Why bother writing?

Over on one of the writer’s groups I frequent, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle. (It’s what I get for opening my mouth.)

One lady was offering tips on emarketing–optimizing SEO on Amazon, using Twitter and Facebook, all that stuff. Another lady was lamenting how none of those things has helped her sell any of her books. In fact, she lamented it for so long that I got annoyed and asked, “So why bother writing at all?”

Well, it got the whole group pondering themselves, wondering why they write if it’s been statistically proven that new authors don’t make money off their books. Self-pub, small press or large press–very, very few authors make money writing books. It’s why there’s all the jokes about the starving writer typing away in a barren apartment.

Here’s another way of looking at it:

Calvin_5

Don’t sell the bike shop, Orville.

So why write if you’re not going to make money off it right off the bat? Easy. Do it because you love it.

I’ll say it again.

WRITE BECAUSE YOU LOVE IT.

If you don’t love it, find something else that you love. Life is short and there’s no point in spending hours doing something you don’t enjoy.

Someone else mentioned wanting to write a bestseller and they’re so frustrated they’re not famous yet.

Let me tell you a little story about that.

Once upon a time there was a girl who started writing fanfics about Sonic the Hedgehog. They were weird, and daring, and reinterpreted the universe’s elements in surprising ways. People either loved them or hated them, and said so.

The girl opened up her website to fan submissions of art and fanfics. Over the eight years the site operated, it became a community hub. She was moderately famous. Her fanfics were the equivalent of bestsellers.

And it sucked. So many people made demands of her time and attention about website things. People got mad when she didn’t answer fanmail. People wrote terrible things about her on other sites because she tried to keep her website G-rated. Finally she threw in the towel and faded into obscurity, where it was much more peaceful.

Having a bestseller and being famous is way, way overrated. I did it because I loved it. When the torment became greater than the enjoyment, I closed it down. What does it profit a girl to gain the world and lose her soul? Nothing, that’s what.

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Christmas ’12 recap

It’s time for the Christmas recap in photos!

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The munchkins decorating our little tree at home.
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My youngest nephew playing by himself in front of all the Christmas loot. Hey, gifts for 25 people is a lot.
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Assembling the clam chowder! Our Christmas tradition for the last few years has been chowder in bread bowls. Filling and delicious.
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Socializing at dinner!
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Petting the delighted baby.
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A partial shot of gift-opening madness. There were so many people in the room, I couldn’t get them all.
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Trying for a shot of faces. Opening presents is serious business.

My pictures turned out horrible because I had to keep the flash on. Everything was too blurry otherwise. I much prefer taking pictures during daylight holidays, like Easter!

Quick doodle

I got a new tablet for Christmas (I’m still geeking out about it!). Here’s one of the things I doodled–my avatar from years ago, done up in the My Little Pony style.

mlp-slasher

I’ve been experimenting with editing stock photos to make book covers. I have no idea what I’m doing, still, but it’s been fun.

The year’s books

I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads.

http://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/413557

Looking back over them (I read a whopping 28, but I started in March and didn’t remember what I’d read before that), it’s been a weird, wild year in the land of books. Here’s some of the good stuff I read:

The Earth Painter, by Melissa Turner Lee. The story of girl meets boy in your average YA high school setting. Except the boy is this supernatural kind of dude who helped paint the worlds. Now that he’s been decommissioned, he spends his time painting murals and things. There’s all kinds of oddball supernatural things going on in the school, and of course there’s a bad anti-painter. It’s an odd book and touted as the “Christian answer to Twilight”. The only parallel I can see in that is that he shows up in her bedroom uninvited. Aside from that, they’re nothing alike.

Leviathan/Behemoth/Goliath, by Scott Westerfield. A great YA steampunk retelling of World War 1, had there been gas-powered giant robots, giant genetic-engineered monstrosities of war like flying whales, and of course, Nicola Tesla and his Death Ray. Set against this backdrop is the story of a girl who dresses like a boy and joins the Air Force, and winds up traveling on the Leviathan, the aforementioned whale. Meanwhile, the son of the murdered ruler of Austria goes on the run in his kerosene-powered walker, and their paths cross, of course. I enjoyed the heck out of the whole trilogy.

