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Thursday, July 31, 2014

'A Killer Serial' - Guest Post by Hart Johnson

I am delighted to host a guest post by Hart Johnson, familiar to bloggers from her delicious (and quite informative) blog:

Hart had the idea to write a serial. She speaks of this in her post, so I will not steal her thunder. I will, however, give a thought or two of my own on serials. In past centuries, many writers were published in serial form. Dickens, specifically, wrote in a format that lent itself for serialization. Typically, a family would subscribe to a publication and that publication would feature an ongoing story. Each issue would contain an installment, which would be read, exclaimed over, discussed at great length. The younger members would be on the lookout for the next installment. When the process was through, the book would be published in its complete, monumental form.

That practice fell out of use nearly a century ago. We are now seeing it again. Hart's is the first I've seen among writers I know, but there are others.

So... What does a serial have to offer over a 'brick', as we call non-serialized publications. I have my own thoughts on that issue, and they surprised me. I have The Pickwick Papers in serialized form, and it was impressed upon me when I read it that way that I was being drawn more thoroughly into the story. My enjoyment was deeper. If Mr. Pickwick at the end of the most recent installment was on a coach about to head to Dingley Dell for Christmas, I had a month or so to reflect on what he had been doing, what he was about to do, my thoughts on the character of the residents and visitors at Dingley Dell. Would Alfred Jingle (the cad!) be up to his caddish tricks? Would he charm, say, the maiden aunt? My thoughts would deepen my enjoyment, something that doesn't happen in these days of novels you plow through.

Is it working? I will say that my reading of the installments has made me ponder what will happen next, frown over what seems to be about to happen, and argue with others over what will happen.  It's a little more leisurely and (I won't hide the fact) annoying to some people.  But I think the format is back to stay.  I think it's a good thing. - Diana

...And now Hart, in her own words.

Serial Madness

First, I really want to thank Diana for hosting me! I'm happy to be here!  (It's good to have you, Hart...)

To give you just a bit of background so you know where I'm coming from:

For the last ten months I've been serially releasing a very long book—there have thus far been 11 parts (of 12) and they are about 100 pages each. I'm here to share my thoughts on the good, the bad, and what I would have done differently in relation to serial publication. 

Moth to Flame 
First:  why I was so DRAWN to this idea... I have always had a love for door-stopping stories (physical door-stoppers, I mean—the 1000+ pagers). When I began trying to publish the hardest thing I had to do was learn how to rein in a long, complicated tale. Then, almost two years ago I had a friend announce she was serially releasing a story and I fell in love with the idea... Heck, follow in the footsteps of Dickens and Dumas? I could tell the stories I wanted to tell—the LONG complicated ones! I had a nearly finished book that I was frustrated with because it needed more, but at 600 pages, it needed LESS, if you know what I mean, so I decided to take on the rewrite, not to TRIM it, but to fill it in—give it more points of view so the stuff I was having trouble getting across because of the PoV limitation could be told and a good ending would no longer seem out of the blue.

Man, talk about a project to keep a person on their writing pace. I have written SO MANY words in the last year. (the 120K thing I HAD became a 330K thing, and that doesn't even account for old version stuff I had to lose)

I have learned SO MUCH! It was trial by fire and I had to just get in there and do it. One of the BIGGEST things, and I think this is why I managed to be an Amazon semi-finalist with Parts 1-4, is having not just one climax, but regular mini-climaxes so each section was satisfying and the tension always remained high.

I think it worked to get a great story out there that was as long as I wanted it to be. 

The BAD 
I REALLY strained my first and second readers—it is too much to ask people to read 100 pages EVERY MONTH (which was the gap I ended up with between episodes after the first couple)

Readers, apparently, don't TRUST serials. I didn't know this because I thought it sounded so awesome, but I've heard this several times now—they will wait for it to be done. And no matter HOW up front you are that you are serially releasing, they grumble about SHORT or about 'is this all'?

I am REALLY worn out. The monthly marketing effort is GINORMOUS and I think I had either too long or short between to be really effective. If it was shorter, I could build momentum, if it was longer, I could rest up between. One month is the WRONG distance.

