30 Days of Balance #27: The Wait

So I fell a bit short of my 30 Days challenge. I had the capability to go the distance, but with the publication of my book in jeopardy my priorities switched. I imagine I touched on most important subjects in the last two months. I will finish the 30 Days tomorrow in a big lump so as to be true to my word in the end: 30 posts in 30 days.

Tonight, I wait.

I chose writing as my ideal medium because it was a solo pursuit where you did not need anyone to create something exactly how you like it. But that’s not entirely true. By the end of the process you need a whole bunch of other people involved – good friends as mentioned before, but also editors, publishers, eyes in the sky. Things got messy and went down to the wire like an alighting bird. They still are even as I write this. My book comes out tomorrow yet work remains to be done. It helps having people in your corner who are nearly as dedicated to the proliferation of your book as you yourself.

The delays have cost me in promotion time. There are numerous places where I cannot promote because of missing art and a lack of an Amazon pre-order page. Unfortunate, but not soul crushing. Soul crushing is not doing the book properly and having to live with it for all your years, wondering how and why you could not have spent more time cultivating.

Tomorrow I will release the cover art AND the book itself all at once. For tonight I am dozy from a combination of explaining my unique circumstances and going to bed at 4am yesterday in an effort to hasten production.

JM

 

Best Practices

…to borrow a phrase from my teaching background.

This post was popular on my Facebook page, so I thought I’d repost it here:

Lots of people want to know how to best help me out as there are numerous manners to acquire the novel.

For starters, picking up the book ASAP is the most important thing as ‘frequency of purchases’ is what pushes a book’s ranking on Amazon. The higher the ranking, the more likely strangers are to find the novel when searching – and more likely a novel will show up on Amazon’s search algorithm. These both mean more sales, which then pushes a book even further. The week of the book’s release is the best week to accomplish this ascension because the initial pointed interest spikes sales numbers. It’s about getting launched as high as you can and then retaining momentum. Here is a purchasing breakdown for what helps me most:

1. Buy a physical book ($19.95) at the Release Party or from Amazon come April 5th. It will be quite pretty I assure you.
2. If you’d RATHER read an eBook but still want to support my fledgling efforts, when you purchase a softcover you ALSO get an eBook version for (I believe) the Kindle for FREE.
3. Buy an eBook ($3.99) from Amazon come April 5th. If you don’t know me so well / are hesitant not to physically shelf a book you’re not SURE you love, this is still wonderful. The cost of a burger and it won’t gnaw at your bowels!

No matter how you acquire the novel, one of the most helpful things anyone can do for an author is write a review of their book, typically on Amazon. Reviews mean a lot to people online who know nothing but the author’s pitch. They assure people what they are buying is not garbage. Even better are reviews that take the time to explains their reasons – lots of reviews with barely any content implies they’re ‘bought’ reviews more or less.

If the book does the trick, this part is very honesty and easy.

JM

30 Days of Balance #26: Writing vs. Worldbuilding

What do you value in an author, craft or story? When I was a teenager my favourite fantasy series was without doubt The Wheel of Time. I read and reread books 1-6 until I knew every inch of the map, every obscure Aes Sedai. I never thought twice about the writing – I was so focused on how cool 13 evil mages called The Forsaken were.

When I was a teenager I also read The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. I did not care for the premise. Real people sucked into fantasy worlds never appealed to me. It made the other world small. Then the story had Guinevere and Lancelot in it and… nope, not for me. How could it compare to The Wheel of Time with so much less worldbuilding?

Well, there was Kay himself. His prose was smooth like silk, and brought emotion to the fore. It did not hide behind tropes or long drawn out teenage awkwardness. It elevated the text itself, elevated the ideas it presented and elevated the reading experience. My father never read fantasy – he found Jordan fun but Kay art. I didn’t quite know how to engage with this at the time. I had no register upon which to compare writing ability. All I knew was action, story, monsters, heroes. Kay’s works since The Fionavar Tapestry are books I have not given enough of my time, but if The Lions of Al-Rassan is any indication, as I imagine it is, he has improved upon his earlier works – in content certainly while I’m not sure how room there is above his formative style to begin with. The Fionavar Tapestry (I had an omnibus edition) is still the only fantasy novel to make me cry.

