Home is where you find it

A few years ago, as I was struggling to find my footing for the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, I was struck instead with inspiration for a science fiction novella, a tribute to Star Wars, Star Trek, and other hope-filled space operas. It demanded I put aside everything else and write it–so I did.

(That version of MMD’s sequel was terrible, anyway.)

Somehow or other in the writing of it, the story turned into so much more than this light-hearted tribute I had originally intended it to be. A theme of found family, of home, of finding the place where you belong, wound its way through. It became a letter of solidarity with all the other people in this world who feel stuck in the shadows of life and have a hard time feeling they belong in the light.

When I finished the novella (the song in the final act was written late at night, after I was supposed to be sleeping, because it came to me complete with tune and I was afraid that if I waited until morning I would lose it–which proved to be a good call, as I re-read the song the next day and said, “Wait, I wrote this?”) and sent it to my beta readers, they one and all sent it back saying it needed to be longer; it needed to be a novel.

Nah, I said. The story did what I wanted it to do. It was just a fun side-project. Now I needed to get back to my real work, that darn sequel.

But the story wouldn’t let go of me, and finally I broke down and expanded it. Filled out the side characters a bit more, developed the plot more deeply, made the protagonist’s journey a bit more winding, less jumping from Point A to Point Z without anything between. As usual, my beta readers were right. This was what the story needed.

This was the second book I self-published, and I made a lot of technical mistakes with it. The font was too small, the margins off, etc. So a couple years after publishing it, I went back to it. I loved this story, and I believed it deserved a better package. I went through and did a basic copy-edit, cleaning it up a bit without changing anything significant. I altered the font on the cover and made the back copy a bit cleaner. And I fixed the font and margin size and other issues in the physical copy. I added a brand-new short story at the end as a bonus, since the novel itself is on the shorter side of the spectrum.

From the Shadows is still my least popular published book. Yet those who have read it and reviewed it love it just as deeply as I do. My friend Laura still nudges me every so often asking when I’m going to write a sequel (I keep trying, but so far all the plots are too dumb or contrived. If it’s meant to happen, eventually something will come to me). My dream for it is that eventually it finds its own family, that the people for whom it will mean the most will discover it and take hope and encouragement from it.

To that end, I occasionally do things like write this blog post, reminding people that I did, once, write a story that was not a detective and/or fantasy tale, and that if space opera, character-driven stories, found families, and found homes, sound like something you would enjoy …

Here it is. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, as well as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

As a favor, to those of you who have read and have not yet left a review anywhere, would you mind doing so, either on one of the above sites or on Goodreads? They really do go a long way toward helping others who might also enjoy the book discover it. Those of you who have already done so: thank you! The more we all spread the word, the more we help this story, and these characters, find its, and their, home. After all, as one of the major themes of the story and the title of this post says …

Home is where you find it.

From the Shadows Short

In honor of the second edition of From the Shadows, I’m sharing a short story I wrote about Tyler and Sapphira’s first meeting. I love the friendship between these two, and I wanted to explore how that friendship began–was it always so easy and comfortable? Has Tyler always had that protective streak? What was Sapphira like as an ensign? How did an enlisted man and an officer get to be such good friends, anyway? And just what is Tyler’s full name?

This story, First Contact, answers all those questions and a few more. Check it out, and if you haven’t read From the Shadows yet, I hope this whets your appetite! You can follow the links on the “Books” page to purchase a copy of From the Shadows, free everywhere except Amazon, where it’s 99¢. (Or $9.99 if you want it in paperback)

In the meantime, enjoy “First Contact” for free right here on this blog.

Psst …

From the Shadows is still in the midst of the “being released” process, BUT you can get the new edition on Smashwords for FREE right now! It’s also free at Barnes & Noble. It’s $0.99 at Amazon and the more people who share links to Smashwords and B&N on the Amazon page to report a lower price, the better chance there is of them letting me drop it to free there, as well. (And that is, alas, the only way it will get to free on Amazon, so please please please, report those lower prices!). My goal is to have it free in ebook form everywhere by the end of the month, but I do need your help with that.

Also, reviews are desperately needed in order for the book to show up in search algorithms and the like, so after you pick up your free (or less-than-a-dollar) copy, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or both. This Indie author thanks you!

Once all the sites are aligned and everything is officially in order, I’ll update here again. Consider this your special pre-sale deal, offered to faithful blog friends before going out to the general public!

UPDATE: It is the old edition, but it is now free on Kobo as well, as my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger pointed out in the comments! Which made me check iBooks, and sure enough, it’s old but free there as well. So while you might want to hold off getting it from either of those places, you can at least use them to request a lower price from Amazon!

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.

Journal as Story

I recently finished a re-read of Andrea K Höst’s Touchstone series (I almost wrote trilogy, but since she’s added two books to the original three I think it’s definitely a series now), and am currently reading Melissa McShane’s “The Summoned Mage,” which is a fantasy written in journal format (I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far), and both are reminding me of the experience of writing From the Shadows.

