We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities… still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin. – Charles Darwin
There was a pivotal moment in history when we began to look at ourselves, and at life, in a new way. A new concept changed not just how we perceived ourselves, but how we were related to all the other life and species on Earth. We came to realize, along the way, that we were kin, however distant, of every life form on Earth, and that moment was both aggrandizing and humbling, all at once. That moment was when Charles Darwin brought the idea of Law of Natural Selection into the limelight of the scientific world, and we began to see with clear eyes how everything, absolutely everything, was connected.
Every February 12, Darwin Day is celebrated.
The best way to celebrate Darwin Day is to really study evolution and familiarize yourself with the concept of ‘Natural Selection’.
It’s an often misunderstood concept, with people mistaking ‘Survival of the Fittest’ for ‘Survival of the Best’, and failing to grasp that ‘fittest’ is for a certain set of circumstances. The heart of it is, if a member of a species survives to pass on its genes, then those genes are the ones that survive to shape the new species. Eventually, with enough beneficial mutations, it can go on to become an entirely new species suited for its environment. Read up! It’s only the ancestors of everything you have to learn about!
While you are reading non-fiction, entertain yourselves with speculative fiction too! In the worlds of Science Fiction Speculative fiction, and Fantasy, a recurrent theme takes the Theory of Evolution out to the stars.
If all things in Earth are connected, why can't all things in the universe be more connected than we currently imagine. What if our ancestors came from "out there"?
Scientists wondered about the possibility of DNA coming to us from the stars. Recent discoveries show that life may have begun on earth via the falling of DNA laden meteorites.
A less spontaneous idea of creation can be found in legends of many lands-The Bible speaks of us as created from dust. Egyptian god Khnum made humans of clay on a potter's wheel - The speculative among us wonder if this is all ancient code for us having been part of some grand "forced" evolution - something created in a celestial lab. In Children of Stone a shadowy "god" lurks offstage throughout the series as dark energy and alternately as a watcher or a lost soul from a race of gods. Once a scientist, this entity fell in love with its creations and wanted to experience life as they did. To accomplish this it went rogue, took a semi-human form and began to mate as well as create a superior and more angelic breed of man...but something happened. It "phoned home" to say it was trapped and low on energy - needing a rescue. The "Children" part Artificial intelligence and part living creature come on a rescue mission only to find out the entity's true plan for it's creations and them.
We all evolve from newborn to ancient. Writers also evolve. Earlier in the week, I asked members of my Facebook Children of Stone Fan Page who were writers or aspiring authors to tell me how they have evolved as writers. First, I will lead with my own evolution story. It's been pretty dramatic. I always wrote and told stories. My style, when I wrote the stories, was very well researched and bookish. I was almost over-descriptive and tutorial - a leftover from writing graduate level art history papers. My characters and worlds were well developed, but got "lost" in many walls of text and descriptions by the offstage narrator. I was very much "tell" instead of "show". With each story I write, I move further into being able to show action, worlds, and characters instead. Another thing I learned was how to structure stories so I could use multiple points of view without "head-hopping".
As you will see in a later article here re-blogged from A. M. Suver Justice I've made a similar journey to her journey of tightening prose. My current project? I'm pruning up to 50,000 words from the original 176,000 word tome of Voices in Crystal. The story will be leaner, meaner, and less confusing. After that, it's on to Book 5 The Lake of Memory. Recent conversations with my son have shown me I might do well to create a prequel to the series as well as work with quite a few novella length spin-offs with other writers.
Now here's what the rest of you said
I went from being super-detailed in my character descriptions to being more general and letting the reader fill in the blanks. I've also gotten better at character conversations and conveying emotions.
From childhood, I told stories, spun tales, entertained my dolls, friends, classmates. Before I could write, my oral stories poured out. Journaled, wrote, dictated my entire life. What ifs inspire me.
