On Genre Mixing: Fantasy Mystery

I gather it’s quite a new thing to divide fiction up into genres. Relatively speaking. But fiction is such an enormously variable thing that it’s impossible to create a few different boxes and then stop. We had romance and mystery and fantasy and science fiction and historical fiction and so on. We kept going and added thriller and chick lit and steampunk and westerns. We created sub-categories and sub-sub-categories and some of those grew until they became Genres with a capital “G” and developed their own armies of sub-and-sub-sub-genres. Did you know there’s a sub-genre (or perhaps it’s a sub-sub-genre) called Fantasy of  Manners? I didn’t either until a few weeks ago.

What sub-genres are usually about is mixing all the genres up into increasingly complicated combinations. Fantasy of Manners, for example, is fantasy frequently mixed with (or at least drawing on) historical fiction of specific periods (Regency England) with a strong element of comedy-of-manners mixed in and probably some romance layered on top. What happens when you write a book that hasn’t yet got its own super-fashionable sub-sub-sub-category? If we’re talking publishers, the answer is to cram it into whichever genre is more or less loosely related and most popular, which is partly why so very many “paranormal romance” books are turning up  lately, even if the story is more about a mystery than a romance and the “paranormal” element is actually more just straight fantasy.

Categorising books into so many ever-narrowing boxes is meant to help the reader, of course, so I dislike the above approach: it’s misleading. But in spite of the proliferation of sub-genres it’s still possible to find books that are just hard to categorise, and end up in an ill-fitting box due to lack of alternatives.

In my case, my favourite genres as a child and a teenager were fantasy and mystery. That’s still largely true, though I’ve added historical fiction and the classics to my preferred lists. When I write, it shows. I veer instinctively in the direction of fantasy, but if the story-in-progress doesn’t have some element of mystery to it then I hardly know what to do with it. I also draw on history a lot – mostly social history – when building societies. And I often add romance, but not that much. What should I call this? There’s a genre for fantasy romance but I don’t hear about a genre called fantasy mystery. I could shelve my Draykon series under fantasy romance, but that would be misleading because there isn’t enough romance for it to qualify. And what about the elements of thriller and the vaguely Regency air to some of my societies? I couldn’t reasonably call it fantasy of manners either. It’s something of a dilemma.

This is inconvenient as a reader too. I’d love it if I could wander over to Amazon and select a Fantasy Mystery category stuffed full of books that mix just the selection of genre elements that I like. Instead the search is considerably harder as so many books get shoved into epic fantasy due to lack of other, more suitable options (mine included).

I’ve found a list someone’s obligingly created on Goodreads, containing 84 books that (at least supposedly) mix up these two genres. But that’s about all I could find. So, I plead for recommendations. Do you know any good mysteries set in fantasy (or science fiction) worlds? Tell me about them.

And what about the problem of mixing genres? Is it a good thing to include many different elements in the same book, or is it messy? Writers, do you write to a particular genre or work back to a category afterwards?

Swan Lake: The Different Mediums of Storytelling

Het Zwanenmeer (photo: Het Nationale Ballet)

I’m mostly a novelist, but I’ve dabbled in a range of other things over the last ten years. Poetry, scripts for film, TV and plays, that kind of thing. If we take as the primary goal the task of constructing an entertaining story, the range of different requirements across those handful of mediums is pretty interesting. What’s on my mind today, though, is a purely visual medium: ballet.

There’s usually no script at all for a ballet, no dialogue of any kind, but nonetheless a story must be told. Last weekend my partner took me to see a performance of Swan Lake by the Dutch National Ballet. I’ve always loved ballet but this was only the third live performance I’ve seen. It’s really difficult to express the impact of a huge, glittering production of a classical ballet; I could say it was amazing but that falls sadly short. In my opinion it’s one of the most completely beautiful art forms that we possess, which is all the more magnificent when you consider all the blood, sweat and pain that the audience never sees so much as a hint of.

