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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Readers Are Cool!

If you love something, set it free. Or give it away. And when it comes back it's wrapped up in glitter paper and tied with a satin bow, and it pops with confetti and sings a tune.

That's what I feel like is happening with Marking Time. Giving the kindle book away for free on amazon has brought me amazing gifts - totally unexpected and way better than Christmas! Who knew?

It all started with an e-mail to a friend who teaches English at a high school up the hill. I told her about the free promo days for my YA urban fantasy book and wondered if she'd be willing to let her classes know about it. If anyone was interested, I'd be very happy to come in and talk about books and writing, etc. Lara very generously invited me to come and talk to her Juniors and Seniors.

The night before I went back to high school, after I'd mentally planned an outfit that hopefully didn't provoke ridicule or head-shaking (I dreaded the "what-was-she-thinking" look of pity), I started thinking about what to say. Pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was "sell" my book. It's the part of self-marketing that gives me stomach cramps. I knew I'd talk about writing Marking Time, but that's also a fairly personal thing for writers - everyone has their own process, and what I do, with my 4am, coffee-slugging, before-the-chickens-wake-up writing might be the stuff of nightmares and completely unrelatable to someone else.

I realized that the thing I'd always been most enthusiastic about, and the thing that inspired me to write my book in the first place, was READING. I love to read. I have a passion for books, especially fantasy, which I've been reading obsessively since college (with short breaks for mysteries, espionage, adventures, the occasional time travel romance, and pretty much anything young adult). So I gathered whatever paperback copies of my favorite fantasy books I could find - which wasn't all of them as I'm a major book-loaner who buys extra copies of my favorites from Better World Books just to hand off to friends who "must read" them - and several paperbacks of Marking Time to donate to the classroom in case anyone wanted to read the paperback instead of the free kindle download, and headed off to school.

To borrow a phrase from Saira, I pretty much had butterflies the size of pterodactyls when the first class came in. But then I started talking about books - other people's books: Patrick Rothfuss' fantasy masterpiece The Name of the Wind, the first Robin Hobb book I ever read, Ship of Magic, the out-of-print inspiration for my time-travel rules, The Ivanhoe Gambit by Simon Hawke, On a Pale Horse, which inspired the "death as an immortal" idea, and the pantheons of Historical Romance and Sci-Fi, Outlander and Ender's Game respectively.

And suddenly the pterodactyls went away, and I was just sharing my passions for reading and writing with a group of people who read and write. And then those students and every subsequent class gave me the most amazing gift when they started asking questions - about these books, my book, writing in general, and publishing. Their generosity and enthusiasm were truly phenomenal, and I was very honored and humbled by them. Incredibly, there were students who came up afterwards to take down the titles of books I'd talked about, and who described some of the things they were writing. Even more incredibly, I was invited to go back two days later and speak to another English teacher's classes. I walked out of all of those classrooms feeling like they'd completely inspired me.

And now I feel like I'm on an incredible journey of connecting with readers. Readers of all kinds of books, of every genre, of every age and demographic - readers.

And readers are just... cool!

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Moral of the Story

My 4th grader has a writing project due next week, which means, of course, that I take it more seriously than he does (at least until the night before it's due). The theme is 'voice,' which, on the surface, sounds like it has to do with characters speaking, or maybe what tone the writer takes as he tells his story. But not this time. This 'voice' project is about the moral of the story.

I didn't love Aesop's fables when I was a kid - they were too spare and bleak and preachy; too... moral. But I love the pithy sayings that came from them. The value is in the worth, not in the number. Two wrongs don't make a right. Fair weather friends are not worth much. And one of my favorites from The Boy Who Cried Wolf, There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth, otherwise known as Liar, liar, pants on fire.

My son has latched onto one from the Grimm's Tale about the little tailor who killed seven (flies) in one blow, stitched it onto a belt he wore proudly, and went on to vanquish several giants and a doubting king. The moral in that story is one of my favorites; believe in yourself and anything is possible.

I had the enormously good fortune to be raised by parents who breathed that bit of wisdom as if it was air, and I only realized how remarkable it was when I encountered people who weren't brought up that way. My Mom was raised dirt-poor in post-WWII-Germany, where people were born to their lot in life and thousands of years of history had proven that very little ever changes. And yet somehow, the girl who lived in a rented house with chickens in the basement and no indoor plumbing, who learned to swim just so she could shower at the public pool and went to work full-time at age 14 didn't buy it. She left Germany at 18, came to the U.S. when she was 25, and graduated from law school when I was 13. She proved that 'anything is possible' with her life, and the impact of that on her kids was huge. I can only hope I'm as effective at instilling that confidence in my own children.

My younger son asked me what the moral of my book is. I never thought about Marking Time having a moral, but I can talk about the themes that run through it, because I did think about those. Taking responsibility for your choices is a big one, and learning to open yourself up to trust other people is also something that Saira deals with. Now, as I write the second book in the Immortal Descendants series, the themes are changing. This book will deal with fate, and, to borrow a question from Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale, do we have the ability to change our stars? But also running through this book is the very complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. I have no idea how much of my own mother will be part of Claire Elian, but I know her belief that anything is possible informs and inspires the very fact of my writing. Because for my mom, it was never a question. I could do whatever I set my mind to doing, and if I believed in it, I would make it true.

I watch my son design elaborate back-stories for lego board games and intricate mythologies for the games he invents for his friends to play. He just... believes. As he gets older things might come along and shake his confidence in his beliefs, maybe make him question is own abilities or his commitments to things, but I hope our total faith in his ability to make his own dreams come true is the foundation that carries him past the shaky bits. It's what my mother gave me, and it's what gives me the confidence to tell my stories.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Just Write

How do I write?
It seems like an odd question to ponder because the obvious answer is "sit your booty down at the computer and just do it." But that's not the answer to the question. Of course I could just make my fingers move (I'm working with my boys on 10-finger-typing, so finger motion is the way to earn minecraft time in our house), but unless the brain is attached and engaged, I might as well take dictation from my boys.  Actually, that's not a bad idea, especially where the nine-year-old is concerned.

