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  1. Last month, we took a preliminary look at a type of story that shouldn’t work but which, handled properly, does work: episodic novels. Lacking an overt central conflict or problem, wandering around without any apparent plan through a grab bag of experiences, such novels ought to come across as mere chronicles; sophomoric swaggers around town held together—if at all—only by their own sense of self-importance. In other words, junk. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Unlikely-to-succeed episodic novels can work well, but when they do there are elements, hard to discern at first, which sew up their patchwork jumble of episodes, lending them an underlying unity that keeps us reading. First among those elements, we discovered, are openings which promise us adventure, assure us that the tale ahead has significance, and that there is a steady hand steering the journey we’re embarking upon. What, then, about the hundreds of pages that follow? As we wander from episode to episode, what keeps us going and gives us a sense that the seemingly random walk that we’re taking has a point and which in the end will add up to something greater than the sum of its parts? Let’s take a look at a few of those elements and see out how they might enhance any novel. Going Out of Bounds A promise of adventure is wonderful and awakens the child inside us. Who doesn’t want to explore, see neat things, taste a bit of danger and have a whole lot of fun? Count me in! You too, I’m pretty sure. However, a promise is one thing and following through is another. To work, an episodic novel must first of all fulfill the promise it has made to us. How? First of all, through the pluck and high spirits of a protagonist. Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (2011) is the story of Michael, an eleven-year-old boy making a sea voyage, unaccompanied, aboard the ship Oronsay from Ceylon to England in the early 1950’s. Seated at mealtimes at the “cat’s table”, the one farthest from the captain’s, Michael could be forgiven for keeping his head down, studying algebra to get ready for the new school he will attend, and simply surviving to arrive safely. But, heck, what fun would that be? Michael has aboard two friends more-or-less his age: troublemaker Cassius and sickly Romadhin. For the boys, the ship is a floating castle of wonders and, unsupervised, they resolve to have a blast and experience as much as they can. Among other impish activities, the three friends take to arising very early and sneaking up to the first-class deck, there to swim in the first class pool and steal food from the first class breakfast buffet, which they then surreptitiously consume under the canvas cover of a lifeboat. And it’s still early in the day! It was not even eight o’clock when we crossed the border from First Class back to Tourist Class. We pretended to stagger with the roll of the ship. I had by now come to love the slow waltz of our vessel from side to side. And the fact that I was on my own, save for the distant Flavia Prins and Emily, was itself an adventure. I had no family responsibilities. I could go anywhere, do anything. And Ramadhin, Cassius, and I had already established one rule. Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden. The day had barely begun, and we still had hours ahead of us to perform this task. What better way for a novel to break rules than to feature a protagonist whose very intention is to be an outlaw, to be unconventional, to stay alert and to savor what is forbidden? When a hero or heroine isn’t ordinary, how can our reading journey be anything but extraordinary, as well? Clowns, Lion Tamers and Tightrope Walkers Episodic novels keep us entertained with a cast of characters who are odd, eccentric, intriguing, colorful and sometimes dangerous. In Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, none of the passengers is ordinary. There is Sir Hector de Silva who is dying of rabies, Mr. Mazappa the jazz musician who teaches the boys dirty songs, Mr. Daniels who keeps his collection of poisonous plants in the ship’s hold, Mr. Nevil a ship dismantler who explains to the boys the vessel’s mechanical workings, Miss Lisqueti and her thirty pet pigeons, and Michael’s alluring but aloof seventeen-year-old cousin Emily on whom he has a crush but who “had her own plans for the voyage”. Most mysterious of all is the prisoner, unknown to the other passengers, who after the evening activities are over is taken for darkness walks while in chains, accompanied by specially trained guards. The boys naturally are fascinated by the prisoner and devise ways to witness his secret walks, which later on will occasion a key event which will forever haunt all aboard, especially the boys and also Emily, whose gained experience will not leave her better off. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008) doesn’t even try to be realistic, which anyway would be pretty much pointless for a novel about a boy, Nobody Owens, who grows up in a graveyard after his family is murdered. Bod, as he’s called, can see and hear those who are dead as well as creatures who shouldn’t exist in the first place. Naturally, none of the denizens of the graveyard are normal. There is Silas his guardian, the Lady on the Grey, Indigo Man and a snake-like creature called Sleer who protects a brooch, a goblet and a knife. Add to those Miss Lepuscu the Hound of God who babysits him, Liza Hempstock a witch in the Potter’s Field, plus a villainous antique dealer called Abanazer Bolger and who actually is the murderous “man Jack” who killed Bod’s family and who is a member of the Jacks of All Trades who, by prophecy, must kill Bod to survive. Oh, and there is one living human girl to be a love interest, Scarlett Amber Perkins. And if you think that’s a weird cast of characters, recall the people in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969). There is the novel’s hero Billy Pilgrim, who is “unstuck” in time and who encounters many others including a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout and aliens from the planet Trafamadore, to which Billy is abducted in order to be displayed in a zoo and mated with a movie star named Montana Wildhack. Surviving the novel’s central and inciting event, the WWII firebombing of the city of Dresden, is the least of Billy’s problems—or perhaps Billy’s problems are an hallucinogenic processing of that wartime trauma? You decide. The point is, why simply have a cast when you can have a circus? The Pieces and the Puzzle What makes a mere episode more than simply an anecdote, but rather a puzzle piece in a novel the whole picture of which will become apparent after all the pieces have slotted into place? The magic that does that is meaning. When every episode has a point and every eccentric character has something to show or teach a protagonist, then a novel’s puzzle pieces shoulder more than their weight. Every episode becomes gold. In The Cat’s Table, Ondaatje doesn’t throw away anything or anyone. Even Mr. Mazappa, the dirty-minded jazz musician, and Miss Lasqueti of the pet pigeons (and later, crucially, the owner of a gun) have an extra reason to be on board in the story. When Mr. Maappa departs the ship, Miss Lasqueti misses him, albeit in ambiguous terms, giving rise to speculation about a relationship between them. Were they soul mates? In observing the pigeon-lover following the departure of the jazz musician, Michael gains an insight greater than shallow gossip can provide: There was no more talk of Mr. Mazappa. Even from her. She kept to herself. Most afternoons I caught a glimpse of her in the shadows of B Deck, in a deck chair. She always had in her possession a copy of The Magic Mountain, but no one ever saw her reading it. Miss Lasqueti consumed mostly crime thrillers, which constantly seemed to disappoint her. I suspect that for her the world was more accidental than any book’s plot. Twice I saw her so irritated by a mystery that she half rose from the shadow of her chair and flung the paperback over the railing into the sea. Miss Lisqueti, you see, craved real experience. Real love. Men who presented a mystery—as certain novels also do—proved intolerable to her. They might as well go overboard, leaving the ship. And how telling it is that the novel which Miss Lisqueti owns but does not read is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, set in a tuberculosis sanitorium in Switzerland, and which arguably is itself episodic and is a mountain hospital of a novel peopled with patients representing Europe’s sickness and humanity’s maladies. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book similarly treats each discrete episode as a schoolroom of sorts for growing Bod. When Bod spends some time in the care of (at first) disagreeable Miss Lepescu, he—I’ll summarize—discovers a lot about ghouls. For one thing, they can eat anything without getting sick. When Bod’s main caretaker Silas returns from some time away, his main concern about Bod is not with regard to Bod’s safety in his absence, but rather with Bod’s education: Silas came back at the end of the month. He carried his black bag in his left hand and he held his right arm stiffly. But he was Silas, and Bod was happy to see him, and even happier when Silas game him a present, a little model of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was almost midnight, and it was still not fully dark. The three of them sat at the top of the hill, with the lights of the city glimmering beneath them. “I trust that all went well in my absence,” said Silas “I learned a lot,” said Bod, still holding his Bridge. He pointed up into the night sky. “That’s the Big Bear and her son, the Little Bear. That’s Draco the Dragon, snaking between them.” “Very good,” said Silas. “And you?” asked Bod. “Did you learn anything while you were away?” “Oh yes,” said Silas, but he declined to elaborate. “I also,” said Miss Lepescu, primly. “I also learned things.” “Good,” said Silas. An owl hooted in the branches of an oak tree. I ask you, what good is being a captive of ghouls if you don’t learn anything from it? And what good is scene in a novel without a point to make, or a chapter without a punch to the head? Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five feeds us the lessons of Billy Pilgrim’s life like drips running down an IV tube and into our veins. His novel is written in bursts, moments in Billy’s life and experience arriving not in chronological order, I think because there’s no linear way to make sense out of surviving the bombing of Dresden, let alone to apprehend the whole meaning of Billy’s psychedelic time-and-space leaps. The novel achieves its meaning by accretion, much like wet beach sand dripping down from your hands until the sand globs pile up into something resembling a castle. At one point in the novel, Billy is a POW being transported to captivity in a German train: Billy Pilgrim was packed into a boxcar with many other privates. He and Roland Weary were separated. Weary was packed into another car in the same train. … Germans were writing on the cars with blue chalk—the number of persons in each car, their rank, their nationality, the date on which they had been put on board. Other Germans were securing the hasps on the car doors with wire and spikes and other trackside trash. Billy could hear somebody writing on his car, too, but he couldn’t see who was doing it. Most of the privates on Billy’s car were very young—at the end of childhood. But crammed into the corner with Billy was a former hobo who was forty years old. “I’ve been hungrier than this,” the hobo told Billy. “I been in worse places than this. This ain’t so bad.” And so it goes. There’s always a different perspective. Vonnegut could have written that out plainly but it’s better that he didn’t. His narrative bursts accumulate, a building picture—by turns mundane or trippy—that add up to the horror of war, the banality and absurdity of life, and finally the terrible beauty of survival. It’s sometimes dry, other times dramatic, always disturbing and forever memorable. The Lessons So, what’s our takeaway today? What about episodic novels has application to other types of fiction, maybe yours? I suggest these thoughts for your consideration: Send your protagonist out of bounds, to places we readers normally don’t go whether far afield, outside the law or to face tests and earn triumphs such as only the heroes and heroines in stories can have. Make secondary characters each something special: unusual or even eccentric with weird habits and wild back stories. Secondary characters can be so gray and forgettable! Wouldn’t you rather sit at a circus than in a dentist’s waiting room? The latter group of patients may be true to life, sure, but the former clown riot is much more fun. Every scene in your manuscript can do more than simply advance the plot. Every scene is a layer cake of meaning, if you mix, bake, and decorate it that way. Seriously, why not? There we have it, some ways in which novels that shouldn’t work go about enthralling us years after they were first published. Is there a lesson in this for your WIP? Let us know. About Donald MaassDonald Maass (he/him) founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency. in New York in 1980. