(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Beta Readers and the Writing Process

As I am that mysterious, mythical, magical beast known as the 'successful published author', I get frequent questions about how I do anything and everything.  While I wait on my publisher to get back to me, I might as well share the process I've been going through this month.

When last we left off, I finished the manuscript on the book I personally call At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, but when I'm sure the marketers will name Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon.  They have a really pretty font picked out, and everything.  I wish I could resent their decision, but I'm sure they're right and it's necessary so people will identify the series.  I just wish it wasn't necessary!

Now, personally, I go through several stages after that.  First, I take a break and try to write something else to get my thoughts out of any rut they may have fallen into.  This time, no dice.  I felt SO much pressure that I still haven't shaken it off.  Professionally, this book is super important!  I started my edits about three days after finishing the manuscript.  In the personal edit process, I make sure continuity is consistent, add foreshadowing to major plot events, and particularly make sure that everyone has an interesting, consistent voice.  Especially the narrator.  This is SUPER important in making a book compelling.  That process was really slow, like 10% of the book a day, so it took well over a week.

On a related note, I must make a confession.  We're re-editing Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain, and that will give me an opportunity to fix a gigantic, glaring, actually important continuity error.  There's no point in hiding it.  I changed my mind about Claire's hair color from golden blonde to platinum blonde (like her mother, see?) in the very first chapter, and forgot I'd done it!  It's subtle in the first book, but it's an active plot point in the second, so I'd gosh darned well better fix it.  Derp derp derp.  Bad author, no cola.

So, personal edits done.  Next, I give the manuscript to beta readers, people I know who aren't as tightly tied to me as the alpha readers.  Their job is pretty simple.  They read the book and tell me how enjoyable it was.  All I'm looking for from them is whether any parts weren't fun, or if I jumped the shark anywhere.

This is harder than you think, because of the major obstacle all writers face in proving themselves - reading requires effort, and lots of it.  Even avid readers cannot be predicted to finish a book in any kind of reasonable time.  Exactly one beta reader finished this weekend.  She reported multiple times when she was unable to tear herself away and had long, unintended reading binges, and that she'd be afraid I would jump a shark and then when it happened, it would go smoothly and perfectly.  Since those are things I'm proud of in my writing, I took that as all the useful feedback I was ever likely to get anyway.

Which means that yesterday I sent the manuscript to my publisher.  Next?  She'll send me editing notes for Book #1.  After those are done, we'll edit Book #2.  My part of book editing is really fast, just a few days.  Hers may take longer.  I only have to respond to her notes.  She has to pore over the book in depth!

Off and on during the whole month the marketing team and I discussed cover art.  I haven't heard anything from them in days, but it's not like they have to decide until the editing is done.  Last thing to happen was me sending in a set of sketches of my various ideas that I got my alpha reader to lay out, since describing the ideas was difficult and imprecise.

What happens from here?  I don't know!  I've had some success getting back into writing A Sidekick's Tale in the last few days, but I'm also still tense as a violin string about getting this book all done.

I'll try to keep you informed.

Also, I'll try to process these photos of Louisville's supremely tacky clock.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Everybody Keeps Asking When

My publisher has not told me when the sequel is coming out!  I'm expecting them to aim for Christmas, but I don't actually know.

The current status is that the first draft of the manuscript is done.  My personal revisions are almost done.  I'll run it past a couple of beta readers to make sure that I don't have any dull parts and it's not wildly inappropriate for kids (Have you read everything else I write?  I have to watch that part carefull.).  Then it goes to my publisher, and we do the official edits.

All of these stages are fast.  Most of them only take a few days.  So for practical purposes, the book is done and it's about how much of a hurry Curiosity Quills is in to release it.

I hope you people like it.  Keeping the same tone between books is not my specialty, but I tried to make it very definitely a Penelope Akk book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dumbledore and Princess Celestia, Mysterious Mentors

Mysterious Mentors are a bit of a trope, because it's so much easier to write a tense and complex story if the heroine doesn't know what the frufru she's doing.  I've been thinking about two of them, who seem the most pointlessly difficult.  Dumbledore (from Harry Potter) and Princess Celestia (from My Little Pony) are perfect examples of the trope, keeping their apprentices in the dark about everything except the most specific information needed to save the world - and sometimes not telling them that!