I don’t generally write even in first person, so writing FTS was a new experience for me in a lot of ways–first person, journal format, and oh yeah, my first time writing science fiction. It was also the first time I wrote a novella and then stretched it out into a novel (a short novel, but a novel nonetheless).

Journal format is interesting, because it lets you inhabit your main POV character in a way even first person doesn’t. It feels very real, and I know FTS felt far more personal to me when it was finished than Magic Most Deadly or any of my other (non-published) novels. Even though Riss wasn’t me (yes, we have a lot in common, but this was not a thinly-disguised autobiography), by the end I had almost become her, so to speak. Which sounds a whole lot creepier than I intended.

It’s also a challenge to write in journal format without making it sound too tedious or ridiculous–nobody actually writes in a diary or journal the way we have to do it in a novel, reporting conversations in dialogue and giving background information and the like. So the author either has to ignore that and hope the readers can suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story, or else give a reason for why everything is written the way it is. I went the route of “someday this might become historical record and I might become the official recorder for this journey so I’m going to start organizing my entries that way now,” and I think it worked pretty well, though there obviously still has to be some suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. However, since FTS started with time travel and involved aliens, faster-than-light travel on spaceships, and a future earth where humans live in harmony with nature, the story format was not likely going to be the thing a reader got hung up on (though I will say I did MOUNDS of research so as to make all those things, if not believable, at least as easy-to-accept-and-move-on as possible. It involved a lot of conversations about physics with my engineer husband, also, weirdly enough, conversations about infrastructure).

The biggest difficulty for me with using the journal format for FTS is thinking about replicating it in any possible sequels (not that there’s been a great call for sequels, as the book has a pretty small readership as of this point, but you never know). For Riss, her journal was her safe place to express her feelings. By the end of the book (this is spoiler-ish but only in terms of character development, so I think it’s safe to continue even if you haven’t read the book) she had gotten to the place where she doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. So why would she pick it back up? Another historical record-type thing? (Like in the Cecy & Kate books?) Because she decides she likes the act of writing down her experiences, even though she doesn’t need it in the same way? I don’t want her to go backward in character development, that’s one thing I loathe in a series, where each book starts with the main character somehow back to where he or she had been at the start of the previous book, and all that character development in said book is wiped out (or in TV shows, where that sort of thing is all too common).

Or would it be possible to write any future books in straight first person, not as a journal? Or even in third person? I’ve written a few short stories* set in the FTS world, and in all of them, including the Riss-centric ones, I use third person. Which works for a short story, but I’m not sure if it would be too jarring in a novel. Megan Whalen Turner might be able to get away with switching POV characters and bouncing from first to third POV (and back again), but hoo boy, I don’t know if I’ll ever reach her level of prose mastery.

So I don’t know–I don’t know that I’ll ever write another story in the FTS world, or if I’ll ever write another story in journal format. I am, however, deeply grateful for the experience of having done it once, and reading the stories that I am right now are making me smile as I remember the experience. I loved that world, and those characters (I think I might have to do another post sometime soon on how the story and the characters developed), and I know working on it made me a better writer overall, no matter if I never use that style again. I can’t give much higher praise than that.

*I have written six short stories revolving around the FTS characters at different points in their lives, but I haven’t yet figured out what to do with them. Offer them up as freebies here on the blog? Publish them together as a FTS short story collection? Release a second edition of FTS with one or two of the stories included at the end? I’m still undecided, but once I’ve made up my mind, I’ll let you all know.

On Not Writing

I’m in a peculiar place right now, and I honestly can’t think of the last time I was here.

I have nothing to write.

Both Magic in Disguise and Rivers Wide are at their respective beta readers, waiting to be polished. I have no other projects on hand right now. For the first time in years, I am at a loss.

Oh, there are plenty of ideas. My lovely sci-fi story that’s been simmering in the back of my mind for several months now—except I’m not sure but that it needs more simmering before I start actually writing it. The next Whitney & Davies story—except I don’t have a plot for that yet. The sequel to Rivers Wide—except that is going to require a lot of research before I can actually write it. A possible sequel to From the Shadows—except I don’t know if I’m ready to return to that universe at this time. Something entirely new and different? Am I ready for that kind of commitment? Maybe some short stories? Except I’m kind of terrible at short stories?

I haven’t minded having a nice break, but my fingers are starting to itch. I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July in hopes that having those requirements will force me to get started. (Also because July is pretty much the only Camp NaNo month that works with my schedule) In the meantime I’ll keep resting my sprained ankle (which had been healing nicely, thank you, even ahead of schedule, until I did a two-mile beach walk and got a truly dreadful sunburn all in one day this past weekend, leading it to swell up like a balloon on me again. Sigh), slathering aloe on my sunburn, enjoying time with my visiting family, getting ready for Joy’s ballet recital, and going to Maine for a few days, as well as finishing up the year’s schoolwork with the kids so we can start fresh in September.

It’s not like I don’t have plenty to do … but none of it is writing and boy do I get antsy when I go too long without that!