As absorbed as I was by the production, though, I can’t help what I am. A small part of my brain was ticking over the events of the story in editorial mode. For example, for a large part of Act III the plot essentially stops. We’re back at the court of Prince Siegfried and his mother the queen, with what looks like the entire cast on stage. Odile has made her appearance, though she has yet to tempt Siegfried into breaking his promise to Odette. For about the next twenty-five minutes, we see a series of colourful and exotically dressed dancers apparently showing off for the royal family.

It’s terrific to watch. There’s a Spanish dance: in this case the female dancers wore long skirts and wielded fans. There’s a Russian dance and a sort of Neopolitan/Venetian dance. It’s colourful and inspiring stuff, but the purpose of it is somewhat unclear. If it was a novel, the editor would be saying, “What does any of this have to do with the plot?” Then he or she would produce a gigantic red pen and cross it all out.

There are also a range of gaps, omissions and plot holes in the story. We never know why Von Rothbart turned Odette into a swan, or why he keeps an army of swan maidens, or why he is so determined to keep Odette. Odile, his daughter, only appears disguised as Odette; we never learn anything about the real Odile.

Swan Lake also has several possible endings, which is interesting. The original ballet ended happily, with a wedding; later, the ending became tragic with a double suicide – but the villain, Von Rothbart, was killed as well. The ending we saw last weekend was different again. Siegfried drowned in the lake (the reason for which was not apparent), and Odette therefore presumably remained a swan. And Von Rothbart continued on his merrily evil way.

Of course, Swan Lake is not a novel so most of these things simply don’t matter. That’s the intriguing thing about ballets: they can get away with being colourful for the sake of it, with leaving things unexplained. While it would be interesting to see something of the real Odile, it’s not actually necessary in order to follow the story. We don’t have to understand Von Rothbart. It’s a spectacle, and it works tremendously well as it is. The only thing I’d really criticise was that ending: it was inconclusive, vague and unsatisfying. I think a good tragic ending has to achieve something: if the lovers both commit suicide, at least they cause the death of the villain in the process. If Siegfried merely dies for some vague reason and nothing else is changed, what’s the point?

I suppose I’m concluding that a stage show like a ballet can take huge liberties with the plot in ways that a novel or a film really can’t; however there are still some basic ingredients for a good story and even ballet is not exempt from those. But if the story has strong characters, lots of colour and life and a satisfying ending, the audience will forgive just about everything else.

Free Ebook: Fantasy Short Stories

Dear Friends,

I’ve been quietly pootling away at a collection of fantasy short stories over the last couple of months, and I just published them. Four to be precise, totalling 10,000 words. They’re all set in my Draykon world, featuring some of the same characters that appear in the novel(s). (Those of you who are signed up to my Facebook updates and/or my Twitter feed already know about this; for that I apologise. It’s hard to avoid being repetitive across social media).

 

Leximandra Reports (and other tales) is already available as a free ebook on Smashwords. It’s also on Amazon US and UK, though it’ll take a bit of time to get it reduced to zero on there as well. The purpose of this is twofold: for those who’ve read and enjoyed the first novel, these stories will fill in some detail about the world and characters that I haven’t had space or opportunity to write about in the full-length works. I’m also hoping this taster piece will help to promote the book to those who haven’t.

For the latter reason, if anybody feels like helping me to spread the word around, I’d be grateful.

I’m going to share the first story of the collection on this blog. Right now, in fact! It’s about Tren Warvel, one of my favourite characters from Draykon, and a little mishap he suffers when he gets distracted…

 

 

Mr Warvel’s Red Cloak

 

‘Great game! I should never have given up glowball.’ Pitren Warvel, the picture of youthful health and exuberance, slapped his quieter friend on the back.

Edwae Geslin’s answering smile was weak. ‘You’re only saying that because we won.’

‘That doesn’t hurt,’ Tren agreed with untouched cheer. ‘That’s your doing, of course. You were always the best at the Academy.’

‘Not at all,’ Ed demurred. Tren shook his head, smiling, but he didn’t argue. Ed was shorter then he was, his frame slight and not at all robust. Self-effacing by nature, he was inclined to interpret these physical characteristics as grave flaws; but glowball favoured those with agility, dexterity and strong sorcerous talent as much as those with brute strength, and in these areas Edwae excelled.

