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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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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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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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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I Believe There’s a Ghost of a Chance

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Ghost of a Chance preliminary cover art

This whole pandemic thing has really squashed the mojo out of a lot of creative people I know. Though supportive of others, I believed myself immune to this effect, since the third volume of the Woodley, USA saga was already written and in Beta by the time the seriousness of our situation became undeniable. All I had left to do (I told myself) was edit and format – technical, left-brained tasks I would have no trouble performing under the stress I wasn’t admitting I felt anyway.

But I guess I was also subject to the creative brain-fog, after all, because I really have been procrastinating things I need to be doing to get this book out the door on time. For one thing, I’ve been completely neglecting this blog! And I was avoiding getting to work on my back-cover blurb the way I avoid doing my taxes.

What helped me break this block was deciding to work on cover art instead. Unable to summon my favorite model for a new photo-shoot, I went through all the old photos of green-screen Cally, and suddenly my mind was filled with possibilities! I arbitrarily selected a Cally and color-corrected her outfit, setting her against a background and adding the proper atmospheric elements. To my surprise and joy, the whole while, my back cover description played through and through my head. By the time I was done, my blurb was nearly ready for prime time.

But I continued to struggle with the title. And you can’t make a cover without a title!

For the first two volumes in the Woodley, USA series, I had employed working titles that eventually felt so right, I ended up keeping them as actual titles. This experience did not repeat itself for me, this time. My original working title, “Rivers and Roads,” just did not seem to fit the story anymore, once it became full-blown. I tried everything! Brainstorming with Beta readers and CPs, free-association drawing, scribbling random words on slips of paper and pulling them out of a zipper bag. Nothing worked.

So for a few days, I tried to clear my brain while watching YouTube video tributes to Neil Peart. It would be hard for me to proclaim any one Rush song as my favorite, but “Ghost of a Chance” has always been one of my top fifty or so. Now that Neil is gone, his beautiful lyrics feel all the more poignant. I’m not sure why I did, but for some reason I held the title of this song up against my manuscript. It literally gave me chills.

A quick online search showed me there are already hundreds of books out there with this title. Well, that was a bummer. I talked it over with my CPs and readers. They all said. “Yeah, but if it gives you chills…and by the way, it gives me chills, too.”

My Biggest Fangirl said “Always go with your chills!”

So. There you go. I believe there’s a Ghost of a Chance.

Because Neil.

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Job Application for Female Lead Character

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I’m now about a quarter of the way through drafting the final book in Callaghan McCarthy’s story-cycle. Soon it will be time for someone new to step forward and tell the story of Woodley, USA from their own perspective. To this end, I am issuing a casting call for potential lead characters to headline the next series.

Job description:

During the course of your employment as Lead Character, you will experience newness and wonder (whether you like it or not) and you will have your entire belief structure fundamentally challenged and overhauled. Your heart will probably break a few times, but you will be provided with allies who will nurture you through this. You will probably also face some physical dangers; unfortunately, you’ll be on your own regarding how to get out of these particular messes. Your job is to figure out how to save not just yourself but your friends, the farm, the town, and ultimately the world. (You will almost certainly never understand exactly how the fate of the world figures in all this, of course, but it’s still your job to do it.)

Requirements include but are not limited to:

  • Adult human female with some life experience. You do not need to have grown children, but this is not a “coming of age” tale. Please have a few hard-learned lessons under your belt that have made you stronger and kinder.
  • Some cynicism and a few PTSD symptoms are OK, but complete douchebaggery will be considered a deal-breaker.
  • Preference will be given to those with 100% human blood, though if you suspect you have a long-forgotten faerie or deity somewhere in your ancestry, you may still be considered.
  • Skinny twentysomething characters with large breasts and flawless skin need not apply.

Please answer the following questions on the reverse side of this sheet:

  • What are you running from?
  • What did you hope to find when you arrived in Woodley, USA?
  • What did you really hope to find? I mean originally, back when you were a kid, before they convinced you it couldn’t actually be found in the real world?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?

If you are a fictional character and wish to be considered for this position, please transmit your answers to my muse ASAP.

