Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Keeping it Real

I write a YA supernatural series and am currently working on the third book. While it is aimed at tween and teen readers, I have realized that a large part of my audience is comprised of women in my age group. I guess that shouldn't really surprise me: I like to read YA, too. 

So here's what I'm trying to puzzle through for my current work.

The subject of partying is going to come up. Now, neither of my main characters parties, and for good reason as will be revealed. But I have had at least one reader say to me, "Your characters are in their first years of college. How come none of them drink?"

That's a very valid question. Pretending that underage kids don't drink is to ignore what is really going on in our society. Whether we like it or not, kids get hold of liquor (not to mention other substances) and they share these things with each other, sometimes with horrible results. And this is part of reality.

So I'm trying to figure out how to handle this. I don't want to be accused of encouraging drinking in my target audience (although I'm not making a party situation look like anything fun in this story). On the other hand, I don't think I can keep writing about these characters, who are about 19 to 20-ish in the last book, without including the fact that a lot of college kids party and that they have frequent exposure to the opportunity to drink.

Some people will say that this would be a good teaching moment. Maybe. What happens to one character could certainly be considered a moral of a story, I suppose. On the other hand, I think getting didactic while writing fiction is a really efficient way to turn off readers and insure they never pick up another one of my books again.

I'm also thinking that the adults reading my books will have something to say about what I'm doing, just because adults do that. I know I'm an adult too, but sometimes my sensibilities are still squarely at the age of 19. By the way, I tried partying when I was in college and realized it really wasn't a good time for me. (Being surrounded by people I didn't know who were getting progressively more drunk or high as the evening wore on, and realizing that the only person I knew at the entire party -the one who invited me- was invariably occupied in the bedroom with her boyfriend, was a situation that got old really quick. But I digress.)

So I guess in the end, I will write what I write as well as what is true to the story and my own sense of what growing up was like. But I must admit, I'm wondering already what kind of armor I can girth myself in when all the feedback starts flowing my way. I may be gutless, but I need to be honest.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Promoting Short Stories

When I first started writing short stories (yes, back in the days of manual typewriters and carbon paper), once you sold the short story, the magazine or anthology you sold it to took care of all the promotion. Yes, you announced the sale to your friends and maybe there was a writeup about it in the local newspaper and maybe industry newsletters, but that was about all you could contribute. The magazine or anthology promoted the various authors whose stories appeared in the work, depending on the author’s status.

Nowadays, with social media, you aren't as dependent on the publisher or the publisher's or editor’s idea of author status and who gets promoted. You can do your own promotion. You can announce the sale on Facebook and Twitter and Google+, and put a link to where the story appears on your website once the issue or the work is released. Some small press publishers furnish promotion material for their anthologies, like bookmarks, that authors can take with them to conventions for freebie tables or to hand out at signings.

Promotion by bookmark is good if you are traditionally published (where you only have a small window of time in which to promote) and even more so if your publisher is a small press, because with a small press you can continue to promote the anthology for years. Or until the publisher stops furnishing promo material for the anthology.

This is what I've done in the past to promote my short stories published in anthologies. I've also listed the story or anthology in the bios I've been asked to provide for conventions as an author participating on panels. But now I'm moving into new territory. One of my publishers, Amber Quill Press, is now publishing short stories on its website and then releasing the stories on Amazon Kindle. I've got one short story, “The Oracle of Cilens”, available through this program and another (“Search and Rescue”) will be released in August. So I started wondering how one goes about promoting individual short stories.

Searching on the web turned up only the suggestion to blog about your short story, both on your own blog and well as guest posts on other blogs. And of course mentioning the short story on your website. One author I know has had postcards on freebie tables at conventions advertising his free short story, and I liked that idea, but I wasn't sure if that was done for short stories for sale. So I asked some of the writing organizations I belong to, such as Broad Universe on Facebook, figuring I wasn't the first to wonder about this. Kelly Harmon kindly responded with an image of the rack card she uses to promote her six short stories at conventions.

So, with only two short stories so far, I'm going with a bookmark to bring to LonCon 3 (Worldcon in London) followed by Shamrokon in Dublin next month. The front of the bookmark has the two covers and the back has the blurbs for the stories.

Three questions: How do you learn about short stories? What promotions have you seen? What do you use to promote your short stories?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


From the time they’re born, we feed our children, bathe them, doctor their skinned knees, and love them. We drive them to school, ball practice and games, piano and dance rehearsal and programs. We congratulate them when they make good grades, if they win awards, and when they achieve their goals. We scold them for misbehaving. We encourage them when they have bad days. We listen to their troubles and complaints and offer our advice. They don’t always listen and sometimes go on their own way. We stand by to help them when needed.

As writers we do the same for our make-believe children. We nourish them from page one. We help them discover their good points and also their bad. We go along with them to that first school program and clap and shout “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl.” No doubt embarrassing them, if they were more than just characters on a page, but proud of their accomplishments, even the ones that surprise us. We hold their hands when their first love dumps them. We brush away their tears. We guide them as they grow and discover their place in the confusing world of their story, whether fantasy, science fiction, historical,  contemporary, or other.

It doesn't matter if our children/teens are flesh and blood or characters formed in our imaginations, they are our young ones. We love them. They may not always follow our plans and instead take off in their own direction. We support the choices they make, anyway, and hope they're the right ones. We give them our best advice and follow along on the journey they've chosen. Sometimes they find what they're looking for; other times they have to learn the hard way.

Even when their choices get them in trouble, we’re there, to hug and love them. For no matter what, they are our creations, both living and make believe. We send them out into the world and hope the world will be kind to them, and they’ll find love and happiness.

Our children and teens.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Publishing is like....

