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Five Immutable Laws

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One of the tasks I’ve set myself while Rivers and Roads is in Beta is to “Get To Work on My Next Project.” To this end, I’ve begun scribbling in a brand, new journal. I’m interviewing potential new characters, drawing maps, making rough outlines.

The trouble is, I’m not quite sure what my new project should be. If it turns out I can’t generate Industry interest in Rivers and Roads, I’ll need to try something completely different. The only trouble is, just what, exactly, can I try that is different from what I usually do, but is still something I would want to read?

In case you haven’t yet read my post about Books I Might Not DNF, I’ve grown picky in my old age. As far as I can tell, nobody nowadays writes what I really long to read. Which is why I started writing in earnest about eight years ago. And I’m not going to waste the years I have left writing stuff that doesn’t make my heart sing. I did that for a living, for decades! I don’t do That Stuff anymore.

But if The Industry is not interested in what I want to read (which would certainly explain why I can’t find it in bookstores) then how am I going to write Something Different enough (that is to say, similar enough to what everyone is already publishing) to get a foot in the door without compromising my principles? And just what are those principles, anyway?

I scribbled on, and on, until I finally distilled my thoughts down to a concise handful of main points I was/am not willing to compromise under any circumstances in my efforts to pique Industry interest. Five is not too many, right?

The Five Immutable Laws
of
anything written by Kim Beall

  1. The Magic Is Real
    – objectively, empirically real within the context of the story-world, and not merely real within the narrator’s own unreliable head.
  2. The protagonist is an adult
    – preferably over 40.
  3. The protagonist is a human woman
    – though under some circumstances she may be a deceased human woman. Ghosts are people, too! Within strict limits, some vague claim to a long-distant non-human ancestor may be permitted.
  4. The setting is in the contemporary United States of America
    – no long-distant past, no romantic foreign places, no fictional worlds, and absolutely no Cotswolds!
  5. The world is Beauty
    – This beautiful world may be under threat by grimdark evil, and we may get bone-shuddering previews of what might come should the protagonist fail, but the goal of the characters is not merely to survive in a grimdark world. The goal of our protagonist and her allies is to preserve the beauty, even if they have to go through hell (and several sequels) to do it. The Final Image, if the protagonist succeeds, is of a world that is worth saving in its own right, and not just a bleak container within which hominid DNA may continue to replicate a while longer.

Addendum: Things that are Right Out
as I will throw up if I have to write about them, so please do not even suggest them:

  • Sexy vampires
  • Sexy werewolves
  • Sexy shifters of any kind
  • Shifters of any kind
  • Toxic relationship tropes between the protagonist and the love interest. (This is why my protagonist is a grown-ass woman, FGS.)
  • Sexual attraction to a toxic male (see above) (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
  • Chiseled abs and perky breasts (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
  • Conflating ghosts with demons
  • Elemental magic

Needless to say, this idiotic rigidity of mine makes it hard for me to find anything to read, let alone write anything that The Industry will consider looking at. But if I’ve learned nothing else about tropes (even my own) I’ve learned that they can work, if done right. People will gobble them up, if only the author can think of some way to turn them on their heads.

It’s all about Positioning.

With this in mind, I’m not even going to wait until Rivers and Roads makes its the way through the querying process to whatever end. I’m already starting to churn my Immutable Tropes around in my mind. I am determined to, and I know I can, honestly and with integrity position them as something agents and editors are actually looking for. (Because another thing I’ve learned from the past few years is that there are, in fact, lots of people who are just as hungry as I am for what I write.)

I’m still also gonna write the sequel to Rivers and Roads, though. I don’t want to Emeraldize Geddy and Wing, after all!

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Realistic Magicalism

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“BBR” stands for “Beloved Beta Reader!”

A few weeks before Christmas, I completed the first draft of Rivers and Roads (I’m pretty confident I’m going to keep that as the title, this time.) By now I’ve entered it all into electronic format, done a couple of structural overhauls, and several passes through with an eye to basic line-edits. Today I’m going to complete the line-edits of the final chapter. This means I’m about to embark on the Beta Reader phase of this manuscript. I’m excited about that!