So Writing vs. Worldbuilding. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you a Kay type, literary and leaning towards immaculate works of high language and high emotion, rich in vocabulary and deep in subtlety? Or are you a Jordan type where you can withstand any amount of braid tugging to enjoy the concept of a Myrddraal, the trappings of the Forsaken, or the powerful mysteries of the Aiel Waste and Shadar Logoth? I often see a writer’s craft as being a gift, some ephemeral quality that has been with them forever, while their worldbuilding stems more from dedication. Of course, some authors, like Erikson, are so much of both they break the graph.

Here is an imperfect layout of how I rank the authors I have read most. If authors push left or right, it’s not really a critique of what they can’t do but rather an emphasis on where their strength lies. Sorry for ditching on Sanderson.

Author-Graph

JM

30 Days of Balance #25: Pronunciation + Pronunciation Keys

I’m hopping a few days ahead of schedule, but my cover is coming tomorrow and I want to fit in my favourite topics prior to April 5th: The Birth of Imbalance.

Pronunciation is one of the best things about fantasy novels. Some people hate it, finding all the strange names intolerable and all the extra apostrophes silly, but I find a great amount of joy in the game. Fantasy names are weird. They’re foreign. If they are not like this it usually grates on me greatly (for example, all the simple our-world names of Kingkiller Chronicles – especially when the protagonist has one of the awesomest fantasy names in ‘Kvothe’ – or the ungainly ‘Kyle’ from Ian Cameron Esslemont [long story that one]).

I love the power that comes with reading a name. It is mine to say aloud. If I want to pronounce ‘Daenarys’ as ‘Day-nair-E-us’ or ‘Dan-air-E-us’ it is up to me (unless HBO says otherwise, and even then it is still up to me.) The author can pronounce it one way and readers another. It is written. It has no breath to speak of beyond your own. I noticed this recently listening to the Grim Tidings Postcast featuring a two-part interview with Joe Abercrombie where, in reference to a new character from the upcoming short story collection Sharp Ends – ‘Shevediah’, the hosts kept saying ‘Shev-eh-DIE-ah’ and Abercrombie kept saying ‘Shev-EH-dee-ah’.

No live discussion of a fantasy novel is complete without both people being completely confused because they pronounce a name differently and can’t figure each other out.

For the ‘ell of it, here is a brief pronunciation key for Purge of Ashes’s 3 most baffling monikers:

Asma(thalyne) Madrejingo – [ACE-ma(tha-line) Madra-JING-go]

Rafien Jorgamund – [RAY-fee-en YORG-a-mund]

Xi’ar Chukkundah – [Zire Chuck-KUN-dah]

and for fun,

Arch Deacon Kravroar Bryce Matmas Slyne – [CRAV-roar Brice Mat-mus Sline]

JM

30 Days of Balance #24: The Timeline Doesn’t Matter

Short post today. Cover a-transpirin’.

The running phrase around an old Malazan Book of the Fallen forum I spent a lot of time on was “the timeline doesn’t matter.” It came about as a result of numerous threads wondering how story lines wove together, sometimes critical of supposed gaffes, other times desperately trying to pull together loose ends. Malazan hops around a lot. Keeping track is a job better suited to a computer. Somewhere in this mighty jumble it may have been possible to find an error in chronology, or math, within the ten epic tomes – but the mantra was loud and firm: forget about it.

For one, you’ll churn your noodle. For two, it was deemed rude to question the author when he so clearly has thought of a thousand-fold details. There was a point where having so much depicted with accuracy that the act of questioning went from nit-picking to insult. Erikson had earned any holes you could find. Odds were it was you who was missing the link regardless.