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011), Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012) and The Emotional Craft of Fiction (2019). He has presented hundreds of workshops around the world and is a past president of the American Association of Literary Agents (formerly AAR). Web | Twitter | Facebook | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  2. I’m thrilled to bring you today’s conversation/interview with debut author Harper Glenn. Harper and I met at the Writer’s Digest conference a few years back, and became fast friends. They’ve cheered me on when I’ve needed cheering, and I’ve cheered them right back. The way Harper spoke of their book idea and how it haunted them came to haunt me, too. “Harper Glenn tackles themes of class and poverty, policing and protest, with nuance and empathy. A chilling glimpse at our future, Monarch Rising asks what we owe to the places that raise us—and insists that the answer must always be based in hope.” —Kass Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of The 100 “Glenn’s impressive character-building presents a highly motivated, dynamically layered cast, driven by their respective trauma and desire for change.” – Publishers Weekly Please enjoy our deep-dive, free-style conversation, and thank you, Harper, for giving over so much time to it. It has been a pleasure. TW: I think I remember the story of your debut, and that something came to you in a dream. Is that right? Can you explain what that was that you remember? HG: Your memory is correct. :)…the concept for Monarch Rising came in a dream Fall 2016. In the dream, a young girl walked toward a forbidden bridge where a boy stood amazed, staring at her. “What are you doing?” the boy said. The girl wiped her tears. “I wanna see duh water.” “You need to go back.” the boy looked over his shoulder. “Why?” And then the boy said, “They’ll hang you if they catch you.” I woke up electrified, with chills, excited about the world I’d dreamt about. Who was this black girl? Who the hell was this white boy? Who was this “they” the boy referenced? And why the hell would they hang her for crossing a bridge? Why was she crying? I had to find out. That’s how Monarch Rising started. TW: Gives me chills, too! So let’s talk about how you did this a little bit, if that’s okay with you. How do you turn a dream snippet into a book? Sounds like the first thing you did was mentally create that list of questions, yes? Where did you go from there? Did you flesh out THAT scene? Answer any of those specific questions first? Or did you work out characters? HG: Everything begins and ends with questions. Questions ignite imagination. Imagination equates inspiration. And inspiration is everywhere. For Monarch Rising, inspiration started with a dream, and the questions that followed once I woke. But let’s say there wasn’t a dream or questions guiding inspiration.. how would I flesh out ideas? I select a memory, place, or thing and build a life around it. For example: I could write a story about Igne, a mafic rock. Igne’s nerdy sister is Chem. Igne’s reckless older brother is Canic. Where do Igne, Chem, and Canic live? On the upper mantle of Mars, socially suffocated by their strict parents, Sili-Ann and Intrusive Helium. Creativity is visible and invisible. So, focus on creating the world (grounded or imaginary). Envision the world so vividly, you can smell it, taste, touch it. Next, fill that world with extraordinary and eccentric, and sometimes nonsensical characters. And color the world around those characters. TW: You create interesting characters, and seem to have a clear gift for giving those characters the drive to spin story; it’s in their DNA. Like what you’ve done here—with our family on Mars; you’ve created not only questions, but possibilities for conflict in these simple descriptions: “Nerdy” could mean outwardly teased, internally anxious. “Socially suffocated” is fertile territory for story and character conflict. “Strict” gives us that sense that characters are pulling at the proverbial parental leash, or at least waiting for their moment to break free. “Sili” may not be a present parent, and may be a force of chaos for every story issue. “Intrusive” sounds like a big personality that cloaks every other character’s dreams, with the potential to being conflict to every conversation, no matter how small. Would you say that story begins with character for you, every time? Once you see the characters and the conflict that shines through those early impressions of who they are, how do you home in on the story? Does that intersection of story idea and character ripe for conflict emerge quickly, or is there navel gazing (for them) as the story becomes clear for you? Do you, as author, bring that intersection point? Do you drive your characters toward something you personally need to explore? HG: In Monarch Rising, once I knew who Jo and Cove were—I added characters/events that repelled or moved them closer to their internal and exterior goals. Story begins with character. Characters reveal the human condition and move stories forward. That movement needn’t be linear. It only matters that there’s authentic movement. Characters are real in my mind. They speak past my bed time. And their pulse presses my brain until I flesh them out on paper or screen. They’re real identities— and like real identities, characters struggle. They live, love, fight, laugh in every region of the world. That’s what I love the most about writing; making fictional characters imperfect creatures like humans. We humans are full secrets we’d never tell, stories never heard, and goals unreached. I’m fascinated by human emotion and jump at the chance to attach feeling(s) to characters. I do this because feeling it all is what it means to be human. And being human while creating books is what connects readers to characters, regardless of how strange those characters are. TW: What were the human emotions you wanted most to explore in Monarch Rising? And—if this isn’t too personal—were they emotions you wanted to explore in order to make sense of something in your own life, or is there a separateness between you/your life and the push-and-pull of your characters? HG: I wrote Monarch Rising to explore the complexities of love, before and after it happens, and the effects of poverty. Much like the character Jo, I grew up poor and wished for more. Monarch’s my love letter to my childhood as well as an anti-love/ love letter to love because… love transcends time. We need only close our eyes to touch how love brings joy, and sometimes, how love hurts. TW: Your book is called Monarch Rising, and it begs the question: Was metamorphosis central to the story? Did your Jo change? Did her thoughts about love change? And was this book cathartic for you? HG: Monarch is Jo’s last name. Growing up, I was a fan of little women—Josephine March, was the writer in me, the tom in me. Jo’s named after Alcott’s character. In regards to the title, Monarch Rising wasn’t the working title. It wasn’t the second, third, fourth or fifth title either. But beyond the title, and more@to@your question, yes, a metamorphosis takes place in both Jo & Cove’s character. I’d also say, while creating MR, a metamorphosis stirred in me. I was both Jo and Cove, battling a love hate relationship with myself—fighting depression w/ a broken heart. There was also an exploration of self. Being non-binary-non-trans, it was cool to write in different POV identities. TW: I know from a prior conversation with you that some of the characters in MR are queer. I love how stories can become a safe place to work through things we’re also grappling with in real life. Did these secondary characters explore their own identities through Cove’s and Jo’s stories? What do you think stood in the way of realizing either who they were or why they couldn’t be their true selves? And do you think their struggles, their realizations, can help other young adults? HG: In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll say MR is rich in diversity and queer identities. Representation is important in teen literature. Intersectionality is real–it’s like plot—complex with deep layers. For instance: I’m queer, African American, enby, non-trans, a daughter, a sibling, a buddhist, a friend, and an opera loving minimalist with XX chromosomes. I love science and reject rules forcing humans into societal or culturally configured boxes. I reject boxes because at any given time, I am everything and feel all the things. I do not speak for all LGBTQIA+ humans—never could. Every human experience is different, personal. Paths of gender identity are unique, winding. My own journey could look different in time. With that being said, all BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities share different but similar experiences. No matter how we comfortably identify, being human isn’t monolithic. Oftentimes, if folks don’t fit into definitions, they’re bullied, criticized, labeled, and pigeonholed. It happened to me as a kid. It isn’t cool, but I have compassion. Differences make some folks uncomfortable. For this very reason, variations of relationship dynamics, BIPOC identities, and queer representation are needed in publishing. It’s true, we’ve seen strides in publishing regarding diversity. There are amazing people in traditional publishing cultivating diverse voices, but there’s room to grow. The more diversity grows, the more kids and adults will see themselves inside pages on shelves. Collectively, we must break down the box. TW: Do you have thoughts on Intersectionality, and how that’s changed over the last few years? Are you seeing those walls coming down? Where do you see far more room for change? HG: Humans are complex creatures, We’re full of stories and experiences that stretch beyond gender, race, sexuality. We’re more than our trauma, more than labeled boxes social norms build. We are many great things. Love many ways. I’ve noticed more media, film and books showing the complexities of the human experience. I believe this representation connects us all. It proves were more alike than different. it shows there’s more love and kindness than hateful acts and unjust laws suggest. TW: What do you most want your readers to take away from reading Monarch Rising? What do you hope lingers after the final page? HG: I’ve read other authors respond to the “what do you want readers to get out of your book?” question, unsure of how I’d respond. But at this moment, I’d say the message to readers of every age is: Make the monster in your head your twin flame. So, hopefully, when the monster chants hurtful things like “You’re not good enough” or “Why don’t you just give up?’ The monster will shut up and listen when you respond, “Yes, I am” and “Why don’t you?” TW: What’s next for you? HG: All the things. More writing, more books, more reading, more joy, more meditation, more being, more peace… just all the things. Learn more about Harper Glenn and MONARCH RISING on Harper’s website, and by following them on Twitter and Instagram. About Therese WalshTherese Walsh (she/her) co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress, and orchestrates the WU UnConference. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot. Sign up for her newsletter to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub). Learn more on her website. Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  3. Taken as a whole, much of the most common writing advice is contradictory. Write what you know, but don’t make all your fiction thinly veiled autobiography. Write every day, but don’t reduce everything to routine. The area where I find these clashing the most lately? Say yes to everything… and don’t be afraid to say no. I’ve always struggled with taking on too much. Afraid of losing opportunities, afraid of not doing all I can to help my writing succeed, I often push myself too hard to my own detriment. Interestingly, the only time I found it easy to draw a bright line was when I started promoting my debut novel when my daughter was only three months old: I said yes to one bookseller show, but no to a second one a week later, because I knew there was no way I could manage the logistics of child care and my own exhaustion to cover both. Of course, that period passed. A year later I said yes to an evening event in Wisconsin when I had to be in Lafayette, Louisiana, by noon the next day. (It worked out, somewhat miraculously, involving an overnight stop in Kansas City.) Saying yes to too much burns you out. You can’t do all the interviews, write all the books, support all the launches, grant all the blurbs, give freely of your time and energy to all your writing colleagues, host all the events, attend all the conferences, judge all the competitions, contribute to all the anthologies, and so on. But saying no to the chance to do any of those things can feel like a terrible mistake. What if that anthology would have put you on the map? What if your friend feels betrayed that you can’t do a beta read on their novel this time around? What if the book that feels hardest for you to write could have been your biggest success? It’s a trap, either way. This is a different post than I usually write. I never pretend to have the all the answers, but I can usually offer some sort of framework, a few handy guidelines, on how to move forward. Today, I’ve got nothing. Unfortunately, deciding when to say yes and when to say no varies not only from person to person, but from opportunity to opportunity. Turning down an in-person event that requires travel is sometimes a fabulous choice and sometimes a genuine challenge; embracing the opportunity to support another writer with a beta read is often the right choice but occasionally the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So I don’t have any great guidelines here. But if you do, I’d sure love to hear them! Q: How do you decide when to say yes and when to say no? About Greer MacallisterRaised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her historical novels have been named Book of the Month, Indie Next, LibraryReads, Target Book Club, and Amazon Best Book of the Month picks and optioned for film and television. Her upcoming book, SCORPICA (as G.R. Macallister), is the first in the Five Queendoms series and her epic fantasy debut. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC. www.greermacallister.com Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  4. We usually wait to share book reviews for our interview days here at Writer Unboxed, but this morning our dear friend and one of my two extremely appreciated assistant editors, Vaughn Roycroft, received his first review. And I just can’t help but share it, and not just because I know how much heart and perseverance went into this series for Vaughn, but because I just can’t help but think YOU would also want me to share it as well. Bonus: The FINAL cover is revealed at the end. Email readers, you can access the YouTube video, titled, One of the best self-published fantasies I’ve read: Vaughn Roycroft’s The Severing Son, directly HERE. Enjoy! About Therese WalshTherese Walsh (she/her) co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress, and orchestrates the WU UnConference. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot. Sign up for her newsletter to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub). Learn more on her website. Web | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  5. “Many patients, in times of stress, will recount dreams haunted by images of their bodies falling apart. Sometimes they tell me stories of paralysis, or rotten extremities dangling by thin skeins of flesh. Most commonly, they talk about their teeth, painlessly and inexplicably falling from their gums. These dreams never fail to horrify their dreamers, and I can understand the discomfort in watching one’s parts detach. But never do these dreamers experience what it’s like to be the limb that rots away, to be the tooth that falls from the mouth.” Hiron Ennes’ debut novel Leech (2022) is a remarkable and original work of speculative horror. Essentially a novel about a mind-controlling parasite from the point of view of the parasite, Leech successfully combines elements of the gothic, body horror and post-apocalyptic science fiction to create something strange and new. Ennes’s creation draws from the New Weird of works like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (2014), and from the post-New Weird experimentation of works like Tade Thompson’s Rosewater (2016) and Aliya Whitely’s The Beauty (2014), in how its experimental narrative decentres the human experience, opening up a wider posthuman alien perspective. Ennes also effectively integrates traditional gothic motifs, given new and disturbing twists by dint of their strange context and Ennes’ febrile imaginings. Beyond all the possible comparisons though, Leech is striking for its stark originality, its willingness to use science fiction and horror to explore the very fringes of what the genre can do. I doubt I will read anything quite like it anytime soon. Leech is told from the perspective of the Interprovincial Medical Institute, its bland corporate name hiding that it is a hive mind parasite that has spent generations infecting young humans, controlling their brains and replacing all human physicians so that in return for providing medical care for humanity it will not be detected or fought against. When one of its bodies dies in mysterious circumstances, the Institute sends one of its bodies on the train from Inultus, the metropolis that houses its vast libraries, up to the frozen northern wastes of Verdira and the Baron’s forbidding castle to investigate. Once there, they discover that their predecessor succumbed to another parasite, a mass of black fungal tendrils enmeshed in the old doctor’s orbital socket which they name Pseudomycota emilia. Incubated in the wheatrock mines, the new parasite has been released and is spreading through Verdira, moving in on the Institute’s territory. As the winter grows ever more harsh and the inhabitants of the castle are isolated by the storms, the Institute’s body finds itself alone for the first time, fighting an implacable enemy as the web of lies and deceit holding the Baron’s family together begins to warp under the pressure. Soon they find themselves haunted by memories of their previous life as an individual human as the castle around them collapses into chaos. The mind-infecting parasite is an old science fiction trope, dating back at least as far as 1950s invasion narratives like Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951) and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1955). In these works, the parasites are a mysterious and threatening alien Other, something to be feared and destroyed. Ennes’ remarkable innovation in Leech is to write from the parasite’s perspective, giving the reader the inner thoughts and motivations of a terrifying hive-mind brain-controlling entity, and thus allowing us to think of it as a person. Ennes has clearly thought very deeply about how a multi-bodied hive mind organism would think and operate, and the Institute’s perspective is a fascinating one, able to converse with its various bodies in different parts of the world. Although it is a parasite, because we get its perspective we come to understand its concern for its own survival and evolution, and the strange affection it shows its patients and victims. This is contrasted with its body’s emerging memories of growing up as a young girl called Simone, suffering from epilepsy in the working class environs of Satgarden, before she was accepted into the Institute as payment for medical treatment. Ann Leckie similarly explored the hive mind Ancillaries in Ancillary Justice (2014), and protagonist Breq discovering their own individuality after existing as part of a hive mind, but Leech goes further, both in its depiction of hive consciousness and in the split between the Institute’s body and Simone as an individual. This dual perspective, with the Institute and Simone in conflict with each other throughout the novel, opens up a more-than-human perspective whilst celebrating the individual fragility of humanity. Leech is told from the perspective of an organism entrenched in that world, and as a result the reader is expertly fed pieces of information organically as they encounter them. As the novel progresses, you slowly build up a picture of this incredible, far-future post-apocalyptic world, in which human civilisation has collapsed following various disasters, including alien spaceships crashing from the sky, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves in a world populated by horrors like the Institute and Pseudomycota, as well as the wrecks of autonomous machines, still carrying out their mysterious purposes long after whoever programmed them has gone, and mythical nightmares like the ventigeaux that stalk the Verdiran wastes. The origins of the catastrophe and all the weirdness that has emerged as a side effect are obscured in time, resulting in myths and legends arising to explain them. Ennes expertly shows us this strange and frightening world through the eyes of the people who inhabit it and the stories they tell each other to make sense of their surroundings. Leech is also full of memorable characters, from the Institute and Simone through the Baron and his horrendous family to the inhabitants of Verdira who get caught up in the crossfire. The novel draws heavily on the gothic, particularly in the Baron’s haunted castle and his creepy granddaughters who can speak to the ghosts. The castle is haunted by the atrocities perpetrated by the Baron and his family in order to maintain control over the dangerous but profitable wheatrock mines, the various forms of coercive control they have exercised over generations to keep the people of Verdira risking life and limb in dangerous mines to increase their own personal wealth. In their own way, the Baron and his family are as much parasites as the Institute or Pseudomycota, without the surface gentility of the Institute’s medical expertise. Ennes brilliantly ties together these different forms of parasitism, colonialism and stealing of agency, using the Weird to tease out profound and uncomfortable parallels. Leech is a brilliant and uncompromising novel, one that heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in speculative fiction. I very much look forward to seeing what Ennes does next. The post LEECH by Hiron Ennes (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  6. You read that right. Not what are you reading, but who. To me, that subtle change reveals an ongoing seismic shift in reading and, by extension, in writing. Who an author is has come to matter intensely in what readers choose to read (or not to read). To be clear, this is not about a reader choosing a specific author’s books because of what they write—a preferred genre; a favorite topic or theme; a beloved story-telling style; the characters; the voice; the beauty of the writing. This is about a reader choosing a specific author’s books because of who that author is—their lived experiences, their personal characteristics, their opinions. Book selection based on an author’s identity has been the mainstay of non-fiction (particularly celebrity memoirs) for a long time, but it has been less of an influence in fiction. Until now. Readers now intentionally expand (or limit) their reading selections based on the perceived diversity or conformity of an author or on the perceived legitimacy of an author to write a specific story. In many cases, choosing who to read pulls readers out of their usual reading habits and boundaries. By altering reading patterns, this shift alters writing and publication patterns. It also alters the job of being a writer. It means that who the writer is, as a person, determines what stories that specific writer can credibly tell. A writer with a good story and a compelling life story can be vaulted into the limelight. On the other hand, social media responses to any perceived mismatch between author identity and story can be (and have been) astonishingly cruel. But if who an author is limits the stories they are allowed to tell, however they choose to tell it, then the line between fiction and reality has been sundered. If the work of art—the story–is no longer seen as separate from the creator of the art, writing becomes a matter of self-presentation and self-awareness as much as putting words on the page. This shift is not a bad thing. It is also not an unequivocally good thing. It can make new, once-silenced voices audible; but it can also limit what any one voice can say. It can break down barriers, encouraging readers to expand their author list, adding more diversity and variety. It also has the capacity to harden existing boundaries. What is less obvious is exactly what this shift will mean for writers. Writing is no longer just a job, not what you do; it’s who you are. The emphasis on author identity makes