I am the opposite of excited about what I need to do once my BBRs start reading. That’s when, according to my List O’ Goals ’22, it’ll be time to hit Query Manager and start compiling a spreadsheet of agents who might, possibly, be excited enough about this novel that I should consider querying them.

It’s not that I dread rejection. Rejection is just proof to me that I am a Real Writer(tm)! It’s just that queries are supposed to state the novel’s genre, and cite comps.

“Comps,” in literary-speak, are books or authors published recently (preferably in the past two years) to which I can point and say “If you liked that, then you will love this manuscript, because it has the same premise and atmosphere in a similar setting.” I could probably find any number of books that have the same basic premise and atmosphere, or the same atmosphere and setting, or the same premise and setting, but never all three.

My readers have informed me that what I write is “Contemporary Southern Gothic Fantasy” and I like that. I’ll run with that as my genre even though it, technically, does not exist. Trying to find comps, however, fills me with an overwhelming sense of frustration, dread, cynicism, anger, outrage, bitterness, hopelessness, and the urge to throw any device on which I’m searching for comps through the nearest window (whether or not said window is open.)

People tell me I should just say: “Imagine Urban Fantasy Title A meets Literary Magical Realism Title B,” and this is good advice. But would I really be able to get away with saying things like: “Imagine Twilight has grown up into an intelligent woman who can spot a toxic relationship a mile away but has no time for them anymore because she’s too busy saving innocent ghosts from paranormal TV show hosts” or “Imagine Allison duBois finally dumps her whiny-ass husband and moves to Innsmouth.”

(Or could I get away with this? I don’t suppose it would hurt to try… If it would, please stop me before I do it. Thanks.)

Amazon often tags my books as “Urban Fantasy,” but it wouldn’t work to try to hook an agent with this claim. They’d be disappointed at the lack of, well, an urban setting, mainly. But also the lack of sexy supernatural shapeshifters who lust after mayhem. The only mayhem in my distinctly non-urban fantasy settings is committed by human denizens. Agents who represent Urban Fantasy would be irritated that I had wasted their time by “not doing my research,” or “not understanding the market,” and rightly so.

Amazon also often lists my work under “Magical Realism,” but I’ve learned the hard way that people who love Magical Realism do not like my work, because there’s (and this is a direct quote from a review) “too much magic.” Apparently you are not allowed to come right out and reveal that the magic is actually real, in Magical Realism. Any magic alluded to must never be proven to exist anywhere but in the POV’s highly unreliable head. Well, I don’t mind reading that kind of thing, but it’s not what I write (and I’m really not interested in ever writing it.)

I think what I write is closer to Realistic Magicalism. Too bad there is no such genre.

At least, there isn’t one now. But maybe there will be, someday when authors start using my work as comps.

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The End (only not!)

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The Inn at night

The other day, at my usual table at the coffee shop, with my usual coffee-flavored latte at my elbow, I penned what they call the “Final Image” of the rough draft of Rivers and Roads. I don’t usually write “The End” until I’m satisfied that I’ve done all the revising and editing I can before I call in the Beta Readers to hack it to bits for me.

But this time, well… the new barista here has always been very inquisitive about my writing. She asks me “How’s your novel going” every time I come in and set my mug on the counter, and listens patiently while she fills it with coffee-flavored espresso and then creates milkfoam art on top.

So as I jotted the last few words (they made me cry, by the way. I hope they make you cry, too!) I stood, picked up my notebook, and carried it to the cash register. Our excellent barista looked up at me and asked, “How’s the novel going?”

I said, “I just wanted to share this moment with you.” Then I put the notebook down on the counter and wrote “The End” at the bottom of the page.

She was very sweet about it. She’s just that way.

Well, I just figured, seeing someone writing “The End” isn’t something most people get to do very often. Heck, I’ve only seen it five times, now, and I’m the one who wrote it. Well, typed it – until now!

Now the hard part starts: structural revisions, line edits, sweeps through to kill crutch-words (I really use the word “really” far too much!) and then the whole Beta Reader thing. And then more revising and editing. Actually, I call this “the hard part” (actually, I use the word “actually” too much, too.) but, this time, anyway it’s not turning out to be as hard as it was to write the story itself. This story really took it out of me, in a way the Woodley series didn’t even come close to. It kicked my butt every time I sat down to write it. But I hope that means it’ll kick your butt, too. In a nice way, of course!