... I think I'd just describe it as finding my individual voice, and finding what's good writing versus not. On voice, I like to write quirky, real characters. The writing all springs from that... it's very experiential. This also had the effect of reducing how much I describe settings, not that I did a lot of that anyway. Buildings, rooms, etc., are all from the kinds of things anyone would notice when walking up to them or through them. I also make strong use of viewpoint... my militant characters definitely notice different things than the more flighty ones. My writing's mainly evolved from basic good writing skills... how and when to use action tags, for instance. Don't use passive voice. Don't use "very." Avoid using words other than "said." Don't say "I began to dream," say "I dreamt." " Don't say "I could feel", say "I felt." Almost always, direct-action words are better than passive/mushy ones. Don't use more than one adjective, e.g., don't say "It was a small fuzzy dog," say "it was a small dog." Don't say "there was a man standing there," say "A man stood there."The biggest evolution oddly enough may have been on the word "said." I went back and forth on that many times. I've gotten to the point though where I'm firmly in the "said" camp. She SAID. She did not breathe, growl, sigh, or harrumph. This is not an ABSOLUTE rule, but I have a strong preference. I've noticed that when people pull out the thesaurus for "said" it's irritating as hell. So, that's how I've evolved. . Victoria Miller Schwimley
When I first started writing, I thought I was good. I listened to biased praise from family and friends. But then I started hearing from non-biased people and realized how green I really was. Thanks to a kindly publisher who taught me the difference between show vs tell, I realized I had much to learn. I started reading anything I could get my hands on from popular authors who were selling and had a huge fan following. I immediately rewrote the first chapter of the book I'd sent to the publisher and was amazed at the difference. Even the friends who had told me how good it was, were awed by the difference. I've learned so much and am working on improving my earlier novels before publishing them on audio-book
Linda J. Burson
I kept getting turned down by literary agents for the same reason— I was doing more “telling than showing”. So I’ve been working hard on changing that. I am now super aware of the difference and have noticed an improvement in this area.
Bonnie’s Milani, whom I interviewed last week, has given an excerpt of Monkey's Luck
Black. I was floating somewhere, adrift in rasping darkness.
Red. In the upper right corner of the dark a dim light flashed red. I blinked lazy eyes at it, vaguely noting that the red winked in time to the rasp. I opted to ignore it. I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t care. I was content to just drift, at peace with infinity. If only that damned rasping wink would go away.
Red rasped again, brighter and louder. This time some groggy part of my mind recognized the rasp as the sound of my breather. Slowly, I followed the red rasp of my breath back up to consciousness, still puzzling the light. Red meant some kind of warning…
Air supply! I came awake in a rush of terror as memory of the Lupans’ attack flooded back. I saw the hull vanish again, sucking armored bodies out into the vast nothingness beyond - Oh, gobbing hells, where was I?
The idea that I was one of those bodies kicked terror into Jump drive. Marine I might be, but I heard myself whimper. A flush to vacuum is every soldier’s nightmare. We weren’t close enough to any star system to worry about sunstroke. This far out, you could only hope your suit’s heater gave out before the seals or air. That way at least you just froze. Otherwise, it was a choice between slow suffocation and having your blood boil in your veins. My vote was none of the above. A walk in vacuum was not the way this woman wanted to die. I tested an arm. Thank the local gods, I could still move. Carefully, I tried probing my surroundings. Bad idea. Slight as it was, my movement shifted whatever it was that anchored me. I started to drift. I did a one-eighty before my hand locked on to a new anchor. I blinked up and my tongue went dry. I was looking out through the blast hole. Straight into star field.
A new set of lights popped red and blue along my peripheral vision: my heart was pounding hard enough to worry my armor’s bio-pat monitors. Every sensation seemed intensified. The red warning blip in the upper right of my helmet display looked brighter, the rasp of my breather sounded louder. My helmet smelled of fear. Only saving grace was that the star field gave me a bit of light. Using my free hand, I traced the dim outline of my anchor to see what held me.
The sad answer stared up at me through the jagged edges of a helmet’s face mask. That wasn’t a sight to dwell on. I followed the starlit outline of his armored body across the blast hole. Lucky for me he’d hit the hole ahead of me. Big guy, whoever he’d been, big enough for his body to stretch lengthwise across the opening. I told myself not to check his armor’s name tag. Old soldier’s trick: you can skip the pain, as long as you don’t know the corpse.
But why? It was all so godsbedamned stupid! Gods-be-damned, gobbing war was supposed to be over! Or nearly so – all we’d heard these past few months was that the peace talks scheduled for Bogue Dast Station were going to end hostilities once and for all. So the Lupans had no call to attack us. Hells, we were in the demilitarized zone, still in our side of their damned Dominion border. And our transport was just an old sow of a freighter. Okay, so it was an old sow of a freighter transporting a battalion of marines. It was still a civilian freighter! The Dogs never attacked civ ships. And as far as the Dogs should know this old sow was just hauling ore.
