Monday, December 13, 2010

The ebook adventures of Santa...

Fictionwise, the ebook site operated by Barnes & Noble, provides a best-seller list for Wings ePress, my publisher.

Six of the 10 top novels are romances. The genre is hugely popular for readers who use ebook readers like kindles. If self-conscious while reading in public, they don’t have to worry about bystanders gawking at the risqué covers of half-naked women draped across their lovers’ bodies.

Other popular ebook genres are suspense/thrillers, historical fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.

The No. 1 novel, the only fantasy among the top 10, happens to be The Emperor’s Mistress, authored by yours truly.

A while back the editors of Wings ePress asked its authors to submit short stories for the publisher’s website. The request had me thinking about what genre writers would plot out for a short story with a Santa theme.

Here’s my take, written as teasers:

Mystery/detective: Santa investigates the apparent murder of an elf whose body was found near the stable housing his magical flying reindeer. The little fellow’s head had been bashed in by an iron skillet. The chief suspect remains Mrs. Claus, owner of the skillet, but she claims it was stolen the day before the murder. Santa suspects the voluptuous elf Alena committed the killing, wishing to transplant Mrs. Claus in his affections. Santa must do a fair and impartial investigation and pray that his suspicions are correct. He’s nervous, though. The man in the red suit just learned from a reliable source that the dead elf, Zydar, had been having secret affair with Mrs. Claus, and had threatened to tell Santa if he wasn’t made head of her candy and cookie baking department.

Romance: Readers learn how Santa met and fell in love with Jessica Mary, the future Mrs. Claus. In olden times she was willowy with long blond hair, rosy cheeks and a stunning figure. Back then all the boys in Gotlands, Sweden, found Jessica the cat’s meow. But one in particular, the coolly handsome Loke Gustavsso, had nearly convinced her to make love in her father’s barn’s hayloft, but then Santa came into her life. On a dreary, overcast day in October he’d been taking a new sleigh for an aerial spin when two sick reindeer forced him to make an emergency in a meadow outside Gotlands. When Santa set eyes on Jessica, he felt his heart flitter, and he swore he wouldn’t leave the village unless she sat snuggly on the seat beside him.

Fantasy: When supervising the toy factory became too tedious, Santa likes to retreat to the office and its cozy fireplace for a D&D adventure with Mrs. Claus, chief elf Supervisor Almog Lonelash and his main squeeze, Tiana Lightglow. When too much eggnog leaves his bladder overflowing, Santa must temporarily leave the game to seek relief in the outhouse. Halfway to the jakes, he sees his breath turn to ice and plunge to the snow. A moment later Santa’s sucked into a passing wormhole and deposited into the middle of a laser battle on the planet Niijima—and without his magical reindeer, sleigh and gift bag.

History: A young Santa without responsibilities—his father St. Nick delivers the presents—gets caught up in 17th Century English politics. Young Santa abhors kings and queens, though he does have an eye for fiery princesses in low-cut gowns. Rather taken by the political beliefs of Oliver Cromwell, Santa joins Cromwell’s New Model Army to rid England of Charles I and his monarchist supporters. As he witnesses the destruction done by the armies to the lives of yeomen, Santa comes to realize the importance of his father’s mission of delivering toys to the children of the world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

When a novel requires surgery...

Here’s how my editing process works. In Thief’s Coin, book 2 of my trilogy Larenia’s Shadow, I ran my chapters through the Online Writers Workshop of Fantasy & Science Fiction. In the first go-through, I sought as many reviews as possible. Often a chapter would get five or more reviews. That’s quite helpful in determining what revisions may be necessary. Once through all the chapters with all the changes made, I posted the chapters a second time on the OWW to give me the opportunity to polish the manuscript.

For my third and final editing stage, I asked a friend, a published author living in Oregon, to take a look at the manuscript and give the chapters a detailed critiquing. I expected some continuity problems but no major rewrites. Instead, she told me she had some serious problems with Thief’s Coin, especially the first half of the novel.

None of the OWW reviews brought up Jeanette’s concerns, but those online reviews have a serious shortcoming. Oftentimes there can be a month or two between chapters. Reviewers do forget the gist of earlier chapters. Jeanette read the book straight through as a reader would do.

Here’s what she wrote in an email: “I'm about 40% into Thief's Coin, and have had a growing unease about Illisandra. I finally figured it out. I'm hesitant to bring it up, but it's a major thing, and could result in people giving up before reading the third book. Illisandra mostly seems like a muddled young woman trying to find herself, and her joys seem confined to tormenting one person or another for no particular reason, and with no real end in view. You have to give me an outrage to make me hate her, involving a profound grief, and you have to do it by chapter 5.”

Illisandra is my villainess, a long-lived sorceress plagued by multiple personality. In the first book, The Emperor’s Mistress, one of the personalities, Charis, sleeps deep inside the sorceress’s subconscious. That enables Illisandra to do her machinations without any interference from Charis. In fact, for most of the first book, Illisandra doesn’t even know Charis exists.