As stated earlier in the 30 Days of Balance, I have an ugly document for time lines. Most authors have not earned the benefit of the doubt as Erikson has and thus have to be extra particular. An obvious hole or even one that can be weaseled out through careful scrutiny is enough to sink my ship in the eyes of the gatekeepers. As such, for Purge of Ashes, the timeline does matter – and very much so. I promise not to hop around much in the next book *wink, wink*

Drat, did I type myself winking?

JM

30 Days of Balance #23: Bridge From Dard

Instead of posting about Short Stories today as per the schedule, I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU A NEW ONE! See what I did there?

First I must mention this post was originally going to be about an Imbalance short story called Residue which tells the tale of a master practitioner and his accomplice traveling from Aneoma to the Stillborn Basin in the name of science. However, having penned up a new sort of short story this morning…

I entered the WHEEL OF OSHEIM writing competition, hosted by Agnes Meszaros, which is totally going on over here!

ThornsWC

I am fairly proud of my entry, although there is one word I might change. Hopefully that is not enough to mar the piece in the eyes of the judges. There’s certainly lots going on if you hop back to the start once you reach the end.

RULES:

300 words or less. Must use the word ‘life’ and the word ‘death.’

I give you Bridge From Dard – and you could probably figure out where in the world of Imbalance the story takes place by looking at the map.

ENTRY:

Bridge From Dard

“I’ll be fine, Norae. You’ll see.”

We will see.

She would not get too close. She had her pole if need be.

The Bridge to Furl stretched out before Thanol Baeddicus, four lines of ropes coiled upon ropes framing an ingenious succession of interlocking planks. Each was long as a man and rooted by sturdy metal pins thick as mauls. It obscured not far from where Thanol was making his way out, lost to the blanched air of a soothing snow storm.

Morning had done little to alleviate the night’s chill, and the bridge itself was thick with snow heaped tall as her hand. It sloughed from Thanol’s boots to drop a thousand leaps to the chop below.

“See? Immaculate! A work of virtuoso engineering!”

So you said in crossing.

“Immaculate!” he repeated.

The man was a gifted talent. Her span in Furl as his apprentice had braved his thinly-veiled pomposity to find the skill underneath relished the exposure. In her naivety, Norae had assumed such capability beckoned an honest man. When the bridge had been proposed, such naivety withered. Life was, after all, the vandal of innocence. The greater fault lay at its feet.

Not my own.

“She withstood a blizzard, Pupil Norae. A blizzard! Warleader will march by nightfall.”

Two pins were shoved deep in her rucksack.

“If—”

Thanol reached the plank that felt their absence. Easy to see in daylight. Impossible under snowfall. He gave a weak squeal and slipped through. Norae had her pole ready, but it would not be necessary. The magnate was already fallen to his death.

Chilled, she rubbed her hands together. Just the night’s work catching up to me.

Norae of the Dard drew her knife and began at the ropes fixing the bridge to her cliff.

30 Days of Balance #22: Birthday Promo!

I turned 34 at 6am.

I slotted this post to be a simple promotion so I would not have to work too hard. As it stands, I may have to abort my ’30 days’ deal due to my efforts being required for the creation of the book itself and the managing of the release party. I had not anticipated having so much to do in the final week before release. So: the skinny.

PURGE OF ASHES, Book One of the Imbalance

RELEASED: April 5th on Amazon

BLURB TO END ALL BLURBS

SAMPLE PAGES

Boom. Done. I’m out.

JM

30 Days of Balance #21: Starting in the Storm + Passive Voice

Fantasy authors often plan important events – wars, battles, murders, usurpations, the finding of powerful artifices, ascension – and then backtrack to explain all the preparatory details that bring a reader to this place. In my opinion, as best as one can, an author should endeavour to begin the story within the storm of the event itself and let the backstory play out when the opportunity arises. Again, this is likely due to my love of Malazan Book of the Fallen, even if Steven Erikson himself would likely augment the first half of Gardens of the Moon if given the chance. And he loves forcing his readers to dig deep.