Unless somebody up top had sold us out. Gods knew it wouldn’t be the first time.
I slammed my hand down in helpless rage. Wrong move. The blow sent my anchor sliding sideways. I shoved clear of the corpse an instant before it drifted out of the blast hole. Clinging to a hand hold on the wall I held my breath till my heart slowed down and my head cleared. I needed to find a way out of the troop hold. Otherwise my name’d be on the dead scrolls right beside my lost comrades. Because it finally registered on me what that rasping red light above my eye meant. Leakage warning. My armor was leaking air.
This week's author is Eve Pasco! Welcome!
1. Who are you as a person? (brief bio paragraph)
Midlife restlessness prompted me to define myself as an Indie author. After retiring from a teaching career in elementary education, I rekindled my passion for storytelling by composing fiction that taps into significant issues affecting the lives of women. My novels in the genre of Contemporary Women's Fiction are distinguished for their character-driven plots which feature flawed and feisty female protagonists over forty. The setting of my novels takes place in my native state of Rhode Island, where its historic landmarks, geographic entities, and regional culture become an integral part of the story.
I launched a Nonfiction Memoir collection, 100 Wild Mushrooms: Memoirs of the ‘60s. I’ve written the novella, “Mr. Wizardo,” which is part of an anthology of reimagined fairy tales for grownups. Once Upon a Fabulous Time is a collaboration with Indie Fabs: Aliya DalRae, R.M. Gauthier, JB Richards, Lyra Shanti, and JoanneVan Leerdam.
2. What do you want written on your head stone?
“On the road, as in life—I accelerate!”
3. What is your book about?
For our interview, I’ll focus on my novel in the genre of Contemporary Women’s Fiction, An Enlightening Quiche. Since its publication, the book has merited: 2018 Golden Box Book Award Semifinalist; 2017 SIBA: “First Place” Best Contemporary; Readers’ Favorite 5-Star Seal; ATAI 5-Stars.
The official book trailer, 39 seconds long, indicates what my book is about: https://youtu.be/cpzLrUvLhZA
I’d like to share the latest 5-Star Review in its entirety recently posted at Amazon and Goodreads on December 27th. It offers much insight into the book:
Hooked from the First Forkful to the Last Crumb
Sholem Aleichem is a Jewish author who lived in the 19th century. While he wrote mainly in Yiddish, the dying Central-Eastern-European Jewish language (nowadays spoken only by orthodox communities), you can still find some of his work translated to English and Hebrew. His novels, as well as short stories, were a mirror of the Jewish society of the Shtetls – the old towns that were mostly inhabited by Orthodox Jews.
In the Shtetls, each and every one knew their neighbours’ most intimate secrets and affairs, as a substitutional material for our modern-age TV if you’d like. They were fertile grounds for emotional packed stories and tales, and Sholem Aleichem played them in his novels like a gifted fiddler.
Unknowingly, or maybe intentionally, Eva Pasco takes this form of mundane socio-politics, of petty rivalries and small love affairs, and transcribed them to the North American culture and society. Beauchemins is a placid small town on the north end of Rhode Island. Following massive French-Canadian job seeking immigration during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it is also a French-Canadian enclave, in the old American north. Half the population speaks French, and the other half uses French-Canadian urban phrases, which paints the town with unique fairy-talish colours, amidst its New England entourage. The story is one of love and friendship; hate and rivalry; camaraderie and competition; all in the simplest aspect of la vie quotidian – our everyday lives.
The story is told by two adversary heroines: Augusta – the town’s ultimate seducer, and Lindsay, who comes to town to establish the local Mill’s museum. The story uses the 1st body, giving each of the frenemies a chance to express their own narrative without an ‘outside’ storyteller. In a sense, Lindsay plays the role of the outsider, digging into the town’s history for her own research and in order to forget about her failed marriage, while at the same time unveiling the town’s closeted skeletons.
