From the Shadows … Again

Two years ago, I published my second novel, a short space opera titled “From the Shadows.” It was my first time doing my own formatting, and while the finished product was acceptable, I was never thoroughly happy with it. As time went by and I learned more about the craft of self-publishing, I began to see the errors I had made, and how to fix them. I wasn’t sure, though–was it silly to release a second edition only two years after the first? Would readers even care? Was it worth the effort?

In the end, the questions boiled down to this: did I care enough about this story to make it the best I possibly could, no matter how difficult or awkward it might be.

The answer, after a lot of soul-searching, was yes.

From the Shadows has never been a popular book. I get far more requests for the next Whitney & Davies book (it’s coming, it’s coming) than I do a sequel to From the Shadows. I doubted it had a fandom that would be at all affected by a new edition.

But I love this story. I love the characters, I love the theme that surprised me by weaving through it, I love the adventure, I love the world. This story meant something to me. It still does. I knew that I would always be unhappy about it if I knew I could make it better and didn’t.

So, I got to work. I reformatted. I went through and eliminated a few typos that had slipped through (there are always typos that slip through). I took out dozens of “justs” and “verys” and my other nemesis words that also always tend to slip through. I included a short story at the end, because if I’m already going to all this work I might as well include some new content, right? I kept the basic cover (because it’s gorgeous and I can’t imagine a better one) but updated the title and author font as well as the back copy.

It was tedious work, but I found I didn’t mind. In fact, going through the book with a fine-tooth comb was even joyful. It felt like getting reacquainted with old friends. I fell in love with the story all over again.

I received my proof copy in the mail today, and I’ve begun the process of retiring the old paperback so I can bring out the new one, as well as updating the Kindle edition (which will carry through to the other retailers as well). I’m hoping to have everything up and running by November 30, two years minus one day since the book first came out.

I hope it makes even more friends this time around, and that readers will fall in love with this world and these characters just as I did in writing them.

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Magic in Disguise: Progress

I have passed the halfway point on Magic in Disguise!

This book has been more exhausting than any I’ve ever worked on, published or unpublished. I started it immediately after publishing Magic Most Deadly, which was released September 2013. Since then, the plot has changed about five times, and I took a long break to work on From the Shadows instead, as well as starting Rivers Wide (which is currently in the beta-reading stage), and have discarded many, many drafts.

This one, though … this is the one that’s going to stick. The last draft was close, gave the skeleton of the story, and this one is making sense of it and filling it in. I think I had a couple femurs in place of humeri before and was missing a patella or two, but I’m getting them all sorted now.

How’s THAT for a metaphor of story-writing?

This book takes place in London 1925, when Maia has been apprenticed to Aunt Amelia for a little over three years. The London setting means we won’t see the return of certain characters such as Merry and Ellie or Julia and Dan (though we might get a cameo for one of them …), but never fear, Maia and Len and Becket are all present, as is the indomitable Aunt Amelia (for at least part of it). There will also be some new characters introduced, such as Helen Radcliffe, a young lady magician who has become good friends with Maia and gets caught up with great enthusiasm in their current investigation. The threat this time is more personal, with danger entering Aunt Amelia’s house and attacking Len, but the stakes are no less high for that. This book also delves a little bit deeper into the magic system itself, giving more spells, potions, and other ways of practicing magic while Maia learns how to control her ability and attempts to not blow too many things up in the process. And, of course, we get to see the relationship between Len and Maia grow and develop, but whether or not that includes romance I’m not telling!

It’s fun to write, even while it is exhausting, and I am getting to that point where I am eager to finish it so as to find if others will find it as enjoyable to read as it has been to create. We’ve got a long way to go still, but little by little, slowly but surely, it is coming.

Magic Most Deadly Sequel! (Soon)

Well!

Thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo, I managed to get the entire first draft of Magic Most Deadly’s sequel written in a month. One month! I started at the end of June, and finished right before the end of July. That’s … mind-boggling, really.