But I digress.

A better, more accurate question might be; what's my process? Not that I think anyone is particularly fascinated, but it's the thing people seem to be the most confounded by - how did I a: come up with my story, and b: find the time and discipline to write it?

First, I read a lot. A whole lot. I read every YA book that looked even remotely interesting. My niece, Alexandra, is an inhaler-of-books. She chooses them based on length - the longer the better - and a corset on the cover never hurts. I started buying her used copies of all my favorite fantasies (re-reading them first, of course, since I was amassing a box for her Christmas/Birthday present) like Ender's Game, Dragonflight, and On a Pale Horse. Then I moved into uncharted territory, and I picked up The Thief, Graceling and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And even after the box was packed and sent, I kept reading, this time trolling amazon for cheap kindle books with good reviews. I found the Timber Wolves series, Mythos Academy, Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Under the Never Sky. And the more I read, the more I realized I could write something for this audience. An audience like me, who needs great characters, a solid story, a kick-ass heroine, and magic: some great superpower to take the ordinary world and make it something extraordinary.

So believing I could do it was the first, vital step. The story elements themselves came together early in the morning while it was still too cold to get out of bed, or last thing at night before drifting off to sleep.  They solidified during long story conversations with my husband, a filmmaker, who always sees the movie in his head, and with my friend, a fierce fantasy reader who introduced me to Patrick Rothfuss and his brilliantly elegant books. Finally, the story began to unfold on the page.

Which leads to the second part of the question. Finding the time happened naturally. Story ideas woke me up at 5am and then 4am, and so I just got up, turned on the coffee machine, and got to work. Finding the discipline was harder. The dark house with only the dog to keep me company was good incentive, but every excuse in the book could be invented once the boys were up and the day began. One year dragged into two, and my self-esteem fell with every passing day the book remained unfinished.

Self-esteem is a tricky thing. Nothing makes us stronger, more creative, or better at our jobs, and yet nothing is more fragile and easy to destroy. The list of culprits is long and varied, but suffice to say, when our self-esteem gets taken out at the knees, it's almost always ourselves holding the bat.

But then I had a great conversation with our friend, Sophie. My husband was on location so I had to be both parents and sole caretaker of our lives. It was an excellent excuse for not writing, but Sophie called me on it. Taking care of the house could wait until Ed got home. I didn't need to be the mom and the dad in the family, just the mom. And when I wasn't being the mom, I needed to write. No excuses, just write. It was a much bigger conversation that had to do with male and female roles in a couple, but the heart of the matter was put up or shut up. And so I did. And a month later I was finally finished.

So the answer to "what is my process," though seemingly long and complicated, really boils down to this: I read everything I could get my hands on, indulged my imagination, fell asleep when the kids did, wrote before my chickens were awake, and then, when insecurity and excuses threatened to take me out at the knees, I stopped trying to do everything perfectly and just...wrote.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Happy 150th Birthday to the London Underground

Since a very big plot feature of my young adult urban fantasy novel, Marking Time, is set in the London Underground station at Whitechapel, I thought I’d share some of the more colorful facts I found during my research.
  • Aldgate Station, on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines, is built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies are buried 
  • An estimated half a million mice live in the Underground system 
  • A small section of the old London Wall survives in the trackside walls of Tower Hill station at platform level. One of the largest pieces of the wall also stands just outside this station. 
  • Many Tube stations were used as air-raid shelters during WWII, but the Central Line went one better and was actually converted into a massive aircraft factory that stretched for over two miles, with its own railway system. Its existence remained an official secret until the 80s. 
And in fiction:
  • There is a secret lair at Vauxhall Cross in Die Another Day. 
  • A buried Martian Spaceship was found at Hobbs End Station in the British TV series, Quatermass and the Pit. 
  • In V for Vendetta, the masked Anarchist’s secret headquarters is located at Strand Station. 
  • The Time Traveler's spiral portal that sends Saira back to 1888 is hidden in a service alcove at Whitechapel Station. 

A Victorian Steam Train used for the celebration today, just like the one Saira saw in 1888.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Free kindle copy promotion - January 24-28 on Amazon

Whew! I finally committed. Marking Time will be offered for free to anyone with a kindle or kindle app on their phone, iPad, computer, etc, for five days - January 24-28th.  I will make no money, Amazon will make no money, but during those five days anyone with an Amazon account can download my book for free to keep forever.

"Why do that?" some may ask. "Isn't selling books about making money?"
"Eventually. Maybe. On the Film rights. If I'm lucky." I answer. Very lucky. Like striking gold in the Yukon with a pickax and a gold pan lucky. Or stumbling over the pot at the end of the rainbow and not pissing off the Leprechaun lucky.

But first, it's about finding readers. Readers who like urban fantasy, or Jack the Ripper, or time travel, or like one lovely reviewer, who never reads novels but enjoys science and history and found them both buried in the layers of story in Marking Time.

So I'm offering my book for free to everyone. Then maybe, just maybe, if enough people read it, review it (please review it - Amazon, Goodreads, out loud to your neighbor... pretty please?), recommend it to friends, read the second book and the third, and hopefully the fourth and the fifth (yes, there will be five - I'm saying it out loud), then maybe it'll take on a life of it's own and won't need so many nudges, shoves, pushes and kicks from me. Sheesh! Who knew writing the book would be the easy part?