‘Come on,’ said Tren. ‘I’ve just got time to catch a bit of the next game, if we hurry.’

‘Oh? Someplace else to be?’ Ed followed as Tren made for the door, weaving his way through the untidy rows of glowball players still changing out of their games attire.

‘I’m on Cloak duty tonight,’ Tren said over his shoulder.

‘Oh? I thought it was Mern’s night?’

‘Had to go to the infirmary. I’m standing in for her.’ Stepping out into the air, Tren breathed deep. It was one of those crisp, fresh nights, invigoratingly clear. The moon, half full, hung low on the horizon. Tren took careful note of its position.

‘Nothing serious, I hope?’ Ed caught up again as Tren turned back towards the games fields. The sounds of the game carried far in the still air: a roar from the crowd followed by a burst of applause. Tren quickened his step.

‘She didn’t say,’ he replied with a shrug. ‘Didn’t seem troubled though.’

‘I’d have thought you would know.’ Ed cast him a meaningful glance.

‘Me? Why?’ Tren climbed up the back of the seating that ringed the field, perching himself at the top. Ed fell silent as he climbed up behind him, didn’t speak again until both were seated side-by-side, watching the game over the heads of the crowd.

‘You spend a lot of time together,’ Ed said at last, in a neutral voice.

‘Mern’s not interested in me,’ Tren said with some surprise. How had Ed got that idea?

‘Course she is, you great oaf.’

‘Rubbish. Oh, that’s Karan Reed,’ he added, his eye settling on a tall dark-haired girl standing out on the edges of the pitch. The two teams on the field were both of mixed gender; he recognised one as the current official team of Glour City’s Sorcery Academy, though he didn’t know the other.

‘She’s got the measure of the ball,’ Ed said. ‘Look at her go.’

Glowball was a sorcerer’s game. Somewhere out on the pitch was a single tiny light-globe, powered by sorcery. Its light came and went intermittently; when unlit, it was essentially invisible on the darkened field. The players had to use senses other than their eyes in order to predict the erratic path of the ball – and intercept it.

For a few seconds there had been that hush that fell when the unlit glowball evaded the efforts of both teams to locate it. The players came to a temporary halt, all thoughts and senses bent on discovering the ball. Then Karan Reed had begun to run; she leaped, just as the glowball flared into blazing life. Her fingers closed around it and she was away, sprinting for the scoring line at the end of the field. The other players charged after her, her own teammates defending her from the opposition’s attempts to tackle.

Tren held his breath as he watched her flying down the field. Three times she was nearly brought down; three times she twisted away with glorious agility and ran on. She made it; the crowd roared as she crossed the line, the glowball still blazing with light in her hands. Green light flashed over the pitch, signalling a point gained for the Academy Team.

Tren applauded with the rest of the spectators, whistling his appreciation. Karan Reed must be close to graduating; she’d be a fearsome sorceress once she finished her training. Probably she was already on the Chief Sorcerer’s recruitment list.

‘Crap,’ he said suddenly. ‘Time to go.’ The moon had slipped closer to the horizon, too close. He had less than half an hour to get to the Night Cloak Chamber. ‘You staying?’

‘Someone needs to stay and cheer on Reed,’ Ed replied. ‘On your behalf, naturally.’ He said it lightly, but something in his voice and manner sounded off. Tren paused. He’d frequently had the sense lately that Ed wasn’t quite himself, but his enquiries were typically brushed off.

He tried again anyway. ‘You okay, mate?’

Ed smiled briefly at him, but he didn’t quite meet his friend’s eye. ‘Course. Get along, will you? I don’t want the game ruined because you’re a lazy ass.’

‘Good point.’ Tren vaulted off his perch, landing with practiced ease.

He had to pass one of the city’s largest bulletin boards on his way out of the gaming fields. The thing was enormous, displaying its rotating schedule of images and articles at such size that one couldn’t help but be caught by it. Tren tried to avert his eyes as he approached, determined that this time he wouldn’t make an idiot of himself by looking for one particular face to flash up on the board.

