Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To All Things There is a NaNoWriMo

For those who have been tracking my progress during National Novel Writing Month, I hit the required 50K last week. My rough draft of Book #3 of the Time Rovers Series is at an end. It's so rough that glass shards can't compete.

My spouse, wise to how I fret over these things, asked, "Does it have a beginning, middle and end?" I admitted it did. He beamed and said, "Congratulations. You have a new novel."

And he's right, of course. It needs a lot of work, but Book #3 has come to pass because of NaNoWriMo. My hearty thanks to Chris Baty and the folks who put this exercise together.

You're a shining beacon of service in the midst of a very murky publishing industry.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oy, the Questions! (Part V)

And the final few questions from the students at KSU.

From A.G. -- Would you like to expand to another line of books, such as romance or horror in the future?

I'm not a full-blown romance writer. I like a bit of romance in my stories, but to use fully half of the story to set up and deliver a romance doesn't work for me. That's a lot of real estate I could be using to deepen the mystery or complicate the heck out of the characters. I have a number of friends who write romance, a few who make good $$. I wish them well. It's just not in my DNA right now.

As to horror -- well, it depends on how you define the word. Trust me, there's lots of discussion about that. Some folks see horror strictly as slasher sorts of tales. To me horror can be a lot more subtle, that glide of icy cold across your skin on a dark night. That sense that you really are pretty clueless as to the bad things waiting to pounce on you. If you use that definition, I already write horror. I like to take my characters to the edge and see what they find when they peer into the abyss.

From K.F. -- Where do you come up with the lingo (terms) used in your books? Are these common science fiction terms or things you have to come up with?

To build a believable world, you have to set up the entire environment, including the nomenclature. For the Time Rovers Series I created new terms to fit 2057's technology. For the most part, they're reconstructions of words we currently use. Holo-screen and holo-keyboard, for instance. Nano-drive. Bots for robots. Words that denote a futuristic setting but are readly understandable by readers in 2006. Time Lag is a term that's been used before (Connie Willis' books). [Disclaimer: I didn't read Connie's time travel novels until after I finished the first draft of Sojourn. I was stunned to find we both have time travelers coming from 2057. So you heard it here first, time travel by '057.]

One side note on creating new words -- often fantasy authors go to great lengths to create incredibly detailed lineages for their knights/elves/trolls, whatever. And then give them names you cannot possibly pronounce, even if you go to the back of the book and hack through the pronunciation guide. Terry Pratchett knows how to work around this problem by giving his characters unique names, but ones that are easy to remember. Detritius (a troll), Knobby Knobs (a cop), Gaspode (a dog), Carrott Ironfounderson (another cop). Unique, but memorable. That's the way names should be.

From M.J. -- Why wouldn't you want to have 'Dame Rowling fame'?

This question comes from a comment I made during my presentation. I routinely have people who say, "Hey, someday you might be as famous as J.K. Rowling." I usually shudder when they say that. Do I wish Dame Rowling ill? Certainly not. She hit the market with precisely what readers wanted at the time. She's done well and she appears to have a very decent heart. That counts a lot in my book.

I am not seeking Rowling-level fame because of what that entails. Suddenly the world knows you. Even people in the farthest reaches of China know you (from the Chinese knock-offs of the Potter series). I'm not sure how it works in Scotland, but in the U.S. someone would be following me around when I went to the grocery store and squeezed the melons. Someone would be there when I bought my weekly order of sushi. Photos of important people are ready currency. So for J.K., privacy is the first casualty.

Then there's the pressure. How soon will the next book be out, Ms. Oliver? I get that now and it's a bit uncomfortable. You're thrilled your readers are keen for the next adventure, but in the back of your mind you're fretting over how good that next adventure will be. Multiply that pressure by gazillion and you have Dame Rowling's life. She seems to manage it well and that is to her credit. Still, that's a lot of pressure.

And lastly, the other problem with J.K.'s career is that she hit the top first crack out of the box. Now where does she go? She's 36 years old, worth over a billion U.S. dollars. Her biggest challenge is topping herself. Sure, she could retire and never pen another word. She won't, or more precisely... can't. The writing virus is hard to shake (ask Stephen King).

She's brought new readers into the fold. She has penned what one person called a "Gateway Drug." Once you read about Harry the world opens in front of you. You can go anywhere, anytime and live an adventure.

But wanting to live her life complete with all the responsibilities it entails? I think I'll pass.

From M.G. -- How long is the process of publishing a book?