My point is more about the importance of immediacy in action. I don’t mean that the book has to start with action – many books feel they need to ‘hook’ a reader and that is fine, but an excellent book will draw readers in regardless (For example, the plodding start of The Name of the Wind has done little to tarnish Patrick Rothfuss’s reputation as a writer of excellence.) Fantasy is a slow burn genre. It takes time. If it did not, all the best books in its canon would not be Bible-weight tomes. Learning about an entirely new world takes time. If the reader does not want to take that time, then by all means they can read something set in the present. In the present all you need to learn about are the characters themselves. It is not about physical, Saturday morning cartoon type action – it’s about placing your writer’s eye at the most critical moment, or building up to it very fast.

Purge of Ashes accelerates very quickly after some groundwork is laid out. It follows the general pattern of a movie – which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not surprising. Being a larger work that is meant to span many books, however, time lines get spread until an eight-page prologue is not the beginning, it is just the tip of the beginning. The more to be constructed, the more leeway had to take your time. Story arcs tend not to function if completed in 3/5s of a book only to spend the final 2/5s in exposition.

One of the key things I learned about editing came when considering this notion of being active as often as possible. Somewhere part way through an early edit I became a passive voice policeman, always watching for any sign of trouble and eliminating as much passive voice as I could find. I found numerous instances. Hads and haves died by the hundreds. Past tenses cowered in hovels. It was a dire time for the word population, the hovering cursor spelling menace for the expendable.

This started any given point of view right in the middle of the storm, instead of backtracking to recount the storm before moving on. My natural tendencies were creating stories about things happening moments prior before reaching the point of the section – but why? I brought the story back a few tics, rewrote active tense in the present, and always pushed the narrative forwards instead of explaining what had just happened. Readers don’t want their character recounting recent events. They want them living current events. It seems so simple until you actually read things over and realize not every point of view needs to be the mental dance of the movie Memento.

JM

30 Days of Balance #20: The Roddening

Last we checked the 6-year challenge was a success…

So I finished my novel. I set out to do it in six years and I did it in six years, more or less. It’s done. Finito. Ready for the presses.

Well, besides the editing. Then the further editing. Then waiting a month and then editing again. I edited the book through myself about seven times over the few years following completion. Each time I was astounded at the stuff I would find. Sentences that fit before, unglued. Story lines unvarnished. Parts I loved in the end barely hammered together. Any author knows writing is re-writing. It just is. My three confidants also read it and fed me on a diet of compliment sandwiches.

When happy with the edits (about halfway through those seven edits), I tried to hook 17 agents on Purge of Ashes. One day I sent out a flurry of query letters tailored to suit the submissions process etched out by their 17 separate companies. Over the next few months I got about 8 rejections and 9 non-replies. There were more names on my list, but some daunting aspects of the process were grating on me and I was more life-busy. Somewhere in there I got married and bought a house and had a real job teaching middle school English for a private school. I left off my attempts and instead tried to hook notably excellent editor Barbara Berson who had been recommended to me by Jane Bow, author of Cally’s Way. Barbara was interested and busy, giving me the first positive feedback I ever heard for Purge: “It’s ambitious and ably-written.” Unfortunately, right when I was planning to hire Barbara my contract was not renewed and I was let go from my teaching position, possibly for inspiring the students too well. Only explanation that made any sense to me.

So the novel sat while life took over.

One day I was in the Facebook group for the Malazan Empire discussing quality fantasy releases when it was mentioned that this fellow member Sean Roddenhad published an epic fantasy novel. Reviews (and I count reviews from Malazan fans as worth double that of a normal human) were very positive. I asked him a bunch of self-publishing questions and he answered. Turned out he lived just down the street in Hamilton, Ontario. Realizing I had read a slew of famous fantasy series with only rare forays into lesser known works – and that this would be exactly what I was expecting from the fans I hoped to garner for Imbalance – I decided to buy and read his novel Whispers of War.