Fate betrayed him. There she was already, almost as large as life. Lady Evastany Glostrum, pictured at some high society event. Her hair – the rare, true-white hue only occasionally seen among Glour’s citizens – was elaborately arranged and decked with jewels; her dress was velvet or something, dark red like blood. Tren stopped, all thought of the Night Cloak emptying out of his head.

He had never met Lady Glostrum in person. He was a powerful sorcerer and naturally therefore he had a good job, so he wasn’t poor by any means; but that didn’t come close to putting him on a level with the realm’s aristocrats. Maybe that was why she fascinated him. She was a popular figure, and chief of the realm’s Summoner organisation along with it; her image regularly appeared in the city’s bulletin news, and even more regularly in the gossip papers. He’d never seen her looking anything but perfectly composed, perfectly arranged and perfectly beautiful. Could she possibly be so glorious in person?

Doubtful, he told himself sternly. He allocated half a minute to absorbing this new image of her ladyship – he didn’t have time to read the article – and then he turned his head away and continued on. The Night Cloak wouldn’t wait any longer.

 

***

 

The Chamber was guarded, of course, but he’d been on this job for more than a year; they all knew him by now.

‘Mr Warvel,’ said Rhan Garrit with a nod. ‘Cutting it a bit fine today. Met someone?’

Tren responded to the teasing with a grin. ‘There’s a game in progress. Reed’s playing. You know how that goes.’

Garrit whistled as he unlocked the door. ‘Right enough. Go on through.’

‘Thanks,’ Tren said. He made his way through the building to the centre where the Chamber itself was situated. The room was a large, oval shape with a high, domed ceiling. It was not lit, except by the gentle glow of the realm map that was traced through the air near the floor. Tren stepped up to it, casting his eye over the familiar contours of the realm of Glour’s borders. He glanced up. The dome and most of the walls were clear, allowing him an unimpeded view of the night skies. The moon hovered close to the horizon, and the sky was turning paler.

Time, then.

Pausing to collect his thoughts, he took a few deep, slow breaths. When he felt properly centred and in control of himself, he began. He walked around the perimeter of the insubstantial map, his steps unerring though his eyes were closed: he saw the construct in his mind’s eye. He conjured shadows, dismissing all hints of light. Working fast and skilfully, he wove the darkness into a shroud, pulling it into place over the map. He felt the pull of energy as the wider enchantments mimicked his localised efforts, building a vast Night Cloak over the realm. It might be one of the most complex workings ever designed, but it was the work of a mere few minutes to put it into place.

He paused, gasping for breath, as the Night Cloak crept over Glour, blocking out all hint of light from moon and sun alike. He waited, willing it to move faster. It was imperative that the Cloak was in place before the sun rose; Glour was a Darklands province whose society and economy relied on the nocturnal plants and beasts imported from the ever-shadowed Lower Realms. An influx of strong sunlight would burn all that away – not to mention blinding the eyes of its night-loving citizens.

Serves me right for being distracted, he thought ruefully as the Cloak continued its agonisingly slow descent. He watched anxiously as the skies continued to lighten outside. It was Karan Reed that was the trouble; she was too absorbing to watch.

A small internal voice interrupted that train of thought. Was it fair to blame it all on the game? Had he not stopped again on his way out of the sports field, arrested by a mere bulletin board image?

That red gown… it was the red that had attracted his eye, definitely. A strong colour, difficult to overlook. Not really his fault. He laughed silently at his own attempts to excuse himself, relief flooding him as the Cloak’s activation sequence concluded and full darkness covered the realm.

Then he frowned, suffering a twinge of alarm. The darkness wasn’t as complete as it should have been; something pulsed oddly in his mind’s eye, some anomaly in the Cloak’s weave. He withdrew from his mind’s view, opening his eyes.

The Chamber was red. Dark red light stained the walls and floor, stained the white hands he raised in panic.

Looking up, he saw a dark red sky. Not the red of cherries or even of lip paint, but the sinister dark red of blood.

His heart sank as he realised. Red like Lady Glostrum’s gown. He’d allowed his thoughts to wander while he summoned the Cloak, and that was the image that his absurd mind had conjured for him. Dark red velvet.