This isn’t him, by the way. 🙂

PS: Speaking of writers and coffee shops, there’s a fellow here right now who always sits by the window typing on his laptop… When I say “typing,” I mean he pokes those keys so hard with the tips of his index fingers, I can’t believe he still has index fingers at all anymore. He hatchets away at the keys in short, sharp bursts, then he sits back, looks at the ceiling, mutters furiously under his breath, and returns to the keyboard. I sure hope he plans to publish whatever it is he’s writing, because I can’t wait to read it.

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Books I Might Not DNF

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To say I’ve been in a reading slump for the past few years would be an understatement. I’m not sure why. I used to read voraciously. I mean like at least two or three books per week. Even ‘way back when I was a single mom who had to get up at 5:AM to go to work, I would stay up late reading.

For the past several years, though, I simply haven’t been able to get interested in very many new books. I mean, I still keep buying them! Hope springs eternal, right? I even try reading one of them, once in a while. Unfortunately, I Do Not Finish far more than I finish. My To Be Read piles now totter near the ceiling!

Maybe today’s books, like today’s movies and TV shows, “just aren’t as good as they made them back in my day, sonny.” (That makes me sound real young and vibrant, doesn’t it?) Maybe my brain is just too old and tired for reading, anymore? But I can still re-read my old books (and watch old TV shows, for that matter) over and over! It’s just the newer stuff I can’t seem to get into. I mean I literally can’t make myself read more than the first 20 pages or so of most modern books without being drawn away by something that compels my interest much more intensely, such as cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry.

But! I am told that if I want to be a traditionally published author, I need to converse knowledgeably about today’s literature market, and be able to tell an agent my work is comparable to [insert author and title published within the last five – or preferably two – years] or, as they say, “provide good comps.”

So I came up with a plan. I sorted my To Be Read pile by publication date and put all the books published more than five years ago (with a few exceptions, noted below) into boxes to donate to Dog Eared Books. Then I sat myself down, and told my household I was not getting up again until I had read the beginning of every single one of the remaining books. 

The idea was to get all of these beginnings into my head, and let them stew there awhile. If, while stewing, any of these beginnings should persistently call me back to read the rest of the book I would, you know, actually finish reading it!

A few days later, I went back and sorted the books into two piles. One, I mentally labeled “Will Probably DNF.” The other contains books I have high hopes of actually finishing. Their beginnings are still bright and distinct in my mind, and I’m actually excited about them. But most of all, to my surprise and delight, the “Might Actually Finish” pile turns out to be the taller of the two! Maybe, this time, I won’t get bogged down in books I spend weeks trying to force myself through, precipitating another slump.

Books I Might Finish

An Enchantment of RavensMargaret Rogerson 
This book is a little dated for use as a comp (2017) but people keep telling me I’ll like it, and now I can see why. It’s got real magic in it, but so far the magic doesn’t want to splatter everyone’s guts all over the walls. The voice of the narrator, an artist who does portraits for the fey folk, is smart and funny. So far, I can’t tell if it’s set in a contemporary era or what. Era may well be irrelevant for this particular story-world. If it turns out I do like it, I understand the author has some more recent books in the same series. If the setting turns out to be contemporary, these could work for me as comps.

Mistress of SpicesChitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Okay this one was published all the way back in 1997. But I want to finish it even though there’s no way I can use it as a comp, because so far it is (pardon my language) Fucking Brilliant. I love the narrator’s voice. It’s beautiful and enchanting, like we’re listening to a sweet, old ghost tell her tale. (I don’t know, maybe we are?)

Tales From the Gas Station, Volume 1 – Jack Townsend
Think Night Vale meets David Wong. I know, right? If I don’t like “dark and gritty” then why do I love these things? But all these works are, at heart, deadpan, satirical, tongue-in-cheek commentary on how stupid the human race is, and I eat that stuff up. This book was published in 2018, but I can’t use it as a comp because apparently it’s self-published. But I’m going to finish it anyway.

Black Water Sister – Zen Cho
Finally! A traditionally published (2021) Contemporary Fantasy that is still enchanting, lyrical, lovely, intelligent, and not drenched in dismembered limbs. Not so far, anyway. Another book with lovely “voice.” I’m really looking forward to following the rest of this modern-day woman’s journey into magic. But if it turns out she’s only hearing ghosts because she has a brain tumor or something, I swear to god I will burn this book right on the living room rug!

