being read generations from now. But it’s a worthy goal to strive for, so I don’t regret that it’s been five years since I wrote the first draft of Gift of the Ancien. It was a good idea then. It’s a better idea now.

 

NaNoWriMo – Week Two Begins

These reports are boring, so I’ll keep it short. The week went better than expected, even if it ended with my first day of goofing off and failing to meet my personal goal of 2,000 words. The total word count is just under 20,000 words, so that may actually be a first-week record for me.

The writing rackets back and forth between excitement and tedium. I’m not sure which one usually has the upper hand. I’d like to finish by the end of the third week, but I can never depend on sustaining the early energy. Part of the work involves rereading chapters of the original to see what needs to be expanded or filled in.

I’ve drastically toned down the “evil scientist” and made him more human, if not likeable. Added a chapter that takes the story a generation or so into the future. I think the only person who’s read the original will be astounded. Pleasantly, I hope.

Still behind every day’s work is the need to stop thinking about The New Serfdom and concentrate on the work at hand. The transformation of Gil Saltero from a helpless boy kidnapped and made a slave in a possible  future of feudalism, to a man who has seen the worst a collapsing nation has to offer is ongoing. I know the externals of his life, but a lot of his internal life is still a mystery.

And so it goes.

Distraction

So here it is an hour before I can crash and pass the remaining hours until November 1 and the first day of NaNo, in blissful unconsciousness. I should be thinking only of the novel and what I’ll be writing to get the final phase of Gift of the Ancien underway. Instead, ideas for New Serfdom keep intruding. That novel is going to drive me crazy until I get back to it.

As if that’s not enough, the phrase ‘The water trap’ came to me yesterday and triggered some ideas for a short story collection. I don’t know if The Water Trap will actually work as a title, but all the stories would be about water. I haven’t thought of a single plot yet, but I sense something very different from anything I’ve done before, where I let my imagination run free. The stories will all center around climate change, the lack of water (western drought) and the excess of water (rising seas).

I have this completely unrealistic notion that I’m going to be very disciplined in 2015 and immerse myself deeply in writing and publishing and wind up with a record-setting year for completed work. And then I wake up.

When Revision Feeds on Itself

Preparing for this year’s NaNoWriMo has been an exciting experience, with some unexpected developments. Considering that I’ll be doing almost a total rewrite of a novel, I should have expected that. But hindsight is always clearer than foresight.

One of the major changes in the revamp of Gift of the Ancien is that I decided to end it by resuscitating a discarded novella that was originally meant to be a sequel. By “discarded” I mean trashed — no longer in existence. It might not have been terrible, but it went in a direction I was no longer interested in for my writing. But the idea persisted.

Gift of the Ancien, for those who haven’t read my older posts, is about a subspecies of humans that developed out of a mutating plague bacteria centuries ago. Every so often, a male child will turn out to be a throwback to the earlier form of the mutation, expressing itself in a three-times yearly need for blood. So the story touches on vampirism, but is very different.

What the novella did was take that story a few generations into the future. In getting ready to rewrite it, I realized I needed to ask a lot of questions that I hadn’t dealt with in Gift. You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and it struck late last night. The questions poured out, and the answers began to come. Questions about the throwbacks’ social structure, moral values, and relationship to both humans and the Ancien themselves.

I went to bed with all that spinning around in my head and woke up this morning with the realization that certain aspects of the novel would have to be changed and/or more fully developed in order to foreshadow what becomes, essentially, a new kind of American Ancien, very different from the one that originated in Europe, and that dominates Gift.

Only six days left to whip all the material into shape and bring it to fruition during November. Exciting, yes. And scary.

Watching the NaNoWriMo Forums

Continuing a trend that started after a few years of doing NaNo, I rarely contribute to the forums anymore. It’s sort of a case of “been there, done that.” There are, when it comes right down to it, a limited number of topics possible and they are repeated from year to year. Meaning that nothing much changes. What makes it mildly interesting is how the different threads shape up, starting in October and continuing through November.

First up are the newbies wondering how it all works, do they have what it takes to get through the month, how many chapters should their book contain, and should they go with this idea or that idea?

It’s the stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with writing, or is, at best, marginal that I find fascinating. What’s your favorite clothing to wear when you’re writing/doing NaNo? What’s your favorite drink/snack? What does your writing place look like?

There’s a tea swap, believe it or not, where people sign up to send each other their favorite teas (three varieties, with enough of each for five cups). There’s even a post card swap. New for this year, as far as I’m aware is a thread about Starbucks’ secret menu. According to one spoil sport who worked for the company, there’s no such thing, but there are recipes you can find online and give to the barista to make up for you.

This sort of thing takes up a fair amount of the forums and is, to my way of thinking, a clue to why only a few thousand writers complete the month out of the more than a half million people who sign up. NaNo is just as much a huge one-month social bash as it is a writing challenge. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ever-growing popularity is due to the social aspect more than the challenge. The always-huge thread about how to up your word-count without actually doing much writing is further testimony.

It’s a great resource for sociologists, if nothing else.

Never Say Never – Bringing A Novel Back From the Dead

Is it worth trying to rescue a bad novel? The argument can go either way; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the novel itself, and on the writer’s insights and abilities. When a critique of Gift of the Ancien showed me just how bad it was, I had a choice: throw it away and pretend it never existed, or put it away and hope that I might someday find a way to rescue it. I put it away, for two reasons. It’s an original take on the vampire theme, which has been written nearly to death with thousands of variations on the same old details. It’s a study of a population that’s superior to humans, but not strong enough to replace them or even survive if their existence is discovered.

Ancien has been waiting for almost exactly two years now, and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve found a way to resurrect it. It means an almost total rewrite, with most of it being brand-new material. Right now, it looks as if very little of the original will survive, but the original idea still glows brightly in my mind.

In fact, it’s glowing so brightly that when October rolled around and talk about National Novel Writing Month popped up on several sites, I had to rethink my belief that I have no more use for the annual event. I pulled out very early last year, and an experiment with doing some writing during the July Camp Nano didn’t work out, so it was goodbye NaNoWriMo, it was great while it lasted, but now it was time to break up.

It just proves you should never say “never.” So it’s back to NaNo because I want to get this thing done while inspiration is red-hot, and NaNo is the container that keeps it from running away and getting lost, and also the breeze that keeps fanning the flames.

The new version isn’t going to look very much like the old one, but I think it might possibly do what I originally intended — knock readers’ socks off.

 

 

Sometimes a Great Rethink

Even though I’ve been concentrating on nonfiction lately, there’s lots of fiction action going on in the background. My 2012 NaNo novel is slowly evolving into something bigger and more interesting than the original idea. The notes, the bits of dialogue and sketches for new scenes are piling up nicely.

My semi-vampire novel, Gift of the Ancien, took a big hit when someone whose judgment I trust pointed out the flaws. And they are big flaws. Huge. So it’s been completely on hold, not even creating a ripple in the brain waves for some time now. That changed today with a major insight that will probably trash most of the novel, but use some of its material in a completely different way.

For some unknown reason, I’ve been writing a bit of dystopian flash fiction lately, in between articles for Bubblews. That really isn’t a great site for fiction, and there’s every chance that the stories will be stolen, but they’re very short and off the top of my head, so no loss. I could take any one of the three and turn it into something much bigger, but I probably won’t. In the meantime, they’ve earned me a bit of money. Considering that I don’t care for flash fiction and seldom read it, making any money at all from a few amateurish attempts isn’t a bad deal.