Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Percepliquis Cover

When I started releasing my books I pretended that there were crowds of people interested in them. I wrote blogs to the effect, as if I was actually holding a midnight release party where poor fans waited in cold April rains for the doors to open at Amazon. The reality was, back when I was releasing Avempartha, no one really knew, or cared. I didn't think much had changed until the explosion that followed the news about the delay of the final book. Since then I have started to realize that maybe there really are people waiting for the next book. Of course, this isn’t just the next book—Percepliquis is the last book.

Percepliquis is my personal favorite of the series, my chance to finally cut the restraints off myself and the characters, and let them run free for the first time—to let them live up to their full potential.

I know that those of you who have been with me from the beginning have waited a long time. I know of a few fans and old friends who read the first four books as early as 2007, and are still waiting for the conclusion. And while you still have a little more than five months to wait, I wanted to give you a peek. As with every book since Avempartha, I have unveiled the cover here.  Today I present to you Percepliquis, the final cover of The Riyria Revelations. (Concept, art, and design by me)

It All Comes Down To This
The Elves Have Crossed the Nidwalden
And Two Thieves will decide the Future

I saw a great journey. Ten upon the road, she who wears the light will lead the way. The road goes deep into the earth, and into despair. The voices of the dead guide your steps. You walk back in time. The three-thousand-year battle begins again. Cold grips the world, death comes to all, and a choice is before you.

Percepliquis is the final installment of the epic fantasy, The Riyria Revelations.  In this saga that began with The Crown Conspiracy, two thieves caught in the right place at the wrong time were launched on a series of ever escalating adventures that have all lead to this moment. Three thousand years have passed and the time for Novron’s heir to act has arrived.

January 2012

For those of you who want to be reminded when this book becomes available whether in ebook or print, click here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Writing Advice 2: Before the Basics

This is the second in a series of posts designed to assist new aspiring writers learn the craft. You more experienced writers (published or not,) Please feel free to comment on anything you think I might have missed. This is the first day of class where we aren’t going to get any work done, but you’ll get your supply list.

So what do you need to be a writer? A pencil and paper is the basic answer, and it is sort of true, but if you plan on getting published as a writer, you’re going to need more, and this brings me to my first clarification issue (there will be a lot of these.)

This tends to be a hotly debated topic, and generally reduced to the opinion of the person defining it, and where they happen to be in their career at the time. Most concede that there are ranks, or at least different flavors of writers. How these levels are delineated again drifts in a sea of personal opinion because unlike non-creative careers, fiction writing lacks objective benchmarks. In the United States you can’t practice medicine without first obtaining a license, and you can’t obtain a license without first obtaining a medical degree, so these are looked upon as steps that identify how far along you are in your career. Creative writing doesn’t work that way, although many people think it should (particularly those with degrees.) When you’re talking anything in the realm of the arts it is like entering a nebula in a science fiction movie, nothing seems to work like it’s supposed to. You can be successful with no training at all, and you can hold PhDs in all things literary and never succeed.

But what is a writer?

a) a writer is someone who writes, meaning they enjoy writing and do a lot of it.
b) a writer is someone seriously working to make writing their career
c) a writer is someone who is published
d) a writer is someone who has been vetted by the industry
e) a writer is someone who is supporting themselves entirely by their writing

For most people a writer is whichever one of these you happen to be, or if you are insecure, it is the next one up. However, for the purpose of these posts, I am adding two new definitions.

Newbie aspiring writer: those who would like to one day make a living (or at least money) as an author.
Veteran Aspiring Writer: those who’ve been at this a while and still have yet to break into the industry in any significant way.

Most of my comments will be directed at these two groups of writers, the career oriented--the AP students. 

Now, getting back to what you need, if you try and send a manuscript to a publisher written in pencil, they won’t be too happy. Times have changed. Almost everything is done by word processor and email these days, although I was surprised when my publisher asked if I was comfortable receiving edits from them digitally, and if I wasn’t they would send me a printed hard copy. Seriously? Authors still use hard copies?

So, to start you will need a computer and a word processor. If you are on a Windows machine I would suggest Microsoft Word, if you can afford it. It usually costs about $200. This is what I use. If you don’t have the money, you can use Google Docs which provides you with a free word processor service that is compatible with Word and gives you free cloud access (which I will talk about more in a second) or download OpenOffice, which is also a completely free software package that is similar, and compatible with, Microsoft Office. OpenOffice is available for Macs as well. Of course if you’re on a Mac you might want to check out Scrivener which tends to be the leading writer’s software on that platform. There is a Windows version, which is very good, and I talk more about in detail here. And if you’re planning to work on an iPad: Pages is the Apple app for word processing on the iPad and provides all the usual abilities. I also like iAWrite, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but it is tailored a bit more for writers. It provides easier access to quotes, apostrophes, and other typically used keys, but mostly it provides the all important and oddly often missing, ability to move the cursor back and forth with the keyboard.