This Book is Full of Spiders – David Wong
Speaking of David Wong. This is his sequel to “John Dies at the End,” the book I often cite as the last book (2009) that kept me up reading into the wee hours because I couldn’t put it down. I bought this sequel in 2012 but I confess I have put off reading it because I was terrified it would disappoint me, thereby tarnishing my beloved memory of the first volume. So far, though, I am not disappointed. So far, so good!

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig 
Published in 2020. I haven’t got to where anything magical has actually happened yet, but I think I can tell by now that this author won’t be trying to conflate fantasy with horror. The voice is very lyrical. The construction of the storyline itself is also an interesting time-skipping device, done properly. I’ll let you know how it goes. It might legit turn out to be useful as a comp.

Books I Will Probably DNF

I put these aside, rather than into the donation box, because I tell myself I “might finish them someday, after I finish the others, and if something new doesn’t come along by then that I’ll find worth reading.” In other words, I almost certainly will not finish them, and will end up donating them ten years from now or something.

Dead Heads (Gloomwood Book 1) – Ross Young
The premise is cute so far but, 20 pages in, still nothing is actually happening. We are still being introduced to a lot of (I think there are six, so far) POV characters who do a lot of world-building thinking aloud about life in the land of the dead, but we keep hopping from one POV to the next, like, every page and a half or so, and none of them has a unique enough voice for me to be able to keep track of which one is who.

Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames
Unlike the rest of this pile, I actually started this one a few months ago. But one day, after I stuck in the bookmark and went to dinner, I found myself not motivated to pick it up again. I was enjoying it quite a bit at first, but 15 chapters in (out of 53) I’m finding the “aging hero” jokes are starting to wear a bit thin. The premise was cute, and the rock-music references really rocked, but now it’s all just devolved to a bunch of manly men doing manly-man things, and I’ve always found that stuff tedious. I have a feeling we’ve already reached the mushy (and greatly protracted) middle; there are still two inches of pages in my right hand and the story has started going nowhere fast. I’m not even sure I care anymore about the far-off adult daughter caught in a besieged city who they, ostensibly, are intending to eventually rescue, since even if, after about a thousand more manly battle-pratfalls, they ever do win through to her and get her out, it’ll only be to let her live “free” in an altogether dismal, war-torn world without a speck of beauty anywhere in it. I’m sure there will be sequels (if there isn’t one already.)

The Other Black Girl – Zakiya Dalila Harris
I have to admit I was intrigued by the premise of the story even though it’s not even remotely fantasy. But it has reminded me of why I don’t care much for what they call Literary Fiction. Or is this Women’s Fiction? Literary Women’s Fiction, I don’t know. Anyway I’m 22 pages in (counting the prologue, a thing I’m told no debut author should ever attempt to get away with) and we’ve had about 20 pages of introspection and retrospection. Of the 3 brief passages that could be construed as “action” or “dialogue,” two of them have been conversations held over a cubicle divider. And by “conversations” I mean the other character speaks and then the main character introspects, for a few paragraphs, about what they said. I mean, at least get up and walk to the water cooler or something while doing all this deep thinking, FGS! The whole thing so far is like reading some long and rambling blog post… oh, wait…

Anyway, before you try to recommend them to me, I have already DNFed:

  • The Golem and the Djinni
  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • Nevernight

I won’t go into great detail about why I DNFed these, other than to say the first two pissed me off by being the much-touted debuts of authors who got away with things I am told I should never, ever, ever do if I expect to be traditionally published, unless I’m already a bestselling author. Said things include, of course, prologues, as well as not even starting the story until after six chapters of events and characters we will never see again in the book. I might have finished these books regardless, of course, had I found them to be at all gripping, but they just slid out of my consciousness and didn’t call me back. As for Nevernight I can only say: please just stop. Just stop. Please.

Also. Some time ago, George R. R. Martin referred to his work as “Tolkien for grownups” and (after proposing he engage in several activities that are probably physically impossible) I vowed never to read or watch any of his work, ever. And to that I hold.

