The relationship between an author and their characters can be surprisingly complicated. It isn't just a matter of making up a name, age, and gender, plugging in a few personality traits, and then making them do what you want. No, when you've done it right, the character actually takes on a life of his/her own.
Usually this is a good thing, but not always.
So I'm working on the draft of book 2 of the Daughter of the Wildings series. Silas Vendine is one of my favorite characters ever, but, well, things have not been all bunnies and rainbows.
Sometimes a character is smarter than you. This happened the other day. Silas is supposed to consider some facts, come to a conclusion, and then embark on a course of action. Seems easy, right? Well, he got through the considering all the facts part, then came to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONCLUSION from the one in the story outline! And to make things even worse, it was a much more logical conclusion than the one I wanted him to come to!
In short, my character had seen something that I had completely missed. Panic ensued - was I going to have to trash my whole outline and start over again? I calmed myself down and worked it through, and happily realized that things can still proceed as planned, just from a different (and much more interesting) angle. So, ok. Good boy, Silas.
Then yesterday, Silas is on the trail of a bad guy, and can't find a sign of him anywhere. I'm going, "What do you MEAN you can't find anything? YOU'RE the big-time bounty hunter!" and Silas is going, "Um, nope nope, can't do that, nope." (Imagine Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome Bounty Hunter saying this in the best Goofy voice you can think of. That's what it was like.) So I slogged through my 2000-word quota for the day, desperately trying to think of good reasons why Mr. Big-Time Bounty Hunter is clueless (remember, he's not just an awesome bounty hunter, he's a MAGICAL awesome bounty hunter), then when I finally finish for the day he goes, "Ha ha, just joking, I picked up on something way back there, let's go back three days and start all over again."
I don't like to kill off major characters, but sometimes it's tempting.
The writing session today started with evaluating how much of yesterday's hard-won word count can be salvaged after this revelation from Silas that he actually knew what he was doing all along, and fortunately the damage isn't too bad. Just a matter of deleting or re-writing a few paragraphs, and it's fixed and we can move on.
So, Silas, buddy, you get a reprieve this time. But watch youself after this. *evil grin*
In other news, A Cure for Nel, and Other Stories, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. The regular price is only $0.99!
Finally, I'll leave you with my Daughter of the Wildings mood music:
Danger Days, by My Chemical Romance, with just a dash of Green Day, Dire Straits, Social Distortion, and Muse.
Urdaisunia is now available for the Nook at Barnes & Noble. Also, Chapter 4 is now available on the site for your free sampling enjoyment.
And a reminder - "The Peach Tree" and "Can't Take It With You" will be coming down in a day or two in preparation for going into the KDP Select program on Amazon. It will be available through the Amazon Prime Kindle Owner's Lending Library, and I'll be doing a five-day free giveaway sometime in the next few weeks. Watch for it!
The paperback edition of Urdaisunia is now available directly from CreateSpace, and should go live on Amazon within a week. This is a beautiful trade paperback edition, priced at $10.99.
My proof copy of the paperback edition of Urdaisunia came today. It's beautiful! Once I give it a good looking over and approve it, it should hopefully become available very soon. It's a trade-size paperback, and will be priced at $10.99 (U.S.). I'll update the Amazon buy link once it's available.
In other news: I'm still waiting for Urdaisunia to make its way through the Smashwords sales channels to the Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Sony online stores. I'll add buy links as it goes live on those sites.
In the meantime, Chapter 3 of Urdaisunia is now posted for your free sampling enjoyment. I'll continue to post 2-3 chapters a week, with three chapters available at a time, for sampling and free serial-style reading.
I'm working on a short story collection which will include "The Peach Tree" and "You Can't Take It With You," along with a previously-unpublished story, "A Cure For Nel," which is set in the same world as my forthcoming novel Chosen of Azara. (Completely different story and characters, though.) I'm going to experiment with putting this collection in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, which will allow me to offer it for free five days out of a ninety-day period, and will also make it available in the Kindle Prime lending library. The downside is that the work has to be exclusive to Amazon while it's enrolled in the KDP Select program, which means that "The Peach Tree" and "You Can't Take It With You" will have to come down from this site. If you want to read them free online, you've got a few more days before they disappear. After that, I'll announce when the collection will be available for free from Amazon, and when it isn't free it'll be only $0.99.
But, you say, I don't have a Kindle! Never fear: here are a couple of different solutions. One is that you can download the free Kindle reading app for your computer, tablet, or smartphone (Android or Apple) and read through that. The other is, my ebooks are free of DRM, meaning that you can buy them from Amazon and use free Calibre ebook management software to easily convert them to your preferred format (epub for most other e-readers).
I'm curious to see if the KDP Select program offers any advantages as far as promotion and visibility are concerned. So I'll keep this collection in the program for a couple of 90-day cycles and see how it works. After that I'll decide whether to keep it in the program or make the stories non-exclusive again.