There are also a number of other lesser known programs designed for writers, but I would like to warn you that some of these programs offer so much in the way of options and features that they can become a time-sink in themselves. Writers often have trouble staying on task as it is and you really don’t need any more distraction. When you realize that until very recently, (yes I’m that old) writers all used typewriters, or pen and paper, and did just fine. All the bells and whistles of some of these programs look like toys for people who aren’t really serious about writing. All you actually need is a basic word processor.

When I started writing the Internet did not yet exist and research was a career unto itself. Finding the answers to the simplest of questions could take months and require traveling and awkward interviews. Having access to a web browser is like putting away your scrub board and lye soap to make room for the electric washer and dryer. The speed and accuracy of writing improved astronomically.

Something else that I found useful are notebooks. Being at least a little pretentious I prefer the famous Moleskin notebooks that you can find in art stores or your local Barnes & Noble. Moleskin notebooks have been around since the 19th century and were used by artists and writers from Van Gogh to Hemmingway. They come in a few varieties and the package label is color coded to help tell the difference. Some are blank, some are lined, and some are quad-lined like graph paper. They also come in small, medium, and large. These notebooks aren’t fancy. They are the model-T of notebooks, almost always basic black. They are however very durable and very usable in that they have good stiff covers, (allowing them to be written on no matter where you are,) and stitched bindings (that allow them to lay flat on a table,) and take a lot of abuse without breaking or loosing pages. Unfortunately they are also surprisingly expensive, costing around twenty dollars for the medium size (5x8) which I use (large enough to write in comfortably and small enough to carry just about anywhere.) In reality, any notebook, or even a pad will do.

Why use a notebook if you have a laptop or an iPad?

1) Portability and ease of use. I’ve begun doing on-site research for my new novel, which means I go to places and take notes. In a coffee shop it is easy to sit down and fire up a laptop, but it doesn’t work so well if you’re standing up in a store interviewing someone, (and it is hard to both hold and type on an iPad, but I suppose you could take thumb notes on a smartphone) wandering around a crowded city, or riding a bike. You could use recording software, but I find that annoying as I can’t browse through my notes and people shy away from being recorded. There is software that will convert verbal to text, but that’s a lot of effort to go through when you can just use a notebook. A tablet can also be used for this, but they are not quite as rough-and-tumble, and there is another reason I find them inadequate to the task, which I will get to.

2) It allows you to sketch as well as write. You can draw out maps, and diagrams of things you want to use later, or do drawings of places or people, as they appear to you.

3) Mostly however, the reason I use them is for brainstorming. I don’t write prose in notebooks. I write my books on my tower computer locked in the sanctuary of my office with the door closed and the rest of the world, and its distractions, walled off. This is how I focus. When I am writing on my computer I ponder the choice of words. I evaluate the structure of sentences and the build of paragraphs. I try and avoid misspellings and bad grammar even on my first drafts. And were I to take a laptop, or even a tablet to a coffee shop, I would try and do the same and be frustrated by all the distractions.

However, when I use a notebook, when I am writing long-hand using a nice fountain pen, I’m not working on something that could even remotely be used as a finished product. It’s in a book, and written in pen. Nothing I write there can be used as is. Knowing this frees me to not focus on the words, but to think only about the ideas. The noise of conversation, the honk of horns, and the background music blends into static that my mind can ride on as I day-dream. If I were to try this in the isolation of my office, I’d get sleepy. In a busy coffee shop or roadside café, the activity keeps me alert, (not to mention the coffee,) but as none of it requires my attention I can let my mind wander. Then when I put my pen to paper, thoughts focus. The first thing I write leads to another. Soon I am scribbling notations of a dozen random thoughts and drawing lines and arrows between them, crossing out some as better thoughts materialize. I’m not concerned about the words I’m using, just capturing random thoughts as they spill out. When I’m done, I usually have dozens of concepts listed that I will use as a resource when I sit down to write. A lot of the time I don’t need to look back at what I wrote, just having written it is enough to have helped me work through plot or character issues. But when I get stuck, or am delayed due to real-life issues and forget, I can look back and jolt my memory.

4) Posterity. A notebook forms a bit of history, insight into the making of a written piece. Should one day you write the great American novel, that little notebook might be worth something to the world. If not, it will still be worth something to you.  