He swore, letting several precious seconds pass by in blind panic. He’d turned the damned Night Cloak red! The whole bloody realm was swimming in blood-red light; not bright enough to damage anything, he hoped and prayed, but certainly wrong enough to be seriously alarming.

Crap, crap. He couldn’t strip the Cloak and start again; the sun was already shining through the red veil he’d drawn across the realm. Its light would only be thin yet, but he couldn’t risk it. Maybe he could darken the veil, work it steadily down into properly dark, colourless shadow. It would take a little time; he’d better get on with it before Lord Angstrun made it here and-

WARVEL! What in the bloody tarnation have you done to the Cloak?’

Tren shuddered. The Chief Sorcerer’s voice really did carry impressively.

‘Er,’ he stuttered. ‘Not quite sure, m’Lord.’ He tried not to look up as the imposingly tall figure of Lord Angstrun strode into the room, not caring to experience – again – the look of pure fury that no doubt dominated his boss’s face.

‘This better not be one of your pranks, Warvel! You’re causing a panic out there.’

‘Ah…’ Tren felt suddenly like laughing. Dark blood red! It wouldn’t take much superstition to believe that the world was ending. ‘Sorry, sir. It really wasn’t deliberate.’

Angstrun sighed. ‘Get out of the way.’

Tren scarpered gladly enough. He hovered out of the range of the map as Lord Angstrun fell into the working-trance. Whatever he did was effective: the alarming red light drained steadily away until normal Cloaked conditions returned. Tren allowed himself a small sigh of relief.

I’ll say,’ Angstrun snapped, turning suddenly. ‘If you weren’t such a damned good sorcerer I’d turf you out for that without a second thought. What exactly was going on in there?’ He jabbed a finger at Tren’s head.

‘Um…’ Tren hesitated. He could hardly explain, not without making himself look like even more of an idiot. ‘I don’t know, sir,’ he said lamely.

Angstrun rolled his eyes. ‘Right. How long is it since you took some time off?’

‘A while, my lord.’

‘I think you’d better do that, don’t you? I’ll schedule you out of the roster for the next seven days. Go rest up.’

‘Thank you, sir. And um, sorry.’ Tren exited quickly, before Angstrun could change his mind and decide to flay him or something.

He wasn’t quick enough. ‘Warvel.’

Tren turned back, heart pounding. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Couldn’t you have chosen a slightly less… doom-ridden colour? Did it have to be blood red?’

‘I fully concur that I could have chosen better, sir.’ He paused, hazarded a joke. ‘Would your lordship care to recommend an alternative?’

‘No, his lordship would not! Don’t let it happen again!’

‘Yes, sir.’

Tren was halfway down the corridor when Angstrun called after him.

‘Cerise, Warvel. Try cerise next time.’

When Appliances Fail

It’s been an interesting day.

I spent quite a lot of time today in The Happy Land of Editing. Short stories, that is (coming soon), and the new novel. My writer readers will know how annoying it is to be distracted in the middle by, oh, say, a doorbell ringing. It’s not that I really objected; after all the nice gentleman were bringing a new fridge to replace the one that inexplicably died over the weekend. Still, once you’re out of the mindset it’s hard to get back into it again.

Appliance Offence of the Week #1.

Somewhat later, when I was absorbed in editing (the new novel this time), there came another ringing doorbell. Pretty violently ringing, in fact, followed by some even more violent pounding. On the doorstep I encountered a gaggle of kids babbling in Dutch. Very fast. My Dutch still isn’t up to that, so I guess I stared at them in blank confusion. But there was one word I did understand, a word that came up a lot. That word? Brand. 

What does it mean?

Fire, ladies and gents. Fire fire fire fire fire.

Ohmygiddyaunt.

And that’s when I noticed that the hall was filling up with smoke.

Appliance Offence of the Week #2: our next-door-neighbour’s TV blew up and set their living room alight. We live in a terraced building (row houses), so that means the fire was right on the other side of the wall. I didn’t learn the details until rather later, of course, by which time I’d spent a happy hour standing outside in the rain wondering if our apartment was burning down. It wasn’t that bad as fires go, fortunately; nobody was hurt, and as far as I know the damage to the neighbours’ house is relatively minor. Fixable, certainly, and they’re able to carry on more or less as normal.  But it isn’t hard to imagine how much worse it could’ve been.

