Friday, April 18, 2014

Tapping the Reader Mind to Improve the Writer Mind

Sorry I've been MIA this last month. I've been writing like crazy on a new project that's very different from the ones I've done (shocker, right? At this point I think the real surprise would be if I actually wrote two series in the same genre o_o). ANYWAY, in between this new story and doing my research to get ready to enter the self publishing side of the pool this summer, I stumbled over another of those wonderful, headsmackingly obvious yet brilliant writing ideas, and I wanted to share.

But first! The final Devi Morris book, HEAVEN'S QUEEN, comes out April 22! Woo!

"The only game that matters is the end game" is my favorite tag line of the whole series! Go get'em, Devi!

Anyway, on to writing!

So there's a common bit of writing wisdom that goes "Write the book you want to read." This is a very good piece of advice, but it's also a deceptively simple one. Of course I'm writing the book I want to read. If I didn't find my book interesting, then I wouldn't be writing it in the first place, right?

Well, yes and no.

I've written a lot of books at this point (13 between all my pen names and trunked titles), but I'm still discovering new, stupidly obvious truths about my process. Things I really should have noticed back on book #2 rather than #14. But writing is a tricky business, and its easy to miss parts of the process precisely because they seem so obvious.

For example, I engage books different as a reader than I do as a writer. I've long known that the reader side of me, we'll call her Reader Rachel, likes a lot of books that Writer Rachel can't stand. Take The Black Dagger Brotherhood paranormal romance series, for example. Writer Rachel can bitch for hours about how those books are constructed--the ridiculous world building, the fact that all these ancient warriors never seem to actually employ tactics against their enemies, the weird and awkward side plots that have nothing to do with the current story and only exist to set up future books, the endless product placement, the god damn names (OH GOD THE STUPID NAMES).

And yet, for all these obvious flaws, Reader Rachel ate that shit up. Zadist (I warned you about the names) and Bella's book, Lover Awakened, is probably my favorite romance novel ever, and while I gave up on series when she hooked Rehvenge (THAT NAAAAAAME) up with a goody-two-shoes selfless vampire nurse (gag), the fact remains that I still paid freaking $5.99-$9.99 for each ebook and read them all.

There are a number of other series Writer Rachel scoffed at and Reader Rachel adored, but you get the idea. For years, though, I ignored this dichotomy outright. I didn't even question what drove me to obsessively read these books that I knew were...kind of schlocky, honestly. But that was a huge mistake. By dismissing my own reading preferences, I was cutting Reader Rachel out of the picture all together. Writer Rachel was calling all the shots with my stories, which meant that even though I was (and am) very proud of the work I produced, I was disobeying one of the most fundamental rules of story telling. I was writing the books I wanted to write, not the books I wanted to read.

Realizing this was a headslap moment for me. Going back to our initial example, The Black Dagger Brotherhood books are international best sellers despite their flaws. Readers aren't stupid. If a book is that popular, it must be doing something right, and I was the one being stupid one for dismissing that. By ignoring what delighted my reader self, I was ignoring the instincts that made me a writer in the first place. I actually think one of the reasons the Devi books have been so popular was because I wasn't falling into this trap. The entire raison d’ĂȘtre for Fortune's Pawn was that I wanted to read an action packed SF romance and I couldn't find one. It was the essence of writing the book I wanted to read, and I think we can all agree the results were great.

Once I'd realized this truth, the obvious question became how could I do it every time? After all, if the caps lock of doom above wasn't a hint, Reader Rachel and Writer Rachel don't always agree. Fortunately, they don't have to, because I'm not writing Black Dagger Brotherhood or any of the books I like to read. I'm writing my books, only now I'm inviting Reader Rachel to play as well by making the following adjustments to my writing process:

1) I approach my scenes like a reader
I've long said that a scene should do three things: advance the story, reveal information, and pull the reader forward. That's all still true, but now when I sit down to plan a scene, I invite Reader Rachel to join in by asking "If I was a reader, what would I want here?" For a moment, I forget everything I as a writer need the scene to do and just think about what would be awesome. If I was reading this in someone else's book, what would I find exciting or thrilling or romantic? What is the pathos here, where's the emotion? What does Reader Rachel want to see?

