Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Worldbuilding blogfest

This week I'm wrapping up my blog tour with the World Building Blogfest, which is hosted by my fellow Unicorn Bell contributor Sharon Bayliss. I'm all about the world-building, so naturally I hopped on the bandwagon to talk about Wodenberg, the little kingdom at the center of Disciple.

Index for future reference:
Food & drink

In other news, the Kickstarter project has reached 100%, so all systems are go! If you want to pre-order Disciple, Part II, you only have until the 31st.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Creativity and trust

Sometimes, my brain is like a saturated chemical solution. Just a drop of the right chemical will trigger the precipitation of some strange new compound. I never know when these drops will hit me, and they leave me scrambling for something to write the precipitate down on.

I was reading a thread over in the self-publishing forum at Absolute Write and someone said (paraphrasing): So we published Something Serious and promoted it all we could but only sold a dozen copies... and later we published a m/m romance without telling anybody at all. Before we knew it, it was selling a dozen copies a day! how about them apples!

With that certain weary sarcasm, I thought, obviously I should be writing m/m romance.

BLAM. Precipitate tumbling out of solution.

Followed by the thought, oh come on I just finished a huge freaking romance and I want to write something else. I can sit around and wish to write transcendently philosophical science fiction all I like, but that doesn't set off a chain reaction in my head. Or not yet, at least.

I'm not the sort of person who's prone to turning mystical (or transcendently philosophical, for that matter) but of late I have found my way to understanding something that a painter once said to me. I'd sat at a panel he gave, in which he wondered aloud about large sailing ships -- really huge ones, beyond the triremes -- and how little luck he'd had with research. My companion and I went up afterwards to tell him about the Chinese treasure fleet that was sent out just before China destroyed its navy. He thanked us for the information, and we commented on how we'd only just learned about the treasure fleet ourselves, what were the chances we'd be able to answer his question? He said that he had trusted the universe would bring him what he needed for his art, and it had.

Over the years since then, I've come to see that he's right in a certain way. I've gotten the sense that trust is deeply involved in creativity. Trusting my gut. Trusting the universe. Which doesn't come easy, because I'm well aware the universe doesn't give a damn about me.

I've said, here and there, that I've finally given myself over to the muse. To creativity. The universe, perhaps. Ray Bradbury's essay "Run Fast, Stand Still" left me at the bottom of the stairs, thirty years ago, and asked if I would invite the monster down (read it here, to understand) -- and I did. Finally. Accepted its frightening, empowering embrace.

I guess it follows that it would challenge my trust, like this. M/M romance, it wants. Okay, let's develop the idea and see what happens. But if this doesn't work, it's back to science fiction.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Creative services for self-publishers

I have been a graphic designer, desktop publisher, and prepress tech for upwards of 15 years now. Before that, I was a professional proofreader. I work as a freelancer under the business name The Cabil, and I'd like to offer my services to my fellow self-publishers. Namely: graphic design, Photoshop wizardry, ebook conversions, and proofreading/line editing.

Technical jargon: I work in Adobe Creative Suite 5, Mac-based. InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator. I'm familiar with cross-platform challenges. I speak fluent printer-ese: resolution, bleeds, separations, bump plates, page creep, etc. I've done folders, envelopes, and brochures that fold every which way. Need gloss plates or custom dies? No problem.

But you probably aren't in the market for any of that. If you need advice on it, feel free to ask. I am also glad to advise on how to buy stock photographs/artwork from major sites.

Art and rights: I work with existing images, modifying them in Photoshop or Illustrator. I'm not a painter or a sketch artist, sorry. All of the samples you see below were created from stock photographs or art which I commissioned. The only rights to my freelance work that I reserve is: to display the work in my portfolio, in order to gain further employment. If you bring me images to alter, you must own the rights to them. Choose carefully when buying from stock photography sites -- I can help with that. I am not getting involved in copyright infringement fights.

Contact me: send an email to carla at cabil dot com. This email is ONLY for freelance inquiries.

The Cabil Creative Services

Service includes: purchasing up to 2 stock pictures, modification, design of the title logo (which I will give you a separate file of, on request,) and a reasonable number of editing and feedback cycles.
Ebook covers: $100. Final file will be suitable for use in ebooks and for online promotions.
Print book covers: $300. Final file will be suitable for commercial printing, prepared to the specifications of your printer. Includes spine and back cover.
Heavy Photoshop manipulations: If your ambitions would require a significant amount of time, we will work out a surcharge before agreeing to the price of the job.

