Just so you guys know, at this point I do not plan to move forward with paper copies of Revenants Abroad. I’m so disgusted with CreateSpace/Amazon’s destruction of the cover art, I can’t bring myself to sell print copies. I can’t understand why the perfectly good artwork that was supplied to them is turned into a murky mess, and they refuse to do anything about it. Their only solution was to tell me to upload a lighter version of the artwork. I don’t have the original artwork, or Photoshop, to manipulate it in. For comparison, here is the original image:
And THIS is what they did to it. These are the first two proof copies I received, the third is exactly the same. I haven’t even bothered to check the actual text inside. I just want to cry every time I look at this.
I’ve never seen anything like it. If anyone else has had a similar experience with CreateSpace I’d love to hear about it. I was told this was “within acceptable variances.” They also said something about “spacing” which basically meant they didn’t address the issue at all and all I got was a canned response. Obviously they couldn’t care less about the quality of the books they publish.
I’ve been taking loads of pictures lately, just no time to post. Here’s a selection the last week or so. Some of the dates are wrong, typos, ya know. But just in case spring is late in your part of the world, enjoy these pictures.
Not much else going on. Still working with CreateSpace to try to get the cover image for Revenants Abroad printed right. They’ve sent me two proof copies and both were so dark you could hardly see the details and colors in the background. I’m very frustrated. It’s not brain surgery, it shouldn’t be this hard. Let’s hope third time’s the charm.
These pictures feel like a fairytale world. I need to write a fantasy set in this place. Gotta come up with a name for it. Amazing how it’s never the same two days in a row.
When I look at these pictures I keep wanting to label them “Farksolia.” But I need to think up my own name if I want to create an imaginary world. For those not familiar with Farksolia, it was an imaginary planet invented by Barbara Follett, a ‘child prodigy’ who wrote an acclaimed novel at the age of 12, in 1925. She even created a language for the inhabitants, Farksoo. She disappeared mysteriously in 1939, and I like to think she created a new life for herself somewhere, changed her name, and kept writing. She would have been 101 on March 4. I somehow stumbled across Farksolia years ago, no doubt following one link, then another, and have never forgotten about Barbara.
Anyway the whole thing is giving me ideas for different blog formats, and creating a little world of my own. I owe you for that, Barbara.
I’d like to introduce you to Norwegian-Icelandic writer, Margét Helgadóttir, whose first book, The Stars Seem So Far Away, has just been released through Fox Spirit Books. Congratulations, Margét! Let’s talk about the book.
What is The Stars Seem So Far Away about?
The Stars Seem So Far Away is a story set in a distant future, where plagues, famine and wars rage across the dying Earth. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. The story is told through the tales of five survivors: One girl who sails the Northern Sea, robbing other ships to survive; one girl who guards something on a distant island; one guerrilla soldier; and finally, two siblings who become separated when the plague hits Svalbard.
It’s not a novel, but it’s not a collection of stories either. It’s a hybrid, a fusion of linked tales that together tell a larger story.
What inspired you to write the book?
I think the idea of this alternative future for the northern parts of the world has been dormant in me for many years.I have long pictured a world where humans, due to climate changes, must flee to the northern world, and where places that today are sparsely populated could become covered with cities. I’ve had the image of the skyscraper city on Svalbard in my mind for many years. But mostly it’s the small details of this dark and apocalyptic world I have mulled over for a long time. I have for instance been fascinated by the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, ever since it was built. Also, the image of the killer whale in Nuuk has stayed with me for a while.
It’s such a beautiful cover. Could you tell us a little about it?
The lovely cover is by the talented Sarah Anne Langton. I am very happy about it because I feel it reveals some of the atmosphere in the book like I picture it. The cover has ice, snow, ocean, a giant bear, a crashed Hercules, an apocalyptic city and the human who longs for the stars. Sarah even made sure it’s the correct star maps on the cover.
