Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Black and White and Shades of Gray

Stories about good vs. evil are a perennial favorite. It's just a thing people have hard-wired into their brains that turn every conflict into Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, Us. vs. Them, Good vs. Evil. Stories of clear-cut morality in the central conflict are easy to understand, and easy to write.

The trouble is that they're hard as hell to write well, mainly because baseline humans don't come in Completely Good or Completely Evil. Trying to make every member of a group completely good or completely evil might work well if a certain tribe or nationality exists for the Good Guys to fight against, but doing this too often can get boring in a big hurry.

Evil goblins. Yawn.

Beautiful, pure-hearted elves. Ho hum.

As my tastes in fiction (and high fantasy in particular) have evolved, I've started finding the appeal in ambiguously gray characters. There's the hero who might do morally dodgy things in the pursuit of a noble goal. There's the villain who started out with the best of intentions, but couldn't stop his slide down the slippery slope of morality. Even Spider-Man realizes the temptations of having superpowers, and Darth Vader started as a good man.

Honestly, pure villains or heroes can get boring in a hurry. So you've got a white knight boy scout who always knows the right thing to do and goes around defending the innocent because that's what he does. So you've got an evil lord of evil who wants to use black magic to conquer the world because that's what he does. That might be great for simpler stories, but in complex, overarching epics, that lack of moral ambiguity gets old really quickly.

One of the grayest high fantasy series I've read recently is a Song of Ice and Fire, where you have a lot of factions working at cross purposes to get their own people on the Iron Throne, and very few of them are completely good or evil. You have innocents corrupted in the course of trying to escape horrifying events later. You have people set up as villains in early books, only to be revealed as morally conflicted and redeemable later. The only characters I can name off the top of my head who would fall squarely in the evil category are Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey. Even then, Cersei is just ambitious and crazy and not as smart as she thinks she is, and Joffrey... well, has Cersei for a mother. And he's, like, twelve.

The best way I've noticed to avoid black-and-white morality in fiction is to get into the heads of both your heroes and your villains. Give the villain a reason for what he does besides LOL I'M EVIL. Maybe he does what he does to prevent something worse than him later on. Give the hero moral quandaries so he's not just LOL I'M THE HERO. Heck, Batman has done more than the Gotham police force to clean up crime, and even his allies (and Batman himself) sometimes question the measures he takes. Superman is the closest to a white knight that the DC universe has, but he has to worry that his superheroing might come back to harm his less-indestructible Earthling loved ones. Being completely good or completely evil should be hard.

Writing nuanced heroes and villains is a good way to add spice to your fiction and make your readers think. Your fans might side with one character or another for various reasons, but at least those reasons won't be exclusively because "he's the hero" or whatever. Writing in shades of gray rather than black and white also makes your story more interesting and enjoyable, and has a high likelihood of enticing your readers back for more.

And now, for something completely different...

Still making progress in my book sales (woohoo!), but I really hope they pick up soon. I'll be at Bookseller's Row at Archon 38 this year, my first time selling stuff at a convention, so feel free to come by if you're in Collinsville, IL the weekend of October 3-5 and pick up a copy!

And my sales progress:


I'll be back next week with more ramblings and news! Follow my blog for regular updates!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Things I Wish I Knew About Self-Publishing Before I Started

As I get ready to self-publish my next book, I find myself looking back on the lessons that I have learned from publishing my first--things I wish I'd known the first time around. In hindsight they seem like fairly simple things, but they can mean everything in terms of success.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

Self-Publishing is Hard

It's not hard in the same way traditional publishing is hard--goodness, no. With traditional publishing they hard part is getting past the gatekeeper--usually the lead editor--but once you do, everything is gravy.  They take care of formatting cover art, promotion, and distribution. They have complete control over how much exposure your book gets.

The good news is that a self-pubbed author has complete control over all of this.

This is also the bad news.

Print-on-demand companies like Createspace do ease the pain quite a lot, but you, the author, are still in charge of getting all the different components together. If you don't plan this stuff out ahead of time (see below), you will likely be left scrambling.

Self-Publishing Can Be Expensive

Note that I said "can be" rather than "is". You will find sites all over the internet that offer "author services" that range from copy editing to cover art to formatting, for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to something equivalent to your first-born child. If you're not careful, you might drop a whole load of money into one of these places and get something in return that looks like crap.

Thus, it is imperative that you take the time to shop around. If you're self-publishing, you're not on anyone's schedule but your own. You will have plenty of time to get all your ducks in a row within whatever budget you happen to have.

Pursuant to that...

Plan Ahead

I will be the first to admit that I didn't plan out how I wanted to get Sheep's Clothing out there and in the public eye. I was just so excited by the prospect of getting my book published that I completely forgot about this step. This left me scrambling to get my marketing stuff all set up and to find reviewers that wouldn't cost me hundreds of dollars, and to contact bookstores for events and all that jazz.