writing, all writing, inherently political and inherently personal. And in this age of polarization, there is no middle ground. No anonymous author. Pen names are no protection in this world of outing and social media policing. Writers become public figures. Unable to hide behind the scenes. I believe writers are aware of this shift, down to their very bones, and that it influences daily decisions about what to write, how to write it, and (consciously or subconsciously) how to defend it. Writing, while simultaneously trying to assess how your ‘authority’ to write any particular line, character decision, or story arc might be interpreted or misinterpreted by any number of interested social groups, is debilitating. Being proactive—writing intentionally to generate or provoke reactions—highlights the power of writing, but rarely plays out according to plan. The consequence: writers either become self-aware and intentional about who they are in public and private and how that matches what they write or risk dismissal or misinterpretation. One clear example of how this works is the ongoing public push-pull debate over whether ‘un-diverse’ authors can write about ‘diverse’ characters or the reverse. Google the phrases ‘white authors writing black characters’ and ‘black authors writing white characters’ and thousands of pages of discussion and advice on how it should or shouldn’t be done are overwhelming. If a writer is only able to write about personal experience, grounded in lived actuality, then are we left only with memoir? Or are all writers required to become scholars, exhaustively researching the ‘reality’ underlying their ability to tell a story? Is fiction dead? I am writing this piece because I think writers need to acknowledge this shift is happening, face it head on, and chart a course through it with intentionality. I have no absolute answers, but I am deeply aware how powerfully it has influenced my writing. It has made me want to be more sensitive and inclusive in how and what I write. It has made me fearful to do so. I have a blog for my nonfiction work that is about old hospitals, but I haven’t posted anything new in years. Partly because, well, life. But also partly because in writing about hospitals, I have to write about diversity – how persons of color were housed and treated differently. How doctors and nurses interacted with each other in sexist ways. And putting that out there, at this point in time, as a writer not representative of the groups under study, is intimidating. How much research do I need to support my ability to tell someone else’s story? Did I get it right? Is there a way I could get it right? But the bottom line remains: if I don’t tell the story, regardless of who says I can or can’t tell it, then it will remain untold. And that silence, that untelling, is not a writer’s choice. I’m not here to say whether this shift is going to make writing (and reading) more or less equitable, inclusive, influential, or transformative. I simply want to start a conversation (or at least spark some awareness) about what it means to be a writer in this day and age. Can a writer be someone who sends their work out into the world while remaining safely behind the scenes? Or is a writer out there in the world, waving their ‘freak flag’ or ‘normal flag’ high, standing next to their works and ready for all the public scrutiny and debate? And yes, that is a provocative and polarized contrast. Who do you want to be as a writer? And who will be your readers? How do you handle the issue of writing about characters that do not share your personal characteristics or backgrounds or experiences? About Jeanne KisackyJeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She is the author of the recently published book, Rise of the Modern Hospital: An Architectural History of Health and Healing, 1870-1940. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat. More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  7. Simon Crook has been a film journalist for over twenty years, visiting film sets and interviewing talent for Empire magazine. A new and exciting voice in domestic horror, he is perfectly placed to translate the recent successes of the genre from the silver screen to the written word – while adding something new and wholly his own. Social links: @sicrook on Twitter Welcome to the Hive, Simon. Firstly congratulations on your debut Silverweed Road. Can you tell us all about it, what can readers expect? Silverweed Road is a horror short story collection set on a cursed street in Kent. The pitch I originally sent HarperVoyager was ‘A New Horror Behind Every Door’, and that logline ended up on the book’s front cover. It’s a real Devil’s pick and mix – the ten horror stories range from were-foxes to predatory swimming pools, mutant cuttlefish to cursed rings, vengeful urns to demonic jackdaws, plus a darts player who makes a deal with the Devil himself. I guess what sets it apart from the standard anthology format is the way the stories link together: characters and events interweave, turning the street into this weird horror eco-system. Silverweed exists in its own little purgatory, itching between classic horror anthology and a splintered novel. What can readers expect? Horror. Weirdness. Madness. Laughter. Fear. Chills. And hopefully, an unsettling sense that anything can happen. I tend to see the horror genre as a booby-trapped playground. Of all the genres, it’s the most unpredictable. Definitely the most fun to write. Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world! Oh, God. The idea of listening to music while I’m writing brings me out in hives. I’m blessed and cursed with the hearing of a bat. Play me a tune, and I can pretty much instantly play it on piano, so if music’s playing as I write, my brain will start analysing the bass line, the hi-hat or whether the guitar is panned right or left. If I do listen to anything, it’s white noise. But not any white noise. It has to be a 10-hour track on YouTube called Celestial. The monotonous blur sharpens the focus. Admittedly, it sounds like a ghost yawning, but it works for me. Other than that, it’s good old-fashioned graft. I’ve been a magazine journalist since I was 24, and deadlines have to be met, whether you feel like writing or not. I’ll drag my feet, like everyone else, but with procrastination comes guilt, and that drags you back to the desk. When I’m writing a feature, I’ll always outline, and it’s the same for fiction. Writing’s an act of discovery, but rather than grope around in the dark, I like to light the path ahead so at least I know where my story is going. Having said that, I’m a big fan of the William Gibson Method: if isn’t happening, have a nap. A brief nap does wonders for your subconscious: it seems to magically untangle any problems. Don’t just take it from me. Salvador Dali used to go to sleep on a chair, holding a spoon with a bucket by his feet. The moment he entered a woozy dream state, his hand would relax and the spoon would drop, hit the bucket, the clang would wake him up and he’d start painting. His weirdest, darkest, most surreal art were all created in that fuggy waking-dream state. So, yeah, naps. Naps and coffee. Lots of coffee. Speaking of worlds, what initially inspired you to write a collection of horror stories set on a cursed street in Britain? Were there any particular spooky experiences or favourite urban myths which you always planned to write about from the beginning? This goes right back to my childhood. Late at night, during Christmas, the BBC would air horror films in the late-night slot – either classic Hammer or an Amicus anthology. I was a mutinous little tyke back then, so I’d sneak out of bed and watch them while everyone else was asleep. It’s like a Proustian nightmare, I guess: I’ve never shaken off the sense that horror feels forbidden. Silverweed Road was inspired by those Amicus portmanteaus, and a genuine love of horror short stories. My Damascus moment was less about the stories than where to contain them. Once I realised a street had never been used as a horror anthology location, I knew I was onto something. Silverweed Road is a real street on a housing estate, by the way, close to where I grew up. All the roads are named after obscure plants with really peculiar folklore connotations: Yarrow Road, Speedwell Avenue, Valerian Way and, of course, Silverweed Road. That struck me as weirdly magical: this otherwise banal suburban estate with these vaguely occult street names. But then Kent is weird and ancient, especially the Medway Towns. Everywhere you turn, there’s a ghost story lurking. Seen at a certain angle, the Garden of England resembles a graveyard. Rochester’s Coopers Arms, where I used to drink, is home to a monk who was walled-up alive. Mote Park, where I used to play, is haunted by a girl in a white nightdress. And most notorious of all, less than a mile from Silverweed Road, is Bluebell Hill: the most haunted highway in Britain. There’s been over 50 sightings of its hitchhiking phantom – most often a bride, soaked in rain – who begs a lift only to vanish from the backseat. I was obsessed with that story as a kid. Ok, remind me never to visit these places! *shivers* It gets weirder though. At the bottom of Bluebell Hill is Kits Coty: a neolithic long barrow that predates Stone Henge and is said to be haunted by a trio of witches. All of those legends seeped into me as a child, and helped shape the curse that wrecks Silverweed Road. I love that idea: that wherever we walk, others have walked before, and their dark histories creep up from the pavements. If you had to be transported into one of your own stories, which would you choose and how do you think you would fare? Nice! So you’re basically asking me to imagine my own death?! Practically every story ends with a horrific fatality. Well you know, it is the spooky season after all, we had to get a touch macabre with our questions! I definitely wouldn’t want to end up like poor Cleo Marsh in ‘The Pool’, or Leo Harbinger in ‘Dust’. I’m obsessed with cuttlefish, so Erik Akoto’s experimental aquarium appeals… until I think about what happens to him. No, it would have to be ‘Darts With The Devil’. Darts is sorely underrepresented in literature – aside from Martin Amis’ London Fields, I can’t recall it ever appearing in fiction, and I love the sport. I used to be pretty handy with the arrows in my youth, but I’m a solid 26-er nowadays. So the idea of a darts player making a Faustian pact to hit any number he likes was basically wish-fulfilment. As long as I don’t the suffer fate, I’ll take Terry Slater’s demonic darting superpower. Can you tell us a bit more about your characters? Did you have a favourite character you particularly enjoyed writing? Or one you found the most difficult to craft? OK, so here’s the thing with short stories. Unlike novels, it’s the plot that drives the story, not the character. Clive Barker said it best. When he wrote Books Of Blood, he didn’t care what his protagonist had for breakfast. What mattered was the set-up, the horror, then the twist. It sounds counter-intuitive and arse-over-elbow, but you plot first, then throw in a character best (or least equipped) to deal with the horror. That’s where the fun starts. Augustus Fry, the antagonist in ‘Caught Red-Handed’, was a scream to write: a pompous, greedy antiques grifter who gets his comeuppance when he all but steals a cursed ring. He was basically late-stage capitalism made flesh, so I went full-scale Roald Dahl-villain with him. I find anger, especially masculine anger, both terrifying and perversely funny so a lot of Silverweed’s residents have lost control before the horror even starts (a classic example would be my irascible gardener, Victor Hagman, in ‘The Jackdaw’). Oh yes, Victor had some serious anger issues! I suppose Silverweed Road is a world without heroes: all of the characters are tragic, scarred or deeply flawed, so I still feel a pinch of guilt for putting my gentler residents – Shanta Kapoor in ‘Crash Flowers’, Cleo Marsh in ‘The Pool’ – through the mill. I’m equal opportunities when it comes to horror, but it’s very much by design the smartest characters in the book are all women. Who (or what) have been your most significant horror influences? Are there any creators who inspired you the most in Silverweed Road? I avoided reading any fiction while I was writing Silverweed Road – I didn’t want to risk inviting any influence. What I DID read in-between stories was poetry – specifically, Philip Larkin. Larkin has this supernatural talent for painting incredibly vivid images in very few words, and was a crucial reminder in the power of economy. Short stories are a very direct discipline, so if I ever felt I was getting verbose or too indulgent, I’d inhale some Larkin