Augusta very much represents these skeletons: the untamed, never settled-down, town’s beauty, but also the delicate broken-home refugee, who is always on guard, with ice running in her veins, covering secrets of her own which run deeper than her well covered “Port coloured birthmark” It all drains to a quiche competition, annually held by the town’s luncheonette, in which Augusta and Estelle, best friends, compete. Let me start by saying: don’t read this novel on an empty stomach. Pasco’s talent for imagery will have you craving for a piece of quiche (I actually asked my wife to make one!). The author’s language is impeccable, she uses the full-scope of the English dictionary with playful phrasing to convey the storyline. Many times, the reader is expected to think and deduct for himself, not being served “the quiche” on a silver platter. Pasco treats her readers as intelligent, and spares us nothing in terms of figurative mind puzzles:
“cocooned inside the insecurity blanket of matrimonial bliss…” “…family would reap the benefits of having a cleaning lady come in once a week. Still the dirty laundry accumulated…” and “…only I could pack a peck of pickled pluck whenever tears ventured to surface!” are just a small nosh as an example. A word of warning! With idioms from the full spectrum of American culture, such as “jalopies” and “Miller time” the English playfulness can get rather rich to one’s taste. There was more than one occasion, when I wished Ms. Pasco would get to the point, and more than a few junctures where I had to re-read a paragraph to find the right beau-chemins (pretty roads in French). If you love romance, if you enjoy having to think as reader and if you are an English-language enthusiast – grab your copy today. I can only reprimand Ms. Pasco for the book’s blurb and cover, both which doesn’t live up to the majestic content. I was hooked from the first forkful to the last crumb.
4. What music do you hear (what songs) remind you of your story?
I actually have a playlist which could be the soundtrack for An Enlightening Quiche. These, and more, are referenced in the story:
“Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler
“As Time Goes By” from Casablanca
“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face “by Roberta Flack
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood
“I Heard it through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“Winter Lady” by Leonard Cohen
5. What links or websites do you have? List them below.
Authors Den: http://www.authorsden.com/evapasco
Eva Pasco’s Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/evapasco
Mulligans, Market Research, and Masterpieces (an abstract/reblog)
A. M. Justice 5-4-2016
- full article is https://amjusticeauthor.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/mulligans-market-research-and-masterpieces/
Second chances don’t come often. When we’re kids, sometimes generous coaches, teachers, and friends will allow a do-over, but an extra at-bat or stroke at minigolf is the best we can expect.
A decade ago, before the era of indie authors, if a book came out and didn’t do well in the marketplace, the author moved on to new projects. It’s what creative people do: we keep creating, and we keep creating new things.
Yet…not all of us. In 2012-2013, I released a pair of indie fantasy novels called Blade of Amber and A Wizard’s Lot. They garnered positive reviews, but didn’t sell many copies. They also languished on a lot of to-be-read lists, and a lot of people never finished the first book, or didn’t pick up and read the second one. I knew in my bones the story was really good, so I was disappointed in the reception. Where did I go wrong, I wondered?
(My comment: I hear you. That's where I am right now)
While I was marketing these books, I stumbled across a group of stellar writers and joined their critique group. I paid attention to their feedback, and my skills increased manifold. I also paid attention to the reviews for the two books. Most were positive, but the lukewarm and negative reviews highlighted some weaknesses. Finally, Colleen Aune, whose fiction I love (The Ill-Kept Oath, a Regency-era historical fantasy, will be released this September), offered to read Blade and provide a deep critical review. Her advice, along with the lessons learned from other excellent writers and the virtual focus group feedback from Amazon and Goodreads book reviews, led me to decide to rewrite the series.
The bottom line is, my first two novels weren’t ready for prime time. Before releasing them, I wish I’d had the critical feedback I received after they were on the market. My husband (a songwriter), a filmmaker friend, and others advised me to apply the lessons learned to new projects, but as I said, I knew this story was really good. I also knew I could tell it better.
So, using my virtual market research (the reviews) and my amped up skills as a writer, I took a mulligan. In the past year I’ve powered through a massive rewrite. I also found a publishing partner—Wise Ink Creative Publishing—to help me produce a beautiful, professional-quality book. The cover design by Steven Meyer-Rassow is phenomenal, and a substantive edit by Amanda Rutter has brought the narrative quality to a first-class level. A Wizard’s Forge, Book One of The Woern Saga, will be released September 2016.
In the meantime, I’d like to share two key lessons I learned about pacing and point of view (POV) characters.
Blade of Amber was a hefty 175,000 words, which made the printed book almost 400 pages (in a large trim size with small type). Common wisdom recommends novels be about 100,000 words, which typically puts the book size under 250 pages (depending on trim size and layout density, which dramatically affect page count).