But in the second book Charis is out in full force and the two personalities’ contest for supremacy. That tussle over control of their mind is slowly driving Illisandra insane. Her actions—what Jeanette calls “tormenting one person or another for no particular reason”—are manifestations of her growing insanity.

I decided to run Jeanette’s concerns by a couple of the OWW reviewers and get their opinions. One wrote back: “I think she makes a very interesting point. On the one hand you definitely can't lose the mental tussle between Charis and Illisandra. What you could do is make Illisandra more spontaneously evil. Give it an unpredictable and unhinged quality that would allow her to cuddle puppy dogs and castrate a servant in the following paragraph kind-of-thing. Think Caligula. Allow Charis the more mature and considered evil. And make this clear throughout, thus seeding the sequel. I liked Jeanette's suggestion that you make a powerful sacrifice early on.”

So I decided to make Jeanette’s suggested changes since other reviewers concurred with her observations. I like to see advice from multiple sources before making major changes to a novel late in the editing process.

The end of chapter 5 underwent major revision. In the updated version, Illisandra and Charis have a major argument that leaves Illisandra fuming. The quarrel occurs in a marketplace jammed with people. Illisandra can’t strike out at Charis, so she instead flings her magic at a passing wagon, weakening the back axle. A wheel comes off, tipping the wagon, spilling heavy grain sacks. Bystanders are killed and injured including a noblewoman and her dog.

I wrote: “No! What have I done?” Illisandra’s hands flew to her mouth. She hadn’t noticed the highborn woman and her dog near the stall. The woman had been feeding a sweetmeat to the dog. Both lay motionless beneath under a clutter of grain sacks. “The poor dog.”

Her magic had been done subtly so people would assume it was merely an accident and not spell-induced. As the scene ends, Illisandra rushes to the injured to offer aid. Throughout the early part of the book, Illisandra tries to remove enemies in such a way that it makes her look heroic in the eyes of the general populace. The wagon accident gives her the opportunity to advance her agenda.

I plan one other major revision later in the novel. As Illisandra becomes less and less stable, she will blind the mother of one of my main characters. I had considered killing a major character, but that character is really needed at the end of the third novel, Assassins’ Lair. So the character gets to live.

So hopefully these changes will allay Jeanette’s fears. When Thief’s Coin is published, you who read this will have to buy and read the novel. Feel free to let me know if I succeeded in making Illisandra more spontaneously evil, more unpredictable, more unhinged.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

First book signing becomes history

The aroma of coffee and pastry goods greets visitors when they enter the Book Cellar in Burgaw, North Carolina.
Book Cellar co-owner Nancy Alguire handed me a free cup of Courthouse Coffee’s steaming-hot house blend when I walked through the front entrance on Friday afternoon for my first book signing.
Nancy and her sister Sandy Fraley share the building on West Courthouse Avenue with Courthouse Coffee. It’s a courtship made in ‘bouquet’ heaven.
She set me up at a table in the front room among shelves of old paperbacks. The smell of those books complimented the aroma of the coffee as I set the cup on the table.
Soon I had the box containing my ten books on the table. Out came four copies of The Emperor’s Mistress, which I arranged along the edge of the table so people would see them when they walked in from the sidewalk. Near my books were two posters showing the front and back covers.
Those posters were fine ways to let potential purchasers learn the basic plot of The Emperor’s Mistress. The front cover shows a ponytailed tomboy garbed in medieval male clothing battling a dragon. The back cover contains a teaser blurb.
The book signing lasted two hours. I sold and signed three books. And I left two paperbacks with Nancy and Sandy to display and hopefully sell.
All in all it was a nice, relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon. I chatted with Nancy and Sandy, and learned that at one time they had lived in Riverside, California. They were familiar with Rialto and Corona, towns where my family lived when I was in elementary school and junior high.
Their father is 97 years old and as sharp as men half his age. He doesn’t need a bookmark, but remembers the page where he left off. He taught himself to fly, and as a young man went in with others to purchase a Piper Cub. Nancy and Sandy remember flying with him. He’d tip the plane to give the girls a thrill.
I had a second cup of coffee of the house blend as I listened to them. They compared notes of Grand Canyon hiking trips, and related how much more developed the natural wonder is nowadays than back in the ‘70s. The coffee house hostess shared baked goods with us from the coffee bar, and soon it was time to pack up my remaining books for the trip back to the house.
Nancy and Sandy invited me to participate in another book signing when the second book of the Larenia’s Shadow trilogy is published. Thief’s Coin is in final revision and hasn’t been submitted to the publisher yet, so that book signing will probably take place sometime in the second half of 2011.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On a quest to do a book signing...

I’ll soon be doing my first book signing.

The co-owner of The Book Cellar in Burgaw, N.C., contacted me over the weekend and said she’d like to schedule the book signing for Friday, Nov. 19 in the afternoon. She anticipates getting a variety of readers coming in to the bookstore, including students from the local branch of Cape Fear Community College in nearby Wilmington.

