Making Introductions

*Warning: Spoilers possible for the books I discuss*

I’ve come to believe that there are two kinds of readers: those who read the introduction (if there is one) before the book and those who wait until after. I read it before. My logic is that if it were intended to be read after the text, it would be included as an afterward, not an introduction. Also, I find it can be helpful in getting my mind ready for what I’m about to read.

a1x0awyh35l._ac_uy218_ml3_But there’s an inherent danger in reading the introduction first: will the writer give away spoilers? If so, will they be major. Years ago, I read Anya Seton’s novel Avalon. I enjoyed it, which surprised me, because Philippa Gregory’s introduction gave me the impression that it wasn’t a very good book. She warned that Seton stuck too closely to the facts in this historical novel, and didn’t provide a resolution where she should have, because there’s no historical evidence of such a resolution taking place. As a result, I didn’t expect a resolution when reading, and I wasn’t disappointed by its absence. I was able to take the text as it was, and not judge it based on what wasn’t there. Should Seton have taken some artistic licence and resolved the story line even if it wasn’t historically accurate? That’s open for debate. But because I wasn’t expecting it, I wasn’t disappointed in that element. In that sense, even though the introduction included spoilers, it helped me to enjoy my reading experience more.

51mw0x9so4l-_ac_us218_More recently I read Gwen Bristow’s Celia Garth, which had an introduction by Sara Donati. In her introduction Donati says that the novel, which was published in 1959, and is set during the American Revolution, has a problematic depiction of slavery. All the slave characters in the novel are depicted as happy, well treated, and loyal to their master’s side in the conflict. The title character never questions the morality of the institution, nor does she ever wonder how the slave characters might be feeling. Since I’m sure there were people like the title character, I can’t fault the author’s depiction of her. After reading that introduction, I mentally prepared myself to read a book with some significant flaws and blind spots, with a character who I may not like. Again I’m OK with that. I don’t have to like a character to find him/her interesting. Unfortunately, when reading the book, I felt like Donati downplayed the character’s unlikeability in the introduction, and that the book expected me to like her and depended on that. For me, the problem was that Celia wasn’t just blind to the evils of slavery, she was complicit. I don’t hold Donati responsible for that. Her introduction warned that this aspect of the plot and character was problematic. How problematic it is might vary from one reader to the next. That’s why we read the book and not just the introduction!

81lrqhg4fgl._ac_ul320_ml3_I just recently finished Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, with an introduction by Hilary Mantel. In her introduction, Mantel tells us about the character of Angelica “Angel” Deverell, writer of trashy, turn of the century, romance novels. Mantel tells us that the character comes from humble beginnings and fantasizes about Paradise House, where her aunt works as a maid. She also tells us that Angel will later purchase this house once she’s made her fortune, and remodel it. But, Mantel warns us, in doing so, Angel is building her own prison. World events, changing literary tastes, and her own ego mean that Angel’s books don’t sell as well as they once did. Angel and her few companions eventually become recluses, financially trapped in a rotting Paradise House. In this case I felt like Mantel gave away too much in her introduction. She should certainly introduce the character and explain that the book is a rags to riches character study. She might also hint at the fact that Angel will ultimately be the architect of her own destruction. But to tell use how it happens, and how it ties into Angel’s childhood fantasies robs the reader of a sense of pleasure (albeit a somewhat sadistic pleasure) in discovery.

So where do you stand on introductions? Do you read them first? Do you think that an introduction has the responsibility of warning the reader of potentially troubling plot points? If so, are spoilers a concern?

How Prolific Do I Want To Be?

Lately I’ve been wondering what kind of writer I am. In some ways the answer to that is obvious. I’m an indie author. I write fantasy. But in some ways I feel like I don’t measure up to other, “similar” authors. I put similar in quotes because these authors are also indie/self published who write fantasy in the same sub-genre but they write a lot more than I do, and seem to do it more professionally.

thumbnail_Elle s mIt took me about four years to write Beautiful, and another year to publish it. Some of that was because I had to figure out elements of publishing for myself, while working full time.  Now I’ve been working on the follow up, Frozen Heart, for about three years. It’s pretty much written, in that I have a manuscript with a beginning, middle and end. I’m somewhere between the second and third drafts  right now. I’d like it to be ready by early 2020. If I’m not able to manage that I might have to wait until the end of 2020. Beautiful was published in July 2018.