Got to say, the fire service are amazing. They were here so fast, and they were really nice about it as they tramped all over our apartment looking for a way into the roof. And a couple of the neighbouring families were kind enough to invite us in out of the rain while we waited to see how bad it was. People aren’t always crap; who knew?

Anyway, after all that I find it a bit hard to focus on making stuff up. Gonna go dream about fires and sirens and burning people now. Goodnight, all.

 

 

It’s NaNo time… Guest Post by Rhonda Parrish

Introducing my first guest poster on this spiffy new site: Rhonda Parrish. Rhonda is a twitter acquaintance; she writes fantasy/horror (zombies!) and edits a fantasy and horror fiction magazine, called Niteblade. Since NaNoWriMo season is upon us again, Rhonda is sharing her experiences with this (slightly crazy?) yearly event. (If you want to hear my thoughts on NaNoWriMo, visit Rhonda’s blog to read my guest post over there).

***

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. The thought startles me. I turn it over in my mind, feeling out the rough edges, then taste it on my lips as I share it with the dog at my feet. He looks up at me, lifts an eyebrow and then, with a sigh, rests his head back on his paws. It may not seem like much to him, but for me that decision is momentous.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is held each November. The object is to write 50,000 words in 30 days and the rallying cry is “Quantity over quality”. NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999 and I, personally, have been participating since 2003.

For seven years I have reserved the month of November for “Nanoing” (and yes, I’m sure it’s all right to make that a verb). It has affected my life and my family’s as well. For example, we implemented “No TV” month one November in order to reduce the number of distractions I’d have. Another year, no one in our house was allowed to get the newest World of Warcraft expansion until I was finished my NaNoWriMo novel. My daughter even got involved in NaNoWriMo and when she was in grade two she wrote a 10,000 word NaNoWriMo novel of her own.

NaNoWriMo was fun. Especially when I first started doing it. I liked carrying a notebook everywhere I went, being able to use the phrase “working on my novel” and feeling like, pardon the expression but, a real author. Having an entire community around me who were undergoing the same challenge, the same insanity, that I was, inspired me. I loved that we were all on the same team, cheering one another toward the finish line.

The first time I won (successful participants are called winners) was in 2005 and it changed my life. I had set this crazy goal for myself and then I’d reached it. I had reached it. I’d written a novel! I don’t think I can explain what a boost that was to my self-confidence, in general and especially in regard to writing.

After “winning”, I was hooked. Completely. I was hooked on writing even more than I had been before and hooked on the idea of 50k in 30 days. I was running a NaNoWriMo-based community on live journal, I’d made a lot of fantastic friends and I had a growing number of first drafts, each of which had been written in November.

Then, with enough practice (because I was writing the other 11 months of the year too), writing 50,000 words a day just wasn’t a challenge, and the quantity over quality mindset didn’t work for me anymore. So I started writing first drafts that had a focus on quality, which helped me for one year. Then I noticed something; the huge output of writing in November was burning me out. I would let writing completely take over my life for NaNoWriMo but then my creative reservoir would be completely drained and I wouldn’t write another word of fiction for two or three months while it refilled. It’s like a creative binge and purging cycle and I’m thinking that can’t be healthy.

I struggle with consistency, with creating routines and maintaining productivity, so while NaNoWriMo taught me about goal-setting, community and my own potential, I think that frenetic-paced writing is going to be a thing of the past for me. Something to remember with a smile and a head shake while I try out a new tortoise-inspired writing style; slow and steady wins the race.

After all, people change. Nowadays I wouldn’t even call 50,000 words a novel, but back when NaNoWriMo entered my life I knew so much less than I do now, about the publishing industry and even writing in general. In 2003 I used the words then and than interchangeably and thought the number of dots in an ellipses determined how long the pause they indicated was. Now I am reasonably well-published, my writing is vastly better and I even run an ezine. And though I recognize that maybe NaNoWrimo is no longer right for me, I don’t think I’d have gotten to where I am today without it.