to snap me out of it. That said, there’s bound to be an element of subconscious influence on the stories. I’ve since realised ‘Caught Red-Handed’ was channelling MR James, and I adore Ramsay Campbell and Clive Barker, so their influence is probably lurking in there somewhere. How do you feel your experience as a film journalist, particularly in the horror cinema genre, has helped shape you as a writer? And I have to ask, who was the most interesting celebrity you have interviewed? (Was it Kermit the Frog?!) Ha! Oh, Kermit. I spent a day at the Tower Of London, where a Muppets film was being shot. I met Kermit in the Muppets storeroom, with all these spare body parts everywhere, like a Muppet Chainsaw Massacre. Kermit’s ‘helper’, the puppeteer Steve Whitmire, sat down with me in full view, Kermit on his lap with his black arm stick visible, and I thought, well that’s the magic gone. The moment Kermit spoke, Whitmire vanished, and somehow, I was talking to a frog. It was pure Muppet voodoo. We chatted about chicken visas, Kermit’s favourite road (the A40 [Editor: AGREED. The Welsh bits anyway]), the tuxedo he was wearing (“The size is Extra Spindly”). Kermit is real and I’ll take those 50 magical minutes to the grave. Everyone should have a go. There should be walk-in Kermit booths on the streets. Oh this is brilliant!! I’d love to meet Kermit! Whenever I visit a film set for Empire, I talk to everyone – from the carpenters to the costumers – because everyone has a story and everyone is interesting. Despite being a film journalist for 20 odd years, it still feels a bit vulgar and name-droppy talking about it, but I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people while they’re working on set. Jeff Bridges sat sketching me while we chatted. I spent a day hanging out with Jack Black (very chilled and the opposite of his screen persona). Michael Caine is a walking anecdote machine. David Cronenberg is a big softie and one of the smartest people alive. Interviewing Mike Leigh is like going into battle and Ray Winstone made me laugh so hard I choked on one his toffees. This will disappoint the easily scandalised, but apart from Miss Piggy, I’ve never met anyone you’d class as ‘Difficult’. As for writing Silverweed Road – I live and breath horror cinema but I consciously avoided ‘borrowing’ film imagery. The book is, for my sins, the product of my own weird imagination. I guess the transformation scene in the were-fox story, ‘The Vanslow Fox’, was a warped homage to An American Werewolf In London, and the burning wallpaper in ‘Caught Red-Handed’ was inspired by the hotel corridor sequence in Barton Fink. Otherwise, that’s it. I’m a visual writer, so art played a far more important role. ‘The Pool’ was inspired by a Mark Rothko painting, and Goya’s Ghostly Vision inspired the grimoire in ‘The Mogon’. As for the jackdaws, that comes from real-life. One winter, every day for two months, a flock of jackdaws would fly directly over the house during twilight. It was an amazing spectacle – so many jackdaws, the sky would actually go dark. I’ve never forgotten it, and they ended up in the book. I guess I was plagiarising nature. We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying? All of the above. There’s that old chestnut: ‘writing is rewriting’, but I think there’s more to it than that. You have to play the Man With Two Brains. When you’re writing, you’re inviting your subconscious to take control. Editing is more like the Ice Bucket Challenge: your brain splashes from its waking-dream state and your analytical side kicks in. Just knowing they’re two entirely different processes is part of the battle. And it is a battle: you’re basically at war with your past self, and it takes guts (and time) to admit where you’ve gone wrong. ‘Kill your babies’ is a brutal saying all writers are familiar with – most often, that will involve sacrificing a finely sculptured paragraph you’ve chipped at for months. If it slows down the pace, it’s probably self-indulgent and begging for a mercy killing. Editing wise, there was a fair bit of benevolent butchery involved. The original manuscript had 14 stories, but the deadline was looming, and it felt right to kill a few tales and focus on the survivors. The biggest change came with the final draft. I’d originally kicked off the anthology with an opening statement from Detective Chief Inspector Heath. My editor suggested we make the detective a regular character, either introducing each story or providing a footnote at the end, so I went for the latter. Editing isn’t always about the red pen: it’s about adding stuff too. It was a genius suggestion from my very smart editor, and despite the extra work, a scream to write. DCI Heath’s post-script really glued the story world together (most of his theories are wrong about the culprit behind each story, so it had the added bonus of making the reader feel smart). This one is just fun and is one of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why? Ha! OK… I’d ride on the back of Medusa, wielding a sledgehammer. She can turn the enemies to stone, and I can demolish them. And if that doesn’t pan out, there’s always Kermit The Frog as back-up. Kermit for the win!! Haha! Tell us about a horror book you love. What should our readers add to their Halloween TBR? Haunted house novels are a spooky season staple aren’t they? If you want something modern, I’d recommend Anne River Siddons’ The House Next Door in a heartbeat. And if you’re after something more gothic, try Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece The Haunting Of Hill House. I’ve genuinely lost count how many times I’ve read her novel. “God! Whose hand was I holding?” is, for my money, the scariest line in literature. Horror short stories are my wheelhouse, obviously, so the list of recommendations would fill the internet. In terms of Pleasure Shivers, you can’t beat MR James, but I’ll go for a story a little less celebrated: Marghanita Laski’s ‘The Tower’. I turned pale as milk the first time I read that. As for me, I’ll likely be re-reading Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood this Halloween. Six volumes. Thirty stories. All of them black gold. It’s the apex predator of horror anthologies. What’s next for you, Simon? Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Have you any upcoming projects which you can share? Oh, I’ve got a bunch of horror projects on the burn – and something Silverweed Road-related that could be quite fun. Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual or in-person events our readers may be interested in? There are radio interviews and podcasts lined up, and some fun tie-in features for Time Out and The Guardian. And I’m really looking forward to an event with the brilliant CJ Tudor. It’s quite freakish: both of us have horror anthologies out on the same day, both of us have gnarly trees on the cover and, even spookier, both of us have a story called ‘Dust’ in our collections. CJ’s a legend, so chatting horror with her will be a giggle and an honour. It’s funny, really: in terms of horror, the publishing world has lagged about five years behind TV and cinema, where the genre’s still experiencing a second golden age. With brilliant writers like Paul Tremblay, CJ Tudor and Catriona Ward getting their due, I sense a dark tide rising, and a growing appetite for literary horror. Fingers and eyes crossed, the future is black. Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing? If just one Silverweed story results in a creepy Pleasure Shiver, then I’ve done my job. Thank you so much for joining us today! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Stay shivery. Silverweed Road is out today from HarperVoyager. You can find a copy HERE The post Interview with Simon Crook (SILVERWEED ROAD) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  8. It is a truth universally acknowledged, a reader in possession of a platform must be in want of an opinion. As news desks covering books have disappeared, book bloggers and bookstagrammers and booktokers have proliferated. As such, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to see some really mean comments about your book. But chin up, because the reality is? There have always been people who hated your book. In a different generation, they just wouldn’t have had an easy way to let you know they hated it. And while that might not seem like much of a silver lining, then let this be: there are also people who love it and will talk about it so much you’ll wonder who, exactly, is paying them. So, this is the way of things now, for better or worse. But whether the social media reviews are good or bad, it’s the volume of them that can feel particularly relentless. Your publisher wants them to be relentless. Relentless is a good thing in this ecosystem of content attention. Yet for all the good it may ultimately do, we should at least acknowledge that it’s different. That authors today are dealing with something authors yesterday did not: the presumption of access. And its corollary: the feeling that your reader is now looking over your shoulder. So here are some things that help me navigate all that (when I remember to take my own advice): No book is universally beloved so stop trying to write one that is. Because of my day job, I get tagged in reviews of other writer’s audiobooks. Sometimes I’m tagged even when the author isn’t, because while the reviewer liked my performance, it’s a bad review of the book (and the good reviewers have learned not to tag the author in negative reviews – seriously, what HEROES). So let me tell you: books you may think are universally beloved? Aren’t. There is some corner of social media that hates them. One of my favorite moments in one of my favorite movies, The Big Sick, has Ray Romano’s character utterly baffled by internet opinions: “This is why I don’t want to go online, ‘cause it’s never good. You go online, they hated Forrest Gump. Frickin best movie ever.” Even if you, in your social media bubble, have seen only positive posts about these books, trust me, if you scroll through the comments, you will inevitably see that someone has written: “oh, I’m so glad you liked it! I’ve heard such mixed things.” Whaaaat? you will think. Where? The internet. That’s where. Universally beloved books don’t exist. No one has ever written one. You will never write one. So you don’t have to try to! Your opinion is just as valid as theirs. Roland Barthes argued that once a text is out in the world, the author, for all intents and purposes, is dead. That their opinion of the work they’ve created is no longer more valid than that of any reader. That’s a tough pill to swallow. After all, we are the final arbiters of right or wrong interpretations of our work. If a reader fundamentally misunderstands something about, say, our plot, then they are, objectively, wrong. But that doesn’t mean their opinion of the work is wrong. And in turn, that certainly doesn’t mean that our opinion of our work is wrong. In fact, I would argue – and I did – it’s the only thing that matters (see my previous post about only competing with yourself). Some people are just miserable. In my experience, most reviewers understand how to say something that reflects their personal, subjective experience. “This book wasn’t the right fit for me.” “I just didn’t connect with it”. The ones who are vitriolic and have zero self-awareness (“this book is trash!!” “worst book ever written!!!”) are not to be taken seriously, the same way we don’t take seriously those same people in the real world. They are misanthropic and tedious on Instagram, just as they are in life. Would you let this kind of person offer their unsolicited opinion about your wife, your kid, your job? Realize this is a them problem, not a you problem. Have boundaries around whose words you take to heart. If you can’t stick to your boundaries, then control your interaction. Goodreads is for readers, not authors. We all know that, right? So what are you doing on there? Can’t keep up with Facebook comments? You don’t actually have to. Overwhelmed by Instagram? Don’t let people tag you. Seriously. I know authors who have changed their settings to prevent people from tagging them. When they’re ready – if they ever are – to see what’s being said about their book, they will search for the hashtag. Or, a heretical proposal: you could delegate a friend to send you only the good posts. Now, some people will argue, well, if you’re going to read the good reviews you should also read the bad. Why? Please, explain that to me. The time for notes and critiques has passed. The book is done. Anything you may learn from bad reviews can only be applied to the next book and that’s like trying to divine from tea leaves what the weather will be tomorrow. Besides, if you’re