Indie authors usually try to write at least a book per year, preferably more. I’ve seen authors publish as many as three books per year. A lot of the research I did before publishing Beautiful actually recommended waiting until you have several publish-able manuscripts before publishing your first, so you have more ready to go. I decided not to do that because I wasn’t sure if/when I’d have a ready follow-up and I felt ready to send Beautiful out into the world. I don’t think that was a mistake but I don’t think I’ll ever be a writer who can publish one book a year.

I read a blog post once by an indie author who said she writes only one draft of each novel before having an editor look it over, making a few, small tweaks, and then publishing. I can’t imagine doing that. My first drafts are a mess! My second drafts are a little bit better, and so on.

I’m not criticizing anyone who can turn out great work on the first try! I’m envious! I don’t think that will ever be me.

Maybe as I go on, I’ll get better at self-editing. Already, I’m noticing improvements between my first book and my second. When I wrote Beautiful, I would see something in a draft that didn’t quite work but I’d stubbornly hold onto it until several beta readers had told me it didn’t work. Now I’m quicker to kill my darlings.

But I want my published novels to reflect my best work. In order to do that, it takes me longer to write a book than is generally recommended for indie authors. Obviously the more I publish the more opportunity I have for sales, but right now, compromising quality doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Do you prefer authors to be prolific or careful with what they publish? Does it have to be an “either/or” situation?

 

Beautiful: Reader’s Guide

The Reader’s Guide to Beautiful is now available on the books page of my website.  It features some discussion questions, a bit “about the author”, some information about the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and a sneak peak of my upcoming novel Frozen Heart. It’s free so check it out!

Coming Soon!

I’ve been working on a reader’s guide to Beautiful. I had initially planned to have it out by the book’s first birthday but some other things go in the way. But it’s coming soon, so keep an eye on the “books” page of my website. I’ll also share on my blog when it’s up. But it’ll have:

  • Discussion questions
  • Background information
  • A sneak peak of Frozen Heart
  • more…

Plus it’s free!

Happy 1st Book Birthday to Beautiful!

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A year ago today I published my first novel, Beautiful: A Tale of Beauties and Beasts.  It’s been a good year as far as writing goes. I learned a lot about publishing and I think that I’ve gained some confidence as I work on my second novel.  Here are some posts that I’ve written over the year about my journey with this book.

Why Authors Love (and Hate) Reviews

Why You Should Read My Book

Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

What I’d Tell Myself About Writing A Book…

Why I Write What I Write

Publication Day!

Pre-Publication Jitters

Hopefully by this time next year Beautiful will have a book sibling!

I’ve Been…

  • Going through a career change. Teaching was so draining that I felt like I didn’t have the energy for anything else: writing, a social life, etc. I’m doing content writing and curriculum development now. It’s been an adjustment. It still is, but I’m starting to feel a bit more confident. I’m nervous even writing that because I don’t want to jinx myself!
  • Slowly working my way through beta feedback on Frozen Heart. It’s always difficult opening yourself up to criticism, and in a way, beta feedback and editing is like going to someone and saying “please rip this apart” and then cringing while they do. The most painful feedback often ends up being the most helpful though. One beta reader was very critical of this draft of Frozen Heart but I think she also pointed out some issues that I’m glad that someone noticed before I published it. But it’s hard get yourself in the right headspace to tackle those criticisms.
  • Writing some short stories. I haven’t really decided what to do with them yet, but for some reason I had several ideas that lent themselves to short fiction (not my usual medium)
  • Discovering the joy of “have done” lists. I’ve never liked keeping “to do” lists. It feels daunting to see everything you  haven’t done yet listed in front of you. I feel like I’ll never get it done. But when I keep a list of things I have done I feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Even if the things I put on aren’t major things, seeing them written down gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even started doing things that I’ve been putting off because it means I’ll get to write it down on my list!
  •  

    Reading good books. In addition to my Persephone Readathon reads (Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski and Flush by Virginia Woolf, both of which I recommend highly) I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Binge watching
    • Schitt’s Creek– How have I not seen this show before now? It’s silly but it’s great for turning off your brain and having a laugh.
    • The OA – Weird. Very weird.
    • A Discovery of Witches– I definitely liked it better than the book (which had too much filler) but it’s still not my cup of tea.
    • Bodyguard– I’d had this as a “to watch” for a while but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad I finally did.