Tour buttons or banners
Service includes: creating web banners or buttons from existing book covers or other customer-supplied art. Discounts for multiple items.
Static: $15
Animated: $30

Business cards and bookmarks
Service includes: creating business cards or bookmarks from existing book covers or other customer-supplied art. Artwork should be of printable quality -- I won't be responsible for the printing quality of low resolution artwork.
Printer-ready files: $30

Service includes: converting your sketch into a high-resolution vector drawing in Illustrator. Up to three rounds of revisions.
Printer and ebook-ready files: $100

eBook conversions
Service includes: conversion of a text file to either MOBI and EPUB via HTML markup or preparation for Smashwords' Meatgrinder. Pick one. Cover art and any interior artwork provided by the customer.
up to 40k words: $50
40 to 70k words: $75
70 to 100k words: $100
100 to 130k words: $125 Need to go larger? Ask.

Print book layouts
Service includes: Interior layout of your book in Adobe InDesign -- the cover is a separate item, see above -- and up to three rounds of revisions. Any interior artwork is provided by the customer. Customer will receive a print-ready PDF prepared to the printer's specifications. Word count below includes any introductions, appendices, glossaries, etc.
up to 40k words: $100
40 to 70k words: $125
70 to 100k words: $150
100 to 130k words: $175 Need to go larger? Ask.

Service includes: Checking punctuation, spelling, and basic grammar ONLY. Your file will be returned as a .doc with tracked changes.
up to 40k words: $100
40 to 70k words: $175
70 to 100k words: $250
100 to 130k words: $325 Need to go larger? Ask.

Copy editing
Service includes: Proofreading as listed above, plus: repetition, term consistency, sentence structure, voice consistency, and continuity. I will pester you about hats that appear and disappear, the black horse that turned into a bay, etc.
up to 40k words: $125
40 to 70k words: $200
70 to 100k words: $275
100 to 130k words: $350 Need to go larger? Ask.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Incompetent Writers Support Group

The Insecure Writers Support Group is a wonderful thing. However, they post on the first Wednesday of the month and this is, um, the third Tuesday. Anyhow, this is when I've got something to say.

I'm not usually all that insecure about my writing, which is why I don't participate in IWSG. And actually, I'm not going to talk about feeling insecure -- I'm going to talk about feeling plain old incompetent. (I am secure in my incompetence.)

Writing queries, synopses, and even back cover blurbs can do that to you. I post mine over at Absolute Write for feedback, and the blinding glare of absolutely impartial criticism can make anyone throw up their hands and say No, I don't know why anyone would want to read this pile of crap, okay?

When you fall off the horse, it's okay to lie in the mud and bitch a bit. But you do have to haul yourself up and get back on the horse.

I don't know why I got the idea I should write a back cover blurb that covers both Disciple, Part I and Part II. Well, no, I know why I got the idea -- I don't know why I thought it would be any easier than writing a blurb for just one of them. Part II is just a bitch to explain without resorting to "Because s/he wants to do the right thing!" or "Because they're not supposed to!"

Which never sounds compelling. It just doesn't. If I were better at this, if I were more artistic, if I wasn't so damn incompetent... I've written how many of these things, now? Why isn't it getting any easier?

Get up out of the mud. Get back on the horse. It's a story, not the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

Besides, there are four more parts of Disciple to write back cover blurbs for. (shudders)

See what all the fuss is about! (manic laughter) -->

OK, seriously, time to get out of the mud now. Where'd the horse go?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Subtle Things #5: Reminders vs. over-repetition

I can't watch TV shows that insist on reminding you what happened earlier in this episode by running a short clip with a color tint, or in black-and-white. I hate it when authors repeat themselves. I got partway into the second Mistborn book and put it down because of repetition. Jacqueline Carey only gets away with it because her language is otherwise so awesome and Kiefan is itching to go a few rounds with Joscelin.

When does a reminder become too repetitive? For me, it involved repeating a fact three times within 500 words... made worse by too-obvious pointing at the thing through dialogue or in the narrative (see: Thank you, Captain Obvious)... or by ruminating on the same thing for a page every chapter... this isn't a hard and fast rule, of course. The smaller the fact, the easier to repeat without looking like it's being harped on. But you can go overboard with repeating even the smallest fact -- single words, as in Subtle Thing #3.

The other end of this problem is that you do need to repeat things that you want your readers to remember. It could be something as simple as a character's hair color, or a unique vocabulary word for your world, or an important bit of backstory. If it's been a long time (what constitutes a long time...?) since the readers have seen a character, reminding them what s/he looks like may be in order. The same goes for facts, vocab words, etc.

This is as tricky to illustrate as it is to define.

Writing this post gave me a chance to check on a sneaking suspicion I had: that I talk about what my main character's heart is doing. A lot. It's quavering, it's aching, it's sinking, it's tying itself in knots. Yes, it's a romance story and the heart is an easy stand-in for strong feelings, but anything can be taken too far.