Another thing I use, as mentioned, is a fountain pen. Why? Cause it’s cool. It makes writing a Victorian novelty and therefore fun. It also elevates cramping because you really don’t need to, and really can’t, press hard with a fountain pen. Most cost upwards of $60 but I found a very nice pen on Amazon for just over $20.

The best software I’ve found outside of a word processor is WordWeb, which is a free application that works as a dictionary and thesaurus. What makes it great is that it works in concert with anything. You merely control+right click on any word in any application and it launches WordWeb bringing up the definition and a small interface for finding a large variety of similar options. So whether I am using Word, or in a browser, I can check the definition of a word or see a dozen alternatives.Sadly this only works on Windows systems.

Google Earth is another useful program, although now it is integrated right into most online maps. What makes this so special is the street view feature you get when you zoom all the way in on a location. You see a 360 degree view of most areas as if you were standing there, at least where there is a major street. This is wonderful if you need to write a description of some place you’ve never seen.

A camera is extremely useful for recoding images that can be used later for reference. No matter how detailed a written description is I still find myself going back and looking at photos. Of course, cameras can’t record smells, sounds, or how it feels to be somewhere, so written notes are still important.

This is something I just happen to do. Total silence while writing, can become oppressive and yet just about any sounds can be distracting. Playing music in the background helps muffle everything else, but songs with words interfere with my writing. Classical music is better, but can sometimes be too dull, or inappropriate for certain scenes. When you are writing a high speed chase through Brooklyn, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, might not be best. I found that scores from movies, not soundtracks (which are too often just a string of songs,) but the originally composed music, that often goes unheard in the background of scenes, are perfect. I have quite a few and created playlists with titles like: Action, Happy, Heroic, Ominous, and Sad. Then depending on the scene I am writing, I play the appropriate list and it can help put me in that mindset the same way the music was designed to put the audience in that mindset.   

For those aspiring writers who can’t afford to purchase dozens of movie scores, or classical performances, you can always use Pandora, which you can download for free. By entering in the name of a movie score composer, or classical artist, it will play similar music for you.

This is of course very optional and can be replaced with a printer, but is better if you can afford it. Every time you read your own work in a different format, you will look at it with fresh eyes. If you write on a computer, and then print what you wrote and read it in another room, you will notice mistakes you never saw before. I think this is due to how the mind perceives things differently under different circumstances. Likewise, if you read your work aloud, you will find other issues, and if someone else reads to you, you will find still more. Mostly however, I’ve found that when you read your work in a setting that is most similar to how you normally read books by other authors, you will find yourself seeing mistakes far more easily. As such, if you read books on an e-reader or tablet, or even a phone, then importing your book to that format and reading it, will often help you better evaluate it as well as find typos. You can achieve the same effect by printing the story and taking it to the couch or bed to read, but then you run into the cost, time, and effort of printing your work over and over. With a tablet you can just email your writing to yourself, Skype it, use a cloud, or a number of apps that allow for simple drag and drop file sharing.

The Cloud is almost another name for the Internet. If you have Gmail or Yahoo mail, you are using a cloud. A cloud is when you upload and store information on the Net. This is a fairly new and emerging commercial technology, and as such there are several. What it means for a writer is that you can upload the draft of your novel and then access it using any device that has access to it such as your iPad, your laptop, your desktop, your smart phone, or even your friend’s computer.

More than granting you the ability to access your work across platforms, it also works as a backup. I know authors who have lost whole novels when their computers caught a virus and died. There are few things more defeating than losing the only draft of a book. Keeping an updated draft on a cloud means that if your computer is wiped, stolen, or lost, you still have a digital copy you can download to your new computer. Even if your home burns down, and your computer, your HD backup, and all your printed and stored DVD copies are destroyed, you’ll still have the cloud copy. And again it is so much easier to drag and drop a file than to re-print a hard copy or insert and burn a DVD.

Another benefit is collaboration. If you are working with someone else, you can use cloud apps like Google Docs to work on the same manuscript in real time with someone else, so they can see your changes as you make them. And Word and other documents can be uploaded to Google Doc, by just drag and drop, assuming you are using Chrome or Firefox

Most cloud apps are free up to a certain amount of memory usage. Since more people use clouds for photos or music, and since text files are tiny in comparison, you should be able to use cloud technology for all your stories and never hit the max memory usage.

You need a way to backup your work. Never have only one copy of your book or short story, and never keep all the copies of your work on one computer. If you get hit by a virus and your computer dies, you just lost everything. I personally keep many backups in a variety of forms. I burn DVDs of completed drafts and final manuscripts. I have printed copies. I have a massive external hard drive that keeps a mirror image of my entire computer on it. And I keep copies of my works in progress in clouds. So be sure to have some means of making a copy of your work that is not on your computer, just in case.