Sharing Resources

One thing that I’ve noticed is that in almost every field there seems to be a notion that there isn’t enough success to go around and that when we have an advantage we have to protect it. But that’s something I’m trying to move away from. I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.  One of the advantages of the internet is  the incredible resources we can find, so let’s share. These are some great tools and things that I’ve discovered that help make life a little easier.

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Health

NextGen Jane– A data driven women’s healthcare company that tracks data to allow women to make more autonomous decisions regarding healthcare.

Career

Fairygodboss-  A career community for women with jobs, company reviews, advice and connections.

Ladies Get Paid– a free, private online network that connects thousands of women around the world who share advice, resources, and opportunities.

Self Care

Positively Present– A blog focused on helping readers to be positive and live in the moment.

Mindful– Offers information and resources for people who want to practice meditation and mindfulness. It offers practical suggestions, guided meditations, and podcasts.

Noisli– This site lets you mix and match sounds and create ambient noise that will let you relax or improve productivity. You can even get it as a chrome extension.

Activism

5 Calls- Allows people to easily call their representatives about national and local politics, which is one of the most effective ways to make your voice heard. Provides scripts about important issues and explanations of the issues and their history.

Fitness

Charity Miles– An app that donates to the charity of your choice for each mile, you run/walk/bike etc. You get exercise and your charity gets money. It’s win-win!

Cocolime Fitness– Suzanne Wickremasinghe created this fitness program aimed at people who suffer from chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, adrenal fatigue, and more. You don’t need these conditions to do the workouts though! Medium intensity exercise can benefit lots of people whose bodies can’t handle high intensity for whatever reason and you can still get a great workout. The youtube channel has free full length workouts and there’s more information available on the website.

Jessica Smith TV– Jessica Smith’s youtube channel features hundreds of free workouts of various lengths and intensity. You can find hour long workouts but even if you only have 10 minutes you can get a workout in. Her website also features fitness tips, workout programs and more.

LWR Fitness– Lucy Wyndham Read’s fitness channel is awesome if you don’t have a lot of time, but still want to get in shape. She has a lot of 4 minute and 7 minute workouts (along with some longer ones) that keep you burning more all day long and she explains how and why these work. She also has lots of ebooks, courses, recipes and podcasts, and her blog has a ton of information .

Writing

The Hemingway Editor– This is a writing software that edits your writing for adverbs, passive voice, phrases that have simpler alternatives, and difficulty. You can paste your writing into the website or download the desktop version.

Grammarly– This free software checks for grammar, spelling, plagiarism. It’s available as a browser extension or an app.

Scrivner– I use this software for writing novels and it’s a life saver! It lets me compose text out of order and put it together later, in sections as large (or small) as I want. Everything I write  is integrated into an outline so I can go from one chapter to another with a quick click rather than scrolling through a lot of pages! I can also keep resources and research right by my draft so I can easily refer to them when I need to. You can download a 40 day free trial and then it’s only $45 to buy the full version.

What are some of your favorite resources?

What’s Your Day Job?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the image of the artist/writer/musician living in a cold attic, working by candlelight on a passion project. When I was about twelve this sounded like a pretty good deal to me. Surely I would never sell my soul and spend my days working for *gasp*  money! I was an artist! If no one bought my books I’d just starve to death, after which people would realize that I’d been a genius who wasn’t appreciated in her own time. This seemed like a valid career path to me, until I grew up and realized that I use a computer with internet access for my writing, both of which cost money. For some reason, in my adolescent fantasy I always wrote with a quill pen dipped in ink.

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Enter the Day Job. I’ve had several. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever met a creative person who hasn’t had at least one.  Most have had many, many more than that. I was at a writing workshop a few months ago and we broke into groups where we introduced ourselves and our work. Everyone seemed sort of apologetic about their day jobs, saying sort of quietly “Well, I work in a bank,” and then louder, “but I’m really a poet.” At some point, one person in the group finally pointed this out. Why were we apologizing for wanting to live indoors and eat on a regular basis? We all laughed, but it also made me think. We romanticize the image of the starving artist sacrificing everything for his/her art. If we feel that we can’t live up to this ideal, then we apologize for the day jobs that keep us solvent but take us away from our art for hours on end.