The Dragon’s Tooth, by N.D. Wilson. Imagine if the orphans of A Series of Unfortunate Events had been sent off to Hogwarts, only Hogwarts is actually a safekeeper of killer magical creatures like Fablehaven. That’s this book. It’s a great read, if you can get past the weirdness of the first couple of chapters. He throws a lot of information at you very quickly. I kept going with it, trusting the author to sort out all the important bits, and of course he does. The bad guy is one of the most spine-chilling Middle-Grade villains I’ve read in a long time. Voldemort never pretended he was doing his victims a kindness. Dr. Phoenix is sawing people apart and rebuilding them for their own good. I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

Curse Bearer, by Rebecca Minor. A “high fantasy”, which means it’s set in medieval times. A girl and her family flee their enemy-occupied village, but her father has a curse on him. So the girl goes off to find a cure, only to find out that her use of magic has cursed her, too. Apparently there’s two kinds of magic, and the bad stuff is easier to use, of course. Along the way she meets elves and dragonborn, and goes on a quest to find a magic sword. Knowing that these books tie back into the author’s Windrider series (about a grumpy elf captain who rides a dragon) makes me very curious about future installments. 🙂

Song of the Summer King, by Jess Owen. I haven’t read an animal book in a long time (like the Black Stallion books, for instance). But I used to love them, so this book was a refreshing blast to the past. Also, it’s griffins. There’s all kinds of lovely stuff about these cat-birds, how they live, the weird Iceland-ish geography of their island chain. Oh, and the whole problem with the conquering eagle-griffins, and how the conquered falcon-griffin hero really really wants to prove himself to the king. Also there’s wolves, and if you love wolves, these will have you swooning. They’ve got the whole Native American thing going on. It’s a refreshingly different read, and I can’t WAIT for the sequels!

Seeking Unseen, by Kat Heckenbach. A very tight sequel to Finding Angel, this book deals with the fallout from the previous book. You might want to read that first. Basically, this is about a secret community of magic-users, and about people who want to blend technology and magic, with horrific results. Some pretty grisly stuff happens in the first book. In the second book, we meet a new character who is a rebel to the core, doesn’t have magic, and shows up to make trouble in the peaceful little magical community. She ROCKS. Apparently the next book will star her, and I’m looking forward to it.

Bid the Gods Arise, by Robert Mullin. Hoo boy, where do I start with this one? It’s like if Game of Thrones met Star Wars and they had a party with Dragonlance. Two guys get kidnapped from their homeworld and sold into slavery on another world. Along the way they learn about magic powers, meet other races (like a mute faun-girl), steal airships, and try to evade the clutches of the Reamar, soul-sucking vampires who live in a world-devouring stone tree. It’s wicked awesome.

 

Sword commission

A lady commissioned me to do a couple of black and white illustrations for her upcoming novella (short story?).

Naturally, my tablet decided to crap out immediately. No amount of fiddling with the cord could induce it to work.

Fortunately I’d managed to get one sketch done. She asked for a particular kind of sword with vines of ivy wrapped around it. Here was the concept, working off a reference photo she provided:

pauline-commission-sword1

I dumped it over into Illustrator and traced it all out in vector. I experimented with different ways of shading, and decided that gradients made it look too artificial. So I went with a pen stroke to give it an “illustration” look.

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Here’s how it looks with leaves.

pauline-commission-sword-sm

I’m on the fence about it so far–the leaves obscure the sword if I make them darker, and the whole image is too busy if I give them lots of detail. I’m tempted to print the thing out, add all the extra bits by hand with pen, and scan it back in. Illustrator doesn’t like crosshatching at all.

Genetic memory

So I was thinking about pelicans today. Mostly, this weird story of pelicans in overfished waters who have begun eating hatchlings of other bird species. It’s freaked out the biologists, because the pelicans have altered their behavior so much.

Pelican From Wikimedia Commons

It got me thinking about genetic memory in general. God programmed the animals with their original behavior, but the animals are free to come up with their own weird behaviors (like switching from catching fish to eating other birds).