Note: While Woodley, USA is a diverse community, I do not feel that I, as a writer, am qualified to represent, through my Main Characters,  challenges I have never personally experienced. While you will be acting alongside characters of many different ages, races, species, genders, physical abilities and neurological types, I feel that stories which feature these characters as the main Point Of View are best told by #OwnVoices.

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Fantasy & Science Fiction Review

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My F&SF fantasy come true!

A long time ago in a universe far, far away, I sent a copy of my debut novel to one of my favorite authors of all time. I sent it for no reason other than to thank him for inspiring me by writing some of the most enjoyable fiction I’d ever read, and also to thank him for his support. His support had come, many years before, in the form of what is, to date, still the best writing advice I’ve ever received. That advice, to paraphrase quite heavily, is: “Qwitcherbitchin’ and write!

Imagine my excitement when I received an email this past June from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (to which I have been subscribed since I was a teenager – and I won’t tell you how long that has been!) The email asked me to review, before release, a copy of an overview of Seven Turns this favorite author of mine had written in his “Books to Look For” column for the July/August issue. I’ve been bursting at the seams ever since, dying to tell you all about it. Now it is finally July, and I can tell you!

The “Books to Look For” section of F&SF Magazine is at
https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2019/cdl1907.htm

The overview of Seven Turns is the third listing down, right between Philip K. Dick and John R. Little … seriously, am I allowed to yell “Squeeeeee!” now?

My favorite part is where he refers to some of the spirits Cally encounters in Woodley as “deities.” I wouldn’t have expected most people to recognize that’s what they (some of them!) are, but of course Charles de Lint would know a deity when he sees one!

Naturally I also immediately sent him a copy of Moonlight and Moss. Not sucking up for another review or anything, but I want to see if he recognizes the other deities, because this volume deals much more heavily with the denizens of the faerie side of the meadow gate. (Oh, who am I kidding – he’ll not only recognize them, but is probably on first-name terms with some of them.)

Now, if you are one of my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity and you are wondering how to get your inspiration flowing, how to find time to write, wondering if you’re just a hack or what, here is the best advice I can pass on to you:

Qwitcherbitchin’ and Write!

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This is Real, This is Now!

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It’s Launch Day for MOONLIGHT AND MOSS!

You know how it goes: It feels like I’ve been waiting for this day forever, but on the other hand, it all went so fast, once I finally decided on a release date.

That, they say, is normal to the point of being trite. Here’s the really weird thing, though: I feel like it all happened so long ago! I’ve been working a lot, lately, on the next book in this story-cycle, so that now when I talk about my work I get all mixed up about which story I’m talking about. I hope I don’t end up giving away any spoilers that way!

Each of the books in this story cycle is designed to stand on its own. The end of each book winds up the main plot and finishes the current story (with just a few Questions to give you a hint at what the next one might be about!)

You still might prefer to read them in order if you can, though, to avoid spoilers. Seven Turns happens, chronologically, before Moonlight and Moss and also focuses on Callaghan McCarthy. I am pretty sure there will be one more story (not counting the Christmas Episode – stay tuned!) with Cally at its heart. I have tentatively titled the next tale “Rivers and Roads.”

From here, I can see at least seven stories about Woodley, USA and it’s quirky denizens, and that seems like an appropriate number of rivers to cross. But you never know. There are a lot of people – and you know what I mean and do not mean when I say “people!” – calling my name. People who want their stories, also, to be told. I guess I’ll find out when I get to that bend in the road!

…and then they came upon the Thing…


(With many thanks to The Men for their amazing song and all the inspiring imagery it lent me.)

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Moonlight and Moss Launch Party!

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It’s official! Moonlight and Moss will be released on May 31, 2019. The launch party will be on Saturday, June 1, at 3:PM at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC.

I can’t say enough good things about Page 158! Not only are they the coziest independent bookstore I’ve ever been inside of, but the staff are all friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, and the proprietors are active participants in the community. They really love supporting local and independent authors. If you live anywhere near Raleigh, you need to visit this store!

But especially visit it on June 1, 2019. Not only will I be debuting Moonlight and Moss, but There Will Be Cake! Just sayin’. 🙂

If you can’t make it to the party, we’ll be live-streaming it on my Facebook author page: facebook.com/kimbeallauthor and I hope to see you there!

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