What is your relationship to the speculative genres?
It’s more about what mood particular books/stories put me in, rather than who wrote them or what genre they are within. I’m the same with movies. Fantasy and science fiction are always good choices when needing to escape real world and seek comfort.
But I also find that these genres challenge the readers/audience, force them to think in new ways, be it space exploring, new species, new ways of thinking, new technology. They turn the world as we know it upside down, and few things are impossible. I love this. There are of course often used tropes and clichés in these genres too, but still, now and then I can read something or watch something which is so challenging, so brilliant, I almost can feel my brain cells squeal in delight. I love the space opera subgenres and I adore the science fiction classics from 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, filled with optimism and confidence. But my favourite science fiction is the narratives close to contemporary fiction, often about power structures and dystopian societies. They are not new, but we have seen these stories more often the last decades. I am also increasingly fascinated by stories within ‘the weird’, twisted and dark stories, often very surreal and surprising.
Could you tell a little about your writing and other stories?
It was only two and half years ago that I found confidence enough to start writing fiction for publication. A few of the stories in the book are actually amongst the first stories that I wrote. I have chosen to write fiction in English, which is not my native tongue, so working on the book has also been part of a tough language-learning process. Today, when I read through the book, I can see clearly how I have developed as a writer; the later stories flow better and have a more sure voice.
I know my writing and language can’t compete with Hemingway or other great authors, but I’m very concerned about telling a good story, so I hope I have succeeded in this and that people will like the stories and the characters.
My stories have appeared in several magazines and journals, including Gone Lawn and Luna Station Quarterly. My fiction has also been or will be published in nine print anthologies, including Impossible Spaces, six volumes of Fox Pockets, and two more Fox Spirit publications. I am co-editor of the coffee table book European Monsters, a collection of fiction and art released from Fox Spirit Books in December 2014. It is the first of an annual monster series. In 2015 I will co-edit the second volume in this series, African Monsters, and I will also edit an anthology of winter tales. Hopefully there will be time to continue writing as well.
You have an unusual background, can you tell a little about yourself?
I’m born in East-Africa to a Norwegian mother and an Icelandic father. I grew up in East- and West-Africa and in Norway. On my webpage you can find small musings about different aspects of being a third culture and cross cultural child. I moved to Denmark two months ago, where I will stay for a few years due to work. I am a movie junkie and a book worm, and can often be found in the history museums and galleries in the weekends. Learn more about me at my webpage, or on Twitter, where I am @MaHelgad
Thanks so much, D.D., for inviting me to talk about my debut book.
The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by Fox Spirit Books and released on Valentine’s Day. It can be ordered as paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Epub is coming soon.
Amazon UK (paperback): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767
Amazon US (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767
Thanks so much, Margrét, and best wishes for the success of your book!
UPDATE: March 1, 2015 – turns out it was NOT the ISS. We checked and it was on the other side of the world at the time the pics were taken (4:39PM PST). Plus it’s in the wrong location, and moving in the wrong direction. Best guess now is a satellite.
No idea what I got here, but there’s clearly a small shape moving past/above the moon. I don’t think it’s a UFO (well, technically it is, because I don’t know what it is but I don’t think it’s a spaceship from Mars), wondering if it could be the ISS or a satellite that caught the light of the setting sun. Pretty cool, though. I never got a “bonus” in the frame before! One of my Twitter friends, @GeoffreySperl, thinks it’s the ISS!! EEEE!! Score!
ADDED: March 1, 2015 – A couple more, with less color. Never thought I’d complain about the sky being too blue.
So, things are progressing with the book. The proof copy is on its way to me, and if all looks good the paper copy should be available on Amazon in another week! The ebook of Revenants Abroad is also now available via Kindle on Amazon, and will remain available via Smashwords, Kobo and Barnes and Noble as well, all at the same price of course. I’m also probably going to be resurrecting my other website that I let slide, ddsyrdal.com, and take all the book talk over there so you guys who don’t care about it don’t have to listen to it here. Having my own site again will allow me to do things I can’t do here.
