Compare and Contrast

It’s no secret that life has been crazy around here — what with three books coming out in four weeks, with six more on the way…  But regular life doesn’t stop in Klaskyville — not for any number of books coming out in any number of weeks.  This past weekend was the perfect example of the “compare and contrast” that makes up my life these days.

Friday:  After a long, hard day of editing SECOND THOUGHTS, I headed down to Nationals Park.  I didn’t plan particularly well — I let myself be fooled by the sunshine streaming in my window.  By the time I got to the park, there was enough of a breeze that I suspected my sweatshirt wouldn’t be sufficient by the end of the game.  Fortunately, I (the world’s coldest-blooded person) am married to Mark (the world’s hottest-blooded person), and he had the jacket he’d worn to work early that morning.  I wore his jacket (and a scarf, and mittens — I didn’t need my earmuffs), and I watched the Nats beat the Cardinals in an unlikely win.  Go, Nats!

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Saturday:  I attended Henry IV, Part 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre.  While the reviewer in the Washington Post thought she’d never seen anything funnier than the bumbling country squires, Shallow and Silence, I contemplated plucking out my eyes for those scenes (yes, out, vile jelly and all that).  This play is a weak one — not much happens and what *does* happen is mostly illness, decay, and death.  I would have preferred for them to combine the two parts, dropping most of the tavern scenes and all of the Shallow/Silence scenes.  We had a nice dinner with friends after the play, though, and on our way back to our car, we passed by the Stage Door to the theater and ran into the man who played the Lord Chief Justice — a bright star in an otherwise dull constellation.  It was nice to be able to compliment his work.

Sunday:  I headed down to AwesomeCon for two panels.  I’d been dreading the one on manuscript preparation (an hour for that, really?) and looking forward to the one on YA (cool authors, some of whom are friends.)  The YA panel ended up being okay, but the manuscript prep one was *wonderful*.  My co-panelist, Tanya Spackman, had great concrete information, and I shared more abstract ideas.  I think we made a great team, and I’ve heard from several of the people in the audience that they found it useful.

Monday:  I finished editing SECOND THOUGHTS (yay, yay, yay!), and I headed back downtown for another ball game — this one against the Angels.  It was “Dollar Dog” night at the game — all hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn on sale for a buck — and we sat in our usual seats (we’ve been in others for the other two games, because my schedule made us trade tickets).  It was nice to see some of the “regulars” around us, and the game was exciting until the last at-bat.  (Yeah, the Nats lost, but it was unreasonable to think they’d win *every* game we attend!)

So, one novel edited, two baseball games, a play, and a media convention (with some knitting and reading for fun in there as well, along with a bit of TV — MAD MEN, anyone?)  Sounds about par for the course.  What are the greatest swings in your own interests, the most unlikely combination of hobbies/activities that keep you busy?

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See You at AwesomeCon!

So, with all the flurry of activity around here, I kinda, sorta forgot to tell you that I’m going to be on three panels at AwesomeCon!  This large, new media convention is in DC at the downtown Convention Center over this coming weekend — it’s only the second year of the con’s existence, but it’s growing by leaps and bounds!  You can find me here:

Friday, April 18, 4:00 – 5:00 – Worldbuilding and Magic, Room 201.  I’ll join Jon Skovron, Lea Nolan, Stuart Jaffe, Jessica Spotswood, Gail Martin, Matthew Bowman, and Eric Menge to discuss what makes a believable fantasy world and a realistic magical system.

Sunday, April 20, 1:45 – 2:45 – Preparing a Manuscript for Submission, Room 209C.  I’ll join Tanya Spackman to discuss how to prepare a manuscript so your words are more likely to be read by editors and agents.

Sunday, April 20, 3:00 – 4:00 – Young Adult Literature, Room 209C.  I’ll join Cristin Terrill, Lindsay Smith, Jon Skovron, Lea Nolan, and Jessica Spotswood to discuss, um, young adult literature!