So this is your list of supplies. Come back next week for your first real class, which will be titled: Outlining. Have a good day and remember not to run in the halls.   


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

End of an Era…at least for me

The original self-published versions of the Riyria Revelations will soon be retired. The rights to the series are about to be transferred to Orbit which means the Ridan versions will be discontinued.

Print books are being discontinued first. The Crown Conspiracy will be off the market in perhaps as little as a week. The rest of the print books will be phased out by the end of July. Ebooks will be phased out and completely off the market by the end of August.

Percepliquis, the final book in the series, will be released in January to complete the set of six. I will be revealing the cover art for this final book here on this blog next week.  

For those of you who read my little books when no one else would--and you know who you are--thanks. In case you didn’t know, Robin and I did all the work on those ourselves. Robin handled the editing, and I did the cover art, the design art, and the book layouts right down to picking the same font that was used in the Harry Potter books, because we found that to be the most attractive and readable. In a strange kind of way, you could almost say they were handmade, at least they felt that way, and I hope you enjoyed the books as much as I enjoyed making them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Writing Advice

I’ve shied away from writing posts on how to write even though I am aware that a sizable section of my audience is likely aspiring writers and might appreciate some insight or at least validation. The reason I’ve avoided such topics is that I don’t know how to write. Let me clarify—I’ve never “learned” how to write in any structured sense.

I never had any formal education beyond the one Creative Writing class in my sophomore year of high school, where I and two of my friends terrorized our teacher by turning Mother Goose rhymes into gritty urban satires. This sort of cutting edge inventiveness might succeed in later life, but doesn’t play well in suburban classrooms. In that same class I did achieve my first serious notoriety. The assignment was to write a short story (two pages) about a photograph of a flower. I penned a story about a boy sent topside from the bunker where the last of humanity was trying to survive a nuclear holocaust. His job was to search for signs of life, but the boy was of a generation born in the bunker. When he stumbled on the flower he plucked and discarded it thinking: how could anything so fragile hope to survive in such a world as theirs. The teacher read the story in front of the class, and when the teacher revealed that I wrote it, the best writer in our class--a girl by the name of Megan--was unable to control herself and said in utter shock, “A boy wrote that?”

Beyond this, I have had no formal training. I only attended a little over a year of college at an art school, where they did not even teach English much less writing. I never read a book on how to write, or attended a seminar. And not only had I not visited a writing group until after I was published, I never talked to another writer—not even a remotely aspiring one. I had spent a decade earnestly trying to learn to write in a total vacuum.

It was not until I signed with Catt,  my first agent, who had agreed to represent The Crown Conspiracy, that I began to discover how much I didn’t know. She politely mentioned a problem with my point of view and sweetly indicated that there were a couple of places where I was telling and not showing. I had never even heard of these terms before. For those of you who aren’t in the business of writing, these are some of the first things a writer learns if he/she is attending workshops or classes. It turned out I was trying to do calculus without even knowing what addition and subtraction was.

Later, about the time Avempartha was being published, my wife got me into a seminar at George Washington University. It was headed by Mary Morrissy, the award winning Irish author of Mother of Pearl.  On occasion, after class a few of us would join her at one of the tiny Georgetown pubs and chat while we watched people pass by the window. Upon learning that I was already published Mary asked why I was in the class. I replied that I was there because I never learned to write in any formal way. To this she replied, “That’s probably why you’re successful.”

So you see from my experience I don’t see I have all that much to offer. Besides the concept of giving advice on how to go about writing strikes me as a bit arrogant, pretentious, and fairly stupid as no two writers, or approaches, are alike, nor should they be. There is an infinite number of reader’s preferences and as such there should be an equal amount of literary variety to service them. Probably the best advice I can give a writer, is not to listen to anyone’s advice. There are many books I would have deemed unpublishable, or incapable of gaining an audience, which have won the Pulitzer or reaped fortunes for the author. I’m certain I am not alone in my ignorance of what will and won’t be successful. Advice-givers can only speak about their opinions, about what they feel works best, and this might only work for them. Granted there are some universally accepted rules, but even those can be successfully broken.

On the other hand, I am frequently asked for advice about writing. I could tell everyone what I just told you and leave it at that, but this strikes me as a miserably screw-it-forward attitude. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to offer suggestions, it is merely that I have no idea if my currency of thought will have value for anyone else, and I’d hate to derail anyone on the track to greatness by indicating that what they are doing is wrong and having them listen to me.

