Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adventures in urban fantasy: the birth of Incarna

Today is the official day I started work on my next "heart" book, an urban fantasy entitled Incarna, which, depending on how good I am, may be complete and revised in time for the Angry Robot open submissions month in March. Yes, I know I'm being ambitious but hell, it doesn't hurt to try, does it?

So, where does Incarna come from? It's born from my love of the esoteric, which makes me ask all sorts of questions about life, the universe and the concept of Self. The question that sparked Incarna was: what if there were magicians (or in this case groups of sometimes opposing houses or factions of magicians) who could reincarnate throughout the centuries, each group or individual jealously guarding secrets from each other.

Today I officially got stuck into the first draft I outlined recently with my dear dark brother, Andrew, who helped me tweak motivations for the assorted characters. We spent a very late night and early morning plotting, after attending the funeral of a close friend of ours. I must admit I was inspired by the ritual, which was based on a rite from the Papyrus of Ani, part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Incarna is redolent with Egyptian imagery. In fact, the concepts for the human soul are very much based on the ancient Egyptian ideas of the various components. Other themes include love, justice and making amends. My main character, Lizzie, returns to an incarnated form after spending time in the limbo state. Only, things go wrong. Instead of returning in the body of the comatose and braindead three-year-old girl that had been earmarked for take-over, she reincarnates in the body of a twenty-one-year-old barman and gothic metal musician.

Ashton Kennedy wasn't a nice guy. He cheated on his girlfriend, knocked up a powerful drug lord's sister, and abused vast quantities of illegal narcotic substances. The guy who ran him over with a big shiny SUV was doing the world a favour. His very male and rather tattooed body is the last place Elizabeth Rae Perry, with her Victorian sensibilities, expected to get stuck in. But Lizzie needs to make do. Not only must she figure out what went wrong with her intended reincarnation, but she must patch up the life of her host and deal with an angry ghost. Lizzie finds love in unexpected places while saving the world from a powerful House, hellbent on uncovering the secret she didn't know she was supposed to protect.

Watch this space for further updates!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Nichole's writing goals

I am NOT a fan of resolutions. They get broken way too often. Just the phrase "New Year's Resolution" seems to beg to be broken. Maybe that's because resolutions are often just too vague: "lose weight," "get fit," "get organized," "be a better person." Seriously? While each of those resolutions is admirable, anyone who sticks with just those statements is doomed to fail.

Goals, however, are much more practical. Maybe it's because resolutions seem more...lofty. Goals are more measurable.

Therefore, I don't make resolutions. I do, though, make goals. Usually very detailed ones and in every aspect of my life. Yes, I have been accused of planning a little too much.

Okay, let's be honest. Resolutions. Goals. It's all semantics. As Juliet would say, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But there's also a perception. If someone created a beautiful black rose with a white streak through it and called it a "skunk rose" would we expect it to smell sweet? Probably not.

In that spirit, then, here are my 2011 writing goals:

  • Write 10,000 words each week. I'm not saying a certain number of words each day, or even write at a certain time each day. I just want to get 10,000 words on screen (since I don't write on paper!) each and every week. That doesn't count editing. Just new words.
  • Finish Sleeping Bears. This is Cerri's second adventure and takes place almost a year after Ghost Mountain. I have a solid start, but I need to finish it.
  • Get a really good start on Day of the Dead. Yes, this would be Cerri's third adventure. Yes, I know I haven't finished book two. But I had a really great idea and I had to write THAT down.
  • Market better. That means using Twitter and Facebook more to my advantage. Keeping my website up-to-date. Heck, that even means being better at blogging. Wish me luck...
  • Keep track. No goals are worth thinking up if you can't measure them. I plan to create a spreadsheet to track my words written. That should help keep the other goals attainable.
There you have it. Five goals I've set for my writing career in 2011. Are they attainable? I think so. But, like anything else, it will take hard work and dedication to achieve them. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Words! Words! Words!