It depends on who publishes it. A small press can put a book out in fairly short order. A big press with a full publishing schedule takes lots longer. Most publishers have their 2007 and early 2008 publishing schedules already set. In the case of Sojourn, Dragon Moon turned that book in four months. That was a special case because of a particular deadline. Usually it's 5-7 months (or longer) depending on editorial staffing commitments, cover designs, layout, etc. The bigger publishers can take anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to get a book on the shelf.

One of the key things that most readers don't know is that publisher issue Advance Reading Copies (ARCs or galleys) to reviewers before the book hits the shelves. Reviewers require at least 3-4 months lead time. If you're hoping for a review in Publisher's Weekly, it's got to be to them at least four months early. That chews up a lot of time before publication.

A question from K.J. -- Would your books be considered mainstream like John Grisham or Janet Evanovitch, or are your readers considered a nitch market? At what volume of sales would a book be considered mainstream? Who would reders compare you with (you are similar to)?

If you use the definition found here then technically I'm mainstream. However, since I am an odd blend of genres it's hard for the bookstores to put me on the shelves. Usually Sojourn is found under FANTASY. But it's also science fiction and historical mystery. So someone looking for a book set in Late Victorian London will most likely not be hunting in the fantasy section. Hence the problem.

I've had folks compare my fantasies to "early Anne McCaffrey". I appreciate that immensely. As to my Victorian book, I've not yet had anyone do a comparison, other than saying I was less dark than Caleb Carr (The Alienist). I'm not sure if it's a good thing that they can't pair my work up with a more famous author. Either it means I'm really doing my own thing or that no one's made the connection.

From a student whose name I could not read (though the signature is quite lovely) -- Because of the high costs that publishing carries, did you have any initial investors, friends or family members that helped fund your projects, or was it all you?

For my self-pubbed works, it was my credit card. Sure made the thing smoke. Now that I'm traditionally published, my publisher has all the expenses related to actual book production. However, I'm now spending more on publicity, etc., so it evens out.

And from T.M. -- You said you love ice cream. What's your favorite flavor?

Chocolate Mint and/or Coffee. Yum!!!!!!!!

And finally from C.H. -- If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be and why?

A Victorian boot. They were sturdy, reliable, able to handle the muck on the streets and still hold up. Something to be said for a decent set of footwear.

Thanks for asking, folks. It's been a blast.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 Update

Woot! I made my 50K words last night. Lest you think this is deathless prose, please think again. It's pure crap. First draft POS as Nora Roberts would say. Which is exactly what it's supposed to be.

I am quite pleased with how NaNoWriMo forced me to write and not futz with scenes. I have a LOT of editing to do and 50K is nowhere near the end of a novel. I actually have another 10K on top of the WriMo total that didn't count because it was added before Nov. 1st. If I can add yet another 20K, I'm in good shape.

By the time I edit the book, clean up the missing characters, flesh out the scenes and tie it together with Book #2, I'm in great shape. Maybe next year I can actually turn my fingers to a short story or two. That would be very nice.

Congrats to all who took the NaNoWriMo challenge, whether they hit 50K or not. You're learning your craft and that's what counts.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Oy, the Questions! (Part IV)

Continuing on with the questions from the Kennesaw State University Entertainment Marketing studients --

A question from D.T. -- What is the most interesting place you've traveled to?

I lived in Hong Kong for seven months as part of my job back in '94-95. I'd traveled to Britain, but never to Asia. It was a culture shock of major proportions. (My husband remained in the U.S.) I didn't speak Cantonese and though I'd spent a number of months studying customs, etc., nothing prepares you for actually living in a foreign country. We were setting up a new office and photo studio for my employer (an Iowa-based company). Intially there were two of us -- myself and a young fellow with a delightful Irish name. I went over a teetotaler and by the time Sean got through with me, I could pack down two or three pints in no time.

The work involved long hours (75-80 hours per week) and everything was a consummate hassle because I didn't grow up in the culture, couldn't speak the language, etc. By the end of the seven months I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

But the oddest thing happened -- a year later I was sent to Taiwan to live and the moment I stepped off the plane, I went, "Hey, I know this." I put my Western expectations in my back pocket and I was 'home'. The one month stay in Taipei was a breeze compared to the months in Hong Kong. Asia had changed me. I was never the same. There is a clear pre- and post-Hong Kong Jana. Even my friends noticed. If I could survive in an alien city, living on my own, working against impossible odds against ridiculous deadlines, I could do anything.