***

If you’d like to hear more from Rhonda, visit her site at www.rhondaparrish.com

On The Hazards of Editing

Editing is a hazardous experience, I’m convinced. I know some people say they love it, and I can understand the point of view: there ought to be a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve done the terribly long-winded draft text and you get into the phase of polishing it up. If only it worked that way for me. Here are the risks to health and sanity that I associate with editing:

Hazard #1: Extreme Apprehension (with overtones of pure terror).

The only way I can get to the end of a long project is by sticking at it day after day and keeping the word count growing. If I keep pausing to read back over my work, several things can (and frequently do) happen. One: I get seriously side-tracked with all the imperfections I see and start fixing them. My progress grinds to a halt. Two: I realise how terrible most of it is and my writerly confidence takes a nose-dive. Progress, again, suspended. This being the case, the only time I read over the text of a draft-in-progress is if I really need to remind myself about some detail I included before.

What that means, of course, is that I get to the end of a draft and I have next to no idea how good any of it is. I’ve probably more or less forgotten the earlier chapters altogether. Is it exciting, going back to the beginning and reading it almost anew? No, ladies and gents. It’s nerve-wracking. What if I hate it all? Back to the drawing board? That’s a pleasant prospect.

Associated Symptoms: palpitations, sweating, tremors in the extremities, hyperventilation.

Hazard #2: Self-Condemnation.

This is usually stage two. Once the new draft has been read back through, one invariably realises how awful much of it is. This leads to the usual existential agonies suffered by most writers. How dare I produce such tosh and then call myself a writer? What am I thinking, pressing my awful work on the world? I should go become a gardener or something. Etc.

Associated Symptoms: exhaustion leading to excessive sleeping, black moods, periodic yearning after sharp objects and tall buildings.

Hazard #3: Boredom.

Once one has struggled past the above stages and accepted the inevitable, then comes the boredom. True, this third hazard is somewhat less of a burden than the previous two, but it also lasts longer. The first and second passes through creep by, as one finds a great deal to fix or change. How about pass number three? How about read-through number seven? Somehow one must find the energy to keep going through all these reads, until every tiniest problem is fixed (or so one hopes).

Associated Symptoms: yawning to a potentially life-threatening degree. Blurred vision, desire to sleep (possibly forever), renewed yearning after sharp objects.

Hazard #4: Total destruction of all potential due to over-zealousness. 

This insidious hazard dogs the self-editor through every step. Almost everyone will agree that some editing is always necessary, but how much? Some of us edit and edit until it’s as close to perfect as we can get it; but some argue that this approach can ruin all freshness in the writing. In the process of ironing out imperfections, we iron out everything that made it quirky, original and uniquely our own.

HALP. How does one guard against this possibility? Well… perhaps by giving in to some of the urges generated by the above. (Not the sharp objects or the tall buildings – I was thinking of the sleeping and the desire-to-give-up generated by boredom). Rein oneself in at a certain point, hand it over to the beta readers and go on with life? Maybe that would actually help rather than harm. Who knows? Maybe perfectionism isn’t always the best approach.

So, as for me. I finished the first draft of Draykon #2 last week (which is most likely going to be titled “Lokant”, so I’ll call it that from now on). I spent a few days wallowing in hazard #1 and have now progressed into hazard #2. Hazard #3 is going to keep me happily occupied until the end of November. What joy is mine?

The crazy part is that I still love novelising to death, despite all of the above. But I am tired. So it’s lucky that I am flying back to England on Saturday to visit my family for a week. Strictly NO work is to be done in that time; it’s the first visit since I moved and I don’t know when my next visit will be, so I’m going to make the most of it.

This means I’ll be out of touch from the 15th to the 22nd. I have a guest post lined up to keep the blog fires burning in the meantime, but I myself will be harder to reach than normal. In the meantime though, tell me your thoughts on editing. If you’re a writer, how do you approach it? Do you think it’s possible to edit too much? And if you’re not a writer but a reader, do you think some authors need to edit more? (Or less?).