And in other news, The Lost Book of Anggird is out to the test-readers, and Chosen of Azara is undergoing a quality-check revision pass. It's already been pretty well worked-over, and I had it posted on my old website for a long time. I'm not finding too many problems, but it could still use a little work to bring it up to a more professional level. I'm not planning on sending it out to test-readers, and will hopefully have it ready to release in May or June.
I've also started writing Book 2 (as yet untitled) of Daughter of the Wildings. For months now, Silas and Lainie have been jumping up and down, waving their arms at me and going, "Hey, did you forget about us?" So it's good to finally be paying attention to them again. Like the first book, Beneath the Canyons, this one is kind of scary because I have a vague idea of what it's all about and where it'll end up but not nearly as many details as I would feel comfortable with to fill out a whole novel. I'm hoping that like with the first book, it'll all come to me as I write. It's a fun setting to write in, and Silas's voice is also a lot of fun. I read the draft of Beneath the Canyons last weekend for the first time since I wrote it a year and a half ago, and I had forgotten how very cool it is.
Thanks to digital self-publishing and print-on-demand, this is a tremendously exciting time to be a writer, and it's a dream come true for me to be able to share my stories with other people on my own terms without having to wait for anyone else's approval. I hope you'll join me on the adventure, and enjoy reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them!
I knew that getting Urdaisunia formatted and ready for release would be a learning curve. It ended up taking two weeks. But I've learned a few things that will hopefully cut that time down to two days with the next time. Other things, however, remain a mystery.
What I've learned:
1. Command line programs are not my friend. This was what brought me down to crashing defeat in my attempt to completely build an e-book by hand. The very last step is to compress all the different files into a zip file, using a command line zip program because there's one tiny little line of code in its own file that has to go in first and end up at the very top of the zipped file. I followed the instructions exactly, but I just couldn't get that bugger to go in right. I'd run the program, compress my files, run it through the epub validator, and keep coming back with just that one little error. And that one error, that one little 20-byte file, made the ebook unusable. Otherwise it was perfect. *sigh* So I backed up and used the very beautifully-written html and css that I came out of the process with, and learned my next lesson:
2. CSS is my friend, and I can do it. I'd been trying to learn CSS for years and could never quite grasp it, but for some reason the way it's laid out in The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette clicked for me. Following the instructions in the guide (and applying the principles to adjust a few things, like my smallcaps, that weren't working right) I ended up with html/CSS files that converted beautifully when I did find conversion methods that worked for me. I'm proud of the formatting in my ebooks, and I hope it leads to a more pleasant reading experience for the readers. Even if the novel isn't great, at least the formatting is wonderful.
3. Also from the eBook Design and Development Guide: Regular expressions are awesome. These are things you can do in a text editor like Notepad++ to do fiddly tedious little things like strip extra blank lines and spaces from a file, wrap the correct html tags around paragraphs or sentences, and cool stuff like that.
4. The CreateSpace Word templates are crazy-making, The formatted one came with weird sections and headers that didn't fit with my novel and that I couldn't figure out how to get rid of. The un-formatted one ate my dropcaps. Finally (after an equally frustrating foray into LibreOffice [see below]), I just set up my own pages using the margin guidelines on CreateSpace, and that worked fine.
5. LibreOffice has many advantages over Word, but its developers hate page numbers. Setting up different page numbers for different sections and getting the right numbers in the right place is much easier in Word. (Or maybe that's because Word's instructions are better-written.) (Note that I'm using Word 2003. Can't speak for later versions.)
6. Typing out small caps for each different version is a pain. Do it once on the source file before doing anything else.
7. Smashwords' Meatgrinder converter actually does a really nice job of converting your .doc into various ebook formats if you follow the Style Guide exactly. I'd heard lots of complaints about the Smashwords conversions, but I'm very pleased with how mine turned out.
And some things that may remain mysteries forever:
1. Why did Sigil make my epub come out with a humongozoidal cover image? Seriously. I looked in the previewers, and got a friend to look at it on her Kobo, and you could only see like the top left quarter of the image. Running the conversion through Calibre resulted in a correctly-sized cover image.
2. Why do the makers of LibreOffice hate page numbers? And who writes their instructions? Seriously, that isn't something that should be so hard.
So there's two weeks' worth of lessons that should reduce the formatting, conversion, and publishing time on my next book to two days.
A few things to update tonight. First of all, Urdaisunia has been approved by Smashwords for distribution to the Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Apple ebook stores, along with other distribution channels. Watch for buy links as the book goes live on those sites.
Also, you can now read Urdaisunia for free, serial-style, on the site. I'll post a new chapter 2-3 times a week, with up to three chapters available at any one time. The prologue and chapter 1 are now available here. Once I reach the end, the prologue and first chapter will go up as a permanent free sample. If you're not sure about spending money on a book by a new and unknown author, this will give you a chance to try out the book. Of course, I hope you'll enjoy what you're reading enough to buy the book rather than wait seven or eight or nine weeks to find out how it ends!
And now that the Urdaisunia publishing chores are (mostly) done, it's time to get back into the writing/revising routine. Chosen of Azara is coming under the revision knife, and I'm getting ready to start writing Book 2 of the Daughter of the Wildings series.