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Break Into Two

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I don’t always write according to any currently codified Story Structure, but when I do, it’s usually some form of the Three Act Structure.

I’ve found The Hero’s Journey to be a helpful guide in regulating my pacing, and also sometimes in figuring out just where the heck I’m going from here. Lately, though, I’ve become fascinated with Blake Snyder’s 15-beat “Save The Cat” structure. Not that I carefully adhere to it while actually writing, or anything like that, but on looking back I find I can deconstruct most of what I’ve written (or read, for that matter!) into these structures. I guess story, when you really let story tell itself through you, just naturally follows this sort of growth pattern. It’s in our DNA or something.

Anyway there’s a beat that almost all Three Act stories share, and that is the Break Into Two. And I don’t know why, but that’s just magical for me. I mean, all it really means is that this is where the story breaks into Act Two. Very prosaic.

But even knowing that, it still gives me shivers every time I hear it. Break Into Two. As far as I’m concerned, this is the real beginning of the story. The much-touted Inciting Incident is the very necessary beginning of the story itself, but it is usually something that happens to the character, outside of their control. The Break Into Two, on the other hand, is the beginning of the character’s story, because it’s something they choose willingly.

Here the character breaks their own world with their own hands. They know if they take one more step, they will plunge “down that damn rabbit-hole, where you know you can’t be saved.” But if they don’t take that step, there will be no story.

Couples and friendships are frequently broken up by the Break Into Two. When the old world is broken, the only hope of ever making it whole again is to forge unrelenting through the new world. The road is intimidatingly long, but the character shoulders their hastily-packed rucksack and sets out anyway (usually discovering too late that they have forgotten to bring a handkerchief.)

So I’ve just reached the Break Into Two in the [very rough] first draft of my current work in progress. This is the point where I, as the main character in my Author’s Journey, now honestly get a glimpse of just how far I have to go, how much work lies ahead of me, how ill-equipped I am to complete this task. It is also the point where I know there is no turning back. I’m as caught up in my character’s journey as my hapless character is, and abandoning the quest now would be as devastating for me as it would be for them.

Oh! Yes. About my story, my character, my current work in progress. I have given it the working title “Rivers and Roads” (you might remember this was also the original working title of Ghost of a Chance.) This, also, will probably change but I have realized there is definitely a theme (a river, and at least one road) running through all of my work, past and present. And yes, it’s the same river, in case you want to know. Just a different muddy riverbank.

Below is the blurb I’m writing toward. The content and wording, like the title, will almost certainly change as I get closer to the end, but now that I’ve reached the Break Into Two, it’s too late to turn back from the story itself.

Blurb v1.1 19June2021

Geddy Leigh Arkwright has a perfect, normal life – except she doesn’t. She vaguely remembers a magical childhood, wherein she believed in things more extraordinary than soul-stifling jobs and abusive fiancés. On the night when she decides she’s had enough, she throws her cell phone out her car window and sets off a chain of events which sends her tumbling, literally, into a hidden world of enchantment and mystery.

Only those who need a second chance can find the village of Tavisheen, or so its denizens keep telling her. Geddy isn’t sure she’s ever even had a first chance, but she checks into Keeper’s, a centuries-old country inn, anyway. After her initial shock at realizing not all of her fellow second-chancers are, strictly speaking, human, she begins to adjust to – and possibly even enjoy – her strange but intriguing new life.

But her old life comes back to haunt her when the dead body of her ex-fiancé turns up in the street in front of Keeper’s. She begins to understand it’s not so easy to leave your past behind by simply running away from it.

The Inn at night
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And so it begins. Again…

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Moon reflected in river

Yesterday I officially began writing my next series. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but by the time I was able to stop myself writing I had penned over 4,000 words!  

I’ve been planning this, both in my head and on paper, for a long time. That’s probably why the first day’s writing went so smoothly. I’ve been saying, ever since I released A Midnight Clear, that I’d spend the first 3 months of 2021 reading, reading, reading – and then start writing again on April 1. But I have an appointment for my first Covid vaccination on April 1, so I said the heck with it, I’m just going to start writing right now.