anything like me, no one’s going to think there’s more wrong with your book than you already do. In my opinion, we all have to believe we’re writing for a reason. That all this work is worth it. So if you only want to read reviews that make you feel like it actually is worth it, then do that. Fill your boot, man. Whatever gets you back at the desk. For that reason, I love this post by Therese Walsh and I think about the phrase “protect the flame” at least once a week. You didn’t write the book for the people who don’t like it. Intellectually, we know this. But when we’re slogging our way through a draft, spending years on this thing, it’s not, uhhhh, fun when people don’t like it. Oh, it isn’t personal? Of course it’s personal! It’s my heart and my brain and my guts and my time on this earth poured onto those pages about which your review just said, “I mean… meh?” As a writer, actor, and artist in general, I long ago learned you can’t please everyone. How could you? No one book (or performance or song or painting) can be for everyone. When you aim for that, you get books that don’t take risks, that don’t say anything new, don’t challenge. And guess what happens then? There will still be people who don’t like it. Why? Because it’s derivative. They’ve seen it a million times before. The goal is not, nor should it be, to “write for everyone.” It should be, I think, to write for someone. And on that note… The final thing I’ll leave you with is that something social media does not celebrate is the magic of dumb-luck timing. So much energy goes into ARC reviews, then launch week, then the first month on-sale. But books continue to live and some of my favorite posts are the ones that happen 8 months, 14 months, 2 years after pub. When someone picked it up at a Little Free Library in a vacation town, or their cousin’s coworker’s sister gave it to them at a bachelorette weekend, or they saw another post where someone said, “I’ve heard such mixed things” and they thought, well, I’ll be the judge of that. I’m truly mystified by how books find readers at the right time. Your book can be just what someone needed. And the same person, had they read it last year, or right after they broke up with their boyfriend or, hell, right after they fell in love with their new boyfriend, wouldn’t have liked it. They weren’t ready for it then. What we like isn’t static. When we were kids, we didn’t like brussels sprouts. Now, we may crave them. Crisped up, with a little balsamic glaze and bacon? Freakin best vegetable ever. That’s who you’re writing for. Some future version of someone. You’re writing for an audience you can’t know, at a time you can’t predict. It’s some real message-in-a-bottle stuff. That’s what social media is like to me: making a wish, taking aim, and watching whose shore your book washes up on. Question: Have you had the experience of reading a book and not liking it, then picking it up again at a different time and it’s like a new book? About Julia WhelanJulia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator of over 500 titles. Her performance of her own debut novel, the internationally best-selling My Oxford Year, garnered a Society of Voice Arts award. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director, a former writing tutor, a half-decent amateur baker, and a certified tea sommelier. Her forthcoming book, Thank You for Listening--about a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator who has lost sight of her dreams and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel--releases in August, 2022. Web | Twitter | Instagram | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  9. Everard Took returns with a new set of walks, starting with a visit to the Barrow-downs and Prancing Pony. Our stuffy guide once more reveals his love of the landscapes of Middle-earth, but he is also preoccupied by a suspicious loss… Kai Greenwood (@LostDunedan) A long, circular route starting at the village of Bree and taking in the ancient ruins on the old downs. Distance: 13 miles Difficulty: Moderate, long distance and some small hills to climb Dangers: Fog can descend quickly. The wights are gone however, (although the author bears no responsibility etc etc). It is the dawning of the Fourth Age. Four hobbits set out on a quest beyond all imagining, and succeeded against the odds in destroying the one ring. Sauron is defeated, and King Elessar has taken his rightful place on the throne of Gondor. The orcs are gone, fear is gone, and peace and prosperity is promised for all Middle-earth! Truly we live in a blessed Fourth Age! Which is all very well, but it isn’t going to help me find my missing notebook. Now, I swear I had it stowed safely in my backpack whilst going on this latest series of walks, yet when I went to check some old notes, it was gone. Most perplexing, (and I suspect foul play), but please keep an eye open for it. Thank you, kind readers. Anyway, welcome back to this new series of walks around Middle-earth in which I will be venturing far(ish) and wide(ish). This trail begins in Bree, at the Prancing Pony Inn (1). Stroll through the town and out of the south gate, pass over the causeway and follow the lane between the fields. You will soon see a footpath that cuts west across common land to meet the ancient North Road, the Greenway, with its cobbles overgrown with grasses and dandelions. It is not these cobbles that we have come to see, but other stones far more dramatic. In the west rise the Barrow-downs, topped with tombs and menhirs from the ancient Kingdom of Cardolan. What was once a peaceful resting place of men became for years a fearful, shunned land, infested by cold-hearted wraiths known as Barrow Wights. Few who entered these downs returned, and those who did were said to be changed, carrying a shard of terror in their souls for ever more. These days though, it’s a lovely place for a stroll. Follow the well-worn path between Skull Mound and Goby Ridge (as the hobbits of Bree have named them). This track, trodden by the curious, leads directly to the Great Barrow (2). The tomb is open, and though all burial goods have been removed, the wight that Frodo encountered here is also gone, so pay your respects to the Last Prince of Cardolan and then amble northwest to the Sunken Circle (3). Now, I am not one to cast aspersions, but how Frodo et al got so lost at this point in their journey is beyond me. The gateway to the downs, a clear gap between two steep-sided hills, is due north of this place, and even in a fog it isn’t difficult to find. If you want to find a pea in your porridge, just poke your finger in, as my Isobel used to say! Still, all was well in the end for Master Frodo, so no harm done. What Frodo should have known is that moss, growing on the side of the standing stone, shows us the direction we need to go! Follow the moss (or your compass) northwards to pass over the ruined Cardolan boundary ditch (4) and onwards to the East Road (5). Ah, the East Road! There is something comforting about setting a hairy foot on this ancient route. It runs for miles beyond the northern reaches of the Old Forest, past Buckland, over the Brandywine… to home. How many hobbits have walked this road? How many ponies, and dwarves, and men? More importantly, how many barrels of Prancing Pony Ale have made the journey to ease hobbit thirsts in Bucklebury and Bywater and Brockenborings? A de-sobering thought. The Shire is a long way off though, too far for today. Turn instead to the east where the lights of Bree will be visible between the poplars that line the road. Brightest amongst them are those of the Prancing Pony Inn. Many a weary traveller has looked with relief upon this view after the slog through the wilds. I can imagine the pleasure the lights must give them, the promise of a warm bed and a dry roof and a full tummy. There’ll be no peaceful night’s sleep for me though. Not until I find my bloody notebook. Yours, Everard Took Read more at www.kaigreenwood.com Twitter: @LostDunedan Text and Maps © Kai Greenwood 2022 The post Walking Middle-Earth: The Barrow-downs appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  10. “All Marriages possess their own tongue. It is a lexicon discovered in that space between clipped sentences. Its poetry can be heard in the rustle of blankets as you shift to curl around the other in silent apology. In this way, I spoke to my wife. I let the slow drag of my thumb along her jaw say what I could not.” The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is the debut adult novel by Roshani Chokshi and is my first foray into her work, to say that I was impressed would be an understatement, I was utterly blown away. This is a tale of horror and beauty, of broken promises and cracked dreams, of loss and loneliness, it is an addictive tale which vividly captures the dangers of fantasy and reality. Our story begins with a fairytale romance as our first protagonist, known only as Bridegroom, meets and falls head over heels in love with a mysterious heiress—Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. Their attraction is impulsive, heady, and in no time at all the Bridegroom and Indigo marry, and promise to live happily ever after…on one condition. Our Bridegroom must never look into Indigo’s past, he must never delve into her secrets. For a spell, the Bridegroom is content to spend his days devoted to wife and delighted to be in her presence. They expand and build upon the Casteñada hotel empire together, visiting countries all over the world, spending nights in castles sharing wine, food and telling fairy tales of old. Yet when Indigo receives a call informing her that her estranged aunt is dying, the pair must travel to Indigo’s childhood home, the House of Dreams. Within the walls of this house is where our Bridegroom wavers, where the temptation to pry into Indigo’s life becomes too great, for the House knows her secrets and the House wants to reveal. You see Indigo was not the only one who inhabited the House of Dreams, another presence was also felt, that of Azure, Indigo’s childhood friend who mysteriously vanished. As the narrative unfolds our Bridegroom becomes entangled in a web of fantasy and reality, where either one could destroy him. In essence The Last Tale of the Flower Bride centres on obsession and complex relationships where dependency, possessiveness and insecurities dwell within each character. When Indigo and our Bridegroom first meet their chemistry is instant, intoxicating, full of passion and lust. We spend many chapters watching their marriage flourish over the years, and it is as beautiful as it is deeply intense, but as the whirlwind dies-down we see a sourness creep in, a darkness. It begins to show that Indigo has a very controlling air about her, forever watchful of her bridegroom, an incessant need to know where he is and what he’s been doing. The Bridegroom is passive, treading carefully around his wife, fearful to upset their serenity, though in secret he searches to uncover Indigo’s past, but he also searches to uncover the truth of his own, for over the years the memory of his brother has haunted him, a brother who he was told never existed. I loved the way Chokshi built up the unsettling atmosphere throughout the beginning, the way she weaves romance with subtle dominance, and the foreboding sense that all was about to unravel. I also found it interesting that our Bridegroom’s name is hidden, almost as though his identity is insignificant, as though his name held no power, but then this is also not his story alone, it is more the story of Indigo and Azure. As the chapters then alternate between the present timeline with the bridegroom, and Azure’s POV which centres on her and Indigo’s childhood, we switch to a coming of age narrative, which I have to say is one of my absolute favourites. Azure’s life prior to meeting Indigo was one of poverty, broken parental relationships and a step-father with lingering eyes. Resentment, loneliness and fear builds, and it is easy to see why Azure becomes so enchanted by Indigo and the House of Dreams. The House becomes a place of luxury, safety and comfort to Azure, it speaks to her in a language of sounds and feelings. Indigo and Azure’s days together are filled with silk dresses and tea, spells and sacrifices, of believing in faeries and magic and the ethereal. They are whimsical, endearing and their story was filled with such a comforting sense of nostalgia as Chokshi perfectly captures the moment where children believe in magic and possibilities with their very soul. These two young girls became inseparable. Where did Azure begin and Indigo end? “The magic was nothing so tangible as a crystal glass or an uttered incantation. It lay in how the House decanted the light, the aristocratic lines of the shadows cast on the floor. The magic was the spark in her brown eyes, rendering them an animal shade of amber. The magic was this: the supple sorcery of Indigo’s words, such that your own hand became a blade you eagerly welcomed.” In the grounds of The House of Dreams, Azure and Indigo share a place they call the Otherworld, a place they believed would take them away from the mundane and transport them into the magical. Yet as both girls grow older, Indigo clings to this idea like a lifeline, whilst Azure begins to notice the world outside. Throughout the book Chokshi illustrates that Indigo has a manipulative side to her, on appearances everyone is drawn in by her beauty, her aurora, yet as more of herself is revealed the more we see a darkness within, a certain kind of cruelty, which progressively heightens. Chokshi superbly executes the transition from innocence of childhood to something more sinister. I also loved the way Chokshi freckled the narrative with fairytales throughout, some of which were familiar to me and some new, but they were effectively used to punctuate the narrative that was unfolding, often foretelling the upcoming dangers. Princesses, maidens, old crones, and monsters, the motif of starlings and apple blossoms, ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever afters’ were all present in this novel, but they were wrapped up in disguises and deceit. Chokshi plays with the concept of fairytales in the most darkly delicious ways, representing their beauty, their whimsy, their ideals and even their gruesome horror. I could not help but see comparisons to Alix E Harrow’s works, and damn did I love that. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride reads like a spellbinding gothic fairytale, enveloped in dreamy poetic prose and enigmatic characters. This is a book you’ll want to devour and savour, a book you won’t be able to put down until the final act leaves you in awe. “We are two blues, the neat seam of dusk and dawn. We share a sky, if not a soul, and yet we are cut of the same shades.” ARC provided by Kate at Hodder and Stoughton Books. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is due to be released 16th February 2023 but you can pre-order your copy HERE The post THE LAST TALE OF THE FLOWER BRIDE by Roshani Chokshi (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive. View the full article
  11. Therese here to introduce a heartfelt community post regarding a friend and guest of Writer Unboxed who needs our help now. It begins with a personal plea on her behalf, authored by her husband, continues with actionable steps you can take to help, authored by former WU contributor Allison Larkin, and finishes with a infographic that you can use and share to help other authors in general. Thanks for reading, and for sharing, WU community! Your support is very much appreciated. Click the photo group above to be taken to a social media page filled with downloadable pictures you can share over Instagram or other social media sites! Tuesday is a special day in the world of traditional publishing, because it’s the day that a whole lot of books are released into the world for the first time. These books represent a mammoth effort for those authors, as we who write story understand, as well as the publishing house that releases that book. Every book has an ideal plan — a unique collaboration involving the author, the publicist and marketing team, and important peripheral groups, from stores to clubs, that sign on early as a book’s champion. But ideals rarely go off without a hitch, because reality brings chaos and chaos can be catastrophic. Especially when the author herself can no longer participate in a book’s release. Such is the case this month–today–with longtime friend, supporter, and guest of Writer Unboxed, author Ann Mah. Ann’s story in her husband’s words: My wife, Ann Mah, always fights hard against what writers call dull thud day — that day when their new books hit stores and sites with little fanfare, an anticlimax. She pushes for her own books, of course, but also for books by authors like her who must do so much on their own to promote their work. Ann’s new novel, “Jacqueline in Paris,” comes out September 27. Because of a serious sudden illness, she can’t make the case for it, not online or in person. It is a great book. I would be deeply grateful if you faithful unboxed writers could help me spread the word. “Jacqueline in Paris” tells the story of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’ junior year abroad in Paris in 1949-50 — a year she described as the happiest in her life. Ann immerses us in Jackie’s feelings and thinking as she encounters France’s postwar awakenings and reckonings. Her experiences unfold against the backdrop of Paris, which Ann depicts vividly and from the viewpoint of an attuned resident — the scents of fir trees and coal smoke on the street before Christmas; the dusty Roman amphitheater tucked behind a bus stop. Ann also captures the intellectual and geopolitical ferment that made life in Paris and other European capitals so intense in the immediate postwar period. The book grew from a travel story Ann wrote for The New York Times about Jackie’s time in Paris as a student — but she knew there was more to explore. Ann researched the novel with the energy and rigor of a historian, going horseback riding in the Bois de Boulogne as Jackie did, enjoying tea with Jackie’s 90-something host sister, visiting Dachau as Jackie did. The result is a book that is as transporting as it is absorbing. Writing “Jacqueline in Paris” struck a personal chord for Ann. Like Jackie, Ann took chances and moved far from home at a young age (in Ann’s case, to Boston and then New York from Orange County, California), defying family expectations. Like Jackie, Ann felt her time living in Paris transformed her, made her bolder and more confident. The sexism Jackie faced resonates even 70-plus years later and animates Ann’s (and my own) efforts to make a positive difference in our work. Ann also wound up marrying a public servant (me), although our style is more home-a-lot than Camelot. Ann loathes self-promotion, like so many writers I’ve met during my lifetime, so I am unsure how successful she would be getting the word out about “Jacqueline in Paris.” My hope is that the quality and integrity of this work will generate the high level of interest it merits. But I love Ann too much to leave it to chance. I hope you will help me defeat the dull thud and create a shooting star instead. – Chris Klein, Ann Mah’s husband Thank you, Chris, for sharing Ann’s story with us, and for helping us to help Ann! Today’s post continues with our good friend and former WU contributor, author Allison Larkin, who shares Six Ways to Support Ann Mah’s New Book! Authors support authors. That’s what we do. You all know this because that’s the power of Writer Unboxed. Ann Mah is always a gracious supporter of other authors and creatives. She tweets, posts, retweets, and champions the books, articles, and recipes she loves in her thoughtful newsletter. Ann is such a bright light, so we want to come together now to support our friend on the launch of her new novel, Jacqueline in Paris. We know that sometimes the hardest part of helping is figuring out what to do. So we’ve brainstormed and crowdsourced to come up with a list of Ann Action Items for you! Pick one or two, or check off all of them! We want Ann’s launch day and the days beyond to feel like an overwhelming lovefest. And we want you to be a part of that. Thank you so much for being a writer who is part of this community and the greater community of creative people. Thank you for making this launch day special for Ann and her family. Get the book. Jacqueline in Paris is available today everywhere books are sold! Grab an extra copy for a friend! Get your holiday shopping done early! If you can’t buy the book, request a copy from your local library (also, make sure to check it out). Leave a 5-Star Review. Give Ann’s new novel your heartfelt five stars on Goodreads, BookBub, and bookseller sites. If you’re still waiting to give it a read, you can add it on Goodreads! Make it a Book Club Pick. Choose Jacqueline in Paris for your book club! Or start a book club and make it your inaugural pick! If you’re an author who visits book clubs, mention the book as a suggestion for future selections. Spread the Word. Share your support of Ann and excitement for her beautiful new book on social media, in your newsletter, or even just tell friends and family who love to read! Ask your friends and followers to share and help spread the word too! Your social media message can be simple. Here are a few examples (feel free to use them directly!): Congratulations to @AnnMahNet on the release of Jacqueline in Paris! Kirkus gave it a starred review, calling it “A delightful and surprisingly insightful novel.” Learn more here: https://tinyurl.com/bdde8k4y Can’t wait to read @AnnMahNet’s new novel, Jacqueline in Paris, the poignant coming-of-age story of Jacqueline Bouvier’s year abroad before the world knew her as Jackie Kennedy. https://tinyurl.com/bdde8k4y Write a Shelf-Talker. Ask your local bookstore if you can write a short recommendation they can include on their bookshelf to help draw readers to the book! Include what you love best about Jacqueline in Paris: Ann’s rich descriptions of Paris and Grenoble, insight into Jacqueline Bouvier’s inner life before she became one of America’s most famous First Ladies, or the magical coming of age mixture of heartbreak and adventure? Attend a Book Event. On Wednesday, September 28th, at 8 PM Eastern, two exceptionally brilliant, kind authors who have also written Jackie Kennedy novels will be doing a virtual event to celebrate Ann and her new book. Steven Rowley (The Editor) and Louis Bayard (Jackie & Me) will partner with East City Bookshop to discuss Jacqueline in Paris. This is certain to be a unique and fascinating conversation. The event is free, but please register to attend! It helps support all three authors and the store supporting this event if you order your copies (or extra copies) from the store! You can also invite your friends! Here’s a sample tweet or post, and a photo you can add to accompany it: Looking forward to this virtual event (9/28 8 pm ET) with Jackie Kennedy experts @MrStevenRowley & @LouiseBayard in conversation with @eastcitybooks to discuss @AnnMahNet’s new novel, Jacqueline in Paris! Free registration here: https://tinyurl.com/4edbkfs9 Many thanks to Allie for both this post and for her fantastic “How to Support an Author” infographic below, which can be used to help any author with a new book release! “Right click” to save and share the image. How else might we help to spread the word about Ann Mah’s Jacqueline in Paris? How have you helped authors and writers who’ve needed a hand in the past? What are some of the most inventive promotional ideas you’ve seen or tried yourself? If you’d like to be entered into the running for a copy of Ann’s Jaqueline in Paris, please indicate interest in comments! If you’ve helped to spread the word about Jacqueline in Paris over social media, please include that in your comment for an extra chance at winning a copy of her book. We’ll choose a winner or two at the end of this week. Thank you, WU Community! About Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, and join our thriving Facebook community. Twitter | Facebook | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
