Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common cause with other artists...

I don't talk to much about my personal life, but a conversation at a club recently brought this up.

Since I've been living on my own -- about six months now -- I've developed a habit of going to clubs. Never did that when I was younger, even though I have always loved live music and the thousand flavors of electronic music in particular. I'm still a shy person, so I go alone. Strictly for the music.

But I've also made a habit of going to shows put on by local deejays. Young guys and ladies who are still building their reputations and a fan base. I can relate to that, as a self-publisher. I know what support from a non-family member means when you're trying to earn money as an artist.

Given that these are small-time deejays, they play in small clubs to small audiences and it makes for an intimate setting. They were quick to start recognizing me and always come over to say hello, which is very sensible from a self-promotion viewpoint. Being shy, I've never been good at that sort of thing.

That got me to thinking about the parallels between how different artists try to earn a living and what I could learn from these kids. I don't know a lot about how it works for new deejays, but I hear mutterings about unreliable bookings and slim pay. The struggle to find the balance between giving away free samples and charging money for your work sounds familiar too.

I also couldn't help recognizing the incestuousness of the scene: most of the people at the shows are either fellow deejays or girlfriends/friends of deejays.

As a follow-up to my post about visual artists, I'd like to expand that to include all fellow artists. Back in the day, I was guilty of using Napster and Limewire to collect mp3s. I limit myself to legit freebies now, and I support musicians by going to clubs, but I still don't pay much for my music.

We all know how hard it is to make a living off of art. I think we owe it to each other to be as supportive as we can.

What do you do to support the arts in your area? Do you find local musicians or bands to support? Dance troupes? Theater groups? Post something and maybe it will inspire another reader.

Be glad, as a writer, that you can get by with pen and paper if you must and don't have to drop hundreds of dollars on a mixing deck like the one in the photo. That's a smallish one, too. Yikes.

On the off chance that you're a fan of techno/house/drum & bass/etc., some links: the GLAS Mix Project crew here in DC. Also, Dancekraft. Specific DJs: Confetti, the house queen of Baltimore, Traxiom, who can put me in a dance-floor trance even when I'm alone, and DJ RND because I loves the deep house.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Exercising the voice muscles

I've been trying to strengthen the voice in McBride's Eight, my hard scifi novel, for the last few weeks. I posted a sample of the process over at Unicorn Bell. When I wrote it I didn't want to get into the characters' heads much. It's been a couple years and my opinion has shifted a bit.

Not much point in using third person limited for the narration if I'm going to stay outside the characters' heads. Might as well let the narrator be more omniscient and put that narrative distance to good use. But I didn't.

So I've been pondering how to differentiate voices within the general style that I use for science fiction. I do, definitely, have some genre-specific style habits for better or for worse...

Here's one: when a sentence has the same subject as the previous sentence, I drop the subject. Shen cracked open a fresh bottle of vodka. Poured himself a drink. There's a dozen correct ways to communicate those actions, of course, and a few dozen incorrect ways. That's how I do it in science fiction.

I also tend to drop articles at the beginning of a sentence. Barkeep would give him the friends rate, no worries. Bottle of Gunner's wasn't pricy anycase.

Kate, over in my fantasy series Disciple, would say something like I hefted the brandy carafe and tore the wax seal off; the unleashed fumes stung my eyes as I poured out a cupful. Shen would be on his second shot by the time Kate finished all of that. (It's amusing to imagine them sitting at a bar together drinking -- I wonder what they'd make of each other.)

Some people find my scifi style choppy or otherwise hard to read. Some betas have called it "twitterspeak," which may well be why I see words being dropped from sentences in the future. They're extra characters, and English is heavily dependent on context for its meaning anyways.

So how to separate out more than one voice?

Lena scanned the rack of vodka behind the bartender and spotted the Grey Nebula bottle. "Grey on ice," she said, pointing. Nice stuff -- that was champagne for someone on a beer budget. Day would come when she couldn't afford it anymore. 

Chickie ordered Nebula as Shen topped his shot off. Cute chickie. Vodka sloshed over the rim of his shot glass because he wasn't watching. He hissed a curse and she glanced his way. Damn.

Sentence structure. Word choice. A codehead with a formal education and a more "civilized" past narrates differently than some skank booter who grew up on a scrap heap and lost a few years as an indentured slave. (Sorry, Shen, they would've found out about that sooner or later.) They have similar accents, as it were, but his is thicker, coarser... more blunt. High class vs. low class. Even in the future, those will still exist.