I’d been thinking so obsessively about the beginning of the new story for so long that by the time I sat down to write it, I couldn’t stop until I came to the end of … well, what I’d thought was going to be the first chapter. Turns out it’s probably more like three chapters. Am I overwriting again? That’s what I do. I have set myself a goal of 80,000 words for this first volume which, to make it more appealing to potential agents, is a “standalone with series potential.” I am determined to stick to this low word count. Well, 80K is low for me! I can always edit and make it shorter. I mean, I always have to do that anyway!

This is what some might call my “zero draft.” I write the initial draft by hand, with an actual pen, on actual paper. I understand old farts like me find the hand/body component of handwriting to be beneficial to our creativity. I don’t know about that, but being forced to slow down, if only to keep my handwriting legible, does give my brain time to imagine details and make connections to future scenes in the story. If I write on the computer at first, I end up having to go back and put these connections and details in later. I spend a lot less time fixing plot holes down the road, this way, and a lot less time lying awake at night trying to iron out problems in the story that just don’t happen in the first place when I write by hand.

So in a few minutes I’m going to start typing what I handwrote into a Word document. This will be what I refer to as my “first draft.” While I’m typing, I’ll do a bit of line-level editing.

But! I must discipline myself not to spend a lot of time doing syntactical or atmospheric edits at this stage! I have learned the hard way, after many years of struggling, that if I start seriously editing now, I will get stuck in an endless cycle of rewriting and revising one page, one paragraph, one sentence over and over, and will never finish the actual book. I now make it my strict policy to make sure I am at least 3 chapters ahead with my handwritten draft before I begin typing it in, and eight chapters ahead in my first typed draft before I allow myself to edit anything in previously typed chapters. Once I’ve worked my way to the end of the story this way, that is what I consider to be a finished first draft. After that come second, third, and subsequent drafts.

And so it begins. Again

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure how I feel about this new beginning. I feel the story itself is quite good – well, has the potential to be quite good – but I miss Woodley, and Cally and Georgie and all the rest. I really fell in love with that whole story-world and its characters, and I did it quite quickly! I still vividly remember how I felt when I left the coffee shop on that first day, after writing the first two chapters of Seven Turns. I felt like my feet weren’t even touching the sidewalk as I walked to my car. I was over the moon – and wishing I had someone I could talk to about what I was feeling! But there wasn’t anyone, at the time. That is actually a large part of the reason I created this blog, to tell you the truth. Just to have someone to talk to about how excited I was about my story, even if it was just a theoretical audience.

Well, I have a wonderful circle of writerly friends, now, and a real-world audience. And I was pleased with myself, yesterday, but not floating. I felt accomplished, but not in love. Cally et al are a hard act to follow, it seems. I like my new MC well enough. And I’m starting to get a little turned-on by the new love-interest, even though he’s only appeared for a few seconds so far. I’m looking forward to discovering the new town and its denizens. It really is a beautiful and intriguing place!

But I remain skeptical, somehow. I really hated having to say goodbye to Woodley, and now this new world feels kind of like a new pet. You know – one you adopt after losing one you’d loved for so long. You know you’ll come to love the new pet just as much in time – and you will! But it hasn’t happened yet.

The Inn at night

I guess I should be excited about finding out how it’s going to happen. Well, my new MC is a skeptical type herself, so maybe she and I will figure it all out together!

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What the Author in Your Life Really Wants for Christmas

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Authors are funny folks, and I don’t mean amusing (though I guess some of us do write darn good humor!) It’s hard to figure out what to give them as gifts for holidays and birthdays. You know they love to read, but you don’t know what they might already have read (Note: they have probably already read everything.) Well, gift certificates to bookstores are nice for everyone, not only writers. Just be sure to force the recipient to open a package to get to it, like everyone else has to do!

Nice notebooks are always at the top of a giver’s list, but here’s a secret: Should you ever sneak into a writer’s office or lair and peek inside one of the lovely journals lined up on their shelves (which is a terrible thing to do, and I am not suggesting you do it! But! Just saying, if you ever did!) you would find absolutely nothing on the pages. Except maybe a little note along the lines of: “Wow, this is such a nice journal – I hope I can think of something profound enough to write in it someday!”

We never use our nice notebooks! That would ruin them!

You can’t just write everyday drivel in a gorgeously bound journal – you have to write something eloquent and meaningful, immortal words you would not be ashamed to have as-yet-unborn generations discover and place in a museum, or at least make a fortune from on eBay.