In Disciple, Part II, there is an important, 3200-word scene in which Kate's heart is referred to five times. (I'm not counting physical hearts -- these are emotion descriptions -- though they add to the repetition.) Other scenes contain one or two, and top out at three in another important, slightly longer scene. 24 out of 40 scenes have heart references.

Too much?
Is that too much? I don't know. I could nix a few without hurting anything, though. This is a situation where one has to rely on one's betas, because chances are you aren't going to notice it yourself.

An example of necessary, repetitive reminders for my readers, from Disciple: Saint Qadeem. He's seen once, in Part I, but that's very brief. The readers meet him for a slightly longer passage in Part II. We spend a whole chapter talking to him in Part III, but then he disappears again. It isn't until Part IV that he becomes a real presence in the story.

Saint Qadeem gets a physical description each of the times we meet him, in I - IV, and it trails off after that. I'm a sketcher, when it comes to physical descriptions, so these aren't long and they tend to emphasize what's relevant at the time. When we first meet him, in Part I, the most important things I wanted to get across were 1. he's ethnically quite different from everyone, 2. this is unnerving to a young girl like Kate, but 3. he's non-threatening.

Later, Kate is more openly curious about Saint Qadeem for a variety of reasons, and the most thorough descriptions come when she gets a chance to "study" him a bit. I hope that after fixing him in the reader's mind in Part III and IV, only slight reminders are needed.

How much repetition is too much for you?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Remembrance of lessons past: POV

I spent a week, around Christmas, at my parents' and went through what parts of my early writings remain. I was glad to find one particular manuscript, disappointed that there's no sign of another. Much of my early writing was on 3.5" floppies, in ancient word processor formats. Some of it exists only on typewriter onionskin. There are stacks of notebooks, too.

I was hoping to find the how-to-write-genre-fic anthology that included Bradbury's "Run Fast, Stand Still," but I didn't. I did find, though, an anthology called Points of View (ISBN #0-451-62491-2, revised version available at Amazon) which I remember reading most of. It contains examples of stories told from various POVs: interior monologue, dramatic monologue, letter narration, subjective narration, various forms of anonymous narration, and more.

This book gave me much of the POV definitions I work from, though I've gotten muddied over the years by wading through confused online debates. You've seen them: attempts to classify stories as "close third person" or "distant third person," how "omniscient" or "limited" they are. Points of View organizes the POV continuum (that's what it is, really) from interior monologue to anonymous narration -- from very intimate first person to very distant third person, which is just one step away from a scholarly summary.

The stories presented offer quite readable examples along the continuum. And for me to say they're readable... bear in mind that I have no use for literary fiction, in general, and these are all lit fic. The closest it gets to genre is Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." (Bless her, RIP, etc.) Oh, and there's one Poe story.

POV is one of those structural elements that underpins a story, and like a skeleton it has an invisible yet unavoidable impact on the appearance of the final creature. Looking at this anthology has gotten me thinking about the POV choices I made in Disciple, both consciously and on a gut level.

Disciple is written largely as an interior monologue, by this book's classification (aka first person narration,) with lots of gritty and intimate detail. I did that very much on purpose. I wanted that level of detail, to let Kate speak to the reader as to a close friend, to heighten the realism and immediacy.

The limitations of first person, as anyone who's written in it knows, had a huge impact on what parts of the story I could show the reader, though. In a few places, I had to bend things to get Kate a good reason to see things that had to be known, but on the whole she was a character in a good position to see and present the best parts of the story I wanted to tell.

What if I had written it from the POV of an anonymous narrator? An omniscient one? As a memoir that Kate wrote many years after the fact? It would completely change the voice of the story, the structure -- I dare say with an anonymous narrator the story would mushroom into a sprawling epic, like GRRM's massively multi-POV Game of Thrones.

But I didn't want that. I only wanted to tell Kate's story. One visceral slice of what was going on.

How do you choose your POVs?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

No predictions, no "best of"

There's plenty of other places to get best-of-this-year lists and predictions for next year. Meanwhile, I'm getting down to business:

Yup, here we go. I feel like I have talked myself blue in the face about this, and now it's finally starting.   This blog will be on the quiet side in January, since I will be blog touring and posting over at Disciple of the Fount. Maybe one post a week, here. We'll see.

Pre-order Disciple, Part II, pick up a bundle of both parts, get in on the "Prologue to Disciple" (yeah, it needs a title) that I'm starting to write. See the final book trailer! It's better than the trailer for Part I; I learned many lessons from that.

Happy New Year! 
I'm not an optimistic person by nature, but this is bound to be an interesting year. The second anniversary of this blog will come in February. I want to publish at least two more parts of Disciple. The Storybundle.com deal has turned out well, thus far. Maybe I'll even get back to writing science fiction at some point.

And I'll be cheering everyone on, in the writing blogosphere. I know I'm not the loudest person when I do that, but I'm with you.
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