Amber & Dusk First Line + Giveaway

I can hardly believe it, but we’re only one month out from the release of my debut novel, Amber & Dusk! I’m so incredibly thrilled to be sharing this book with the world and I can’t wait for you all to read it.

(If you’re only here for the giveaway, scroll down to the bottom of the page. I promise I won’t be too mad.)

I’ve talked a lot about my publishing journey both here at Spellbound Scribes and elsewhere. I’ve talked a little about the inspiration for writing Amber & Dusk, and likely will write up a nice long post about all the research and media that inspired the book next month. But today, I want to talk about that one magical sentence on the first page of the first chapter. You got it–The First Line!

I think first lines are magical. I have a running list on my note app with my favorites, and I return to it often for inspiration (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure in the windowpane;” Nabokov). I actually even have some first lines memorized from books I didn’t even read (like Pynchon’s epic “A screaming comes across the sky.”) Yes, yes, you could say I’m a little obsessed. So it will come as no surprise that my obsession extends to my own work.

I spend a lot of time crafting the first lines of all my books, and Amber & Dusk was no exception. But what was unique about this first line is that it stayed exactly the same from the very beginning. The name of the main character changed (twice), a ghost king appeared and then (thankfully) disappeared, countless scenes were cut and reworked and added and revised. But the first line–it stuck! And so, to celebrate the 1 month countdown (technically, 33 days) here is the first line!

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And because I’m feeling extra celebratory, here’s an exclusive opportunity to win a signed hardback copy of Amber & Dusk, with character artwork, a personalized note from me, and an amber pendant reminiscent of the one worn by my main character! To enter, follow the link for ways to enter, such as commenting on this post and following me and the Scribes on social media. Good luck!

Click here to enter via Rafflecopter!

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The Benefit of the Exploratory Trip

One of the most important things a writer can do when writing a book, is to make the reader feel fully immersed in the world of the story. The reader should see the world as if they’ve been there; they should smell the city streets with its cars and restaurants, or country road with the sun-baked dirt and drying leaves, or the crisp, cool, lung-burning cold of snowy mountains; they should hear the languages, the voices, the animals, the hum of the world.

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If you’re writing a fantasy world, obviously, you just gotta make this all up and try to remember these precious little details and hope the reader can see what you’re trying to paint with your words. So often when books are made into TV and film you hear people say, “It’s exactly as I imagined it!” If so, then that means the writer did a great job conveying to multiple people to see the same thing in their heads.

But what if you’re writing about a real place?

If you’re writing about a place that people are familiar with, you gotta hit those notes and those notes tend to be different for everyone. Take Paris for example. For me, I have a scent memory of roasting chicken that evokes a neighborhood in Paris where I spent my honeymoon because one of the grocers from the neighborhood market always had roasting chickens in the windows. That’s pretty specific and might not work for everyone, but talk about warm rain in the summer, where the sun refuses to set until after dinner and almost late enough for bed? That’s more universal. But if you haven’t been there in the summer, you might not know that the sun doesn’t set until well into the night. If you don’t know a place well enough to describe it accurately, your world won’t be believable.

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Which is why a lot of writers will make sure they’ll set their books in places they’re familiar with. Like me, again, for example. I have one fantasy series set in the town I live in and one apocalyptic series mostly set in the county I live in. I know this area inside and out. So I can imagine it in an apocalyptic setting and what that might mean. I know what it’s like in summer and winter and I know what our beaches smell like and how long it takes to get from one side of town to the other. I can immerse a reader even if they’ve never heard of my town.

So what do you do if you want to set a book in a real place that you’ve never been?

I highly recommend an exploratory trip. Obviously, I’m talking about something that takes time and money and not everyone can do that, so if you can’t, try to reach out to locals, read travel blogs, check Insta posts, do whatever you can to familiarize yourself. But! If you can, then go.

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As writers we’re not always sure what we can and cannot claim as write-offs on our taxes, but an exploratory trip can be. Just make sure you’re actually going to do research and can back that up should you need to. (Also, do not take tax advice from me, go get a CPA or an accountant to help you make sure everything is on the up and up.)

Last year I was lucky enough to take an exploratory trip to Ireland. I’d studied many, many things about Ireland through my life, but nothing could give me the education that I got by actually being there. For example, I had no idea how many wild blackberry bushes grow all around. What a detail!