In the meantime, here are a few recent shots. I swear the rainbow one, while only showing a short section of it, was the widest rainbow I’ve ever seen.
Today I have a real treat for you guys. I’m delighted to host a guest post by Harry Connolly, author of the Twenty Palaces series, and The Great Way, his new fantasy trilogy. I’ve been a fan of Harry’s for years, and was thrilled to be able to participate in Harry’s blog tour. He has written a dynamite post on pacing in fiction, so you writerly types take special note. And be sure to follow Harry on Twitter @byharryconnolly and follow his blog, Harry J. Connolly. And go read his books! They’re fantastic and imaginative and great fun. Now, on to Harry’s words of wisdom!
He Always Runs While Others Walk: Pacing in Fiction
We’ve all had the experience of reading a book all the way through to the end because we just have to get to the end. God help us, the awful word “unputdownable” was coined just for this, and as much as I hate the word, it exists for a reason.
Pacing. For the sort of fiction I write, it’s vital, but I think it’s also misunderstood.
Typically, people talk about pacing when they talk about my style of writing—chases, fights, daring escapades—but every book has its own pacing. If we’re reading about a young woman spending a summer in Florence, you’d expect the pacing to be mellow and relaxed, with a text mainly focused on description and casual conversation. Likewise, most cozy mysteries are chiefly made up of conversation and scene description, which are not usually considered gripping entertainment.
And yet, just like with thrillers, we can find ourselves compulsively reading cozies.
In other media, pacing can be pretty straight forward. How do we pick up the pace in music? Have the drummer (or the other musicians) play faster. (Probably there’s advice about playing on the upbeat instead of the downbeat, but I’m not musical.) Film has a number of techniques, including fast editing, that will speed the pace.
But with text on a page, it’s just one word after another. We can make a book seem shorter by including a bunch of one-line paragraphs that don’t extend to the right margin, but that’s just the book. It doesn’t increase the pace of the story. Yeah, I’m going against some really common advice here: short sentences are not one of the keys to fast-paced writing. We can increase the pace with long sentences, too. I ended the biggest action scene in Game of Cages with a run-on sentence that was over five hundred words long. It’s complexity, not length, that slows things down.
My friend Bill Martell is a screenwriter with an interesting theory (well, more than one, really, but let’s talk about this one) about films: they generally have two genres. The primary genre is where all the big set pieces and high drama occurs. Those are the super-exciting “peaks” in the story where the pace is most frenetic. The secondary genre (the word “subplot” just isn’t that descriptive) is where the “lulls” happen. Taking Super-8 as an example: the primary genre is a monster movie about an alien that grabs people and devours them. The secondary genre is a coming of age story. In between the chase scenes and the scary monster stuff, the mellower moments that let us catch our breath center on the protagonist’s relationship with his father, with the girl he likes, and with his best friend.
In decades past, the second genre was typically a love story, usually with the Only Woman Appearing In The Film. Lately, it’s more likely to be about Daddy Issues.
Books are different, but only because they can be longer and more complex. We can have a whole bunch of different plots running throughout the book, with multiple points of view, and can switch between them whenever we need to alter the pace. If we have one storyline about a prince leading a battle against an invading army, we can switch over to the princess being forced into a marriage with a man she knows is secretly plotting with the invaders, then switch to a disreputable smuggler working the docks, wondering who’s bringing in all these new shipments. Battle -> Court Intrigue -> Skulking -> Battle -> Court Intrigue -> and so on, switching between them.
The thing is, each storyline could be equally gripping. Just because one is slower-paced than the others doesn’t mean that the reader attaches to the story less ferociously. But the difference in pace is important for creating that reader attachment. The fast parts need the slow, just as the slow needs the fast.