The REVIEWS are all on the individual episodes, but once they are bundled, the BUNDLES are what I have been focusing on selling because it is easier to talk about.... yet there they sit, reviewless...
What I would Do DIFFERENTLY 
The VERY most important is I would finish the full first draft AND get first and second reader feedback before I started the polish to publish cycle. I had a few life stress cycles that really stopped up the original writing end of things—I think 6 weeks is the longest between episodes, but I think 2 weeks may in fact be ideal. I REALLY should only have had copyediting left to do.

If I do it again, I will either try to go through Amazon's formal serial arm (they require a finished product before they take you, then they sell subscriptions) or I may just say, “Hey, let's make it a trilogy” (that is the version I am working with on my current book—three books with three acts each, to be published as a trilogy)

I would have self-published a standalone before committing to a serial. I've traditionally published, but the publisher does all the technical stuff, so part of my learning curve was THAT. I really should have mastered all that before I started shouting and creating expectations. And then I had to repeat it regularly, but there wasn't enough time between to master OTHER formats (Nook, iTunes)--I really felt like I scrambled a bit. (read:  a lot) 
Volumes 1 - 4
Volumes 5 - 8

I am happy with the outcome though. The LAST ONE comes out next week. If you are curious, the bundled first four are still just 99 cents—once all of them are out, I will figure out a pricing strategy. Volumes 5-8 are also bundled, and sometime in August I will bundle the last.

You can find the first bundle, parts 1 - 4 here, and the second, 5 - 8, here
...and here are the covers so far:

Hart Johnson is a social scientist by day and plots murder in her bathtub at night. If you want to learn more about her, you can find her at Confessions of a Watery Tart: 

Monday, July 28, 2014

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

Today I am participating in the #My Writing Process Blog Hop.  This  is an ongoing blog hop where authors discuss what we do and how.  We take four simple questions about our process, and we pass the word to two other authors.  Sarah Winter invited me.  You can read her excellent blog at  http://www.sarahjwinter.com/                              . 

Her book, Snowbound, is out and available.  Another, I am glad to say, is in the works.

And now for the questions:
1. What am I working on? 
The Orphan's Tale 1: Assassination
At the moment I am working on three separate novels.  The first, The Orphan's Tale, Book II, Vengeance, is a continuation of the First volume in its trilogy, The Orphan's Tale, Book I, Assassination.  The series is set in 1834 Paris, with a main character who grew up in a prison and walked away from the life of a ruler of the criminal world to join the Police of France.  The stories involve romance, action and, always, a mystery.

The Memphis Cycle
I am also working on a story set in ancient Egypt, part of a series called The Memphis Cycle.  The Cycle follows a family over the course of a century.  Mystery, romance, revenge, intrigue all make for a wonderful subject, and writing these stories had been enjoyable.  Currently, I am working on Kadesh, which tells the story of a famous battle, a clash between two of that age's super powers,  which led to the first international treaty.  The novel follows a main character who had been three years old in the prior story.
30 Cubit Crocodile

I am also picking away at a fable for children, which I have named The Thirty Cubit Crocodile.  A poor fisherman encounters a huge crocodile, which follows him home.  A cubit being 18", this beast is huge.  …And he isn't quite like other crocs.  Why do the children love him?  Why does he take a dim view of tax collectors?  And why does he follow the fisherman around like a dog and catch fish for him?  The mystery has been a fun one, and I love writing about children. 
You can see more about them at my website, www.dianawilderauthor.com

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I notice that people tend to like to pigeonhole things.  Life is easier when you can put things in categories and know what you will be dealing with.  The genre of 'historical fiction', however, is one of those chameleon-like things.  Basically, it is a story set in the past.  You can have Historical Horror, Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Hardboiled Detectives (The Marcus Falco series, for example).  That gives a great deal of leeway to a writer.  My stories differ, to the degree that they do, because while my stories occur in historical times, they tell of people like any of us, with the concerns of people through time – the need for love, for shelter, for success and admiration.  I try to convey this reality in my stories.  One of them, Mourningtide, deals with a man, a soldier who became a great  king, who has lost his son unexpectedly and received the news late.  The story follows him as he comes to terms with his grief in anonymity.  It also tells of his second son and the heartaches and challenges he must face and deal with.  Can I tell that story in such a way that the common humanity of the characters is expressed even as the fascinating setting  serves to enhance the story?

3. Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because I am a people-watcher, in the present and in the past.  There are so many stories to be discovered and shared, born of our common humanity, touching us in ways that are familiar.  We have brothers and sisters in history, people who felt our fears and shared our joys.  It brings a wonderful feeling of sharing and unity, and to convey that is both a joy and a challenge.

4. How does my writing process work?
I get a picture in my mind.  People in a situation.  Something I read, something I observed.  I jot it down, think about it, and as ideas come to me in the course of my daily work, I jot them down.  Sometimes they come to me in a torrent, and capturing them is crucial.  I carry notebooks with me, grab envelopes – anything. to remember the thoughts, insights, scenes.   I caught myself once  walking down a main street in a large city mulling over the best way for a villain to get his comeuppance.  I began to giggle when I thought how surprised people might be if they could read my mind.

As others have said, getting the thoughts down is crucial, however disjointed they may be.  Editing, polishing, thinking things through – all follow from that initial notion.  Which is most important?  I can't say, but I have to do something every day.

And now I refer you to…
Well…  I am supposed to pass on the baton to two other writers, but at the last moment they did not materialize.  I suspect I did not beg hard enough.  And so I am going to list the blogs of some wonderful writers (and great people) who can show in their works what they do.

Nancy LaRonda Johnson is a well-rounded person and excellent writer who deals with Christian Horror, among other things.  She is a delightful presence in the blogosphere, multi-talented and articulate: http://nancylarondajohnson.blogspot.com

Cathy Oliffe-Webster  http://muskokariver.blogspot.com/ has written flash fiction and a novel.  Both reflect her sense of humor, her observations and a humorous outlook on life, even when it is hard.
C. Lee McKenzie at http://writegame.blogspot.com is one of those observant, humorous people who touch difficult issues with a deft hand, and makes the reading enjoyable.

M. J. Fifield at http://mjfifield.blogspot.com/ has published Effigy, her first novel (check out its blog hop). 

The other participant on this blog is Jerrie Brock, author of Something Taken and Something Returned. Jerrie never finds life dull. Working, writing, landscaping, creating model railroads, building projects on her large lot, reading, and restoring old equipment keep her well occupied. Using her less than normal path through life, Jerrie draws on her own experiences to create her stories.

You can see more at www.JerrieBrock.com

Friday, July 25, 2014

Celebrations, July 25, 2014 - Reading

Welcome to VikLit 's blog hop, celebrating the things we tend to overlook, that make our lives richer.

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join us? 

Today I am celebrating catching up.  The past four weeks have been too crowded to accomplish many of the things I had wanted to do, including keeping up with my blogging friends and holding up my end of a promise. 

So I am celebrating sitting back and reading.  And commenting.

It should be most enjoyable.

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014 - Celebrating (the demise of) wisteria

Welcome to Friday  and VikLit 's blog hop.  We're celebrating the small things that make our lives richer.

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join us? 

False advertising!
Today I am celebrating going to war against the wisteria in my back yard. I planted some, years ago,   and now have more than I need. No one told me (and to be honest, I didn't do my research) that the species is considered invasive and will send runners and roots all over the place. It is strong and insidious, and can take down a castle.

The only structure that can withstand wisteria is in Wales
In fact, Cromwell tried to use it against Harlech castle.  Harlech won that engagement.  But, alas, I don't live in Harlech castle, so I am off to war.

Wisteria's true nature!
Wisteria is pretty when it blooms, with cascades of fluttery grape-like blossoms.  The Japanese love it.  I (once) loved it.  Not any more.  The stuff has taken down temples in the jungle, and after considerable research and cursing, I have concluded that it is related to The Blob.

The final annoyance is that it has never once bloomed in my yard.  That has sealed its fate.  ...If it does not blob me to death.

I also have chokecherries. (the lookalike weeds, I mean)  They are juicy-stemmed, shoot up like (you guessed it) weeds, and multiply like Hercules' hydra.
Who cares if it can be used for ink?

The berries can be used in place of ink, but since I only have one fountain pen, inherited from my father, I'm not going to gum up its works, or dye my hands, with the stuff.

But this weekend I am waging war, and I am prepared! 

Off to war!

Enjoy yours, everyone!
(weekend, not war)

(...I certainly hope that my dog does not attack the wisteria and chokecherries with lifted leg before I get at them!...)

So...  What are you celebrating?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 - Wishing the People of France a Happy Bastille Day!