On my third hand, everyone has to start somewhere, and fearing that a writer will be ruined by listening to my advice is in itself awfully arrogant. It suggests that people aren’t capable of thinking for themselves and determining on their own, the merit of another’s advice.

My wife is a great substantive editor. She has a logical, detail-oriented, engineering type mind. She also has a strong personality and isn’t afraid of debating a character, or plot point even with the guy who invented the world and all the people in it. I can imagine Robin critiquing God on platypuses. “Seriously? You’re going to put this in? You don’t think it’s a little…I don’t know…stupid? Com’on a mammal that lays eggs? That’s inconsistent with everything else you created. I know you love it, but come on. It’s bizarre—an egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal? There’s no way that stays in.”

After Robin rips my book apart, I sit down and determine whether to accept her advice or not. In the end it is always my decision. (The other thing that makes Robin a great editor, is that she accepts it when I reject her ideas without asking for a divorce.)

The best I can do then is offer what I’ve learned and you can decide for yourself if you think it’s useful. In so doing, there is the chance I might provide someone with that missing piece they’ve been needing. As such--and this has been quite the preamble--I will begin offering what wisdom I have on how to write novels in a series of posts that I will try and write once a week. We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, here is the first bit of advice that plays into the bit about Robin helping me with my books. When you receive advice on a manuscript, don’t make a decision. Initially all critiques are grating. No matter how nicely delivered, hearing criticism is painful. Most people become defensive. They want to stand up for themselves and explain why it has to be that way, and what the reader clearly missed. I’ve learned that if you get defensive with people giving you honest critiques, you won’t get them anymore. So controlling that reflex is important.

The other thing I found is to wait. I’ve gotten into long running debates with Robin about parts of my books. I argue with her over my work (something I only do with her, because I know she’s capable of standing up to it) I even get angry, though I try to hide it. I defend my stance and have often won the arguments. Then the next day I sit down at my computer. When I’m alone with my thoughts and no one can see, I reevaluate. The anger is gone, the embarrassment, and pride are all someplace else, and it is just me alone with the decision. Most of the time I realize she was right and I quietly make the change.

Robin will then be proof reading the passage and stop. “Hey, I thought you weren’t going to change this?”

“Change what?”

“What do you mean, what? We argued over this for hours. The neighbors almost called the cops. Why’d you change it?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, it’s always been that way.”

I might have gotten away with it if she hadn’t saved the previous copies on her computer.

So getting honest advice is a rare gift. Being able to determine whether to accept it or not is priceless. And getting away with making it look like it was your own idea all along, just doesn’t work.

Stay tuned for more writing tips and if you have any specific questions, things you don’t understand, things that you have problems with, or are just curious about, let me know. I may not know the answers, but I lie real well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Power of Creation

One day not long after my wife Robin finished reading the last book of The Riyria Revelations she said something most curious to me, something I’ve not forgotten, nor am I likely to, for it made me think of writing in a whole new way. Before I can tell you what she said I need to explain how I came to write The Riyria Revelations so you can grasp the full weight of the comment.

I have come to believe that all great things start very small. I suppose if I could go back to the start of the American Revolution, it would seem an inconsequential thing at the moment it began. A few people feeling foolish as they stood on a lawn before dawn wondering what they were doing, and having no concept that it would be this moment that would define a nation and shape much of the world to come. The moment of beginning, the sparks that lit the fire always seem vague and fleeting, easily forgotten, easily lost--until the blaze. In the aftermath everyone wonders how did such an inferno begin. By that time everything is soot and ash, everything marked and changed by the fire that consumed it. Then time steps in and memories fade. Soon stories replace facts and history is laid in cement poured years after the fire as a memorial rather than protection of the truth.

When I think back to the birth of significant moments in my life such as the first time I saw my wife, I remember a legend that has grown up and evolved with the telling we both had a hand in. But I strongly suspect that should I go back to witness the actual event, it would not be as grand as I recall. I expect the moment would pass without my noticing. Such was the beginning of Riyria.

I suppose my readers might imagine that I began building this series with great intent. The truth is I was bored. I found myself with a great deal of time on my hands and absolutely nothing to do. My business was running itself, my children were dealt with, and my wife was busy elsewhere. I was alone in the heat of summer with nothing to occupy me, and this situation was not likely to change for some time. I saw months stretching out ahead, empty and dull. With me if you mix lots of time, and boredom together, strange things will happen. Only with vast amounts of open time could I ever have imagined writing a six book story-arc. I can hardly imagine any sane person sitting down one day and thinking, I’m going to write a single story that is the length of six books. A story that won’t really even make complete sense until the final few pages of the final book. Anyone might think such a thing perhaps, but a person needs to be a bit cracked to actually sit down and start typing.