When you put it that way, these questions all sound really obvious, but for years now, I wasn't doing this. I always considered building fun and excitement into my work as part of the planning process (and an important cornerstone of fast writing), but even then it was a tool to help me write faster. The improvement to the audience was a side benefit, and that's wrong. Improving the reader experience should have been priority #1. Fortunately, my own innate love of overly dramatic things carried me, but I missed so many opportunities to make my scenes even more awesome. It's the classic "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. I let myself get too caught up in the writing process to remember that the reading experience is the entire point of this whole operation.

2) I pay attention to what makes me read
It's not exactly revolutionary to say that reading widely is a vital part of writing. For a long time now, though, I've been subconsciously dividing my reading into "work" reading (books that make me a better writer) and "fun" reading (books I read on the couch while my kid watches Sponge Bob). Like most divisions, this was wasteful and stupid.

Source material is irrelevant. If I like something, I (and probably a lot of other people) like it for a reason, and understanding that reason lets me use it in my own work. So now, when I encounter something cool in my reading, no matter what I'm reading, I make it a point to stop and figure out why? Why do I like this so much? Why is it cool?

Even if I can't actually answer the question, just the act of asking has made me a better writer. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize that so much of storytelling is about awareness. Understanding the mechanical aspects of what makes a good tale, noticing and studying the details other people take for granted, and then practicing and experimenting with what we've seen in our own work--these are the things that make us better writers regardless of genre or experience.

3) I never forget what I'm writing
This one might seem silly, but bear with me. Reading a standard length book (80k-150k words) usually takes anywhere from six hours to twenty hours depending on length, narrative complexity, and individual reading speed. These hours can be shotgunned in a single session or spread out over many days, but either way it's a relatively short experience, especially compared to how long it takes to write a book. Now, during that reading time, you are immersed in the feel of the book--building terror for horror, rising excitement and wonder for fantasy, anxiety for a thriller, etc.

These intense feelings are the hallmark of good fiction and one of the major reasons people read. When you're writing, though, the relative timeline of the story experience is exponentially expanded, and it's very easy to lose sight of the feelings you want your book to spark. The result can be a book that makes narrative sense, but still feels disjointed, or never develops any sense of gripping emotion at all. Fortunately, involving your reader mind in the writing process neatly avoids this problem.

Your reader mind knows what to expect for your book even if your writer self hasn't quite figured it out yet. If you're writing in a genre, you've read that genre before, and your reader brain knows what to expect emotionally. All Writer You has to do is listen. For example, we've all had times when we get stuck on one paragraph for two hours, but one of the ways to fight that is to ask your reader self "how does this need to feel? If I was reading this paragraph in another book in this genre, what would it say?"

I'm amazed by how often this trick works, but I shouldn't be. Reader Rachel has read more books than Writer Rachel will ever write. She knows a lot about how this stuff works, and if I can disengage my analytic, obsessive writer brain long enough to actually tap into that knowledge, the answer is usually sitting right there. It's all about knowing what you're trying to write on a high level and then using your reader experience and expectations for that genre (or even better, playing with and subverting those expectations) to keep your writing united toward the common goal over the long haul of crafting a book.

These are just a few of the changes I've implemented to bring my reader self in my writing process, but the results have already been amazing. I feel like I'm learning to write all over again, but then, writing is a constant process of reinventing ourselves. We are always rising from our own ashes, and it is this constant process of learning and examining and changing that makes us grow. There's no such thing as the top of our game, and that is wonderful, because it means we can always go higher if only we keep looking for new ways to climb.

Whew, that post got long! Anyway, I hope these insights help you with your writing. Thank you as always for reading and I hope you'll check out HEAVEN'S QUEEN when it launches next week!