Well, last month I was bemoaning the delay on my cover art for A Curse of Ash and Iron.  The week after that post, I got the call that Strange Chemistry, the imprint that was going to publish the book, was being cut. 

My contract was canceled, effective immediately, and my rights were returned to me.

No book. Just like that. It happens.  Things like this always seem to happen to ME, though. I mean, I thought back over my career, and I'm like a walking cliche of every publishing nightmare that can happen. I've had editors who left in the middle of a book. I've had series canceled mid-series because the publisher decided to no longer publish that kind of book (though I was able to find a new publisher for the rest of the books, which was good). I've had my troubles with agents. And now I've had a book orphaned by the publisher closing. And you know what?

I'm okay. I mean, I was upset at first. Really, really upset. Mostly because I had spent some money in order to promote the book last Spring. But that's okay-- I had fun doing it, and it wasn't that much. I had also booked a trip to the MidWest to sign ARCs at a convention, two weeks after the publisher closed. Which ended up being really fun, and a nice vacation for my family too. We made the best of it. I had a ball at that convention, promoted other books, and hopefully made some new fans in a new place. And I got some new ideas for video blogs. I had begun to plan the launch party, but fortunately hadn't solidified those yet.

It could have ended up much worse, in the end. I have a completely edited manuscript that is just waiting for a new publisher. While I was promoting it pre-publication, the book got some following on Goodreads. When the publisher made the announcement, there was an outpouring of support for the authors and their books. When a new publisher comes along, I'll make sure those people know that the book is still alive.

It is what it is, as they say.

Meanwhile, I also had an extremely awesome time at the annual NJ SCBWI conference. I gave two workshops on query letters, which I hope were helpful. I met some new friends, hung out with old ones. I sat in on an excellent workshop by children's author Katie Davis (who is the BOMB) about how to EXPLODE my writing career with video. I already love using video, but it was a great workshop on how I could be using it in different ways, with some cool new resources for me to try. I came home and started playing around with Movie Maker, and I'm going to spend some of my summer playing with these new toys. I even made a new book trailer for A Curse of Ash and Iron to use when we re-sell the book.

And my agent already has it out on submission again, so no worries.

I am making movies and video blogging a lot more. I'm also working on a Welcome video for my website. I even have my own YouTube channel: Christine Norris's YouTube Channel, which I've had for awhile but was only using it as a space to put videos before they went on my blog. Now I need to make a video to get subscribers. I'm having a blast, and working on more books, and in general...Moving On!

Publishing is a weird business, and sometimes you've just got to go with the flow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reusing Characters

Have you ever had a character you really like in a story that just didn't seem to go anywhere? Ditch the story. Keep the character.

I had a character like that show up in my Ali story. I'd written another story that I liked, but knew it needed a lot of work, and maybe a plot in order to really be something I could get other people to read. But I really liked my main character, Hannah Franklin. The story was that Hannah had grown up on TV along with her brothers and sisters in a family drama, the Flanagans. Her mother played the mother, her father was their base of reality. The show ended when half of her family was killed in a plane crash, effectively ending the show. The thing is that Hannah so identified with being Hannah Flanagan that sometimes it was hard to simply live her life as Hannah Franklin. That was the backstory. The story itself had her going to college and dealing with these things. Like I said, it needed a plot.

Then I was doing a major re-write of my Ali story, changing some of the characters out and freshening it up and realized that Hannah, minus the dead family, could be one of Ali's dormmates at boarding school. The thing is, that a child starting out on TV playing a very small child on a show is most likely to be played by twins. So, Hannah got split into two people, Heather and Lily. They grew up splitting the role of Hannah Flanagan. Heather still wants to be on TV, Lily is done with it. These two characters have added a great dimension to my Ali stories and I'm so glad they didn't just wither away in an unusable story.

What characters from a story stored in a drawer can you bring new life to?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Point of View - Again

This topic was covered expertly by Kathy Sullivan back in June of 2011. But because POV is one of my personal demons, I thought I would take another shot at it. From my point of view, so to speak.

In the series I am writing, I use third person. I think it's more third person close than third person omniscient, but to tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever I'm doing, if I get any negative feedback from readers, it certainly has nothing to do with point of view!

Still, now that I'm working on book three, I find myself thinking about varying the points of view I use. The first two books were told from the two main characters' perspectives, one belonging to my heroine, the other to my hero. Now in book three, I have been tempted to start using the outlooks of other characters, but at the same time I keep thinking that it feels wrong to do so. In all of my favorite series, which tend to be murder mysteries or thrillers, the point of view has always been strictly from the protagonist except for occasional dark forays into the mind or minds of the murderer/s. Maybe because of this, I can't help feeling that starting to use any of my other characters' viewpoints seems somehow wrong. As if I should have started doing that in the very first book.

I recently tried writing a scene using someone else other than my two main characters, and even though this particular fellow has been in the series since it started, it felt wrong and awkward. So I guess they have let me know their preference. Never mind that I'm the author! I won't go against my character's wishes: I know better than that.

But I would be curious to know what other writers have done. Do any of you write a series that requires more than two points of view? And if so, did you start that from the first book? Do you find it easier to advance the story that way? Do you think it keeps the flow going a bit better? Have you ever tried limiting POV to just one or two characters or has it always felt better to use more than that? Most of all, do I sound like a crazy person???

Before I started the series, sweating out which point of view I needed was the worst thing about starting a new work. The WORST. When everything was new - the story, the setting, the characters themselves - trying to decide who got to carry the ball, and if he or she would be the only one to do so, was always terrible for me. Now that I have a universe in place and a group of people who return with every new story, I find myself once more in the position of trying to figure out who gets to carry the ball. Or will it always be the same two? I have a feeling it will be. That just seems to be the way I work.

But how do the rest of you do this? I'd love to know. Truly.