  12. Do you ever get the feeling that things are about to change? I mean, really change? Like, if you were to describe it in terms of the weather, it wouldn’t be just—“oh hey, it looks like rain,” but much more like, “Winter… Is… Coming!” As in, cue the Cate Blanchett-as-Galadriel voiceover: “I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air…” I have this feeling now. Indeed, I’m aware of a major milestone—one that’s been long upcoming. I’m inside of a month till the publication of my debut. But it’s starting to feel like something more than just a day of rain or shine. Of course I’ve presumed for many years that this fast approaching day would eventually come. But I’ve already met so many great people, and experienced so much kindness and wonder because of it. I’m starting to sense that my life is going to continue to change in ways I could never have anticipated, and really still can’t. Anyway, the phenomenon has me thinking about turning points, and how important they are to our lives—how unplannable and unavoidable they are. About how many steps are required on the way to them. All of which got me thinking about how these things apply to our characters’ lives. I thought delving into the phenomenon would be beneficial to me, and hopefully to you, too. Milestones Versus Turning Points As I say, the publication of a debut is something we know is coming. At some point it becomes an actual day on the calendar. I think the important dates and milestones of our lives—births, deaths, weddings, debuts, etcetera—are more like mere steps than the sort of turning point I’m trying to describe. Looking back on my own major turning points, I can see that it’s always taken a series of events to bring them about. Some are obvious, but others are more subtle-not so obvious as they happen, but hindsight reveals their crucial impact. For example, I consider my relationship with my wife to be the most important aspect of my life. From the moment we began sharing our lives, mine has been utterly transformed. I am who I am because of it. I can look back at dozens of milestones and vital dates that relate to our relationship, and it took all of them–steps falling one after another–to make this major turning point in my life complete. I perfectly recall the day we met. Indeed, I perfectly remember the moment I saw her, through a window at a house party as she emerged from a friend’s car (it’s been noted that I dreamily but emphatically asked, “Who is that?”). For my part, it was instant attraction. I also clearly recall our first “real” date (took her to see Prince’s movie, Purple Rain). And of course, with our 32nd anniversary just around the corner, I have to acknowledge that these events culminated in our wedding day, which came on the perfect autumn evening, cementing and commemorating the completion of the turn. But when I think back on it all, another auspicious day springs to mind—one between that first meeting and first date, and quite some time before the autumn day in the chapel. Hindsight reveals that this day was a key-spring—an event without which the turning may not have occurred as it did. I’m not sure exactly how many months had passed since our meeting; my wife and I weren’t exactly an instant item (and yes, she resisted and I persisted, how did you guess?). Anyway, we were retail coworkers during college, and on one particularly fine summer Saturday, as I was about to punch out at noon, I mused that it would be a perfect beach day. The store was slow, and I noted my very bored coworker’s interest in the idea, so I jokingly suggested that I would actually go if she joined me. To our mutual surprise, our manager, who’d been eavesdropping, suggested my coworker take the day off and do just that. To my even greater surprise, she did. To those who don’t know the Mighty Mitten, the Lake Michigan beaches on the western shore near the city where I grew up are world class expanses of soft sand and Bahama blue water. Often, those who grow up on the east side of the state—like my wife did—have never experienced them. That day I felt like a tour guide, revealing a legacy treasure that she’d just inherited. It was during this serendipitous beach day—getting better acquainted during the hour-long drive there; spending the afternoon relaxing, swimming, playing Frisbee; and then listening to music, laughing and chatting away the drive back—that our enduring friendship took root. I remember this impending sense I had that day of the turning of things. I began to feel it in the water, in the earth, in the air. I think we both sensed it that evening, as we sought to cool our sunburns over beers. The experience had shifted things for both of us. Yes, milestone experiences can have instant impact. But often it’s the subtle shifts that turn out to be key-springs to such turnings. Either way, such events are usually mere dominos, falling to push down the next, which falls to… You get the idea. Inexorable I’m getting far enough along in my life to see that it’s defined by a handful of major turning points, and that all such changes—over a series of incremental steps; incidents and events—come to feel inexorable as they arrive. Take a life-change of mine that is perhaps second in magnitude only to my marriage: our decision to leave the business world in Illinois and move back to Michigan. This turning point plays into everything that followed—particularly my writing life. The first domino to fall came in the form of a major blow—one that we knew was coming but had no grasp of its scale and lasting impact. It began with the passage of a dog. We said goodbye to our beloved black lab Maggie on the twilit morning of a September Friday. Mag had been with us through most of our years in business—a grounding presence through a whirlwind of toil. The day she left us we did something unprecedented: We left. We left our business without checking messages, without consulting our department heads, without leaving written instructions, and without offering to take calls. There had been no question where we would go. We went where Mag would have had us go. Oh, how our girl loved coming to Michigan. The joy was palpable, and contagious. Driving straight to what was then our getaway cottage on the day of Maggie’s passing taught us that the little house we built in the woods near the shore was our hearts’ home. That was twenty years ago this month, and we’re still here. It took over a year from Maggie’s passing, and an uncountable number of dominos, to complete this turning point. During that time, we started to joke about making a change. Looking back, we sensed the inexorable turning. We’d say things like, “We’ll do that after we sell the business,” or “We’ll be able to do this once we move to Michigan.” I remember one particular morning here. I’d stopped overnight at the cottage on the way to a business meeting further up the coast. Before setting out, as I sat on the porch drinking coffee, enjoying the stillness and birdsong, the thought of living here, of working at something creative here, buzzed around my head like a happy hummingbird, teasing and beckoning me to strive toward something that I couldn’t yet see. That domino was a subtle one, of the sort I only see in hindsight. There was a final domino. My wife and I began to see the signs of an oncoming economic downturn. For several years prior to this, we’d experienced what might be called growth-on-cruise. In response, we called a meeting with our partner, our top sales and marketing staff, and our accounting team. We laid out a fairly austere plan to proactively face the projected downturn. It did not go over well. Our team had grown metaphorically fat and happy. And, honestly, we had lost much of the zeal required to fight through such resistance. I’ll never forget leaving the meeting. Once we were in the car, and before I even started it, I said, “That’s it, isn’t it?” My wife gave a single nod. “Yep. We’re done.” We drove home in relative silence, feeling the resound of that final domino’s fall, knowing it had been the last of the turning. What we had long sensed possible—what had been both hopeful and terrifying—had become inexorable. Alignment Turning points such as these are intrinsic to storytelling. Indeed, change is the very essence of story. Often an entire story is built around one such turning point, and the dominos required to get our characters to it. Often it’s monumental. Thinking about this sort of change–bit by bit, one domino striking the next, until a character is utterly transformed–brings to mind characters like Ove, from A Man Called Ove, or Lieutenant John Dunbar, from Dances With Wolves. Heck, think about Frodo (sorry, had to go there), from the moment he tucks the one ring into his vest pocket and askes Gandalf, “What must I do?” to swatting at waking nightmares as he trudges across the Plateau of Gorgoroth. Only through witnessing the fall of each domino that led them there can we believe such monumental changes could have occurred. Having seen them tumble, one by one, we are all the more invested, and moved, by the result. As I sit here, feeling on the verge of yet another major turning, it’s not mine to know if the long string of events that have conveyed me this far have been aligned by unseen forces, guiding me to the life I am meant to live. But I must admit, it often feels that way. In our fiction, we are those unseen forces. And though some of the dominos we set are more auspicious and impactful, it’s our job to make each one feel like a necessary step. It’s on us to make our readers feel that each one is both surprising and essential. We must make change become a force like gravity, unrealized but accepted as a law of the nature of our stories. The dominos of storytelling—the inciting incidents, opportunities knocking, pinch points, the flips from reactivity to proactivity, the black moments and heroic sacrifices—all of them must feel both unexpected and unavoidable. The best story changes often feel both hopeful and terrifying. We must strive to have our readers feel them in the water, feel them in the earth, and smell them in the air. If we hope to tell stories that are both fresh and satisfying, we must strive to bring about the change in our characters that no one would believe at the onset, and then make it feel inevitable, even rightful. We do so by utilizing events and milestones that are inexorable steps to turning points that transform lives. What about you, WU? Is Cate Blanchett still the best Galadriel? Can you look back to the dominos that led to your own life’s turning points? Do you delight in being the unseen force that aligns them for your characters? About Vaughn RoycroftVaughn Roycroft's (he/him) teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit in the 6th grade, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days striving to finish his epic fantasy series. 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  13. Our event is being held on “the #1 virtual and hybrid event platform for building relationships.” When we discovered Airmeet, we thought it might come close to the connection potential of an in-person event. And you know what? We’ve already heard from WU UnConference alums who’ve been in our event lounge that they feel exactly that way; it’s the closest they can imagine an online platform coming to an in-person feel. How? It supports community connection in countless ways–from hosting small-group meets, to event-wide conversations, direct messaging, unique ways to connect with session leaders, built-in networking capabilities, and more. It’s the perfect platform for a community event, and we’re thrilled to have found it. We’re all about accessibility–and we don’t just mean that you can attend our event from your own living room couch. If you, like a growing number of people from all age groups in this country, prefer your media with closed captioning, you’ll be glad to know our live sessions offer it. While there are a plethora of reasons for using closed captioning, the one that rings true to us right now is the ability to help with attention. If you have a hoppy mind (thank you, social media), turn on closed captioning and feel your roving brain cells home in. It’s a beautiful thing. You don’t need a computer to participate. Though we recommend using a computer for the most fulsome OnConference experience, you can download Airmeet in the app store or on Google Play and access the event via your mobile device. We may have accidentally stepped over the cutting edge. When we conceived of this event, it was in part through listening to the alums of our in-person UnConferences. What would they like to see in an online event? One of the things they mentioned was the need to marry the event with life at home. Time of day was important, and events that trickled out rather than landed over one bloated weekend might be more doable. Turns out the long-form event may be the new podcast, as it’s been found to create lasting community bonds. Who knew? We didn’t. But we couldn’t have written a more perfect possibility for this particular group. The event’s blueprint has yet to be finalized. Yes, OnConference sessions begin in just 5 days, and will wrap on 10/16, and those things are set–never fear. But the event itself will stay open through the end of the year, and there are so many ways the platform can be used to help you with your writing. Already, writing sprint groups have formed tables in our lounge and meet daily M-F. NaNoWriMo kicks off November 1st, and whether you NaNo or NoNo, November writing energy is real and can help you to meet your goals. How else will we use the space–the lounge and the session stage? That has yet to be determined, but is limited only by our imaginations. There are five days left to register for WU’s first OnConference. Learn more about the event that has us all abuzz, and sign up HERE. Write on! About Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, and join our thriving Facebook community. Twitter | Facebook | More Posts [url={url}]View the full article[/url]
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