College-age kids are often fans of the fantasy genre. That’s about when I first started reading fantasy novels. I do believe my first one was a Conan novel by Robert E. Howard I was reading by flashlight in the summer of 1970 in a bedroom of a summerhouse at Lakeside, the Methodist-affiliated summer resort on Lake Erie in Ohio. I was telling my cousin Pat about the plot. Pat’s an interesting fellow. He lives in Israel where he helps organize barbershop quartets. You should hear his version of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”

Back to my novel, The Emperor’s Mistress…I’m not sure how many books I’ll be able to sell. Unlike some other authors, I do have the ability to generate publicity for the event. I work for a chain of weekly newspapers as the sports editor. I can write my own news release and get it published in four newspapers with circulations in two counties. It’ll be a nice experiment to see how many people show up at The Book Cellar because they read about the book signing in one of the newspapers.

And with luck maybe another bookstore owner in another town in one of the counties will want to do a book signing. At least that’s my hope.

Since bad economic times forced me back into journalism, I’ve struggled to find the time to work on books 2 and 3 of my trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow. A sports editor without a staff has very little time to do anything but cover games and write the stories. It’s nice to see that journalism can also be helpful.

In the last few weeks I’ve tried to find a balance between my newspaper job and my writing career. It’s not been easy, though. When I set aside a couple of afternoons to work on book 2, Thief’s Coin, I found myself finishing up that edition’s football, soccer and volleyball stories at 4 a.m. on a Monday. “Q”, my paginator, was not happy with me.

Two years ago I was an instructional developer writing online training manuals for the pulp-and-paper industry. I spent weeks on end living in hotels, but at least my evenings were free to work on The Emperor’s Mistress. That is until the Great Recession slew the small training company I worked for.

Ten months of unemployment followed, and then an offer to be a sports reporter. Of course, I accepted the job offer. Stay tuned…I’ll do a follow-up on the book signing as well as how successfully or unsuccessfully I juggle the duties of sports editor and novelist.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How it began...

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how long I’ve worked on The Emperor’s Mistress. Way back in about 1990 I first discussed taking stereotypical characters of a D&D adventure—thief, cleric, mage, knight—and fleshing them out in a novel to prove the genre still had life in it. That discussion took place with a buddy of mine. I wrote the chapters and would pass them by him for his suggestions for improvement. We lived in separate states so we relied on Netmeeting to review chapters. His input was indispensable. In fact, I’ve dedicated The Emperor’s Mistress to him…Bill Bradford.

In the ‘80s, Bill and I were reporters at a daily newspaper in Leesburg, Fla. He covered cops; I covered the city of Leesburg and the citrus industry. The two of us and a cadre of friends played D&D and drank strawberry daiquiris on the weekends. Those were fun times playing with Sharon Benson, Jayne Love, Marge Holloway and Jennis Slaughter. Those “adult” adventures were the seeds of what became The Emperor’s Mistress.

Several years ago Bill suffered a stroke that put him in a nursing home in Fort Myers, Fla., near his son Morgan. At first, we telephoned each other on a weekly basis, but over time the calls became less and less frequent. When Wing e-Press told me they wanted to publish The Emperor’s Mistress, I tried to phone him with the good news. I was told he was no longer in the nursing home, and privacy laws would not let the staff tell me what had happened. Efforts to contact Bill’s ex-wife Terry and their son were not been successful. Since then I’ve learned that he is actually still in the original nursing home, and I’m not sure why the nursing home administration would not tell me anything.

The original first draft of the novel was finished about 2002 (the years begin to run together). Frankly, the manuscript was a mess. The story unfolded over 1,400 pages. I broke it into three novels, and began to workshop the first novel on the Online Writers Workshop of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (OWW). The reviews were not dreadful, but neither were they glowing. I rewrote chapters, added new ones, and when necessary deleted others. The Emperor’s Mistress became a new novel. Book 2, Thief’s Coin, is completely new; nothing survives from the 1,400 page monstrosity. The detailed outline for the third book, Assassins’ Lair, is new as well. The outline is a nice roadmap, but I expect there will be detours once I begin writing the chapters. It’s the way the process works.

I’ve become a much better writer over the last seven or eight years, and I can’t praise fellow writers on the OWW enough for the help they’ve offered me. I’ve included on my website ( links to the OWW and to the websites of some of my “online friends.” Check out Michael Keyton’s web journal and the web journal and the goblin brothers’ website of Lindsay Buroker. Keyton is a true wordsmith and Buroker’s short stories about her goblin brothers are a delight.

You’ll like The Emperor’s Mistress as well. The girl thief Stealth comes to life within the pages. She’s a street-smart yet soft-hearted heroine who will steal your heart as you read. So please click on the link for the Wings e-Press website and consider purchasing The Emperor’s Mistress. And while you’re on the site, check out the works of the other authors.