And I have from that point on. omeday I'll go back to Hong Kong, go to Mad Dog's for a pint (a Brit pub) and take the fennicular railway to the top of Victoria Peak so I can gaze on the harbor once more. It'll be good to be home.

And from C.S. -- Would you like for one of your books to be turned into a movie? Why or Why not?

Every writer dreams of arriving in a limo, stepping onto the red carpet, accepting a kiss on their hand from George Clooney (or Johnny Depp or...) Well, maybe not every writer. I do. It'd be a sincere kick to see your work on the big screen.

But you won't you see it, not the way your wrote it. SOJOURN is 369 pages. A movie is, at best, 120 minutes (unless it's LOTR). That's 120 pages of script. So a lot of stuff has to be trashed. That lovely scene where your hero/heroine discuss their past lovers -- toast. Instead you get a car chase through the back alleys of Late Victorian London -- gotta be there for the movie buffs.

To paraphrase a well-known author -- You drive your manuscript to the California state line, throw it across and take the check home and cash it.

It's never going to be exactly like your baby (even Peter Jackson altered some of the LOTR scenes). Once you accept that and the fact there will be little Hedwigs or magical wands in the Happy Meals, you'll be a whole lot happier.

From T.C. -- Would you consider writing in a different style (say crime/suspense/romance)? Would you use an alter[nate] author name or use your own name?

My latest book has been called suspense so I've already crossed that stream. My first book was a paranormal romance, so that stream's forded as well. I suspect I'll write in most genres (except chick lit though my heroine in SOJOURN does have a thing about comfortable shoes). If I pen something that is ultra sizzling erotica, that will go under another name for sure. My readers come to expect a certain type of book and where I like to surprise them, it's best if I don't give them a stroke.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

NaNoWriMo Update

Keeping up one's word count for NaNoWriMo is not easy.

It becomes doubly difficult when you have a spouse nailing furring strips to the basement ceiling in a room directly below your office in preparation for ceiling tiles. I know he's not doing it on purpose (or at least I'd like to think that) but it still makes it difficult to think.

Which is why Dell makes laptops. They're highly portable. I think a trip to the kitchen is in order. Besides, there's a full bottle of wine in the refrigerator. A big glass of homemade Pinot Noir plus a set of headphones and I'll prevail.

Word On!

Oy, the Questions! (Part III)

And yet a few more of the KSU students' queries --

Question from D.L. -- What do you like least about the current trends in the publishing industry?

I can't say I'm that fond of the trend toward not nuturing new authors. 10+ years ago, an author was given the opportunity to grow their readership over five books or so. Now you're not given that much space. The competition is very fierce. You have to 'make your numbers' or you're out on your thesaurus. Often newer writers don't hit their stride until readers find them and then tell their friends about the wonderful stories they'd just enjoyed. By that time, they're gone. Unfortunately, publishing has changed in response to the Big Box stores. They're looking for the next 'big hit'. That tends to be very hard on new writers coming up through the ranks. The chances of 'making it big' are greatly reduced.

And another from D.L. -- What do you feel about e-publishing?

Considering the waste in print books, I think e-books are a great option.The issue has been how to get the e-books into the readers' hands in a way that they'll find them easy to read. For me, sitting in front of the computer for hours on end holds no fascination. That's my day job. Work continues toward a well designed handheld device that will encourage folks to read e-books. They're making progress. Some niche markets have done really well in e-pub (Ellora's Cave's erotica, for example.)

I prefer a printed book, but if they come up with a decent reader, I'll go with it. I do know that SOJOURN has done very well as an e-book as the price is a lot lower than the print version. That allows readers the option of sampling my work for less than $9. If they like what they read, they can buy the print version or wait for the next book to come out in electronic format.

And this from C.H. -- Who do you think is an overrated writer?

You do want to get me burned at the stake, don't you? Since it is likely that some day this answer might come back to haunt me, I'll generalize. (You never know who you'll be sitting next to at a convention. I can just hear the writer guest of honor mutter, "Jana Oliver? Hey, you're the (expletive deleted) bozo who said my writing was lame."

Yes, C.H., there are overrated authors. Lots of them, just as there are underrated ones. I am not fond of authors who pad their books to make word count and who consider their readers 'stupid' (yes, there are some out there who make less than pleasant comments about the intellience of their readers without realizing that this actually reflects on them as well). I can't stand lame mysteries where I can figure out who the bad guy is on page 2. I get grumpy about authors who waltz a character in for a paragraph or two and then you never see them again. I'm okay if you're laying groundwork for another book in the series, but for heaven's sake be subtle about it!