Now granted, it’s just the bare bones of the story. It needs about 20,000 more words, not to mention more clues, more suspects, more red herrings, more everything that makes it a mystery. But the skeleton is there, and fleshing it out will be the fun part (is that a gross metaphor? Sorry).

This sequel … I’ve been working on it ever since I published MMD, so … since fall 2013. That’s almost two full years, and it’s taken me this long to get the first draft written. So you can see why I’m pleased.

I like the direction it’s taking Len and Maia – some of the plot twists surprised even me, leaving me scrambling to catch up. I like the character developments, getting to know these people a little more, digging a little deeper into who they are than I did in the first book. And I like the plot, messy as it is right now! I think it’ll be a lot of fun once it gets cleaned up, and I hope will leave readers guessing until the final reveal.

One of the fun things about this book is that I was inspired to break out of my preconceived notions of 1920s England. I did some research, and as a result I get to introduce some new and diverse characters in it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Julia and Dan and Sgt. Andrews and all the rest from MMD, but it was really exciting for me to broaden my scope and take the notion that magic breaks down class and gender roles, and realize that means that it would also break down racial walls, and then explore what that looks like.

I’ll be doing more posts about the world of MMD and the characters in the upcoming months, as I work on the next draft, so let me know if there are any questions you have or topics you’d like to see me tackle!

For now, I’m taking a little break to let the story settle, and working more on From the Shadows, which I hope to be able to publish late fall or early winter. And I haven’t forgotten about Rivers Wide, either! That’s due to begin serialization also this winter. It’s going to be a busy season, but a fun one!

Summer Doings

From the Shadows is on its last round of betas before being sent to my editor.

Rivers Wide is a complete first draft, and is simmering before I tackle the second.

I am 5 1/2 chapters in to Magic Most Deadly’s sequel, and the plot just clicked into place while I was preparing supper tonight, leading to a frantic scramble to jot down the outline and how everything connects together while simultaneously not letting the food burn. (The glamorous life of a writer!)

I also discovered Azalea’s Dolls the other day, and have been happily procrastinating whenever I hit a stone wall in my writing by creating dolls of my characters. The options are limited for creating outfits that look even remotely 1920s-ish, but …

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians' Ball

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians’ Ball

Maia's magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians' Ball

Maia’s magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians’ Ball

 

As you can see, I’m making do.

In other news, we recently spent two weeks visiting family, and one week recovering (i.e, sleeping), are doing our best to keep from melting in the heat, and are planning a fun getaway for next weekend, when Carl and I celebrate our 11th—11th!—anniversary. The kids will go to Grandma’s and pick raspberries and swim in her pool, and he and I shall go to a B&B in the White Mountains, and everybody will be happy, including Grandma. This will be Carl’s and my first time getting away without the kids since having kids. I think it’s time!

I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo again this July, and while I really sputtered with getting started, I’m picking up steam now. I would love so much to get the first draft to MMD’s sequel completed this summer! But we’ll see. Of slightly more importance is making sure this summer is a time of rest for all of us, so that we can face the fall routine gladly when it comes.

Or if not gladly, at least without being so exhausted it makes us want to cry. (Which is what happened to me last year, and which I would really like to not repeat …)

How is your summer going, friends?

The Non-Problem of Susan

I always wondered what it would take for me to finally break down and write that “There is no problem of Susan” post. Today, I found out.

There’s a meme going around Tumblr about “Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and …” finish as your preference lies, either she is treated horribly by the baristas because she is feminine or she won’t order coffee because she doesn’t like it any more. Here’s the thing: I think both are missing the point. I respect other people’s opinions on the matter, even the ones with which I disagree, but I have my own opinion on this as well, and so I offer it here.

To run with the coffee shop analogy:

Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and wants imitation coffee. When told that they only offer real coffee at this shop, but here, have a comfortable chair and a pastry while you wait for us to lovingly prepare it for you, and oh by the way, there’s no charge for any of this, she walks out without anything, and from then on mocks the rest of her family for still going to that coffee shop.