Being a fan of long epic fantasies, I scoffed at the idea that a big word count would deter readers, and I still don’t believe that buyers—especially ebook buyers, who have no sense of a book’s doorstop-ability—pay attention to book length when making a purchase. If the story holds their attention, they’ll read it.
But there’s the rub. The story must hold readers’ attention, and Blade failed to hold too many readers. Several friends and family members tried it and stopped reading before the halfway point. By swallowing my pride and asking those who gave up, I discovered why, and then I got to work. I crafted some guidelines for myself, and by following them, I cut the word count down to 120K without losing any story.
In fact, A Wizard’s Forge contains many new scenes showing events occurring off-stage in the original version, and it’s still almost 50% shorter than Blade of Amber.
Rule 1.1. Something relevant should happen in every scene
Put another way, every scene should advance the plot. There doesn’t have to be a battle or hair-raising escape in every chapter, but each event should connect to other events in the book. World building, character development, scene setting—these are all important, but they must be done in the context of plot. For example, Blade contains a banquet scene where the characters are told an interesting story about their world. However, the story has nothing to do with the plot, and nothing else happens at the banquet that affects the plot either. That scene had to go—getting rid of it also helped me address a few major plausibility issues, so there was a dual benefit.
Rule 1.1.1. Dialogue should advance the plot.
Characters sitting around and shooting the shit might be fun to write, but readers won’t necessarily find it fun to read. Banter should convey crucial information, not colorful but irrelevant anecdotes. Real life discussions about dirty underpants are boring; don’t make readers read them, unless underpants directly relate to the plot.
Rule 1.1.2. No important event should occur offstage.
If something happens to a POV character that has bearing on the narrative, that event should be in the book. In Blade and in Wizard’s Forge, the queen gives Victoria, the protagonist, a bronze dagger forged from a belt Vic had been forced to wear while held captive by the queen’s enemy. The dagger symbolizes Vic’s quest for vengeance and freedom—the driver of the plot—and this talisman features strongly in the book’s climax. Yet in Blade, there’s only a passing reference to an offstage event in which Vic gives the queen the belt—the symbol of her captivity—in thanks for granting her asylum. In A Wizard’s Forge, I wrote that offstage event into the book. Now we see Vic give the queen the belt, and when the queen returns the same item—recast as a dagger Vic can use to exact vengeance—the exchange has much greater impact.
Rule 1.2. Avoid redundancy and superfluous information.
When I embarked on the rewrite and cast a very critical eye over my prose, I lost count of how many times I found two or more sentences repeating the same information. Simply confining each thought to a single sentence saved me tens of thousands of words. Secondly, I gave an overwhelming amount of information about things that weren’t relevant to the plot (see Rule 1), and cutting extraneous detail also saved hugely on my word count.
Rule 2.1. Every POV character should have a narrative arc.
Throwing in a new or solo POV late in the book is lazy storytelling, and I’m guilty: Blade of Amber contained several solo POV scenes or chapters from supporting characters in the second and third acts. I deleted all of these scenes from A Wizard’s Forge and wove the plot-crucial information back into the book within the context of my main characters’ (MCs’) chapters. Now all the MCs experience change over the course of the book and also learn vital information along with the reader. The resulting narrative is far more compelling.
Rule 2.2. POV characters must emote to be sympathetic.
Prince Ashel, Vic’s romantic interest, is handsome, brave, talented, and kind. I gave him every characteristic I like in a man, and in my mind, falling in love with him was as natural as breathing. Yet my virtual focus group did not love him. Few reviewers mentioned him, and those who did said he was weak and not worthy of Vic. No author wants to hear that reaction to her romantic lead! I realized that the Ashel who lived in my head was a completely different person from the one appearing in my prose. Far from being weak, Ashel is the strongest, most resilient person in the series. He undergoes tremendous suffering and retains his honor, his commitment to his family, and his love for Vic. Yet, I’d failed to show this. Doing so meant overhauling nearly every one of his scenes as well as adding several new ones. I had to get deep into his head, expose his thoughts, his insecurities, and the complexity of his emotions so that readers would want Vic to fall for him.
(For the reader. Ms. Justice, in the original article gives four excellent examples of an original text and a tighter revise text. Read and Learn!)
Lots of new releases in January and Early February to talk about. Here are some from Authors this blog follows. If you would like a follow so I can advertise your release - Just Ask.