Not-So-Risky Business: Book Promotion on a Budget

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tee_headshotWhen I meet new writers or writers looking to get published, I get asked often what advice I could impart; and pretty consistently, I disappoint because my advice is rarely on the craft. I usually go into the business side of books. Once upon a time, this was someone else’s job apparently. I’ve watched a lot of new authors stumble and fall — face first — in this respect, and watched seasoned, experienced writers stubbornly ignore this side of the publishing industry.

It’s a different world now, my fellow writers. It would be nice to think you can follow in the footsteps of Uncle George and enjoy a few years between books, but you can’t and you won’t. You’re measured by your last book. Not only in how it performs but when it came out. Back in the days of Butler, Asimov, Bradbury, and LeGuin the term R.O.I. never came into play. it’s a different game with Pip, myself and Ace. Our publisher has made a gamble on us and on a series in progress, and it is expected of us to make sure this gamble pays off.

Welcome to the world, better or worse, of a 21st century author.

I’m trying to take everything I have learned since 2002 when Morevi first rolled off the presses, and this is why I tend to talk more about the business side. One of the hardest lessons I learned over this decade-and-change of writing professionally is just how easy it is to find yourself in the red. Deep in the red. I’m not speaking of the red ink found in an editor’s pen, mind you, but the financial red of your bank account when it tells you in so many words that you—the professional author—are flat broke.

Between 2002 and 2004, I accrued over $30,000 of debt, and it took me just over five years to get myself out of that hole. An overwhelming majority of the debt was all in account of what I now look back on as a crazy gamble: book tours. I was, in those two years, averaging a convention appearance a month. This did not count the occasional book store and coffee shop signing. Some months, I had two cons back-to-back with one-night speaking events at libraries and colleges.

I still believe that face time is extremely important to the author, especially authors new to the market. However, it is more important to pay the bills, have a safety net in the bank, and make certain the roof you’re keeping over your head can be fixed at a moment’s notice.

Oh yeah, and writing. Writing is very important to the writer, last time I checked.

Yes, I know—con appearances are a tax deduction. While a book promotion is a deduction, I’m not getting all of it back. Only a piece of it. Believe me, the piece you get back will not be enough to keep you from serious financial trouble.

Here’s the upside of being a 21st century writer, though. We have options. Since the advent of social media, authors have a variety of cost-effective ways of promotion, all from the comforts of home.

Blogging. A blog tour, either organized by a third party or yourself, is when a series of blogs are networked and bloggers take turns in providing content for one another’s sites. The topics can range from a casual topic that tickles the fancy to specific topics pertaining to a writer’s career.  Blog tours can cover areas across your hometown, across the country, or even around the world. Provided you have a blog (you do have a blog you regularly maintain, right?), this introduces your readers to new bloggers, introduces yourself to new readers, and yields a healthy collection of evergreen content that can be repurposed for your own blog.

Podcasting. Similar to a blog tour, a podcast tour can be arranged across different podcasts before and after a writer’s release. Podcasts can also be easily syndicated on your own blog and shared in your feed, introducing new audience to your host podcasts after they have introduced yours to them. Another promotional avenue podcasting offers is producing short stories set in your works’ universe. The content can be either created by yourself or other authors you invite into your world. Free audio short stories are a fantastic way to introduce yourself to new readers.

FacebookPartyFacebook & Twitter Parties. Social Media tends to make many authors shudder, dismissing it as “just another distraction” courtesy of the Internet. Pip and I hosted a Facebook Party, though, and we’re completely floored by the results. A Facebook Party is where you schedule an event, invite and promote people to attend, and then — at the end of the party — host a giveaway for stuff. Originally, our party was planned to run for two hours; but due to the amount of special guests, we made it three. Three hours which flew by! There is a similar approach to this on Twitter where either you or another account hosts a discussion at a pre-set time. Instead of a “place” where users meet, a “hashtag” agreed upon (#MoPOParty or something similar) is introduced and users track that in their Twitter app of choice. Promotions on these channels should not launch too early or late but can run throughout the month surrounding a major event or book release.