Yet, that is what happened. In the heat of a North Carolina summer, at a time when our air conditioner was broken, I positioned myself as close as possible to the open window in my bedroom, and began typing the first pages of The Crown Conspiracy on an old beat-up computer. It never crossed my mind that I was creating anything significant. I never expected anyone would read what I wrote that day, much less that it would be read by tens of thousands and now on the verge of global publication. If I had known such things I might have taken more care with names, more time with the prose. Yet I suppose if I had known, I would have been paralyzed by fear. Still the fact is that I just sat down and with a skeletal outline in my head I began writing the first story of Royce and Hadrian. No one noticed. No one cared. That act was no more important than when I went downstairs afterwards to do the dishes--and at the time doing the dishes carried more value.

I mention all this because after reading the last book of the series, Robin became very depressed. She was upset because there were no more stories of Royce and Hadrian. And it was in this state, that Robin came to me and said the most curious statement that had me re-thinking what it was I now did for a living. She approached me with a glint in her eye, a wry smile that revealed a hint of having come to a sudden discovery and she said to me, “You can bring them back to life whenever you want to.”

At first I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Royce, Hadrian, all of them, that whole world--you can make it come alive again whenever you want to.”

This was her way of suggesting that I write more about her friends. Perhaps, Royce and Hadrian The Early Years. I took it as a joke, but that first statement hadn’t been carried in a tone anything like a joke. It was a revelation that almost sounded accusatory, as if I knew this all along, as if I were some crafty wizard with hidden power that she only then understood. In the moments afterwards, I realized I had never thought about what I did. I had only sat down and typed ideas that I pulled from the top of my head. They were mere thoughts to me, but what I discovered was that to readers, to those who fell in love with Royce, Hadrian, Arista, and Thrace, what I did was nothing short of magic.

The more I considered this, the more I began to realize that the power to build a story, to create characters and places that resonate with people on personal levels, is a form of magic--the power of creation. For Robin is right. I could sit down at any moment and bring it all back. I could, with a motion of my fingers, raise the sun on a new day, in a new world. A world that others have walked in, a world where people I’ve never met know the sound of Hadrian’s voice. To me it never seemed like much, but when I saw it through Robin’s eyes, I understood I was as powerful as Esrahaddon with hands.

I created worlds.

I just finished watching Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I’m a fan of the book series by C.S. Lewis and felt they did a good job on this one. It got me thinking how it was when I first read the series in my youth, and how real the stories were. It is as if Narina is a real place where I, just like Lucy and Edmund once went. And I realized that this power, this magic that Tolkien and Lewis had, that they used to create wonderful worlds, doors through which I passed as a boy, had somehow come to me. I would not put myself on that same high shelf, and left alone I would never consider that I was similar at all, but apparently it isn’t what I think, it is what others think. Perhaps Tolkien and Lewis never thought much of what they had done either. Arthur Conan Doyle so famously despised Sherlock Holmes for derailing his serious literary career that he killed him off, only to have to bring him back due to the outrage of fans.

Discovering this is surprising. Facing it is to accept that true magic does exist. Every fiction writer has the power to will into being, people, places and worlds. We can conjure ideas that others believe in so strongly they will weep at invented tragedy, and cheer at fictitious victory. What a strange and wonderful power we wield--this power of creation.

Still the magic only works if someone reads.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lost in Translation

Foreign language rights for the Riyria Revelations have either been sold to, or are in the process of being sold to, the Czech Republic, Russia, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland. For those of you who have never engaged in foreign language translations of their work, you might wonder, what this means to the author. Sadly it doesn’t mean you get to go to these places and chat in exotic cafes with linguists about the meanings of words while waiting for the bullfight, or Oktoberfest to start, but it does have some very pleasant benefits.

First it means a lot of money. While none of the foreign publishers are willing to pay the kinds of advances that a domestic New York house is--let’s face it, ten thousand here, ten thousand there, eventually adds up to more than enough to buy a cup of coffee. When my agent sent over my first foreign language contract it was for just a bit more than four thousand dollars, and being new to this whole arena I assumed that’s what I could expect from foreign language sales. I wasn’t complaining. I never even thought of foreign deals when I was first published. Somehow in my sheltered mind, I assumed that such things were handled by a publisher and that the author had little involvement and saw little reward from a proliferation of their titles. So this was like bonus money being thrown at me, a nice little holiday gift.