CS Lewis was very, very big on Truth over Falsehood, Depth over Shallows, Beauty over Ashes. That theme is woven throughout the Chronicles of Narnia – sometimes obviously, as in The Silver Chair, when the children, the prince, and Puddleglum must fight to believe in a true sky, a true sun, a true Lion, over the Witch’s imitations of such things in the Underworld. Or the difference between the true Aslan and the Ass clothed in a lionskin in The Last Battle. Oftentimes it’s more subtle: Lucy’s genuine beauty springing from her love for Aslan as opposed to the false beauty the spell would have given her in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example.

Susan has not been banned from Narnia because she has become a true woman. In fact, none of them were banned from Narnia. When people graduate from school, do we consider them unjustly treated? Are they often sad to leave school, especially if it was a wonderful experience? Yes, Narnia was a wonderful place for the children to learn about Truth, about Beauty, and about Aslan. But eventually, they grew to the point where Narnia had given them all it could offer, and they needed to go forward and apply that knowledge to their everyday lives. Just as, with school, eventually you have to leave and take what you learned there and use it in your adult life.

But there are some people who, upon leaving school, never really want to move forward. They are glad to be leaving school behind, and to think of themselves as grown-up, but they aren’t actually ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. They prefer to remain in perpetual adolescence, a life of frivolity, never going beyond the shallows of life to taste the true joy and awe of the deeps.

That’s Susan’s issue. As Polly says, “Grown-up indeed! I wish she would grow up.” The problem isn’t that she is an adult woman instead of a child. The problem isn’t that she’s embraced femininity. It’s good to grow up, and to wholly embrace who you are. It’s not “lipstick, nylons, and invitations” that’s the problem. It’s considering those things the most important – artificial prettiness and popularity over true Beauty, Friendship, and Love. Or to use Lewis’ own words:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)

It’s not that any of those things are bad. But for Lewis, they were not enough. They could not be the end goal of life. To continue to borrow his metaphor, Susan was one who had seen glimpses of the sea, and deliberately forgotten it so as to better enjoy her mud pies. That is her tragedy. And that is her relatability, for who among us has not done the same?

But there is hope for Susan – “Once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia,” you know.  And we miss that hope when we miss the point of her journey.

Book Recommendations: Sci-Fi

Time for another book recommendation post!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, but never got into the hardcore stuff. Star Wars, movies and novels, made up the majority of my fascination for a long time. Star Trek, especially Voyager (yes, in watching the show now I can understand people’s irritation, and am frustrated myself, at the weak storylines and bland character developments when it had SO MUCH MORE POTENTIAL, but it’s still my favorite of all of them) was a mainstay of my teenage and college years. As an adult I discovered Doctor Who and Firefly, and though my relationship with Doctor Who has soured to the point where I no longer care about it in the slightest, it was wonderful for a while. And I adore Firefly (ZOE!!!). I also get a kick out Warehouse 13, and one of these days I am actually going to watch The X-Files.

But … those are all TV shows. And movies, counting Star Wars. There aren’t a whole lot of books which I’ve read in the sci-fi category. And none at all on my shelves, save for a few holdovers from my Star Wars EU days. So I’m always looking for more.

What I love in sci-fi is not just cool technology and spaceships, although I do love those. And I’m not one who is into all the science-y talk, and figuring out the possibilities and probabilities of Faster-Than-Light speed or the like. Aliens are cool, but not essential. I really like just good old-fashioned space opera, the small drama of human existence played out against the wide background of space (or the wide background of a bigger universe than one we’re aware of – like Warehouse 13. It doesn’t have to be space, though I admit I love that best).

So, here are the few books/series I’ve read and enjoyed, and one or two I’ve tried and now wish to steer clear of, and please feel free to hit me up with more based on what I’ve already tried!

Star Wars Expanded Universe. I sold most of my Star Wars EU collection before one of our moves; it was a wrench, but I really didn’t read them anymore, and the New Jedi Order books had left me feeling rather cold toward the EU in general. I kept my X-Wing novels, though, at least all the ones before the NJO, as well as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. Oh, and Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi. I saved all those because I would love them whether they were Star Wars or not, they were just fun, fun reads. And glad I was that I did when Aaron Allston died and I was able to re-read all the Wraith Squadron books by simply going down to our storage unit in the basement and pulling them out of a box there.