One of the problems of being both author and editor happens when said sad individual (me) tries to read for pleasure. I wouldn’t be in this sorry mess if it weren’t for the fact that I love reading. The blame can be dropped squarely in JRR Tolkien’s lap, as well as subsequent authors such as Ursula K Leguin, David Eddings, Ann McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and others, who filled my teenaged head with the wild notion that I, too, could one day write books or pursue a career in publishing.

Granted, nowadays, my time for reading has been curtailed severely. I sneak in ebooks while I work (one of the benefits of .PDF documents, which can conveniently be minimised) and read for exactly one hour each day on the train in the afternoons. These novels are, invariably, review books. My feedback is published with a review website, as well as South African newspapers.

Review books are, generally, within the genres I’ll read (fantasy, SF, horror and paranormal romance) but are not the books on my “to read” list. No, those books languish on my hard drive or on my bedside table, which by now resembles the leaning tower of printed material slowly trying to topple onto me while I sleep.

Reviewing books has some benefits. For instance, I have now discovered that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, read Laurel K Hamilton willingly. You’d have to hold a gun to my head. I would never have discovered this if I didn’t review books. Likewise, I’m now eternally a Giles Kristian fangrrrl and I’ve interviewed him for the newspapers. Now THAT rocks!


I also read submissions for one of my publishers, for whom I’m under contract as a content editor. These are either cold submissions, where I have to read a good few pages before I can decide whether a manuscript blows my hair back, or will be a submission from one of my existing authors, whose writing won’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a ballpoint pen.

Somewhere, between these activities and my day-job as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher, I still find the time to edit manuscripts and, oh, gosh, write a little on my own. (Add disclaimer: I do not have children. Also, I do not have a social life beyond a meal or drinks with friends here and there or Facebook.)

So… **takes deep breath** It is a rare thing indeed if I read something I want to.

People keep telling me, “Oh you must read so-and-so.”

I sort of look at them blankly and say, “That’s nice dear. I’d love to.” Of course the chances of me reading a book someone recommends are about as good as a snowball’s survival in Hell. I still have a friend’s copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, somewhere in the pile on my bedside table. I want to read it. I just don’t know when.

So, here are two of my pet gripes:

Publishers that have sub-par editing. It drives me absolutely dilly when I read published works riddled with homophone and apostrophe abuse, weak transitions, typographical errors, misplaced modifiers, plot holes… I see it. All the time. It makes me want to claw my way up the walls. Mostly, all I can do is point and laugh. Human error creeps in everywhere, it just depends how much of it is concentrated in one manuscript.

Authors who make the same mistakes over and over again: this dubious honour I also extend to newspaper sub-editors and writers who, despite years of being exposed to years of house style and proofing, insist on repeating the same mistakes. This suggests that the idiot with the red pen clutched in her hand (that’s me) is wasting her time trying to communicate the need for improvement so that my job (proofing and editing text) can be made easier and said offending wordsmith becomes better at doing their job. And also not run the risk of defenestration from a third-storey window.

Or maybe I’m just OCD. Maybe it’s my mother’s fault. She used to be an English teacher. Maybe I need to go on a long holiday on a remote farming hamlet where there is no electricity and they’ve conveniently hidden all form of written word. Just for a while until I stop frothing and get more than four or five hours’ sleep a night.

Or maybe I’m just crazy, because whenever someone has told me “Hey, your writing sucks badly here, here and here…” I’ve generally sucked up my pride and made damn sure I didn’t make the same mistake again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, shaping words is my passion and if I’m your editor, I’m going to be absolutely vicious. I’m going to make you do horrible, nasty things to your darlings, but I’m doing it because I love your writing. I wouldn't be tearing it pieces if I didn't see ways to make it so much better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas at Cerri's

Today I thought I might post what Christmas would be like at my protagonist's home. Cerridwen Baker is a family woman. A wife and mother of three, Christmas would be all about the kids. She'd have the tree up early and gifts would be wrapped underneath. Cookies would be baked. There would be an excitement in the air that nothing could squash.

Family is important to Cerri. She would make sure that her kids knew the traditions Cerri and her husband, Matt, celebrated as children. And advent calendar would hang near the front door for the children to count down to the big day.