I hope to see you there!  It’s gonna be awesome!

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The Best-Laid Plans

Often, I’m asked what it’s like to write full-time.  Generally, I answer by explaining that I write on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I do all my admin work (publicity, promotion, marketing, website updating, etc.) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I restrict my socializing to Tuesdays and Thursdays as well, and I fold in grocery shopping, laundry, and other errands on those days.

But that’s only part of the story.

Every day, I have a to-do list, outlining the specific tasks I need to accomplish.  But some days, new emergencies arise, knocking that to-do list to hell and back.  Take yesterday as an example.

Interruptions

Yesterday was a packed day.  I had my exercise class first thing in the morning, and then a long list of publicity and promotion items for the Diamond Brides Series.  I intended to knock off work early, at 2:15, because I had tickets for my first Nationals game of the year, which had a 4:00 start.  (Spoiler: They won, 7-1!  Yay!)

So, I settled down to work quickly and efficiently after my exercise class.  And in my inbox (newly arrived since my scan of my inbox upon awakening) was a new contract to review.  The contract is for me to grant new rights to a publisher for works previously published; it’s an interesting opportunity, but it requires some reading, parsing of options, and decision-making.  I squared away that document and got back to work.

And a new thing hit my inbox:  a new writer who I’ve been mentoring was getting ready to launch a book on Nook Press (Barnes & Noble’s ebook publishing arm.)  He needed an .epub version of his document — stat.  (And for a variety of reasons, including the amazingly cool volunteer work he’s doing in Sierra Leone, I’m generating his ebooks for him.)  Time out to create an .epub of his book.  I squared away that project and got back to work.

And then the phone rang.  A recruitment company was calling to ask for my reference for a woman who worked for me several years ago. (The woman had recently asked if I would serve as a reference, which I agreed to do, gladly.)  The recruiter wasn’t expecting me to be home, apparently, because she’d only left herself ten minutes before she had to go to a meeting.  She begged my indulgence, rang off, and then called back half an hour later.  I squared away that interview and got back to work.

Ultimately, I completely my to-do list, even with those three fairly substantial additions to the morning.  But a writer’s life is never calm and boring and predictable.

I have strategies for dealing with the interruptions — I close my inbox for chunks of time during the day; I only answer phone calls from known numbers during the day, etc.  But sometimes, the best-laid plans…

How about you?  How do you cope with interruptions in your daily work?  Do you protect your creative work with the same vigor?

So I’m going to hit “publish” on this post, before something can interrupt me :-)

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Under the Mango Tree

One of the real pleasures of working as a writer is meeting new writers who are just starting to figure out their way around the publishing world.  I talk to several dozen new writers a year, advising them about how to finish their books, how to get published, and how to find the reading audience for their work.

Over Christmas break last year, I met with another one of these eager new craftsmen, Michael Gibbs.  Although Michael is the adult son of a friend, I’d never met him before.  He’s currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone.

Michael had an ambitious plan.  In his effort to teach his students English, and to help them understand their own rich cultural heritage of storytelling, he wanted to collect stories from Sierra Leone’s oral tradition.  (Much of the oral tradition is dying, as the country struggles to recover from years of brutal civil war.)  He envisioned his students learning enough English (which, for many of them is a third, fourth, or fifth language) to write their stories.  They would learn about revising their work.  They would learn about computers, as he typed and formatted their work.  And the collected stories could be made available to a broader audience, with all profits from sale going to the students’ village, to help build desperately needed infrastructure and supplies.

I listened to Michael’s plan, and I was impressed.  I also though he didn’t have a chance of completing his project — there were too many barriers with regard to his students, and those didn’t even begin to take into account the obstructions from local government, Peace Corps bureaucracy, and the challenge of creating an electronic book when electricity typically wasn’t functioning!

But Michael did it.  And the stories he edited are now available in Under the Mango Tree:  Tales of Kamakwie, which can be purchased at Amazon.  All profits go to the people of Kamakwie.