In a week I’m taking a road trip to Las Vegas. I know, Vegas, right, sure, it’s for work, wink-wink. But it is. I have a trilogy set in Vegas and I am on the verge of starting to write the last book (FINALLY) and I need some inspiration. I’ve been struggling all year to get back into writing after taking a much needed break, and I think immersing myself in the desert, reminding myself what that world feels, smells, sounds, and looks like will help me spark that inspiration. You behave differently when you’re some place different than home, you have new experiences even if you’ve been there before. You eat strange things and you meet new people. All fodder for a book and the world building of that book.

If you can do an exploratory trip, make sure you research ahead of time so you don’t forget things you wanted to see or do once you’re there. And take pictures, lots and lots of pictures. Notes are good and can help some people, but taking photos to remind yourself what something was like can be invaluable. Especially if you want to remember the details of something you might not write down.

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Piracy and the Value of Art

The day after my latest novel published, I awoke to two emails that put me in a bad mood for a while. They weren’t negative reviews, but rather readers asking me to either give them my book for free or at an internationally adjusted price that would have caused me to lose money. One of them was even asking for my trilogy compendium for free – so three books for nothing. While this may have been done out of ignorance, it is still not right.

When did expecting something for nothing become permissible? I wanted to write back and ask if they would walk into a museum, take a painting off the wall, and walk out with it. Because that is exactly what they are asking to do with my book. The book that took me over two years of hard work to write, or in the case of the trilogy, 19 years. Apparently my time, blood, sweat and tears are not valuable – at least to them.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration pirate websites. Every day I see my books show up on new sites that I didn’t authorize. There are tools like Blasty that can help – and I have tried it – but even it is of limited use, especially if you don’t want to pay for the premium version (which is yet another cost for an author shoulder) and/or don’t have the time to monitor/blast the sites. Perhaps if I wrote full-time or had an assistant it would be a reasonable way to fight piracy. But for now, all I can do is ignore it. I’m trying to take the Neil Gaiman approach and think of it as free advertising because people looking for a free book wouldn’t have paid for it even if these sites weren’t there. I don’t really have another choice.

I’m an indie author. Most months that I don’t have a new release or do any marketing (which costs money), I’m lucky to make three figures. Even on my best months, I’ve never made more than mid-three figures. Overall, what I make from my writing is about 5% of my annual income. (Thank God for my day job, as much as I complain about it and wish I didn’t need it.) I can’t afford to give my art away for free.

There are times that I do giveaways, but I don’t do them out of the goodness of my heart. They are strategic. I give free copies to my Street Team to help get reviews, which drive sales. (Which I may stop doing depending on how that strategy pans out, even if it is considered a best practice in the industry.) Occasionally, I do contests to bring in readers or increase my mailing list. Sometimes I put the books on sale for $0.99, but that is done to help entice people to read them.

If I am to continue writing, I can’t afford to give away my book for free just because people don’t want to pay for it. It costs me hundreds of dollars to produce a book, sometimes over a thousand, depending on the marketing I do, or several thousand if an audio book is involved. Because I don’t have a traditional house marketing me, it is hard to find an audience. As a result, I have never turned a profit on any of my books.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I knew what I signed up for when I became an indie author. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid fairly for my work. You wouldn’t go into a clothing shop and walk out with an item without paying or go to dinner at a restaurant and leave without paying the check. (Okay, maybe some people would, but they are another story.) Why? Because there are prices attached, just like there are on books. That is because there are people (designers, tailors, chefs, wait staff, etc.) behind the products you buy or food that you consume who need to be paid for the work they put into what you purchase or eat.

The same thing goes for books. They don’t appear by magic. There is an author who writes them, and a team of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout people, etc. who help make it ready for production. As an indie author, I not only foot the production costs, but I pay for their services. I don’t have a publisher to do that for me. I have to make that money back before I can even think about making money on a book. And given how cheap we have to sell them in order to compete nowadays, that is not easy.

I am not by far the first person to have this happen or even to speak about it. But we have to do something about it. I wish I knew what. How do you teach people the value of art when corporations (including Amazon and the publishing industry) are constantly devaluing it by either pricing books ridiculously low or paying the author a pittance – and last? Add to that how much (at least in the US) things like sports are valued over arts and the constant government cuts to arts funding, and I wonder if we have a prayer.

