The Trappings of Memory (industrial/dark urban fantasy) is now available on Amazon, but is FREE via my website if you sign up to my newsletter. As I’ve built the website myself, set up the Mailchimp integration, written the book and jimmied the whole thing together there’s a reasonable chance it won’t work quite as expected.
So if you feel like trying it out, that would brilliant! I’d love to know if you can get the book and if so how easy it was.
My new story The Trappings of Memory is going to be available soon, and if you join my author mailing list, the Learned Society of Tempus Abbey, you’ll be able to pick it up for free. I’ll make another post once that giveaway is in place, with the signup link. In the meantime, I’d like to do a little experiment…
Here’s the new cover. To see if it does its job, leave a comment below telling me what genre you think it might be or what it could be about. It’ll be fun to know what, if anything, people presume just from one image.
And if you leave a comment I’ll send you a copy of the story so you can find out if you were right!
I’m hoping to make something of a series of this. I thought it might be interesting as there are many developing writers out there, and quite a lot of us are on WordPress. Simultaneously, there are a lot of people writing reviews of books. Maybe some overlap would be possible?
The idea here is that when I’ve read a book (and I often – but not always – read YA fantasy because it’s what I write), I plan to put up a review of it, but rather than simply saying how much I liked it and awarding it “three-out-of-four chocolate cakes”, or some trite nonsense, I’ll write about what I learned from it and how it informs my own process.
I suppose it’s all about getting to know the market and audience better. Hopefully others among you who have read the same book or similar ones, or are working on fiction in this area, will benefit and feel motivated to comment.
I’ll put information about the book, so you’re familiar with what it is, and also a bit about how I got hold of it. I won’t be doing ratings. This issue is about Rachel E. Carter’s book, First Year. The following details refer to the Amazon.co.uk. version.
Title and author: First Year (The Black Mage book 1) Rachel E. Carter
Length: 322 pages
Publisher: Rachel E. Carter
Primary category: Kindle Store > Books > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery (Rank #10)
I paid: 99p
Before the age of seventeen, the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice –pursue a trade or enroll in a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight, or mage…
For fifteen-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a mage and train in Combat, the most prestigious faction of magic.
Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Everyone is rooting for her to fail–first and foremost among them is Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.
Will Ry survive, or will her dream go down in flames?
Why did I read it?
I read a good review. That’s pretty much it, and I’m sorry if that’s disheartening to the many, many folks out there who struggle to get their work reviewed. (NOTE TO SELF #1: Reviews increase conversion)
It was a good review, and I was intrigued because of my unfamiliarity with the genre. I suppose that for a person who often reads YA romance fantasy stuff First Year might seem quite archetypal, but I almost never read that type of thing as it just doesn’t interest me. Probably the last thing I read that was even vaguely close to First Year would be the Harry Potter books, and that was at least a decade ago now. They’re also set in a school and feature magic, but really that’s about where the similarities end. If anything, this is more like The Worst Witch only with kissing, betrayal and an array of moderately severe injuries.
However, my own writing overlaps with the YA fantasy genre, and so I was intrigued to find out more about a typical top seller. It was on sale for 99p and I thought Why not? (NOTE TO SELF #2: Consider barriers to entry)
What did I learn?
I know, I know, that section title sounds like something a ten year old would write on their homework. I don’t want this to sound like a book report, but part of the joy of being an adult is in allowing oneself to make up the rules as you go.
Apart from the above notes-to-self, the thing that struck me was how my initial cynicism pretty well melted away during the course of the book. Seriously, I went into the thing thinking, Well, of course, I hold far loftier ideals than this, but let’s do it for the sake of study, and ended up enjoying it perfectly well for its own merits.
The thing is, this is not a groundbreaking piece of literature, and that’s absolutely fine. The first impression it gave me, in fact, was that it might be inspired by video game mechanics to some extent. It features some slightly odd references in its early pages that made me genuinely wonder if I was reading an Elder Scrolls Online fan-fiction for the first couple of chapters. Video game style references to whether certain characters wish to specialise in Restoration or Combat, what to do when one’s stamina runs low, and a description of a character’s dark, brooding appearance and deep reddish eyes that surely had to be the portrayal of a dark elf… It all seemed to be inspired by the cannon of role-playing games.
This didn’t worry me as I like the Elder Scrolls games very much (Morrowind fan alert – and speaking of which, I can’t believe it turned 15 last month!). Indeed, I hoped that Carter might have had something to say about the relationship between the verbal rhetoric of books, in which words communicate meaning, and the tension that many games exhibit between reliance on verbal rhetoric and procedural rhetoric, in which performing actions imparts meaning, but this didn’t arise. I can see why Carter didn’t fancy that route: It may be interesting theoretically, but to incorporate that discussion into the book would surely have increased the complexity of the writing process beyond what her workflow requires. That’s a perfectly valid reason for keeping things simple, to my mind.
And that, perhaps, is my main takeaway from the book. It doesn’t set so much as a toe off the edge of the path set out by its genre conventions (as far as I understand them), but it is also tightly plotted, rapidly yet smoothly paced, populated with enough characters and content to be vibrant without tipping over into bloat, and it’s also fairly short. It knows the job it needs to do, it knows the audience it’s addressing and the content they expect, and then it delivers a good quality interpretation of that form. I suppose it’s a bit like ordering a meal in a restaurant – it may be the same thing you’ve had before, but if it’s well prepared and presented it’s still entirely satisfying.
Irrespective of content, provided a book passes a certain bar of quality, I think the concept of providing a small, simple, well-made product to an audience who knows what it likes is a useful one for me to bear in mind. It’s not exactly where I position my own writing, but if you’re in business this is always going to be a balancing act between being wildly original and being familiar enough to be trusted.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this, whether you agree with them or not. I would love to know where you come down on the question too, and whether this is a book you’ve read. Please let me know!