My cockatiel is terrified of long, skinny objects, like cords and hoses, especially when you drag them like a snake slithering. He’s never seen a snake, but he recognizes a predator. The iguanas I owned in my youth were afraid of some of my shirts, because they had snake-like patterns and stripes.

Baby chicks are terrified of every bird that flies over, because they’re born knowing about hawks. Apparently this is observable science, too. According to Wikipedia, genetic memory supplies a trained reaction to a stimulus. Not actual memories.

But that’s where fiction takes over. What if we could pass down memories, or retrieve memories from our ancestors? Heck, the whole Assassin’s Creed story is based around that–the one guy going into the computer program that accesses his genetic memory, and fighting the bad guys as an awesome assassin.

Robin Hobb is big on memory transference in her books. By the time I’d finished reading two trilogies, I was kind of tired of it. In her books, people can take memories out of their heads and store them in memory stone, or pass on memories to offspring.

A casual google search turns up all kinds of weird articles of people claiming to have all kinds of “genetic memories” of places that seemed familiar, and turned out to be places where relatives had lived. But when it comes to that happening in real life, I’m a skeptic. I know weird stuff happens. I also know that people have overactive imaginations. Ever seen a LARP group at play? I rest my case.

But it’d sure be fun in a story.

The Next Big Thing

This is a writer’s meme I first saw on Mike Duran’s site. Then Kat Heckenbach unofficially tagged me, so here I go!

1) What is the title of your next book/work?

Currently it’s Storm Chase. I’ve been brainstorming titles for it, and I keep coming back to that one. Because the hero’s last name is Chase and he’s dealing with a Storm … yeah.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?

My husband has been writing this same story over and over since high school. It’s changed significantly with every iteration. Finally, a few years ago, I said, “I’m going to write this for you, and then we’ll be DONE and MOVE ON.”

The basic premise has stayed the same. My husband’s character Carda gains magic powers and has to save the world from the Subspace Storm. But we’ve changed what the Storm is and how it starts, who the villains are, the identities of the secondary characters and all their subplots.

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?

Young Adult Urban Fantasy. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring that out.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a stupidly fun question. Unfortunately, Carda has always looked like my husband. I can’t find any actors who look like him. And I suppose Xironi looks like me.

From Carrolls All Year

Carda’s sister Michelle would look like Alyson Hannigan, if her hair was pulled back in a braid all the time.

Indal is totally Matthew Lewis.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Well, the current one is, “Carda’s newfound space and time magic helps him battles a college rival, but trying to clean up the mess lands Carda on the wrong side of magical law as a world-eating storm closes in on Earth.”

Which is condensed down from, “Carda’s life was fine until the day he wrecked his car. Or didn’t wreck his car. Now fire and lightning erupt from his hands whenever he gets mad, a cute catgirl is making him clean up his messes, and a jerk from school is tearing holes in reality. Trying to stop him lands Carda on the wrong side of magical law, forcing Carda to go on the run, even as a chained angelus destroys worlds across
the multiverse, closing in on Earth.”

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m still bouncing around, trying to figure that out. I might query a couple of small presses I know and see what happens. I’ve seen other people start small press to get their feet wet, then move on to Big Publishers. I think I need all the training I can get, and I’m willing to get it anywhere I can. I don’t want to self-publish until I can confidently edit my own work.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three or four months is my usual turnaround for a draft. Less than that if I know exactly where the story’s going and I’m really jazzed about it. Nanowrimo revealed to me that I can churn out a whole draft in one month, but it’s very rough.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, sort of like Hounded, by Kevin Hearne. Takes place in Arizona, has a guy with powers. My heroes don’t deal with gods, though. Just one angry imprisoned dark angel bent on destroying the multiverse.

Also kind of like Rift Jump, by Greg Mitchell, in that it deals with jumping around to other worlds. Not quite as much in this book as in later books, though.

And it’s also kind of like the Subtle Knife, although they don’t jump to other worlds in Storm Chase nearly as often as I’d like. The later books deal with that a lot more.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As stated earlier, I was sick of my husband rewriting it and took matters into my own hands. But the universe grew (and grew and grew) in the telling. I’ve written four complete stories and three partials. Some will never see the light of day due to continuity problems, while others are hopefuls for publication. I love this world and these characters, and I hope someday other readers will enjoy them, too.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s action-packed.