One final comment on overrated authors. There are those authors who overrate themselves. These are the one that feel that they walk on water. I've seen it in bigger name authors and in those who have just self-pubbed their first book. Expecting to sit as an equal amongst the betters in your industry is not a right, it's a privilege. You have to earn it and it takes a LONG time. Even then, there will be someone infinitely better than you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Democracy in Action

Well, the election was a breath of fresh air. The citizens of this nation turned out to let the folks in Washington know they're not a happy bunch. In fact, most of Americans are sincerely p.o.'d. No minimum wage hike, tax cuts for the richest of our nation, etc., etc. And of course, Iraq and the continuing carnage.

Now if you expect me to do a rah-rah Democrat thing here, I'm not, though I come from a family of Democrats. No one party owns my soul, which is fortunate as the Dems aren't any less flawed than the GOP. Maybe a bit more idealistic, but just as flawed.

So let's all give ourselves a pat on the back for sending the only message Washington is inclined to hear. And keep our eye on the lot of them. The sting from a wrap across the knuckles doesn't last that long.

Friday, November 03, 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006

The title is not in response to my, ahem, heavy indulging of fermented beverages at HallowCon. On the contrary, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. The month began Nov. 1 and will continue in a typing frenzy until the 30th. The premise is simple -- write 50K words in a month or approx. 1667 words each day. Most folks always find excuses not to write. Or if they do write, they piddle with each single word until after a couple of years they generated...oh... one page. NaNoWriMo grants you the right to generate pure crap. As Jennifer Crusie would say, the "don't look down" draft. You just keep typing knowing that the scene you're working on is so trite Hollywood would think it's new and original, that it will no doubt end up in the TRASH with extreme prejudice, but still you keep writing.

I usually don't get to do NaNoWriMo as I'm busily engaged in editing my current 'masterpiece'. However, this year is different. I've already written the first draft of Book #2 in the Time Rovers series and I need to ensure that #3 completes the arc in a dramatic way. To reduce my fidgeting (and the tendency to drive my spouse nuts) I decided to NaNoWriMo Book #3. Doesn't matter if it's dumb, as long as it's on the page. I can clean out the dumb bits down the line. I can't do that if it's not written in the first place.

Lest you think there aren't that many of us fretting over the keyboard this year, last numbers indicate about 655 writers in Atlanta alone working on this project. Now take that worldwide and you got a LOT of folks scurrying home from work, ignoring the TV (and their kids) just to get their word count. Last time I checked over 82 million words had already been generated. Wow.

Will NaNoWriMo make the next Stephen King or Dame Rowling? Who knows. But it does force you to get words on the page and that leads to an improved chance you'll finish the novel. Sometimes you just need to be cornered to get something done. At least this time you're sharing the corner with a LOT more folks.

And now, back to my third book. I think this is the part where the aliens land in Trafalgar Square....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Oy, the Questions! (Part II)

Continuing on with the questions from the lads & lasses from KSU --

Question from A.M. -- If you hadn't become a writer, what do you think your career would be?

Ah, the old "What If?" question. Since I've had a number of careers before writing, this one isn't so hard to answer. I've always been fascinated with linguistics. I'm the sort of person who wants to read the early Christian gospels and Jewish texts in their original language. The King James version of the Bible is all fine and good, but I want to read the originals. That way I can judge for myself. I'm a bit of a skeptic, you see. Lots of life events have made me that way, so I don't always take someone's word for things like I did when I was younger.

Question from J.K. -- What sparked your fascincation with Jack the Ripper?

He got away. If Inspector Abberline had caught the fellow and he'd been hung, that's all sorted out, isn't it? But old Jack eluded both the Metropolitan and City police, Inspector Abberline at the top of his game, and vanished even though there were hundreds of cops on the streets during the height of the murders. That's nothing short of amazing. Madness or sheer chutzpah? I suspect a mixture of both.

Question from J.S. -- Could you support yourself and have a comfortable living on the money that you bring in from writing, or do you have to depend on a second income?

Unless I'm fine with living in a discarded refrigerator box under a bridge and eating toasted rodents three meals a day, my income is not going to support me in the fashion to which I'm accustomed. (Yet.) At present, I am blessed with a spouse who has a real job and keeps me warm and dry. He's a very sweet guy. Of course, he's hoping someday I make the big time and return the favor. I don't see a problem with that.