How do you decide what the accent is...? Well, that's tougher to put your finger on. A post for another time.

Have you been wrestling with narrative voice lately?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the self-pub trenches: timing a series

I chatted with Will Hahn recently about a collection of issues related to publishing a multi-book series like my Disciple. He asked great questions and it seemed like a good basis for a blog post.

The first four books [of Disciple] have come out on a fairly regular schedule, about five months apart, yes? Did you follow some established wisdom regarding that schedule? Was it related to the size or price of the books?
The spacing is mostly related to the production costs, and partly to the idea that keeping them coming regularly but not too quickly will keep attention on them.

There's also the factor of how publishing breaks up your writing schedule. I'm monogamous when it comes to writing projects, so you can see the hit that my writing output has taken since I started self-pubbing (2012: 289k, 2013: 162.6k). When I've got something on my editor's desk, I don't want to dig into a major project and have to put it down to revise my manuscript.

Spacing them out a bit gives me time to grind out another story in between. So far, it's been working out.

I note you priced the first book way down, as I intend to do. Was that from the start and will it be permanent, or did you put it on sale as the later issues came out?
Part I's initial price was $4.99, which in hindsight was probably too high. $2.99 would have been better, IMO.

Currently, it's 99 cents with occasional free promotions. I took it down to that price around when Part III came out. If you can price it in the impulse-buy range (currently 99 cents, sure to change with time) you'll balance cheapness with people who will actually read it.

Because free stuff gets snapped up because it's free. Not necessarily because it's interesting. When I gave away Part I for free around New Year's, I gave away a bit short of two thousand copies. That resulted in about 25 sales of Part II. Maybe there will be later sales due to people getting around to that freebie they downloaded months ago... maybe not. My follow-up rate for sold copies of Part I has been much better.

I also think it's not entirely wise to price a first book too low and here's why: it's a reflection of what you think the series worth, when that book's sitting alone on the shelf. Once it's not a "free-standing" book anymore, then its price becomes less important. Part I is a loss leader now, and its job is to hook readers.

If it's not prying, do you have the entire Disciple story locked and loaded from the first book, or are you continuing to write as you go?
I had the first draft of Part VI (the ending) written before I published Part II. I wrote the series straight through with minor breaks in between the parts. Yes, I jokingly say that it's because I didn't want to be like GRRM and string my readers along... truth is, I can't afford to do that. If I drop the ball, there's no forgiveness in self-pubbing land.

So I wrote Disciple straight through and I intend to publish it straight through -- continuity of energy both ways.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flashbacks in the story structure

I've been blog touring for two months and neglected this blog... my intent is to get back to my once a week habit. 

Flashbacks are something of unknown territory for me. They've turned up on occasion but mostly as isolated incidents. Those are simple to handle: they're like info-dumps. My science fiction stories (there are three of them) involve a lot more flashbacks and uses them for character development and backfilling earlier plot points.

What function does the flashback have?
No scene should have only one function. That applies to flashback scenes too.

Plot elements: Since you don't have to start telling your story at the beginning of the traditional plot structure (the inciting incident), it's entirely possible that a flashback scene contains an earlier plot point. Why not start the story there? Maybe it wasn't all that dramatic of an event (and stories should always start with dramatic events, as we know.) Maybe the reader needs the context of later events to see the significance of this earlier one. Maybe it wasn't a good scene to introduce the reader to the story's world.

Character development: Flashbacks are a chance to show-not-tell the reader about important aspects of a character's personality.

Info-dumping: Chunks of world-building can be worked into flashbacks, of course. The entire scene can serve to explain how things came to be in a particular situation, in your story.

When does the reader need to know this?
Connected to "current" events: Flashbacks are like info-dumps in that they always need to be relevant to the story. The best advice I have on when to info-dump is "just after the reader absolutely needed to know this." So the same goes for flashbacks.

Taking a break: If your story has been running hard and fast for a while, you can let it coast a bit while you flashback to something relevant but slower paced. Since flashbacks are in the story's past, they tend to reduce the tension -- the reader already has some sense of what might have happened and you're just filling in the particulars. (That's not to say you can't pack in some surprises, of course.)

When in doubt...
...keep writing, because once you reach the end of the story everything will be much clearer. And you can always fix it in revisions.
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