All I’m saying is please, at least try to see our books for what they are – art, not a mass-produced product to be devalued. I know money can be tight, but please don’t ask for our work for free or download it from a piracy site. If you can’t afford to buy a book, borrow it from a friend or from the library. If they don’t have it, ask them to purchase it – most are pretty open to reader’s suggestions. Author’s don’t care how you come to our books, as long as the means is legal.

Oh, and if you want to help an author, the other thing you can do is leave reviews – especially on Amazon (even if you didn’t purchase the book there – and Goodreads. Even short reviews are more precious than gold these days.

Ready for NaNo? Ten Great Writing Resources

A quick note: Yes, you’re getting a Spellbound Scribes email on Monday instead of  last Thursday. Life intervened. Sorry for the delay!

Recently a friend of mine tweeted a request for “favorite craft books”, which had me pawing through my kindle, looking for good books on writing. I came up with a couple, but her request made me realize I get as much writing-craft-related information from blogs and classes as I do from books.

*so many sources, so little time*

Since this is coming to you on 10/1/18, exactly one month before NaNoWriMo starts, I thought it might be helpful to make a post listing my favorite resources. Half of them are books, and the rest – with the exception of Margie Lawson’s classes – are blogs, so they’re free!

  1. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – This is sort of my bible, a concise strategy for building a plot. The author is a screenwriter, and the book focuses on developing a 110-page screenplay, but the principals absolutely apply to writing fiction. I love how he pulls from familiar books and movies to illustrate his points.
  2. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon – I need to re-read this one. And then maybe read it again. On the most basic level, Debra teaches how keep from writing scenes where nothing happens. She also – and this is where I still have trouble – gets into how to ground action in a character’s motivations. (True confessions: I’m forever solving plot problems with the equivalent of “let’s throw in a unicorn!” Yeah, that technique works about as well as you’d think.)
  3. Terrible Minds/ Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Here’s a one-two punch from Chuck Wendig. Terrible Minds is his blog where he addresses the issues of the day, along with occasional writing craft posts, all with a heavy helping of eff-bombs. His new book on writing craft, Damn Fine Story, does a great job of teaching how to create characters that readers will care about, along with useful thoughts about how to use story structure to draw the readers in. And without the eff-bombs.
  4. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes – Gwen is an experienced editor, and in this book she gives an overview of how to put together a romance novel. Now, the idea might make you bristle, because romance gets bashed for being “cookbook”, but I think there can be a lot of freedom in a set structure – jump here for my post on tropes. If you want to write romance, this book is a great starting point.
  5. Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – This is a timely, thought-provoking set of essays and exercises drawn from a workshop by the same name. (Here’s a link to their website, where you can find a list of current classes.) If your work reflects the real world, either contemporary or historic, you’ll write characters who are “other”, and it’s worthwhile to do some homework before you do.
  6. Marge Lawson Academy – Margie’s a great teacher who focuses on the “micro” end of writing – how to use words, sentences, and paragraphs to keep readers engaged and entertained. Her instructors are all experienced, accomplished writers – I especially love classes by Rhay Christou – and I’ve learned a lot from them. Margie’s Immersion retreats are well worth the money, and a whole lot of fun!
  7. Fiction University –  This blog by Janice Hardy is my go-to for writing craft questions. Seriously, you can search her site for just about any keyword – query, plot, editing, whatever – and you’ll find a bunch of posts on the subject. The posts are meaty, so you don’t waste time with stuff you don’t necessarily need.
  8. Real + Good Writing – This website and blog is a new discovery for me. Created by literary fiction writer Rachel Giesel, the site is full of good information. I especially liked her blog post Three Big Things to Know About Your Characters. I’ve signed up for her mailing list, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she has to offer.
  9. Writers in the Storm – This blog is run by an accomplished group of authors and it frequently turns up on lists of the top websites for writers. They post daily, sometimes have guests, and they address a range of topics, from craft to promotion to writing life.
  10. The Fussy Librarian – I mostly Fussy Librarian mostly as a site for book promotion, but they also have a weekly email for authors and boy howdy are they awesome. Whoever’s putting the newsletter together scans the web for writing-related posts and groups them by subject: writing, law, grammer, career, marketing, and industry. This has been a fairly recent change – I think – but now they’re near the top of my “most anticipated” lists of weekly emails.

So there you have it! Are you ready for NaNo now? If you don’t see *your* favorite writing resource on the list, feel free to post it in the comments. I’m always up for learning something new…