The same goes for beautiful pens. Antique-looking, lacquered pens carved in the shapes of dragons or faeries are nice to collect, but writers don’t actually write with them. That would be sacrilege to the gods of lovely pens! Besides, if you are writing an average of 1,200 words an hour, fancy pens make your hand sore, and run out of ink far too quickly.

An internet search on “what to give a writer for Christmas” will turn up everything from computer bags to herbal tea to socks with famous literary quotes on them. Admittedly, these things are nice (I for one can never own enough socks!) Many of these lists also include mugs with snarky or inspiring quotes about writing. Authors do use these. I am almost as addicted to mugs as I am to socks.

Staff to take care of all the daily interruptions so they can just write for a dodgammed change would also be appreciated by your favorite writer. But if you can’t afford that, there is one very special thing you can give them that is pretty much free.

Writers want reviews!

Preferably good reviews, but even bad ones help.

It only takes a few minutes – less time than it takes to fill up your internet shopping cart, and since you’re already there anyway, why not stop and review one of your beloved author’s books? Heck, you can even perform a random act of holiday kindness and review the book of an author who’s a total stranger to you! Reviews help books rise in the “Recommended” lists, and thereby enable the the author to sell more copies.

Doing this is also a gift to readers, because it helps people find books they might enjoy reading.

Because in the end (and in the beginning, for that matter,) what authors really want is more readers.

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A Midnight Clear is available for pre-order

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After I launched Ghost of a Chance out into the newly locked-down 2020 world, I intended to take a purposeful break for a few months. I would do some reading, particularly of old, gothic classics such as “Jane Eyre.” Maybe even take a class or two to polish my craft.

As I carefully picked through my towering To Be Read pile (ready to run, in case it came crashing down on my head) I came across a notebook that looked vaguely familiar. Upon opening it I recognized my own “handwriting” and realized: this was the notebook in which I had penned my 2019 NaNoWriMo project. I remembered, then! I had written it to explore the idea of what Christmas must be like at Vale House in Woodley, USA.

I won NaNo that year, by the way. The rough draft was nearly complete at just over 50,000 words. All it needed was a bit of revising, a few editing passes, and hey presto, I could publish it in time to give it as Christmas gifts to all my beloved critique partners and beta readers. Right?

As you might expect, it turned out not to be as simple as that. “Revising” quickly became “completely rewriting,” and I soon found myself turning my back on my long-neglected TBR pile. I was still determined to keep this manuscript short, though. Well, short for me. Just a bit of Christmas fluff. A Hallmark special to tuck into the boxed set as bonus content, someday, maybe.

I just couldn’t stick with the “fluff” part, though. I found myself getting really serious about making this tale as fully-developed a story as the rest. The final result turned out, I think, a bit too dark for Hallmark. But it’s just the right flavor for existing fans of Woodley, USA and its quirky denizens. And I did manage to keep it down to around 50K! That is quite an accomplishment, for me. I’m really proud of myself about that!

I also believe A Midnight Clear, while it revisits many of the town’s most beloved characters, fills out their storylines and answers many reader questions about them, has turned out to be a story which is able to stand perfectly well on its own, even for people who have never read any of the other books.

It’s available for pre-order now in All the Usual Places, and will be officially released for retail sale on November 16, in time to get you into the spirit of whatever midwinter holiday you may be celebrating. And now, I promise, I will get to that Reading Pile, and I will take a Masterclass or Skillshare class (or maybe both!) And then I will begin research for my next series, coming soon to a mysteriously enchanted border-town near you.

Whatever you are celebrating this midwinter, I wish you warmth and cheer and good health and, if possible, loved ones all around you. To your health!

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Are You a Writer or an Author?

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The question gets percolated around Twitter all the time: Do you consider yourself to be an author, or merely a writer?

Little Author!

Here’s the thing: it’s not open for debate. The definitions of the words “author” and “writer” are about as clear and precise as the definitions of words like horse, pen, or coffee (she said, looking around the room for objects with clear-cut definitions.)

The word “author” has the same root as the word “authority.” If you have authority over a piece of writing, you are its author. Not aspiring. You actually are the author.