Then when I was presented a contract for 45,000, I was astonished until I saw that it was 45,000 euros. When I noticed that, my excitement dulled. I had been to Mexico for my honeymoon and knew the insane prices of things in pesos. Back then an onyx chess set carried a price tag of 4,000 - 10,000 pesos. I saw this and my jaw dropped until my wife explained that was something like twelve dollars. So seeing 45,000 euros I assumed that meant the deal was for another four or five thousand, but probably less. Only I had it backward. In today’s market, and it fluctuates hourly, 45,000 euros equals about $66,000. That was a lot more than enough to buy even one of those fancy coffees with the milk that they make into the designs of flowers. And that was for just one sale, and there are a lot of other languages and countries. This is just one of the reasons I love my agent.

The second thing foreign language sales mean to the author is that you get to see your books in languages you can’t even read. I know that might sound strange, but there is a certain mystique in knowing you wrote something as enigmatic as a book you can’t read. They also make different covers. And seeing how your book is portrayed in the art of another country is always fun.

Lastly, foreign sales provides a fascinating insight into the art of translating, which can sometimes be humorous. I am corresponding right now with a Spanish translator who is working on The Crown Conspiracy. I receive emails every other day with interesting, and at least for me, entertaining inquiries. 

Questions like:

What is Salifan? And how do you make sausage with it?

What is a “low pocket” where water gathers?

What is a “wayward traveler?”

What does “daft” mean?

What is a Fall retreat?

Are Tiliner rapiers swords from a place called Tilin?

Is the Rilan Valley named after a river called the Rila?

These last two fascinate me, and got me wondering if the translator was right. It also made me curious about the differences between languages that brought these questions to mind. In Spanish, are names of things often related to associated things?

What really wreaks havoc on the translators are idioms like the one I just used in this sentence, or plays on clichés such as when Hadrian says, “I have been known to hit the forest from the field.” The translator knew this meant something more than what it literally stated, but wasn’t sure what.

And then there are special cases like Wintertide. It is a word that literally means “winter time” but translating it that way would lose the meaning. 

I now have a desire to learn other languages just to be able to read my books and see how they came out. How will Royce sound with a Spanish accent?

“Hola, Senior Hadrian! Buenas dias, Senior Royce.” It sounds like a Riyria/Don Quixote mash-up.

At present the only non-English version presently available is the Czech version, that MStajer reported on. So you who are multilingual, will need to keep me informed on the quality and general impression as the others are released.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

There’s No Place Like Home

I had a friend who went to Mexico and was very careful to avoid drinking the water. He thought himself clever by only drinking Coke-a-cola as he didn’t trust the bottled water there. I think he even brushed his teeth with it. What he never thought of, what was his downfall, were the ice cubes. It’s the little things that ruin us. He contracted the famous Montezuma's Revenge, a form of poisoning caused by ingesting contaminated food. The upside was that he had wanted to lose weight and I think he dropped thirty pounds or something. It added a whole new definition to the term “liquid diet.”

It’s been a long grueling two weeks, during which I attended the Nebula Awards, the BEA, and Balticon. I got back last Monday, and I am only now recovering, but that has more to do with the stomach flu than the trip. Although since we brought the bug home with us, I lump it all together. I learned a lot, or I thought I did. In some ways I’m like Dorothy returning to Kansas wondering if it was all a dream, and if I would be happy or sad to find it was.

I have a friend, a Science Fiction writer by the name of Jamie Todd Rubin, who considers himself a fan first and a writer second. He is a voracious reader, one of those people who has read everything and yet in a recent post on his blog laments his realization that there are not enough hours in a day, or days in a life, to read everything. He idolizes authors, has read their autobiographies and can pull dates of publications from memory. He also attended the Nebulas and Balticon. For him it was a chance to meet with gods, to wander the pantheon of some of the greats. I on the other hand felt like a Christian accidently invited to a Mt. Olympus dinner party. I didn’t know anyone.

I’m just not that big of a reader. I know that sounds strange. Writers are supposed to be readers. How else can they learn to write? The problem is that I read very slowly. It’s not unusual for me to take months to get through a single book. Also, the time I would spend reading is the same time I can spend writing, and these days writing is what pays the bills, so guess which wins? Finally I am very hard to please. It is one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. Frustrated with never finding a book that I could enjoy, I wrote my own. Out of the perhaps thousand of books or so that I have read over my lifetime, I only really liked about five. The rest I thought better than average, were so-so, or out-right awful. (At this point you are really happy not to have me reviewing your unpublished manuscript.) This has only become worse as I have progressed as a writer. The more I learn, the more critical I am. I tend to read books like a slush-pile intern. I usually can’t get through the first page without finding enough fault to close the book. I just don’t have the time anymore to invest in reading a book that isn’t really good. So in short, unlike Mr. Rubin, I would not style myself a fan of writers. After all, I am one now, and I know I’m nothing special.