It was potent. I wrote a lengthy review of the book for Amazon and I recommend it to everyone, especially if you like your fantasy old school – Tolkien style – or find other books don’t stretch your vocabulary enough. The day I wrote to point him towards my review, he told me of his three-book deal with Realmwalker Publishing Group.

He told me I should submit to them once I finished my book.

I said my book had been done for over a year.

He said to submit then, and I did.

I then praised the ground he walked upon and made the horrid mistake of promising to buy him a beer when next we met. A beer I still owe. A beer I shirk away from as if intrusive morning daylight.

One night I turned my laptop off at 12:30am and was stumble-walking towards the stairs to head up to bed. My phone was flashing. I absently checked my gmail to see what was the matter. It was James Drake, president of Realmwalker Publishing Group, informing me he had selected my novel for publication. I was damned speechless. I made my way to bed and lay next to my already-sleeping wife debating waking her to tell her. Then I just lay there and grinned at the black ceiling, thinking less of the seven plus years of work it took to reach the moment and more about the years ahead – of what it could mean for the series. When we awoke the next morning I looked at my wife and babbled “It’s funny, you know? It’s funny. It feels like just any other morning, doesn’t it? It feels like just any other morning.” She did not know what to make of this, so I showed her the email.

It has been a long journey from being in university dreaming up characters from the steerage of a dragon boat to waking up next to my wife with a publishing deal. I am super excited to share it with the world on April 5th. I suppose Sean’s really earned that beer.

JM

30 Days of Balance #19: Fantasy vs. Horrible Fantasy Covers

Yes, a post about fantasy covers without actually showing any covers. There are plenty of ways to take a gander at some horrible (and excellent) fantasy covers without me spending my night collecting them for you. For the readily mockable, this place.

It is also well documented how vital a quality cover is to sales, and how vital a brand is to advertising. The cover is a form of brand for an author. It adds to a novel’s ‘collectable’ nature. Weaving themes through the covers of a series is very attractive. It implies to the reader that there is consistency within the novels as well. It shows planning and foresight. It can also be exceptionally cool or clever.

Of course, the covers can also be duds.

The ones that stick out to me are the ones with lizard men on them. Every time I want to mock a fantasy / sci-fi cover, I think lizard men. Usually either a) holding a screaming woman overhead, or b) being shot at by a woman in a silver space suit that ignores the shoulders. I also despise covers that are trying to sell fantasy using sex, because it rings of the ’80s and ’90s stereotype of fantasy lovers as basement nerds who require titillating covers to feel connected to a woman’s curvature. It rings of pulp. I want my fantasy to defy pulp. One of my favourite things about Game of Thrones on HBO is that it opened the world’s eyes to the very idea that fantasy is more than cliches and cheese. That the political machinations in Westeros can be as interesting and rich as ones in the White House.

The fantasy covers I prefer are more minimalist, have symbolism, and are connected to the story itself. They are never of massive battles, dangerous duels or nasty monsters – just a symbol and a correlated theme. The best example of this difference is between covers for Malazan Book of the Fallen:

The Bantam cover is everything I like. A backlit throne held by an imposing warrior? All in. Especially when the next few novels follow this pattern of black + coloured smoke + ominous central figure.

The TOR cover is everything I dislike, although this one is better than most of the others. Carriages just aren’t that interesting. The action scenes rarely capture any of the energy of battle, but instead tend to showcase characters like action figures. Plus every time I see a character in full light I immediately think “That’s not how I picture them.” Especially our good friend Silchas Ruin here as TOR’s covers came later than the original Bantam run.

By this time in my 30 Days of Balance schedule I was supposed to have a cover ready. It would not be a stretch considering Purge of Ashes is being released in less than two weeks to say it is late. What matters is that it is finished and ready for press time. Alas, this may not be the case. Here’s hoping this crisis yields opportunity, because I can’t imagine looking at my first novel, finally done, finally fit for print, finally ready for the world – and be repulsed by the face it wears.

JM