 

Introducing Spindrift: an online fantasy graphic novel

Those who follow me on twitter or facebook will already have heard about the Spindrift project. I thought I’d write about it in some detail here, as 140 characters isn’t near enough to do it justice.

I’ve talked about Elsa Kroese before. She did the gorgeous cover for my recently-released book (visible over to the right there—>). But long before that we were collaborating on something else. It must be nearly a year since I first heard about her plans to develop a graphic novel; it’s easily six or seven months since work on Spindrift began in earnest. The story concept, characters and much of the plot are Elsa’s creations; my role has been to refine, tweak or add to the storyline as appropriate and otherwise to work on dialogue. The lion’s share of the task – the drawing – falls entirely to Elsa.

The novel is being published online on its own website (www.spindrift-comic.com). It’s free to read, and I believe it will always be free (though artists must eat, too: if you like the comic and want to support the creator, there is the option to donate). The first two pages of the prologue were released yesterday! I invite you to view them here.

So what kind of story is it? Here’s the blurb:

Spindrift is a weekly updated comic featuring a modern fantasy story about intrigue, warfare, family, love and betrayal. The story follows the conflict between the close-minded, conservative Alar race and their mortal enemies, the power-hungry Ildrei. And one young woman who gets caught in between…

As half-Alar, half-Ildrei, Morwenna’s existence offends both races. She and her companions must find a way to navigate the conflict – and attempt to bring peace between the two sides.

Elsa is currently working flat-out to produce more pages of the novel. She’s planning to release at least one page per week for the next few months, until we reach the end of the story. If you like the look of it and want to receive regular updates about new pages and extras, you can bestow some love on the facebook page .

Enjoy the free eye candy!

Speaking of ebook formatting…

Which I was doing a week or two ago on ye olde blogge. I’ve just learned that one of the bloggers I recommended, Mr. Paul Salvette, has released an ebook with about forty-seven thousand words of help and tutorials on this topic. Sounds pretty comprehensive, right?

Click here to read his blog post about it.

Or here is the Smashwords page to buy it (for $2.99). Though if you visit the blog, you’ll note that Mr. Salvette is quite generously offering to send out free PDF copies to cash-strapped indies if need be.

I’ve lately come across myriad ways to get your text into ebook format. Probably a lot more will spring up in the near future as well. Personally, I prefer and recommend the method of building your ebook from scratch through formatting it in html yourself. It’s more flexible than converting a word document, and I think – once you get to grips with the basics, which these sorts of tutorials help you to do – that it gives you more control over the final appearance of your book. Plus peace of mind that you don’t have stacks of weird, unnecessary code threatening to cause problems somewhere down the line.

That’s just my largely uneducated and only mildly experienced opinion though.

 

 

Number 19, Brit Street.

I’ve previously heard, from various places, that there is quite a large British expat community in the Netherlands.

The presence of three enormous English-language bookshops in Amsterdam offers some evidence for this idea. Since I’ve been here, I’ve occasionally heard about book groups or writers’ circles full of native English-speakers, but these invariably take place in some distant part of the Netherlands (as far as that’s possible in such a small country). So if there really are so many Brits floating around out here, they’re quite well hidden.

But there were clues. Like the Welsh flag displayed in the rear window of one of the cars on this street.  Last week there was a knock on the front door and on opening it I was addressed in a blessedly British voice. What were the chances that the neighbours immediately opposite our house would be a British family?

There’s also a huge Union Jack filling a window some way down the street. Last weekend we met an Irish lady who’s been living here since the seventies. ‘That’s my daughter’s house,’ she said.

Okay, so there are two households of Irish extraction a few doors down. And I shan’t forget to mention an English lady living a short walk away, whose acquaintance I made some years ago.

That’s not all either. Our neighbour across the stairs is from somewhere in Eastern Europe I believe (she doesn’t speak English and my Dutch is so far deplorable, so it’s hard to hold a conversation). I also hear there’s a Turkish family somewhere on this street.

What a shaken up world it is. I’ve moved to the Netherlands but our house is surrounded by everybody but the Dutch.