Urdaisunia is now live at Smashwords! You can buy it directly at the Smashwords site, and hopefully it will soon (pending review of the technical specifications) make its way through to a variety of other sales channels, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Apple.
In the meantime, I've finished the paperback version and am now awaiting a proof copy. Once I get that and make sure it's all good, Urdaisunia will be available in paperback through Amazon.
I'm very pleased and excited to announce that Urdaisunia is now available in Kindle format from Amazon! You can get it here.
Epub format (for Nook, Sony, iPad, and all other readers) and the paperback edition will follow shortly. I'm formatting the paperback right now, and waiting to hear back from one of the epub vendors I'm going to use about some formatting. If what I want to try to do with them doesn't work, I still have a working, valid epub format file I can use.
Stay tuned; I'll add buy links as Urdaisunia becomes available at different retailers.
When I first started writing Urdaisunia back in the early 90s, I was interested in really really ancient civilizations. I also wanted to write something that wasn't in the usual medieval-European-influenced fantasy setting. Ancient Sumeria fit the bill perfectly. It's so old it makes Ancient Greece and Rome look like whippersnappers, and had a rich and influential culture and level of development. The physical setting (read about my fascination with desert settings here) offered a lot of possibiities for conflict, and I also found the Sumerian pantheon and mythology fascinating. And then there was the idea of a great and ancient civilization falling into ruin, which is also full of possible stories. We didn't have the internet back then, or at least not in its current form, where you can find out anything about anything with just a few clicks, but we do have it now, so here are some links to things that have inspired Urdaisunia.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has a long-term exhibit called Iraq's Ancient Past with a lot of pictures and information about Sumeria and the archaeological work that has been done on the sites there. The headress of Queen Puabi, which inspired the headdress of Shairu-Az in Urdaisunia, is the third picture down. Here is more about Queen Puabi, including a video of some museum workers dressing a mannequin in the headdress and jeweled cloak that were found on Puabi's remains in her tomb. Also on the Penn Museum site is a feature where you can make your name in cuneiform. The picture on this post is my last name the way the Sumerians would have written it.
You can see more of Queen Puabi's headdress and jewelry at Sumerian Shakespeare. The site also has images and translations of Sumerian writings.
The International World History Project has an extensive section devoted to Sumeria. You can read a rundown of the gods and goddesses, a summary of Sumerian history and culture, and a section of the creation myth which gives a sampling of the divine soap opera the gods and goddesses had going on (a major influence on Urdaisunia!).
And, of course, we have to have ziggurats. The first and third pictures were particularly influential in how I envisioned the Royal Palace and the Temple of Ar at Zir.
A few more odds and ends: some ancient ships, and some Bronze Age swords. In Urdaisunia, these are the swords the Urdai used before the Conquest; the Sazars' swords are a new model and were inspired by Japanese katana.
Urdaisunia was only loosely inspired by Sumeria, so don't look to the novel for any kind of historical accuracy. But it was a fun world to play in, and I'll probably go back to it someday.
Finally, let me leave you with a musical tribute to the ancient world:
(Just a note: it seems kind of egotistical to write these musings about what my writing is like. My justification is, I'm an unknown quantity, and I hope that if readers have some idea what to expect from my books, they'll be more likely to give them a try. Or maybe it's just ego :D )
So, on the sidebar here, my stories are described as "dark-edged." What does that mean? Horror? Occult? Grimdark (that is, life sucks, the bad guys win, and everyone else dies)?
Nope, that's not it. I like romance, happy endings, and fluffy rainbow bunnies (aren't they cute?) as much as, or maybe even more than, anyone else. But, as a scripture says, "It must needs be that there is an opposition in all things." How can you fully appreciate joy if you've never felt sorrow, or safety if you've never been in danger? Good unopposed by evil loses its significance, and life in the face of death is more precious and meaningful. Nobility and selflessness in the face of evil and greed mean more; love, honor, and integrity are at war with lust, deviousness, and expediency, and prove in the end, sometimes after a long struggle, to be more rewarding.
So I place the characters in my books in situations where they have to face the darkness, both in the world and within themselves, and make difficult choices. Death, loss, betrayal, madness, pain, hardship, hatred, abuse, deprivation, sorrow, and temptation are all things they have to deal with. Sometimes they make the right choices for the wrong reasons, sometimes they make the wrong choices for the right reasons, sometimes they make the right choices for the right reasons even though it's hard and things still don't work out, and, in the face of pain, loss, discouragement, despair, and temptation, they have to reaffirm their commitment to what they believe is right.
Don't despair, though; like I said, I love happy endings. Or at least, hopeful-for-now endings. And those endings are more satisfying when the characters have earned them. They are forced to learn and grow and discover what kind of men and women they really are and can be; they pass through the fire and come out stronger and better. The darker the tunnel, the brighter the light at the end of it.
(Image credit: Expell-HUN, stock.xchang)
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