The hero will make you laugh.

People manipulating time and space with magic will intrigue you. Especially once the bad guys get rolling.

A werewolf who is actually two physical bodies spliced together in two separate spatial planes.

Love. Courage. Sacrifice.

The importance of a man’s car.

Death elementals.

You know, SKILLS. /NapoleonDynamite

Tagged people: Rachel Blackmon, M.R. Anglin, Jess Owen, Rebecca Minor, Aaron DeMott. Now you guys talk about your upcoming books!

Book review: Bid the Gods Arise

I read an ARC of Bid the Gods Arise. When I picked it up, I was kind of “meh”. I don’t really go in for epic fantasy these days. (I’ve been burned too many times by cliche elves with long golden tresses and heroic knights and everything else people can rip off Lord of the Rings or mine from Dungeons and Dragons). All I knew about BTGA was that it had soul-sucking vampires.

It starts with Aric’s dreams and Maurin’s common sense. They live in a temple and are looking at becoming a priest and a prince in an arranged marriage, respectively. Standard fantasy getup.

Roundabout chapter 3, the heroes are kidnapped by an inter-world ship and sold into slavery on a different world. I sat up a little straighter. I hadn’t expected that.

Introduce political scheming involving the illegal slave trade. And people with magic. And a mute faun-girl saved from slavery, whom Maurin falls very hard for. And a female gladiator with a grudge against everything living. And a woman with powers, smarts, and kick-butt fighting skills who trains them all to be a team.

And also that tree. See the gnarly-looking tree on the cover? That’s the size of a mountain, and the home of the Reamar–the soul-eating immortal evil beings who feast on life as their tree devours the planet with its roots. And one of them is calling to Aric through his dreams.

Also, someone in the party is the Dreaded One–the one prophesied to destroy the Reamar. And the Reamar want very much to find and eliminate this person.

There are some Christian elements, but they don’t distract from the story much. Some of the Reamar mythos and the way the world gates work are tied back into a familiar-sounding Creation myth. But there’s only a tiny bit, just enough to make me want to know more. Especially about the world gates and what happens if you go traipsing around the universe (multiverse?).

It’s a great read. The world constantly surprised me, because it wasn’t afraid to throw in airships and technology alongside the standard medieval fare. The characters are well-fleshed out and memorable. (I remembered their names. I never remember character names in fantasy novels.) The ending wraps up the plot threads nicely, but leaves it open for sequels. I await them eagerly!

Sanitized Christmas songs

Years ago, Amy Grant wrote a sweet little Christmas song called Grown-up Christmas List. The first verses go like this:

“Do you remember me?
I sat upon your knee,
Wrote to you with childhood fantasies.
Well, I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I’m not a child,
but my heart still can dream
So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself,
But for a world in need:

No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start,
That time would heal all hearts,
That everyone would have a friend,
That right would always win,
And love would never end;
This is my grown-up Christmas list.

It’s a nice song. It’s whimsical and sweet. There’s not much wrong with it, other than it’s a letter to Santa, right?

Well, for some reason, someone decided that wasn’t Christmasy enough. Plus One adapted the song and changed everything but the chorus, keeping the tune. And now a plethora of Christian artists have recorded this sanitized version. I hear it every year and grind my teeth because the whimsy is gone. Here’s the first verse:

Do you remember me?
Long ago on bended knee
I prayed to you
With childhood fantasy
Well I’m all grown up now
Can you still help somehow
I’m not a child
But my heart still can dream
Please hear my prayer tonight
And help me do what’s right
Not for myself
But for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And every man would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my prayer for every year

No longer the whimsy of a Christmas list asking Santa for grown-up things, it’s now a heavy-handed prayer to God to “help me change the world”.

I don’t exactly know why this grates on me so. I mean, Amy Grant’s a Christian artist and it was okay for her to sing about Santa and rocking around the Christmas tree and all that jazz. But suddenly Christians are having to sanitize work from other Christians? Am I missing something?