Happy writing!
- Rachel

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Love and the Science Fiction Action Heroine

I'm over at Fantasy Cafe today to take part in the always awesome Women in SFF month! As you might surmise from the title, I'm taking on the subject of romance in Science Fiction and the Devi books in particular. Here's a sample...
"There’s a deeply rooted belief in our culture that falling in love and admitting it makes a person weak. I can understand the logic. Loving makes us deeply vulnerable, and even the euphemisms for it—softer feelings, going mushy, melting for someone—are all in the language of surrender. That’s scary stuff for a character like Devi who is so invested in being strong and invulnerable, and I understand how a reader could view my decision as an author to have Devi succumb to these softer emotions as a betrayal. It doesn’t help that falling in love is also seen as a stereotypically female weakness, making it a double punch to my strong leading lady. So yeah, I get it. I also think it’s wrong."
Fun huh? Go on over and read the whole post! To celebrate, Orbit Books is also giving away a full set of the Paradox trilogy, so head on over for your chance to win, and I really hope you enjoy the post!

- R

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Part 1 of my interview with Elizabeth Moon is up at Orbit!

Soooooo this is where having a publisher is AWESOME. Orbit books set me and my ultimate author heroine Elizabeth Moon to do an interview series together. In between me being like...

I somehow also managed to actually type responses! They make sense and everything!

So if you want to see me and Elizabeth Moon talk some shop, head on over to Orbit's site and read away! Part 2, where we switch seats and I interview her, will be up closer to the April 22nd release of HEAVEN'S QUEEN!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Success, Change, and Choice

Since I did IndieReCon last month and generally came out to the public about my self publishing intentions, (Nice Dragons come out in July!) I've been hearing from a lot of other writers asking for advice if they should try self publishing or start querying for traditional publishing. To these people, I always say the same thing: what's right for you depends on your definition of success.

Warning: lengthy discussion about the nuances of the self publishing/traditional publishing choice ahead! If that's your thing, then dive right in. If not, here's a picture of a baby turtle eating a strawberry as an apology for wasting your time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My interview with Lytherus!

So this weekend was my birthday, and I was so busy drinking and running around and generally trying my best to slow the ever onward march of time that I didn't get a chance to post about the absolutely awesome piece online SFF magazine Lytherus did on HONOR'S KNIGHT!

First off, we have a very nice review of the book itself and, if you'll excuse me putting on my Pretentious Author Cap for a paragraph, I really like it not so much because they liked the book (though don't get me wrong, I'm over the moon that they liked it), but because they really got what I was trying to do with Devi and the multiple levels of information in the books. I can't even count how many hours I spent on this aspect of the story making sure I was keeping the reader guessing just as much as Devi about what was really going on, who her allies were, and who she should trust. Unfortunately, this is the sort of work where, if you do it right, the end result should be invisible, which makes it kind of a hard achievement to brag about. To actually read about it in a review is just amazing and I am so so so happy. Thank you, Lytherus!

There's also a chance to win a copy of HONOR'S KNIGHT for yourself at the bottom, so stop by for that at least! Free stuff!

Finally, I also did an interview with them about the Devi series and writing in general, and the questions were awesome. It's generally spoiler free, so if you're hungry for inside information about the Paradox books and what's in store for Devi, head on over!

Thank you and enjoy!

- R

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I'm everywhere today!!

First up, happy book birthday to HONOR'S KNIGHT, which is out today!!

I don't think it's spoiling anything to say Devi has a rough time of it this go round. Gotta have lots of juicy problems to shoot for the third and final book, HEAVEN'S QUEEN, coming April 22, 2014!

To celebrate the launch, I've written a piece for Orbit about why powered armor is the best, so if you're here for real content, go check it out!!

And finally, I'm a guest at IndieReCon this week. I've got a new post for them called "Words Are Cheap" about what I've learned since writing my "How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day"post in 2011.I'm also doing a live chat on their site at 5:15 EST today. It's a good time and it's free, so I hope you'll drop by and say hello!

Whew, okay, I think that's enough crazy for one day. Thank you everyone for helping me make the launch of HONOR'S KNIGHT such an awesome success. And if you enjoyed the book, please consider leaving a review! They really really REALLY help :D

Thank you everyone, and I hope your Tuesday is as awesome as mine!