It was way more stress than I needed.

Your best best is to plan your marketing about four months before you release your book. This will give you time to create buzz on the various book blogs and in your social media (you do have that, right?) and tell whomever you want to know about your Really Awesome Book Coming Out. It will also allow you time to line up venues for a book release party and for signings after release day. Trying to do all this after release really, really sucks.

In Conclusion

I was young and naive (...this past February) and I've learned some hard lessons since then. I hope to do better with my next self-pubbed book, but I'm sure this will be its own brand of a learning experience as well. The publishing world is always changing and evolving, and as more and more authors start taking the self-pub route, more people will find out additional quirks in the process.

Hopefully, if you decide to self-publish, you won't make the same mistakes I did.

Happy writing!

And now, for something completely different...

I've been making decent progress with selling my books this month, though not as much as I'd like. At the beginning of August I'll provide a complete breakdown of what I did in July.
12 / 1000 (1.20%)

Enjoy what you read? Follow my blog for regular updates!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Plotters vs. Pantsers

This week's article will be on the two major types of fiction writers I keep hearing about: plotters and pantsers. The difference in approach between the two seems to define how the first draft of anything is done, and there have been heated arguments over the merits of their respective style. Which one is right for you? Have a look.

Simply put, plotters are writers who plan the heck out of anything before they begin writing. They have complete character profiles on absolutely everyone in their book, they have a detailed outline of every chapter, scene, interaction, and implication, and can weave the whole thing together into a complex whole when they start writing. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They get an idea and start writing to see where it leads them, discovering new characters as they go and generally letting the characters and plot do what feels natural.

Plotters take a while to actually get to the writing. They invest a lot into the front-end stuff, from outlining to researching, and generally collect a healthy file on their book before they actually start writing. Pantsers don't do a lot of front-end stuff, but launch into the story right away. Any research or notes they need to address happens either during the writing, or during the back-end stuff like revisions.

One a plotter gets to the writing, their preparation level tends to allow them to blast straight through the rough draft, with only minimal pausing due to unrelated writing issues like writer's block or even a bad case of Can't-Be-Arsed. A pantser may start quickly, only to have to stop and go back to fix a research error or look something up or work out how this that or the other detail would work within their setting. Occasionally their characters will simply stop cooperating, forcing the hapless pantser to figure out what's going wrong with the story or where it needs to go next.

Plotters may plan out a lot of books at once (see: James Patterson) or even had the entire course of a series mapped out (see: J.K. Rowling), but it seems logical that with the amount of prep they have, they would actually write one book at a time. When you know exactly where your book is going to do, there is nothing to stop you from focusing on that project until it's done (at least the rough draft) before moving on to the next thing in line. Pantsers... frequently have to improvise. They might have a whole pile of works in progress lying around because of some combination of writer's block, attention deficit creator disorder, or because they just got stuck in a plot hole and couldn't figure out how to dig their way out. This is not to say that they don't finish anything, of course--they just are more likely to have multiple irons in the fire.

This is, of course, not intended to be an indictment on the quality of writing produced by either pantsers or plotters, as both are equally capable of producing quite wonderful works of fiction. Pansters are not universally disorganized, and plotters are not universally anal-retentive neat freaks. With sufficient editing, both can produce perfectly enjoyable stories. They just go about it in different ways.

What style suits you? Let me know in the comments!

Progress Update:

8 / 1000 (0.80%)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Fine Art of the Weird Western

I never really expected to write a weird western, right up until I decided to write a vampire story. I didn't want my vampires to be the beautiful elite sexpots that half of everyone was writing these days, and I didn't want them to be anything approaching love interests, like 90% of everyone was writing.

The obvious solution, of course, was to take them out of modern times and write a historical(ish) vampire story.

Then came the hard part: figuring out how to write a weird western.

Writing a weird western doesn't have to be hard. It can be complicated, mind you, because you have historical stuff blended with decidedly non-historical stuff, but if you keep a few elements in mind, you should be on the right track.

The Setting

This is one of two major things that makes a weird western what it is. The area of North America west of the Mississippi was one hell of a place. Nobody setting out to settle there had the least idea what to expect, and they often encountered lots of scary stuff, ranging from the wildlife to the natives to fellow settlers to outlaws who just wanted to kill you and take you stuff because they could. Because it was a great big expanse of unknowns, it lent itself well to ghost stories and legends and tall tales and all sorts of cool stuff.

Of course, if you want to do this properly, you need to do your research. There are lots of nonfiction books floating around that will give you a fair idea of what sorts of things were going on at that time and place, and reading any mainstream western novel will give you a pretty good snapshot of what life was like back then--wild, dangerous, thrilling, and everyone able to kill you. Not everyone was a gunslinger, but pretty much everyone able to walk knew how to use a gun.

Then again, your standard iron won't do much against a vampire, but that's there the horror bits come in.