To shift gears a little bit: Most people who go to see a Michael Bay movie know they’re in for spectacle, which is achieved through some very specific techniques. However, although the pace is fast due to the way it’s framed, shot, and edited, a lot of people find it intensely dull and/or unsatisfying.
The audience doesn’t care because the first step in creating pacing that really works is to create a situation that the readers care deeply about.
Look at the situation I presented four paragraphs before: some readers will have zero interest in anything related to a princess forced into a bad marriage. Maybe they don’t like reading about female characters. Maybe they don’t like reading about female characters without a lot of agency. It doesn’t matter. Even if the story is full of chases and betrayals and death-defying risks, every time the narrative switches to her plot, the book will sag.
For that reader.
You really can’t please everyone. Personal example: I was confused by early reviews of Child of Fire that said “nothing happened” for the first 100 pages. I was perplexed by this, because the protagonist sees a child catch fire and transform, they he helps break into a home, then a gunman shoots up the restaurant he’s in, then…
Anyway, a lot was happening, and it was happening quickly. However, the main plot question was “What the hell is going on here?” and there are certain readers who don’t consider that a legitimate plot question. For them, unless there’s a clear goal (beyond “we need to figure this out”) it’s all a holding pattern. I suspect those readers will never truly like my work.
How do we control the pacing, though?
As I’ve been trying to demonstrate, there are no hard and fast rules. Some choices will seem fast in one book and slow in another, depending on what’s around it. Sometimes the reader will be impossible to win over, no matter what we do.
Like all writing, it depends on what information is being delivered to the reader and how. It’s not something I can turn into a numbered list. Is the scene we’re writing about a soldier trying to defuse a ticking bomb, and full of relatively simple language? Probably fast paced. Is it about a soldier trying to defuse a bomb and full of complicated clauses, digressions into the soldier’s childhood, a description of the surroundings? Well, that might be frustratingly in conflict with itself, and maybe that’s the point.
Characters we care about, doing something we’re interested in, acting in a frantic way, described in the appropriate language, is probably a fast-paced part of the story. Unless it isn’t. If they’re taking stock, or just getting to know each other (so the reader will be sad when they’re killed later) that’s probably slower.
The only way to really tell is by the feel of it. When writing/revising/rereading a section, do we feel as though some tidal force is pushing us forward? Do we feel centered and at ease? Frankly, for all the talk about writerly technique, I think we too often give short shrift to the true arbiter of proper technique: our own taste.
Short sentences! Showing instead of telling! Whatever! These things are usually substitutions for the careful creative decision that seems right at the moment. The real world of art—even commercial art of the kind I write—is more complicated than short sentences = fast pace.
Anyone who’s curious about the way I do pacing, look no further than the opening of my new trilogy. Check the cover.:
It’s about a sentient curse that brings about the collapse of an empire, and it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
You can find out more about that first book here, or you can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog to see a slow lull that builds until it turns into a fast-paced scene of violence.
Thanks for your time.
BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos, was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.
Chapter 27 is up on on Wattpad! I’m getting nervous now, down to the wire before I pull it off Wattpad and launch the paper copy on Amazon. :::chews nails::: The final chapter, 28, will post on Saturday. I’ll give it a week, and then the whole thing comes down so I can make it available for sale on Amazon. Get caught up now, if you’re not buying the book!
And we’re finally getting a break in the gray and the wet we’ve had. The rivers are still way up, water’s lapping at the edge of the road in places where I drive, but we’re supposed to be dry for the next week or so. I was able to get a few shots this morning on the way to work. Oddly it was clearer at my house than further down the road where I was once again swallowed up by the fog. This first shot is from my front porch. It’s a little blurry, but the color took my breath away.
The bright purple and reddish-orange faded very quickly to soft pinks
Unfortunately all my shots of the high water in the marsh came out like this:
Which is what happens most of the time. The point is, normally you can’t actually see the water here. So yeah, it’s been soggy.