- R

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

IndieReCon 2014

With the release of Honor's Knight in only 2 weeks away, I emerge from my writing cave to announce that I'll be at this year's IndieReCon, a free online writing convention for authors with a focus on self publishing, marketing, editing, and other topics of general writerly interest running Feb 25-27! 

I'll be there talking about writing fast with a new essay update looking back at 2 years of 10k a day. I'll also be doing a live chat at 5:15 on Tuesday, Feb 25 on all manner of writing and publishing topics. That said, there's a lot more going on at this convention than just me. Here's the full 2014 schedule, and as you see, it's pretty rad. I'll be attending a lot of these chats myself just as a con goer, and I'll tweet when I do in case you want to join me. Let's talk some shop and have fun!

Speaking of shop talk, I'd like to piggyback on this announcement for a moment to set my own shop straight. Between being a guest at a self publishing convention and the fact that the first book in my new series, Nice Dragons Finish Last (coming in July 2014!) will be self published, it might seem like I'm jumping ship. To that, I say there's more than two ships in the sea of publishing. 

At this point in my career, I've done big NY traditional publishing and I've done self publishing, and I've had pretty good luck with both. But like the sea I just compared it to, publishing is ever changing, and the smart author is always open to trying something new. So that's what I'm doing, trying something new, and I'll be sure to let you all know how it turns out. 

In the meanwhile, whatever your end publishing choice, I think there's a lot to be learned from successful self published authors. I've met a lot of authors over the years, and the self publishing folks are hands down the most savvy when it comes to marketing, promotion, and the business of being a writer. So I'm going to see if I can't learn something new from the experts. If you're interested in being a writer, I hope you'll come join me. Registration is free, so it's not like you'll be out anything if you don't like it. Considering the schedule and the guest list, though, I have high hopes!

See you there!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Grand Prize Giveaway!

Oh, what a crazy seven days this has been, but now, at last, we've come to grand finale. Time to announce the grand prize winner. Drum roll, please...

And the official winner of the HONOR'S KNIGHT raffle is... Jessi! WOOOO!!!!

Jessi! You win signed copies of both FORTUNE'S PAWN and HONOR'S KNIGHT plus a $50 gift card! HOORAY! Please contact me with your address and how you'd like the books made out and I shall send your prize post haste!

And with that, our raffle is over! Thank you to everyone who helped me spread the word about Devi. You have all be a giant help and I couldn't do any of this without you. Seriously. Without readers, I have no job. I OWE YOU MY LIFE... O__O

*Ahem* well, thank you again for everything and congratulations to all the winners! I am dedicating tomorrow to mailing books (assuming the mail is still working what with this ice storm). Weather permitting, all prizes will be mailed tomorrow. Thank you again, and I hope you love HONOR'S KNIGHT!!

Day 7 Winner and Grand Prize Hype!

Okay, I TOTALLY BLANKED and didn't post a winner yesterday. I'm really sorry, and without further ado, Monday's winner is....Carl V. Anderson!!! Come on down!!

Thank you so much for helping promo this book! Please contact me with your address and how you'd like the book made out.

And with that, this is our FINAL DAY! I'll be announcing the grand prize winner tonight (for reals this time), and it's anyone's game. Keep spreading the word about HONOR'S KNIGHT and Devi in general and posting about it in the comments on the original post and I'll keep tallying your entries!

Again, thank you everyone for helping me launch this book! Sometimes book promo can feel like so much shouting into the void, and I want you to know that I really, really appreciate all your help. I couldn't do this without you!

See ya'll tonight!!

- Rachel

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Day 6 Winner!!

And today's winner is....Conal O'Neill!! Yaaaay!

Thank you so much for helping me get the word out about Devi! Please contact me with your address and how you'd like the book made out. Remember, you are still eligible for the grand prize, so keep entering!

And for everyone who didn't win, there are still 2 more days (one more contest day and then the grand prize give away on Tuesday!) to win free books, so keep spreading the word about HONOR'S KNIGHT and posting about it in the comments on the original post. Everyday is a new day to enter. The more you spread the word, the more chances you have to win!!

Thank you everyone for helping me launch HONOR'S KNIGHT!!!