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In fact, day jobs are often seen as artistic failure. A few months ago, actor Geoffrey Owens was photographed at his day job at Trader Joe’s. Many big name stars leaped to his defense saying that there was no shame in an honest job. #ActorsWithDayJobs started trending. But the sad thing is that while working at Trader Joe’s isn’t shameful in the least, it seemed to define Owens in the public conversation. Owens is an accomplished actor. He graduated from Yale with honors. He has four Broadway credits including two productions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and As You Like It. He was a series regular on The Cosby Show, and Built to Last with recurring roles on a number of other TV shows and supporting roles in a number of films. He’s the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Shakespeare Company and has taught acting and Shakespeare at Columbia, Yale, Pace, and a number of other universities and high schools. He’s also an accomplished theatrical director, and the writer of a one act play called Roman Times.

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Geoffrey Owens source: celebritypictures.wiki

When the Trader Joe’s pictures emerged Owens explained that working there gave him a paycheck when acting jobs were hard to come by and it gave him the flexibility to audition and pursue other things rather than locking him into a 9-5 schedule. That makes sense, and from that perspective it’s a smart move certainly. But why should an artist who has accomplished so much need to worry about a paycheck?

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It’s because art is a gig economy. People are paid a certain rate for each job, but the jobs are temporary, and flexible. Meaning that if you’re lucky, you can make  enough with each book/show/album/whatever to hold you over until the next. Very few artists are able to command that kind of money.

The first time I was published was in college. A short story I wrote, called “The Girl In the Picture,” was published in the now defunct literary magazine, New Works Review. I was  thrilled that it had been accepted. I didn’t care that I didn’t make a penny on it. Over the years I had short stories published in other magazines, but I didn’t make any money from writing until I several years later when I was paid a flat rate of $50.00 for a nonfiction piece.  I’ve been paid bits here and there for nonfiction writing, but royalties from Beautiful were the first time I’ve ever seen money from fiction. Even then it’s not that much.

In 2015, author Joanne Harris spoke about this issue. Harris is an extremely accomplished author. Her best selling novel Chocolat was made into an Oscar nominated film. Her books are in several genres from fantasy, to psychological thrillers to historical fiction and nonfiction. They have been published in over 50 countries and have won awards in her native Britain as well as internationally.  She published three novels before she was able to retire from her day job (teaching) to write full time. Harris got attention for speaking about the practice of literary festivals not paying for the authors that they engage. “I am not holding out for an excessive fee by any means, because festivals have all kinds of overheads,” Harris says. “But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a small fee. Not everybody can shell out 400 quid for accommodation, travel and all the rest, and people do deserve to be recompensed for their time. To put it bluntly – you wouldn’t dream of not paying your caterers, so why would you even consider not paying the headline act?” (x)

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Joanne Harris source: wikipedia

Harris has spoken about the issue of money for artists before. In 2014 she spoke about the media coverage of JK Rowling’s fortune giving people unrealistic expectations of  being “showered with money.” She added that writing is “not winning the lottery, it’s a real job, which real people do, and they have the same real problems as other real people.” (x) She believes that people see downloading books (and music, films etc) as “sticking it to the man” thinking that the artists don’t need the money.

I think that part of the solution is artists being honest about not making enough from their art to support themselves. We shouldn’t apologize for our day jobs. I believe that anyone who performs an honest job in order to earn a living deserves our respect. For people who do those jobs for 8 hours  a day and then go home and work at a second job that they may never see a penny for, shouldn’t that go double?

I don’t necessarily think it’s right for artists to need day jobs. I think that getting paid a livable wage for art shouldn’t be as difficult as it is. I don’t know of a solution for that. But I think part of the reason people think it’s OK not to pay for art is because artists misrepresent themselves as not having a day job, as if the need for a day job makes us less artists. It doesn’t. Nor does not wanting to live in a cardboard box make us any less committed to our art.