What interests me about these two is that they don't have to be so secretive, and yet this isn't just an author forcing convenient ignorance.  Dumbledore's explanations for why he doesn't tell Harry the truth are pathetic, and don't at all cover the complete blanket of silence he keeps, even if he can excuse certain specific secrets.  Celestia is worse than Dumbledore, having a clear and obvious understanding that she has a new princess (and if you don't follow MLP, princess=goddess) on her hooves and rarely even telling Twilight about a challenge Twilight will face.

They're far more secretive than they need to be, and why?  Because they're flawed people, and I love that.  It fits completely into their personality.  Dumbledore's childhood was spent hiding his family's secrets.  As a young man he hid that he was scheming with Grindelwald, and when he realized how shameful that was he hid that he'd been involved.  All of this secrecy was reinforced further in the years before Harry's birth, because secrecy was a crucial skill in fighting Voldemort.

Dumbledore tells Harry nothing because Dumbledore never tells anyone anything.  Aberforth accuses his brother of secrecy as part of his nature, and it's absolutely true.  By the time that the Harry Potter books take place, Dumbledore is so used to secrets that he doesn't know how to tell Harry the truth.  It is a personal flaw, a deep personal flaw, and yet a totally believable flaw even in someone who is generally wise and brilliant.  Telling Harry the bare minimum is the only way Dumbledore knows how to behave.  As he says himself, being rather cleverer than most men, his mistakes are of greater magnitude.  We, the readers, are foolish enough to gloss over that.  He means it.

It's hard for readers to understand that intelligent, good-hearted characters can lie and make idiot mistakes.  As authors, we write our characters having flaws, but it's hard to keep that in mind when reading.

Celestia is secretive for a different reason, and like it took the whole series to learn enough about Dumbledore to understand his flaws, it has taken a long time to put together enough about Celestia to understand hers.  What the latest season has shown us is that Celestia is alone.  Surrounded by a crowd, she is utterly alone.  Immortal, she's surrounded by ponies who think of her (fairly accurately) as a goddess and whose lives come and go like the flashes of fireflies.

Until season four, that interpretation was likely but just an interpretation.  The flashbacks and journal entries revealed that Celestia and Luna were close, so close that they operated almost as one person.  Talking to Twilight about her accomplishments, Celestia stresses that what defeating Nightmare Moon really meant was giving Celestia back her beloved sister.

Outside of Luna and Twilight, Celestia is detached, regal, kindly but in a distant and divine way.  Her subjects revere her and treat her as a living goddess, which she essentially is.  For a thousand years, whole lifetimes over and over, that is the only relationship she's been able to have with anyone, because she drove away the partner that she'd shared immortality with until Nightmare Night.

It would be weirder if Celestia were completely open with Twilight and told her everything than if Celestia kept secrets.  Being a distant, omniscient-seeming divine ruler is the only way she knows how to act.

Like I said, this stuff fascinates me.  These very good and intelligent characters are not just flawed, their flaws are subtle, realistic, and not obvious sins like jealousy or anger.  They're flaws that peculiarly fit their personalities.  And they turn things on their heads for the audience, because we expect someone that good to be perfect.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

That Sequel You Wanted

The draft of At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain and the second book of the planned five part Inscrutable Machine series, is written.  I finished writing the last chapter last night, although when I say 'finished' I mean I spent all of yesterday from getting up to going to bed writing, producing a whopping 13000 words.

The book is done.  I am still reeling.

If you wanted to know, the last chapter involves angry men with spears, an eleven year old in homemade power armor, telepathic jellyfish, grappling hooks, and two of the ugliest, sweetest star-crossed lovers you ever did meet.

Oh, and blowing up a moon.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Random Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Three quarters of my brain is on finishing up At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon (my publisher wants a different title, alas), but here's an excuse to post something.

Although what should I say about Guardians of the Galaxy?  It was enough fun that I didn't analyze the writing while watching, which is rare.  So that's a strong recommendation, I guess.

There is something I can talk about.  I didn't think about this until after the fact, but I'm impressed by the characterization of the heroes.  They followed the writer's trick of giving someone a strong trait, and then fleshing them out underneath to try to create someone who is really like that.  It worked.

Oh, and SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS I guess.