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When I read these stories, I was most struck by how much people reveal their culture when they tell their stories.  Even the fables that were familiar to me took on a different tone when viewed through the Kamakwie lens.  This collection of stories is an excellent educational tool for any writer struggling to illustrate “the other.”

I hope you’ll buy the book.  And spread the word.  And support the fine work of Michael Gibbs and the people of Kamakwie.

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The Joys and Woes of Collaboration

When I was a kid, I used to hate group projects in school; I strongly believed I’d rather do all the work myself than juggle a collaboration with a classmate.  As an author, I’m in awe of people who make collaborations work.  One of my Book View Cafe colleagues, Irene Radford, has made a collaboration work.  I asked her to share a bit about how and why she chose to work that way, when she wrote The Lost Enforcer with Bob Brown.  Of course, Irene and Bob collaborated on their response to my question :-)

* * *

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In your favorite book shopping venue you stumble across a book written by 2 of your favorite authors. Joy, oh, joy. This has got to be the best book ever written.

Or is it? Have the authors brought their best to the table or have two egos warred with each other, each suppressing all but the worst of the other?

We’ve seen both happen. As an author Irene has tried collaboration twice. The first time was an unmitigated disaster and had to be abandoned by both parties to avoid bringing in the lawyers. The second, with Bob, though, has proven much more successful.  What was the difference?

Remember the old carpenters’ advice: measure twice but cut once.  When contemplating entering into collaboration think twice, and commit for one project at a time. Think long and hard about what each will gain, what each can contribute, and why you want to share.

In both cases for Irene, she was the more experienced or better selling author. By attaching her name to the other author she gave their careers an endorsement. They gained from her reputation and visibility. In return, she gained fresh perspective, enthusiasm, and imagination.  This at a time when she’d started to feel sluggish and repetitive in her writing. We both gained.

This situation also set up a working process where Irene was the “senior” writer with a more honed skill set, but Bob was the creative driver.  This led to each having a limited veto power.  For questions of style and technique, Irene was the senior, for progression of the story, Bob took the lead.  But like any leadership role, it requires the consent of the governed.  Many a bad plot idea was patiently commented on until the faults were self revealing.  While Bob, would apply the same process on points of style.  Both gave in to the partner’s points only after expressing any concerns and no matter how tempting the moment might have been.  The words “I told you so,” were never uttered.

For the second book in our collaboration we will follow much the same pattern, but now Irene will have a stronger voice in story and Bob will have a stronger sense of style points.  Both will blend as we approach parity. We both understand that this is not Irene’s book, or Bob’s book, but our book.  And like parents, we want it to grow into a solid work that the readers will like.

The next thing to think about, is trust.  A collaboration is much like a marriage, only more intimate and open. As in a marriage, you have to trust your partner to bring to the table the same level of commitment as yourself. Do you trust your new partner to listen to your concerns as well as your exiting (to you) ideas? This is one of the most important things in a collaborative relationships. In Irene’s first collaboration the relationship dissolved when neither could trust the other not to sabotage then entire project over an active or passive narrator, a point of view character, a word choice, or a level of sensuality. We made sure that a high level of trust was established early on, and it paid off with a successful collaboration. So successful that we look forward to doing at least two more books in the series.

Respect goes hand in hand with trust. Every writer has a different creative process—Irene’s is long and slow, Bob’s comes in flashes of brilliance. We also have different working schedules and contracts for other work. We have to respect that and work with it, rather than against.

Respect is born through communication. Lots of it. Every brilliant idea needs to be shared before including it in what we called the Master Document. Sometimes one of us will write a scene and then share it and talk about it, other times we spend an hour on the phone thrashing through the consequences further into the story if we include it. Either way we talk. Often. With honesty—no secret agendas or subplots. We email. And we meet up several times a year as SF/F conventions for longer and more involved conversations with dueling laptops. We live 200 miles apart and have a mutual friend half way between who loans us her dining table where we spread out pages, reference books, notepads, etc. We foresee Skype in the near future—but this requires rigid scheduling and may not happen.