Because of her love for family, I can just imagine Cerri loading the kids up in the car and heading toward Storybook Island to see the lights and visit with Santa. Cerri's biggest holiday wish would be to see her kids happy.

Christmas day would start with too little sleep and three kiddos running to the tree to see if Santa had come. Of course, there would be some type of breakfast food in the oven (Monkey bread? French toast casserole? Regular old bacon and eggs?) and coffee would be brewing. Cerri is the kind of of woman who would relish in the fact her kids were having a good time. Cerri would make sure her husband was well fed. She would be the axle in the wheel of activity around her.

And what, you might ask, would Cerri teach her kids about Santa? The same things she learned as a child...that Santa is an elf, a fairy, a brownie. He is as real as you and I and, of course, is also the embodiment of the spirit of the holidays. Do you agree?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dabbling across genres

A good few months ago, I was chatting to a few romance authors about their craft, just asking how they feel about this whole electronic publishing gig. I had an overwhelming response of "hell, yeah, it works!"

Why? If you capture your readership, you make far more percentage-wise in royalties off ebooks than with print. Looking at my own monthly royalty statements, I'm afraid I have to agree, tho' my books don't move in vast quantities as my chosen genre is firmly dark/urban fantasy with a horror edge.

Ebooks don't have so many physical overheads, like printing or postage, so the profit margins are better. That's a no-brainer. Hell, and my inner eco-warrior loves saving trees and pandering to the "buy it, download it, and read it now" ethos.

But it's also clear that one of the genres that is doing the best in this field appears to be romance. Now, if I were to see some returns for my efforts, it's also a no-brainer that I should up my erotic content, no?

So I gave it a shot. I wrote my first contemporary erotic romance. And, guess what, I enjoyed writing it so much I'm planning more and am definitely looking at selling some paranormal romance. And, I've had a peek at my sales within the first week for my first contemporary erotic romance novel. Things are looking promising. And I am cautiously optimistic about my future as a career author.

But crossing genres not going to stop me from writing my "heart" books, as I've heard one author describe her works that don't garner astronomical sales figures. Hell, I'm still going to write them. I'm still going to fish for literary agents. I'm still going to submit to bigger and other publishers. It makes sense to have a broad footprint when I'm just a small fish competing in a big pond for thousands of other small fish.

It's not easy getting noticed nowadays, when just about every Tina, Dina and Harriet is getting published. And it freaks me the hell out when I see that some of the stuff hitting virtual shelves is so not ready for publication. Modern electronic publishing is somewhat of a sausage factory. For every professional who approaches this method with clarity and precision, there are half a dozen hacks who put out absolute garbage.

What hell it must be for readers to discover quality reads among the dross. And, how difficult is it for genuinely fantastic authors to be noticed above the howling mob...

So, what I'm hoping, is to snag the attention of readers who like my romance enough to go take a look at my "heart" books.

This is a highly competitive industry and it pays authors well to be creative in their approach and to be adaptable.

Even though I had a well-known hardcore SF/fantasy author warn me that "dabbling" in romance would eventually blur the boundaries between my "serious" writing and "romance" (which I gain the opinion that he looked down upon) I really couldn't care. If my favourite authors like Storm Constantine and Jacqueline Carey write bloody awesome narrative underpinned by highly charged erotic content, then why they hell can't I mix the two with my usual gritty signature?

So, expect more from me, some fang-bangers, hell, even some shifters, I don't care, but also know that I'll intersperse these with my usual "weird sh1t" as a friend of mine calls my writing. I'll carry on writing the kind of books I enjoy reading, but I'm going to be more conscious of what the market is asking for.

* * * *

Tainted Love was released on December 9 through Siren Bookstrand. I describe it as a reverse-Cinderella tale with a bit of spice. The story was sparked by my conversations with a number of friends who worked as dancers in clubs for a number of years. I also read a number of autobiographies by ex-dancers and dug a little into the history of the sex industry. It was my aim to present my story without prejudice, and I've had some encouraging responses from my readers.