The Vorkosigan Saga. I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books first, and loved them so much I turned to her Vorkosigan books as soon as I finished Paladin of Souls. I read Cordelia’s Honor first, and loved it but was so overwhelmed that it took me a little while before I could read The Warrior’s Apprentice. That pattern has remained, in fact. I love each book that I read, but I have to take long breaks in between them because I get so intensely involved in them as I read. And I absolutely cannot read them before bed, or my mind races like crazy all night long!

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. These books, by Ann Leckie, are so, so good. Rich characters? Check. Sci-fi and alien concepts used to bring home truths about our own societies and thought processes? Check. Intricate, well-developed plots? Check.

The Touchstone Trilogy. By Andrea K. Höst, an indie writer from Australia. These novels, written in diary form by the teenage protagonist, a girl from our world thrown all of a sudden into a strange new universe, are brilliant. I’m dying to re-read them, but making myself wait until I finish writing From the Shadows, which is also written in diary form from the perspective of a character thrown out of her ordinary world into a new one (of sorts). There are enough similarities there that I don’t want to let myself be accidentally influenced by Höst. I’m saving the trilogy re-read as a reward for finishing my own work.

Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, by RJ Anderson. Oh my. I love these books. Not space opera, but glorious nonetheless. Ultraviolet especially was so gripping and so unexpectedly moving to me, in a way I hadn’t experienced since reading A Ring of Endless Light.

Now for the ones I’ve tried but didn’t love.

Honor Harrington. I really, really enjoyed the first one. The second one dealt with some topics which turn my stomach, and while it might have handled them well (they are so distressing to me I cannot possibly be objective about how they’re handled – I had the same problem with the Phryne Fisher books), it made it impossible for me to continue with the series.

Ender’s Game. I read it because it’s a sci-fi classic. It was, I thought, really brilliantly written. But I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all I can say on that.

To close, I will mention that I have the first book of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series coming to me through ILL, but there was a glitch and it got held up for about two weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I’m excited to try when it does get here!

There you have it, my list as best my memory (and my Goodreads lists) can serve. What do you recommend, or recommend I avoid in my search for more awesome-to-me science fiction books?

Update:

Doris Egan’s Ivory books have been recommended (and I ordered the first one already!)

Two people (blog and FB) recommended Anne McCaffrey: the later Pern books, the Talents series, and the Crystal Singer series.

Also recommended was Shannon Hale’s MG superhero book Dangerous.

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Costume

Carl finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls last night before bed. They hadn’t been too sure about it at first, but round about the supper at the Beavers’ house, they were hooked. They needed a little bit of explanation about why the Witch killed Aslan, and how he came back to life (at first Gracie thought the Witch brought him back to life – that took some straightening out), and a couple other parts confused them at first, but overall they loved it.

So much so, in fact, that they are right now listening to it on audiobook while they take their afternoon rest. It’s narrated by Michael York, and I keep picturing Captain Crane from Road to Avonlea telling the tale, and it’s cracking me up.

Joy’s Halloween costume is a medieval princess, with an underdress of light blue and a sleeveless overdress of dark blue, and we figured out how to strap a toy shield at her side and fake a scabbard out of ribbon to go over her shoulder for her foam sword. Last night, I asked her if, now that we’d read the entire story, she was going to be Lucy for Halloween.

“No,” she said, looking at me like I was crazy. “I’m the oldest. I’m Susan.”

Er. Right.

I think we’ll stick with “warrior princess” so as to avoid any confused and well-meaning neighbors spoiling the ending of The Last Battle for her.

And then I really need to introduce her to Eilonwy, who is NOT a younger sister.

(Gracie, in case you are curious, if going to be a fox for Halloween. Mamma realized a couple weeks ago there was no way her princess dress would be finished in time, and the promise of getting her face painted was enough to sway her to something simpler. And even at that I only finished sewing the vest and stuffing the tail yesterday.)