Thursday, 31 July 2014

G is for Green

In A Fantasy Alphabet, G is for Green by Jay Lake.

I have to admit, my interest was piqued almost as much by the negative reviews I’d seen as by the blurb of this one. So there’s proof for worried authors – even bad reviews can sell books! Since people have varied tastes, one reader’s reason for disliking a book may be exactly what someone else is looking for.

In this case, several people complained of the structure of the novel, others didn’t like the protagonist, while still others bemoaned the sado-masochism. Okay, there may have been a touch of that, but that person who complained of “bestiality”? That word – I do not think it means what you think it means, to quote Inigo Montoya. I didn’t hear any cries of “bestiality!” about the movie Avatar when the hero got it on with the pretty blue lady with the tail. In fantasy, possession of a tail doesn’t necessarily make you a “beast”.

However – moving on! Green is the story of a girl sold into slavery as a very small child and raised to be the concubine of a tyrant, and how she manages to wrest her destiny back from the control of others. “Green” is the name she gives herself when her owner names her “Emerald”, as she refuses to accept his label but has been addressed simply as “Girl” so long she’s forgotten her own name.

This is typical of her fighting spirit. Though she loses most of her native tongue and retains only the barest memories of home, she is determined to get back there. She is ruthless and single-minded, and despite all the punishment a harsh system throws at her, she never lets go of her defiance and purpose. It is ironic that those who have enslaved her are actually creating the means of their own downfall in the skills they beat into her.

I had to take a couple of runs at this one. What I expected would be the plot for the whole novel came to a sudden climax about a third of the way through. Then it seemed a whole new story started as Green moved to a different continent where she met completely new characters and developed new story goals. It was oddly unsatisfying, and I stalled there on the first read. So those reviews complaining of the structure did have something of a point.

But the writing was good and the themes interesting, so I gave it another go a few months later, and found that the story did eventually circle back around to where it started, and what had seemed a little disjointed and episodic in fact was not. You have to trust Lake on this one. He's not a formulaic writer, but he does produce a satisfying ending to an interesting story if you stick around for the whole ride. Worth persevering with.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Savage writers and gentle readers

You know how you’re reading along, enjoying a book, and all of a sudden the writer kills off your favourite character. Or something really terrible happens, and horrendous suffering ensues. Or maybe a really cute puppy gets kicked – but something the author does makes you think they must have absolutely no soul.

And when you look at the number of books out there where something gruesome and/or tragic occurs, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s a whole lotta soulless writers running around out there.

I’ve come to the conclusion (admittedly only based on a sample of one, so the data could be off) that we writers do come equipped with both hearts and souls. But writers keep their writer-selves in a separate box to their reader-selves. The kick a writer gets out of writing something horrific is very different to how they might feel confronted with reading that in someone else’s book. When you're writing you're thinking about plot and cool twists, how to make your characters suffer (because stories about happy contented people are boring), and all the technicalities of doing that in the most effective way. You're not experiencing the story and all its emotional highs and lows the way a reader coming to it fresh does.

Case in point: I’ve started revising The Twiceborn Queen, the sequel to Twiceborn. When I wrote the first draft I killed off a major character from the first book. There were good story-related reasons to do so, but honestly? I was just bored with him. I could have worked to make him more interesting, but killing him off was fun.

As a reader I hate it when sad things happen in books. I know if I bought this book expecting a fun fantasy read, only to have a favourite character from the first book die on me, I’d be disappointed and angry. It might turn me off the series.

So now I’m torn. Do I let writer-me win and keep the death? Kill, maim, destroy! Or do I bow to my gentler reader-self, and revise him back into health and happiness? No wonder people think writers are crazy: not only do we spend half our time playing with imaginary people in our heads, but we argue with ourselves too.

What about you? Does it put you off a series when a favourite character dies?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Book covers and headless bodies

How do you feel about headless bodies on book covers? Not as in decapitated and spouting blood, but the kind of cover where part of the model’s head is cut off by the top of the book.

Like this:

Or this:

Love ’em? Hate ’em? Never even thought about ’em?

There are some people (and Drama Duck is one of them) who will pass over a book if the cover shows the model’s face. They don’t like the image interfering with their own imagining of what the character looks like. I don’t know how many of these people there are, but there are enough to have spawned a trend in cover design for obscuring the model’s features. Sometimes that’s done with shadows or positioning the head at an angle, but quite often the top of the face is just chopped off.

I like both those covers I showed you, but I must admit I’m more of an “eyes are the windows to the soul” kind of person – I like to see a face. Not that it influences my buying habits at all. I’m usually drawn to colours first anyway, and if I stop for a closer look it will be the blurb and a sample of the writing that decides whether I buy or not.

But now I’m working with a designer on the cover for Twiceborn. The great thing about self-publishing rather than going with a traditional publisher is you get complete control over what your cover looks like. Trad-pubbed authors get little or no say in their cover design, and are sometimes stuck with covers they hate.

But having to make all the decisions can also be the bad thing about self-publishing! Headless or full-faced? Which do you prefer in covers? Or isn’t it important to you? (I could well be over-thinking the issue, I realise. Maybe most people really don’t care and I should just take a deep breath and move on.)

What do you think, Internets?

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Creativity just for fun

Ever get that feeling that you have too many things you have to do? Too many responsible and grown-up tasks grinding you down? That feeling can be death to the creative urge.

That’s when you need to bust out and do something completely pointless, just for fun. I found just such a thing on Lynn Viehl’s blog recently: the instructions to make a cute little “journal” of eight tiny pages from a single sheet of A4 paper.

So for a couple of hours I gave the to-do list the flick and played with pen and watercolours instead, decorating some of my favourite quotes.

You can see how little it is.

This was the perfect-sized project for an underdeveloped attention span like mine – quick enough to finish before I got bored and chucked it in the pile with the fifty bajillion other unfinished projects I have.

And here’s a photo of the whole thing opened out again. 

You could make copies of it this way if you wished. Pretty neat, huh? Or you could do the whole thing on the computer in the first place, and insert photos and/or text, as Lynn did in her example. Lots of possibilities for creative play!