The blurb:
Retrenched and persuaded to participate in amateur night at a strip club all in one day, Marianne discovers she’s actually a damn fine stripper, and baring all brings in far easier money than dying by degrees as a temp in a cubicle farm.

But things between her and her ex-boyfriend, Carl, have gone horribly sour, and there’s no denying that her fascination with Brett Gentle, the owner of Imperial House Gentleman’s Club, will bring more complications than she has bargained for.

Even as she gains confidence in tantalising men with her sex appeal on stage and on laps, Marianne’s life starts spinning out of control, tainting the love she has dared to taste.

See more here: http://www.bookstrand.com/tainted-love

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lacking the spirit....

For the sake of honesty, I admit that I've never been the kind of person who lives in the moment. I'm a planner and a goal setter. Don't get me wrong! I enjoy the holidays as well as the next gal and love knowing that I've got the perfect gift for someone or that I don't have to stress because I've gotten everything done that I had planned on (and sometimes even a little more).

But this year I'm just not feeling it.

It's not the weather. True, there isn't a lot of snow on the ground—an unusual occurrence for a December in the Black Hills—but that's okay with me. I'm not a big fan of snow anyway. Seriously, I hate snow. The few years I lived in the Virginia Beach area I had no problem with the mild weather.

It's not the baking. I have all the cookies done and boxed up. And a number of them have been eaten. YUM!

It's not the gifts. I'm just about finished with the shopping.

I really don't know what the deal is. The holiday spirit seems to be alluding me this year. I have the same problem with my writing. Getting into the writing groove is difficult as well.

So what should I do? I know January will be here before too long, so I'm not worried about the holidays. I will spend some serious quality time with my family and enjoy their presence (and their presents, truth be told!). But what about the writing? For those who struggle with something similar, how do you pull yourself out of the funk?


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Much ado about writing

A few years ago I went for career guidance at a well-known placement agency that focuses on the media industry. I was at odds at the time because I knew I wanted to move into fiction editing or take on a position as an editor for a publication, but I wasn't quite sure how that would happen. Back then I'd come to the conclusion that my current position, as a newspaper sub-editor working on commercial features, was a dead-end job. About the only bright spark in my day was laying out a weekly travel supplement and writing stories once in a while.

Going nowhere slowly? I couldn't be more wrong. Viv, the lady at the placement agency, was absolutely fantastic. At that time, I was very despondent. I was busy writing my first novel (Khepera Rising) but I felt like I was stagnating. Sure, I was occasionally picking up freelance fiction editing jobs but generally (and I'll be brutally honest) the paying freelance jobs are generally not half as much fun as working on something that has gone through a submissions process with a publisher.

Viv said to me, "The only way you're ever going to be noticed is if you write and get your name out there."

I took her advice. Sure, I carried on working on my fiction, but I also started stepping up my travel writing. The travel writing got me noticed by an editor for a lifestyle and entertainment supplement for a national newspaper. My stories started appearing there and I received invites to write reviews for lodges and hotels in foreign countries. During all this, my novels started being published and I picked up the content editing gig at Lyrical Press. Now I'm also reviewing novels and putting in author interviews in newspapers. And I'm blogging. A lot.

Yes, I still have my somewhat sh1tty day-job but it pays the bills. I put up with the dross because I'm doing what I'm passionate about: writing and working with text, be it fiction or editorial. I've had the chutzpah to add the activities I enjoy to a job that sucks otherwise. I've come a long way from the production assistant at a health and lifestyle magazine who had to call clients for advertising material.

Going above and beyond my official job description does mean I have to work a lot harder than most, but at the end of the day, when I see my name in print, it's helluva worth it. And the biggest thanks is when people say "Hey, we read your piece in the newspaper last weekend. It was really cool!"

Or, even better, "I read that article you linked on Facebook, and I went and bought your book, and I'm really enjoying it."

And hey, I'm starting up quite a collection of stamps in my passport. Who knows, I may be able to work my way all the way to the top of Africa soon.

I guess what I'm trying to say is you have to give it 110%. Work with the resources at hand and find ways in which you can modify what you're already doing into your dream job. Never give up, and never pass up the opportunity to put your name out.