So it was sadly humorous to sit on panels with other authors, who I didn’t know in the slightest--they could have been cookbook editors as far as I knew--only to find out afterwards that they were giants of genre literature, authors such as Joe Haldeman and Jack McDevitt, not to mention Nora Jemisin and Paolo Bacigalupi. I was asked how I managed to score such sweet appearances with such illustrious names. To quote the Twain version of the often quoted phrase, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” I would just smile and nod. I did that a lot.

Then it was on to New York.

Snapped trying to find my way back to my hotel
Robin wanted to attend the BEA, (BookExpo America.) Given that I was setting a scene in the book I am presently writing in New York I tagged along to do research. When my publisher heard I was in town, they arranged several meetings and events, and that’s where the trip turned surreal. I had dinners with my agent, lunches with my editor, RSVP only cocktail parties with multiple publishers, authors, reviewers, publicists, etc. I was literally wined and dined. Every day it was something new. I felt like I was lost in a Nora Ephron movie. I wrote in coffee shops in the morning, had a picnic lunch with Robin in Central Park in the afternoon, and went to dinner with authors Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch, and talked books all night, only to wander back to our hotel through the glittering lights of Times Square. And everyone treated me as if I was a celebrity. Events were arranged for me. Chairs set out. Drinks provided. Multiple people bumping into each other trying to guess at my needs. And because I had such an entourage, readers saw me as important, thanking me for coming.

Scaling Central Park

 It became really weird when it seemed everyone was talking books. At public restaurants I overheard conversations at nearby tables. “No, not at all, I think your manuscript is perfect. I think you should send it to Bob. He’s looking for just this sort of thing.” Was everyone in New York a writer, publisher, agent, or editor? Only later did it occur to me that due to the BEA there would be lots of publishing related folks in town. Still it was fascinating to be in this ocean of people and have everyone seemingly talking books. I was on a movie set and everyone had the same script.

I’m not used to any of this. My father was a steel mill crane operator, born in Pittsburg who started a family in Detroit after returning from WWII. My mother was a housewife who raised the kids while watching soap operas. They never bought a house, they inherited a tiny one from my grandmother. My eldest sister was the only one in our family to graduate from college and her big dream was to be a stewardess. No one in my family had ever been to New York. I don’t think they have ever even left Michigan. So the idea of chatting with legendary authors, and clinking wine glasses with my literary agent in a small dimly lit restaurant as we joined in the city-wide discussion about the future the publishing industry and foreign deals, is just…well let’s just say I couldn’t relate this story to my family because it lies in a dimension beyond the one in which they dwell. Even I would have had a hard time wrapping my head around it the week before. How could you really explain to Auntie Em what happened to you in Oz?

Then it was on to Baltimore and Balticon. Once more I played the part of the author, only now I was starting to recognize more of the faces, and since they had seen me on panels with impressive people they knew me, too. I became significant by mere association. Most had no idea who I was, but acted as if they ought to know. Then Robin got going, holding her evangelistic revivals on helping aspiring writers get published whether it be self, small, or big. And she couldn’t help but mention me. Soon more people knew my name and by the end, I was sitting at an empty table resting and waiting for the next panel, only to have strangers stop and introduce themselves, stuttering and apologizing and prefacing their introduction with phrases like, “I’m just a lowly writer but I just wanted to say…”

It really all came down to that one moment. The whole two weeks funneled into that instant. Me sitting there in that chair tucked away from the crowds and having strangers, come over and clumsily apologize for speaking to me--as if I was somebody.

I didn’t want to be rude, but I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Maybe if I was younger, maybe if I was more naïve, or just plain stupid, I  could have been sucked in at that moment. After all I had spent two weeks being treated like a rockstar. It was nice, in the way a Disney ride is nice. You get to pretend for a few hours that you are in a fantasy of your very own. Only I knew something no one other than perhaps my wife knew. I’m still the same person I was before all this started.

I’m not special. I’m not a great writer, maybe not even a good one. I think I am pretty adept at making an entertaining story, but there are so many authors who can write better than I can. And these people who tilt their heads up to look at me, the only reason they do it is because they don’t know the truth. They have strong imaginations, readers and writers usually do. They see the idea instead of the person.

If there was any question about my lack of godlike status it came at the end when Robin and I were nailed by the stomach flu that reminded me just how mortal I am. I managed to lose five pounds. And as I lay on the cold tile of the bathroom, even in my misery I had to laugh. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I had clicked my heels and was finally home. And…No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.—L Frank Baum