In March I set out a challenge for myself – to produce a short story 1000 words at a time, and upload the sections each day as a way of forcing myself to produce something consistently. And it sort of worked!
Alright, so I didn’t finish the story, but I got far enough through that the general shape of it was visible. In fact, apart from the ending, it was basically done, so that’s a success of sorts. I’ve now decided to enlarge the story into a proper novella, which I’ll be giving away for free when it’s done
There was another benefit too! Not only does publishing each day’s writing keep me somewhat more productive than I would otherwise have been, it also last month gave the readers of this blog a little story to read along with. Take a look!
Admittedly my blog is hardly setting the world on fire even at its most “popular”, but equally I know I won’t have to point out to you where it was I stopped uploading each day. The fact remains that while I was uploading this blog enjoyed its greatest popularity so far. Since then, um, not so much…
Having looked back over what I wrote last month, I’ve think the story needs to be a little longer in order to iron out some pacing issues, so I’m going to resume uploading one chapter at a time for your enjoyment, and hopefully see some more progress!
Are you a deadline writer? How do you approach the mechanical task of sitting down and producing something?
I’ve decided to try a little something, an experiment, if you will. I was watching a video on YouTube the other day from a filmmaker whose work I enjoy a great deal – Khyan, seen here – who was talking about the dangers of “falling into a kind of pre-satisfaction” as a content-creator, in which telling everyone you’re about to produce some new work actually stops you doing it. Why? Because you’ve already had the buzz. The satisfaction of being told “Hey, that’s a great idea, can’t wait to see/read/hear it!” kills the desire to make it happen.
In his video, Khyan concluded the technique would, however, probably still be valuable if in failing to put out everything you promised, you still put out more than you otherwise would have. That is the spirit of this post: announce greatness; achieve more than nothing.
Anyway, I’ve got a new fantasy novel out (Right here, fans of quality and excitement). But how to attract audience? How to drink sweet, sweet nectar of popular acceptance? Do I write more? Market… somehow? (That’s an arcane art, and is it me or are there exactly equal numbers of people promoting certain approaches as there are issuing assurances that they don’t work?)
I know one thing, and that’s that a novel (even a mighty 500+ page meisterwerk) sitting all alone by itself is a sad thing. It needs a little brother. So, I’m going to write one, 1000 words at a time. And to prove to myself and the nonexistent audience of this blog that I can do it, I’m going to do 1000 words per day, and post it here each and every day for your delectation until it’s done. Then, after a week or two, I’ll have a little novella that I can put up alongside the novel. Genius. Watch this space.
That’s a Google graph for usage of the word “cheesy” in digitised books over time. I’ve already forgotten why exactly I needed this data in the first place, but I’m glad I’ve got it now. Maybe there’s a perfectly normal explanation for why the 1870s were such an extraordinarily good decade for the word cheesy, but I like to image it’s solely down to a sudden cultural saturation of the phrase “It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy”, which has since been forgotten about by all but the most crusty, over-ripe philologists.
Almost as puzzling is the sudden drop-off that occurs around 1950 – You’d think the rise of fast food chains would have made the word practically de rigueur, but apparently not. The improved fortunes of cheesy in the 1990s are understandable, but the Matterhorn-esque profile in the centre board attests to a more than ten-fold increase in cheesy’s lexical real estate between 1860 and 1880. It lacks rind or reason.
Just last night I was thinking about the Oscars ceremony from a few days ago – not for the obvious reason that the best picture was mis-announced (oops!) – but because Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, based on the story by acclaimed sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, picked up the award for best sound editing.
You’ve probably read about Arrival already, as it came out months ago, but of the fairly small number of films I watched in 2016, it was my favourite. Its appeal struck me from several directions, but I’d cite in particular the sympathetic and generally decent, human-like behaviour of its characters, the intelligence of both the science and fiction parts of science fiction, and the general sense of atmosphere that was conjured up on screen. In fact, I’d recommend it just for the first encounter between the main character and the alien creatures – it’s fantastically eerie and, well, alien-feeling, but there’s much more to recommend it. The message of the film is worth mentioning too, as it’s refreshingly positive without being in any way maudlin or cheesy.
Anyway, I didn’t need to buy the book, but ended up doing so completely on a whim, in the space of a few seconds, without having to take a single step in any direction.
My Kindle is by no means the latest thing; in fact it’s a 2010 model, the one with the clunky, awkward keyboard tacked on. And yet, I was able to interrupt my reading of the book I was actually pursuing at that moment (The Wretched of Muirwood, by Jeff Wheeler, which I’m so far enjoying very much), have a little peruse of the Kindle Storefront in strangely laggy, black and white raiment, and with a twitch of my thumb, wire £5-something in the direction of Chiang esq. and his esteemed colleagues.
The actual book is not called Arrival, but rather Stories of Your Life and Others (it being a collection of novellas, of which the source material, Stories of Your Life, is one). I’ve not finished it yet (nor read any of the other novellas the volume contains), but have already noticed some interesting differences between the writing and the film. I won’t say one is better or worse, but the stories are each clearly aware that they are being told through two different media. Perhaps most interestingly (and this is something that strikes you more when you read the book), although based on a very short piece of work I never got the impression of the film story having been stretched out or padded.
I’ll get back to you when I’ve consumed more of the book, as well as Jeff Wheeler’s work, but in the meantime I’m going to keep my Kindle’s wi-fi switched off. I didn’t need another book as it was, but the convenience of the purchase, along with not having to wonder where I’m going to put the thing, how long it’ll take in the post etc. etc. just make it a little too convenient.
Have you ever lost your wits and succumbed to your Kindle’s convenience? What’s the most you’ve ever spent there without intending to?