The Critters

Take a look at the folklore of the day, and you'll find some pretty crazy stories in fairly short order. Shapeshifters, ghosts, boogeymen, vengeful undead of all shades, and that's just what the settlers cooked up. Native American folklore has even crazier stuff, with nature spirits and shapeshifting animals and things that we might call demons that will just eat your face if you don't handle them correctly or just stay the hell out of their territory. Vampires can be found in Native American lore (called Children of Jumlin, not apotamkin, which is a completely different critter), as can serviceable werewolves (not all of which are considered malevolent) and any number of things that roam around in the spirit world.

The Magic

The weird west genre always has some form of magical or supernatural element to it. This distinguishes it from its spiritual cousin, cattle punk, which tends to have science fiction elements like anachronistic tech levels. How you handle the magic and supernatural stuff depends largely on what rules you want to have apply to it. Is this something that anyone can learn (in which case your tale will swiftly become a monster-killing romp), or can only a few people use it, like shamans or whatever other Wild West wizards you want to have roaming around? Does it work well with technology, or not?

Basically, the magic goes hand-in-hand with your critters, because most wild west heroes are going to have to use something unusual to kill your beasties. Emptying a revolver into a vampire is just going to tickle him, but if you have a priest or holy man bless your gun, that's likely to get his attention a lot faster (making the guy with the blessed gun his next target, but that's how it goes). In Sheep's Clothing, my half-skinwalker protagonist Wolf was laid low and nearly killed with a silver dagger, because he's basically a werewolf from a different culture, and that's how werewolves roll.

 Lots of evil critters in folklore are repelled or harmed by good old-fashioned religious items, but that might largely depend on which banes you use on which critters. A Native American beastie might laugh at a brandished crucifix, for example, while a European monster might cheerfully set a Native American totem on fire. A significant chunk of your story might be a Muggle protagonist learning how these things work from a more experienced teacher, just in time for him to unleash hell on the supernatural threat in spades at the climax.

In Conclusion

A weird western, by its very nature, requires the writer to combine a lot of different elements that don't always go together. How much work you put into it and how you combine the different bits will determine what kind of weird western you have when you finish. The only real requirement is that you have a great time writing it, so that your enthusiasm shows in the final product.

And one more thing...

Here's a tiny progress update on my goal of selling 1000 copies of Sheep's Clothing:
7 / 1000 (0.70%)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Modest Request

The last week has been a bit hectic for me. The roof in the apartment building where I live developed a crack, which resulted in my bedroom getting flooded twice in as many rainstorms. In between dealing with the leasing office, the maintenance guys, my renter's insurance, and the water mitigation guys, I simply had no time or energy to write a blog post last week, but I will do my best not to vanish without warning from now on.


This month, I have decided to embark on a concerted marketing campaign for Sheep's Clothing. My goal is to sell 1000 copies of my book my this time next year, and for this I need your help. I need everyone to at least take a look at my book, and if you find it interesting, then by all means buy a copy and leave a review. If you know anyone who would be interested in reading a Weird Western involving old-school vampires, tell them about my book. It is a well-researched but light read, and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback (4.5/5 starts on Amazon!), so what do you have to lose?

What I am going to do is submit my book to as many book review bloggers as I can, do interviews, give talks at various venues, and above all, I will keep my network (you) updated as far as my progress goes. This will keep me accountable for my own marketing efforts and keep me from getting lazy, and it will allow you to share in the accomplishment. So, once a month, I will provide an update on what I have done, and how many new copies I have sold.

Why am I doing all this? First, sales have been a bit anemic, and I think there's a lot more I could be doing to market my book. Second, I will need the funds to help replace the stuff that got water-damaged in the flood. Third, I want to make sure as many people as possible know about my book. Fourth, I think this will be a great learning experience for me.

And of course, to make it super easy for you to find where Sheep's Clothing can be purchased, I'm including a whole raft of links to the various places where it's available.

Createspace:  https://www.createspace.com/4641690
Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Sheeps-Clothing-Elizabeth-Einspanier/dp/1495358372/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1404234604&sr=1-2
Kindle eBook:  http://www.amazon.com/Sheeps-Clothing-Elizabeth-Einspanier-ebook/dp/B00IWY0Z6A/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404234604&sr=1-2&keywords=sheep%27s+clothing
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sheeps-clothing-elizabeth-einspanier/1118630507?ean=9781495358371
Subterranean Books: http://store.subbooks.com/book/9781495358371

I will update this list as I get more sources.

And of course, be sure to follow my blog for updates here, visit my website here, and be sure to join my mailing list here.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.einspanier.author
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeekGirlWriter
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+ElizabethEinspanier/posts/p/pub
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/GeekGirlWriter
Librarything: https://www.librarything.com/author/einspanierelizabeth

Wish me luck!
0 / 1000 (0.00%)

[Progress bar by another little progress bar]