Most people make the mistake of thinking you are “merely a writer” until you get paid for what you wrote, and until then you are an “aspiring” author. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used to get paid to write all the time. I wrote technical manuals, software guides, corporate safety newsletters, website content, all kinds of stuff. And I got paid for it! But I was not the author of those materials. Those materials legally belonged to the company for which I wrote them. The bylines and copyrights on them referred to the company, and my name didn’t show up anywhere on any of them.

On the other hand, when I was a young teen, I wrote dozens of what you might call novels. They were read only by my closest friends and ended up being stashed in a shopping bag in my closet when I left home. I may have been aspiring…to get rich off them some magical day! But until then, I was still the author of those materials. The byline on all of them said “by Kim Beall.” And even though I was just a kid, the copyright to them legally belonged to me the moment I wrote them down. In very fact if anyone had published any parts of those works for any reason, even if they did not make any money from them, if they had not credited me as author they would have been breaking the law.

Note: there is one circumstance under which it is correct to refer to yourself as an “aspiring author.” That is if you are always only planning to write, but never actually do it! Then yes, you are aspiring like crazy here. You will become an author as soon as you start putting words on paper (or disc.) (Or cloud. You know what I mean!) But yes, until then, you are merely aspiring.

If you write stuff, you are a writer, regardless of whether your work is advertising copy or fan fiction. If you get paid for what you write, you might be an author, or you might be a corporate asset. Both these things are fine. But remember: if your name is on the things you wrote, you legally own the copyright to it and you are the author, even if you never make a dime. Every court in the land will refer to you “hereinafter as The Author,” should you ever find yourself having to reclaim your work from someone who misappropriated it. This is regardless of whether you or they ever make any money from it.

If you write stuff on which your name rightfully belongs, then stop calling yourself an “aspiring author.” Stop shrinking away from referring to yourself as what you actually are. You are an author. Own it!


PS: Those stories I wrote as a teen and left behind at my parents’ house? My mom saved them for me for decades, and gave them back to me when she knew I was old enough not to throw them out. Bless her – I hope she’s enjoying Heaven, now. Her corner of it, I am sure, has a WalMart and a Gabes within walking distance of a Red Lobster and an Asian buffet!

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Pre-order Ghost of a Chance

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Ghost of a Chance in eBook and Paperback coming May 31, 2020
Coming May 31!

This is the third and final story in Callaghan McCarthy’s story-cycle, but it is far from the last story to take place in the strange world in which she has found herself (which just might be, for all we know, actually the same world we all live in right now. *wink*)

The back-cover blurb says this:

A year after her arrival in Woodley, USA, Callaghan McCarthy has become the manager of Vale House, a haunted B&B on the edge of a faerie meadow. The town elders are letting her in on more and more of the closely-guarded secrets that make this strange town tick. Best of all, her relationship with Ben Dawes has blossomed into a full-blown romance.

She is supremely content with her lot, until one of the town’s most beloved citizens dies, turning her weird but happy little world upside down.

In the midst of the tumult, a famous television ghost-hunter offers to cleanse Vale House of its resident spirits. Naturally, Cally and the other staff flatly refuse this offer. After the obnoxious guest leaves, however, the ghosts seem to disappear with them.

Cally is determined to rescue her spectral friends and bring them home, though she begins to understand she must travel to a very dark place to find them. In order to succeed, she must do something that frightens her even more: she must learn to trust those who claim to love her.

The eBook is available for pre-order from Amazon right now for $2.99 through May 30. After it’s official release date, May 31, the price will go up to $3.99 so pre-order while you can!

The paperback version is also available for pre-order, but only through Barnes and Noble or (if you ask them nicely to acquire it for you) your local Independent Bookseller. Unfortunately, the A-word does not allow indy authors to provide pre-orders of paperbacks, which is just one of the many reasons why I like Independent Booksellers so much better!

If you don’t know where your nearest Independent Bookseller might be, you can check at Indiebound.org (I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out there are more than one of them, and closer to you than you thought, too!)

And now, dear readers, before I get to work on a whole, new series, I am going to take a break to just read and read and read! My To Be Read pile is nearing dangerous proportions – I’m afraid it could topple and injure someone. (I really should write a book about that, someday, shouldn’t I?)

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