I am a student of history.  History tells the story of people.  If you read history, you will learn something, or be reminded of something.  You will find how the pieces of the puzzle of human and national relations fit, and you will understand the present.

At the very least you will never be bored.

Bastille Day Fireworks over the Pont Alexandre III, Paris
My father loved France.  I studied the French language.  I was 2/3 of the way to being fluent.  I am a little out of practice now.  But my French served me well when I visited Paris and loved nearly every minute of it.

My studies in history have made me aware of something that is not generally known nowadays:

P. O'Brien - The Battle of the Chesapeake
If it were not for the intervention of France, the fledgling United States of America might never have been able to survive its war with England.  France recognized the United States in 1778, and sent troops, munitions and naval forces to assist in the fight.  In Europe, France formed alliances with the Netherlands and Spain, leaving Britain without an ally in that conflict.  French troops served under George Washington.    The French Navy fought the English at the battle of the Chesapeake under the command of Admiral DeGrasse, an action that directly led to the English surrender at Yorktown. 

Charles E. Stanton, an aide of General John ('Black Jack') Pershing, upon landing in France during World War I, gave this speech at the tomb of Lafayette at the cemetery of Picpus in Paris:
“America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.”
I wish the citizens of France a splendid Bastille day, and years of prosperity and peace.

Vive la France!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Celebrations, July 11 - Inspiration, however late, is a good thing...

Welcome to Friday  and VikLit 's blog hop.  We're celebrating the small things that make our lives richer.

You'll hear from parents, athletes, thinkers (most of them are!), doers, dreamers, movers and shakers, shakers, poets, people who write, people who crochet, people who do all sorts of things that make you feel somewhat inadequate, but it's all in your own head.  People who read books, write and review books.  People from all over the place (and this is the odd thing: you can be following a blog for literally years and suddenly realize that the blogger is from the other side of the world, and you never suspected it).

In this hop, they're all smiling.

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join us?  Or, at least, visit the various posts and smile.

Today I am celebrating last night's burst of inspiration.  Well, I'm not sure it's a burst, exactly.  Rather more like saying "What was WRONG with me?  It will work better this way!"

I'm speaking of my covers for The Memphis Cycle.  Something wasn't quite satisfactory.  And I figured out what it was, and changed it.

See if you can tell the difference:

...And that is what I am celebrating today!  (Took me long enough!)

What are you celebrating?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The (Not So) Gentle Art of Upstaging

Anyone who has been in the theatre as a performer is well-acquainted with the cardinal sin of upstaging:


: to take attention away from (someone or something else, such as another performer)

Full Definition of UPSTAGE

transitive verb

1 :  to draw attention away from <upstaging the competition>

An actor being upstaged by his sword
2 :  to force (an actor) to face away from the audience by staying upstage

You don't have to stand upstage (toward the back of the stage, forcing the central character, who is supposed to have everyone's attention, to turn toward you.  You can fiddle with something, whistle, wiggle - anything to make the audience watch you rather than him.

I have been in various theatre groups over the years, with some really electrifying parts - like the society lady of the 1890s with a drinking problem, whose final appearance involves her staggering from the house with a streamer of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, or the countess in The Sound of Music who uttered the deathless lines "Frau Schraeder is charming, Georg!"  I upstaged Captain Von Trapp in that scene by wearing underpants printed with red bicycles.  I did not know, then, that spotlights will cut through clothing and highlight things you would not think visible.  One of the stage hands asked me, after the scene, why on earth I had bicycles on my panties.

We were cautioned against upstaging each other, and given some examples of what it involved and why the one being upstaged was justified in throttling (usually in plays involving stealthy murder), stabbing (Shakespearean) or shooting (crime drama) the upstager.
The Great Tallu
Tallulah Bankhead was notorious for her upstaging antics.  Two stories illustrate them very well.

Tallulah Bankhead was getting nonsense from an upstart young actress who declared she could upstage Tallulah anytime. "Dahling," said Miss Bankhead, "I can upstage you without even being onstage."
The next night, she set out to prove it.

While the upstart actress acted a long telephone conversation, Miss Bankhead made her exit - not before placing her champagne glass on the edge of the table, precariously balanced half-on, half-off.