Like any great partnership, a prenup is in order. This doesn’t have to be written in stone or signed in blood, but you need a strategy for walking away if things do not turn out well or you discover that a premise does not a story make. You can start with a simple statement of how you intended to share royalties. Then decide how you will split the assets.  Who can take which characters or sub plots to other projects, or if the book must die and be buried intact. Being able to end a collaboration on friendly terms is a valuable asset in and of itself. It leaves doors open while closing only one behind you.

The actual writing process will be different for every book as well as every collaboration. We do a lot more outlining on the collaboration books so that we both know where the book is going, how it gets there, and why. Side trips are allowed if discussed. Once the plot arc and characterizations are set out we choose the scenes we want to write and where they fit in the book. One will write, the other will edit, and then the initiator will go back over it. Then it can be included in the Master Document. Final edits of the complete Master Document can eliminate or re-arrange scenes. We always know who has custody of the one and only Master Document and formally acknowledge the passing of it back and forth. That saves a lot of headaches in continuity and which is the latest version.

Planning is essential in a collaboration. Remembering why you trust and respect each other enough for honest and frequent communication has to come before letting the story flow. That opens avenues of creativity above and beyond the limits of any one writer, and truly can achieve the best of each, and possibly something more.

~o0o~

Buy link: The Lost Enforcer (on Amazon)

Bob Brown lives, works, and writes with his two pugs, two cats, and several dozen chickens in Washington State. He is the author of numerous short stories and the recently released children’s book, The Damsel, the Dragon, and the KnightHe is well known in the science fiction convention community as RadCon Bob, due in part to the nature of his work as a Health Physicist at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where he supports clean-up of nuclear waste left over from the Cold War. Bob is an avid gardener and a teller of chicken jokes.  You can follow Bob on Facebook: Bob Brown or www.bobbrownwrites.com.

~o0o~

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species, a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon, she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon, where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck.  A museum-trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family, she grew up all over the U.S. and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history to spiritual meditations to space stations, and a whole lot in between.  In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P. R. Frost and space opera as C. F. Bentley.  You can follow Irene Radford on Live Journal: rambling_phyl or on FaceBook: Phyllis Irene Radford, or at www.ireneradford.com. Her latest publication from DAW Books is The Broken Dragon, Children of the Dragon Nimbus #2.

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A Weekend with a Few Hundred of my Closest Friends

Whew!  I spent last weekend at a “retreat” and I’m more exhausted than when I started!

Okay, it wasn’t really a “retreat”.  It was actually a conference — the annual Washington Romance Writers retreat, “In the Company of Writers.”  I came home more excited about publishing opportunities than I’ve been in a long, long time…

First off, I signed copies of PERFECT PITCH at Nora Roberts’ Turn the Page Bookstore, in Boonsboro, Maryland.  Signings at TTP are always a joy, and this one was no exception.  The store staff keeps things running like clockwork, and the readers are amazing! There were more than a dozen of us authors signing, and many, many customers came through the line buying dozens of books!  I did learn one thing:  If one is offering foil-wrapped baseball chocolates to people standing in line, one really needs to specify that they’re wrapped in foil!  I was surprised that people didn’t realize that fact — but only one woman chomped down before I could warn her!

After buying amazing baked-good treats at Christi’s bakery, I headed over to Westminster for the retreat proper.  In addition to seeing a *lot* of old friends (and making some new ones), I collected amazing publishing intel from the force-of-nature Liliana Hart (and a special guest, whose very identity must be kept confidential from those who weren’t in the room!)  I took so many notes that I ran out of pages in my notebook.  And I have enough new ideas to last for the next five years…

So — a grand time with friends old and new, new story ideas, new publishing strategies…  The only other thing I could have asked for would have been winning one of the dozens of gift baskets raffled off.  ::shrug::  That’s a good reason to head back next year!

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