The hero, Star Lord, was one of the weaker examples, and they still did pretty well.  His overt trait was trying too hard to be cool, which made him a bit of a stereotypical schlub.  They fleshed him out by not taking that too hard.  Oh, they gave him interesting background story, but those are facts.  What counts is the display of character.  He might stumble a lot because he pretends to be even greater than he is, but he was a good fighter, brave, good with tricks and traps and treasure hunting, and when he wanted to he could charm the pants off someone - which made it believable that he mostly used that skill to charm the pants off someone.  The best thing for him was that he learned.  When he failed to seduce Gamora, he dropped it.  His interest remained, but he'd figured out not to push.  When Rocket proved his competence, Star Lord trusted that from then on.  In general, he was not an idiot - you could just easily mistake him for one because he tried too hard.

Rocket Raccoon was my favorite example.  He's supposed to be a gun crazed criminal, and he is, so they made him one.  He is competent.  Relentlessly competent.  Not superhumanly competent, but very good at what he does.  When they get sent to prison, he blows it off saying he's escaped from 22.  It quickly becomes clear that he probably has escaped from 22.  He knows how to fit in, what the weaknesses of the system are, and he plans, deals with obstacles, and takes advantage of opportunities.  He makes guns as a hobby, and they are downright scary.  He hides his pain completely.  It comes out when he's drunk once, and before and after he blows it off with vague mentions, like stoic people tend to.

You can't talk about Rocket without talking about Groot.  It's easy to focus on the 'I am Groot' joke, but the movie goes much lighter on it than I expected.  They focus more on Rocket and Groot being joined at the hip, or at least at Rocket's hip and Groot's ankle.  They are partners, and you can see why.  There is infinite, automatic respect between the two.  Rocket pretends Groot is his conscience, and Rocket is good at dealing with a universe of animals that Groot clearly finds confusing.  I was not expecting the portrayal of Groot as childlike, and it was a great touch.  He's not stupid, and he's not pure - he clearly enjoys violence - but he's simple and looks for opportunities to be kind in simple ways.  By the end of the movie, you have no doubt that Groot would die for Rocket and Rocket would die for Groot.

Drax the Destroyer started out two dimensional, and they made him three dimensional by portraying someone who had made himself two dimensional with his desire for revenge, then ran face first into a universe where that doesn't work.  He was constantly caught up short in situations not covered by 'kill my enemy', and having to learn from them without losing his central purpose.  His confusion when finding out he could not hope to defeat Ronin in hand to hand combat was particularly poignant.

Gamora I admit they dropped the ball on.  Not that she didn't have a personality, but they presented a bunch of facets of her person that they didn't explore at all.  The whole 'Daughter of Thanos' thing was mentioned repeatedly, even a plot point, but they only dealt with the rivalry aspect of her relationship with her sister, and she didn't seem as tough as she should be.  Similarly, they mentioned but didn't much explore her hate for Thanos and Ronin and desire to betray them.  On the other hand, she was not a shoehorned love interest.  If anything they subvert that.  Star Lord hits on her, she rejects him harshly, and topic over time to move on to her relationship with her sister.

Okay, writing nerd time over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Behind Than I Thought

I never even posted two of the other pictures Nikki drew.  She REEEEEEally likes Remmy.








Bonus content: Some fan art sketches of Ampexia, who should be showing up in the third book.  Note to my fellow authors: Get an alpha reader and fangirl who can draw.  It makes life pretty awesome.




And the censored version of one more because 'suitable for children' is not something Nikki understands:


Those are just loose idea sketches, of course, but I owe you people a lot 'cause I haven't updated this thing in a dog's age.

Yay, It's Fixed!

My computer exploded!  Thank you for your patience.  As a reward, here is some fan art.  This is my alpha reader's interpretation of Juliet from the second Inscrutable Machine book, or as Nikki put it 'The sweetest little abomination you'll ever meet in interplanetary space.'



I was also interrupted by a sudden editing job for Quite Contrary, which needed it but very much disrupted my writing.  And then another for the short story that will be in Curiosity Quills' anthology.

Despite these interruptions the sequel is plugging away and I might even be three fourths done.  I'm just not allowed to share it with you! 

You should all thank Nikki for the art, since I'M not allowed to give you anything creative!  Damn you, being a professional!