The audience began to notice the dangling glass, and whisper in a hubbub. The actress was completely upstaged. And Miss Bankhead nowhere in sight.

Afterward, the secret was revealed: Miss Bankhead had put sticky tape on the bottom of the glass.

Tallulah always squabbled with her leading men.  One of them had his revenge.  She had arranged for a phone to ring on stage during his climactic speech.  He tried to ignore it, tried to cover it with a burst of speech.  He finally lifted it and managed a limp "Hello?"  And then he turned to Tallulah and offered the phone with a smile.  "It's for you, Darling!"

I mentioned my experience with Les Miserables  in its first tour in 1988 in Philadelphia.  The actor who played the Inspector, Javert, was the original understudy for the part on Broadway.  He was handsome, had a wonderful presence, a good singing voice, and the body of a dancer  The audience loved him.  At one point in the play, he is spying on the students at the barricade and is unmasked by the little boy, Gavroche, who sings:

Good evening, dear Inspector,
Lovely evening, my dear!
I know this man, my friends -
His name's Inspector Javert!
So don't believe a word he says,
'Cause none of it's true!
This only goes to show what little people can do!

The students seize Javert while the student leader, who has the most superb breath control, gives instructions:

"Tie this man and take him to the tavern in there!
The People will decide your fate, Inspector Javert!"

And Javert, wearing a glisteningly white shirt with a tricolor sash about his waist in this production, had a fine, defiant speech that ended with the vehement wish that all traitors die.  And then, pinioned, he was hustled off the stage by two brawny extras.

We all liked Javert, and the actor, one Herndon Lackey, was doing a fine job and, aside from the part, was an enjoyable person to follow.  We wanted to know what happened to him, even those of us who had read Victor Hugo's 'brick' in French or English.

Eponine bites the big one
The play continued.  The love-lorn waif and prostitute, Eponine, comes to the barricade and dies in Marius' arms.   (Marius being the love interest.  For me, I wanted Javert) after singing a pathetic song.

Well, we saw that, but we also saw that Javert was being dragged up the side of the stage ('stage right', as you face the stage, meaning that it was to the left).  Mr. Lackey (Javert), being an experienced  actor and, apparently, a very loyal one, was resisting as much as he could.  The grimly determined insurgents, who were also rather oblivious, kept hauling him up toward the stage.  I suspect he hissed something because they suddenly all froze and stood motionless while Eponine died tragically in Marius' arms.  She would have done better in Javert's, at least in this production.  They stood like victims of Medusa, turned to stone, while she sang.  Once she was finished, they moved to the taproom and made Javert a prisoner.

Image (c) Crowanimation
The play wound on toward its close.  Javert killed himself, once he realized that duty required him to go after Valjean, while his heart told him that the man was too good to arrest. 
The last song was sung, the curtain calls and whistles were over, and I sat back, breathless.  It was a wonderful time.

What stayed with me, with that particular production, was the classic illustration of the gentle art of upstaging an opponent.  This time was not deliberate.  The actor did everything he was supposed to, short of yelling, "Yo, Bozos!"  (it was after all, in Philadelphia...) "Lay off!  She's singing!"

The key is to be what you are, with no effort, with a completely straight face.  Don't say (essentially) "A-HAH!" because you'll be found out.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Celebrations, July 4, 2014

Welcome to Friday  and VikLit 's blog hop.  We're celebrating the small things that make our lives richer.

The information on the hop is below.  Why don't you join?  Or, at least, visit the various posts and smile.

It's a good place to go if you need a smile, a chuckle or a 'hmmm...'

It has been a miserable, wretched really, really lousy week.  It started out well.  I came bouncing into my place of employment, glad to see everyone, and things went south from there.  Grumpy people, people in downright nasty moods, snarking, snarling, finger-pointing.  And I spun my wheels for three days.  Used up quite a lot of tissues, too

Judith Viorst wrote a book about such a time:

I am, however, off today and tomorrow, and I did not need to deal with degenerative snarkosis.  Nor did I have to look at their faces and bite my tongue.  I go into the office tomorrow to get some work done.  (Yes, it's a holiday, but I'm going to be alone.)

So I am, fighting the mood and sipping some red wine from Burgundy: Moulin A Vent ('Windmill' in French, named for the windmill that is visible from the vineyards).

It does appear to be helping.

Have a great weekend, everyone!