When it comes to promotion, whether it is a personal appearance or a podcast, authors must be pennieseconomical. I look back on my schedule of 2002-2004 and understand why people described it as “aggressive” because a con a month was a gusty, rigorous, and risky move for a new author. I also shake my head because I could have — and should have — managed my finances with more scrutiny so I would have realized sooner rather than later the dangerous gamble I was taking…and losing. That was an education for me, a school of hard knocks that I would prefer not to attend again. Today, I pinch pennies, weigh the benefits, and make sound decisions. I must  stop being the artist and become a businessman.

That’s why this is still referred to as a business, after all.
———————
dawnsearlylightTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

Brandy Schillace: Balancing Academic Work and Writing Life

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Brandy SchillaceRogue Scholar. ​I like the image this phrase conjures: the highway white with moonlight, the carriage rattling and banging as the driver nods in his seat…and scholarly rogues riding from shadowed enclaves, brandishing the sharpened steel of academic rigor.  It doesn’t quite work that way—but there’s a shade of truth here all the same. Academia can be both competition and battlefield. It requires enormous sacrifice of time and energy, and it steals away hours as deftly as any highwayman. In a dwindling job market, universities demand more and give less, and the PhD lucky enough to land a job finds herself frequently beleaguered. The tenure track leaves little enough time for research—and far less for creative endeavors.  How is it possible to balance a writing life in the midst of these other obligations? It’s no wonder some turn to the rogue lifestyle, with more academics seeking “alt-ac” or alternative careers. I am one of these, but of course, the world out here makes as many demands as the world in there. Whether you are an academic, an “alternative” academic, or someone with one or more careers besides your writing, the most important achievement for sane living is balance. In today’s post, I will describe the vicissitudes of that hard-fought battle and suggest strategies for winning it.

What not to do:

As I sit here, I realize that I’m as much the audience for this post as anyone. For three years, I taught as assistant professor at a state university, combining a research initiative with a 4/4 course load. To break the teaching down, that meant for each semester I had 120 students, writing 600 papers, for a total of 4800 pages of gradable material plus 150 in-office hours. I also researched and published one scholarly article per year, chaired two committees, went to conferences and wrote research grants. If this seems extraordinary, please know this is consistent at small universities all over the country. How, with so much lying at your door, can you make time to write? It was a question I asked myself regularly, and at the time, I’m afraid I went about it the wrong way.

The first mistake I made was to confuse the problem. I have too much work—I just need more time. I tried turning down a few things, but the nature of my job meant I turned down the more enjoyable aspects of my career for those least enjoyable. I then tried to give myself more time by cutting non-work items. The first to go? Sleep. I woke earlier and wrote late into the night. I then gave up social life and rest by working, researching, and writing through my weekends and holidays. On the plus side, I did get creative writing done in the midst of everything else. In fact, I finished my second novel and deconstructed the first for a major re-write. But there were terrible costs. I no longer enjoyed writing. It was hard to enjoy anything with so little sleep. And the work suffered, too. This scheme didn’t need to be re-worked. It had to be deep-sixed.

Big plans, small change

The insanity didn’t unravel until I changed careers. The plan was rather terrifying: jump ship from the tenure track, but also from English studies. I was already a medical humanities scholar, meaning I worked not only on literature but on the history of medicine and its intersection with narrative. As a result, I became the Research Associate/Guest Curator for the Dittrick Museum of Medical History. I’m also a freelance writer, reviewer, managing editor of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, and blogger for Inside Higher Ed, Huffington Post and the Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham (UK). I didn’t give up teaching entirely, either. So how did this new crazy life save me from the old crazy life?

It didn’t. I found myself in exactly the same position as before, stealing time from family and from my health to do impossible feats of productivity. That, my friends, is the lesson. My work-load wasn’t the problem; I was the problem. Balancing academic, work, and writing life isn’t about roguish daring and a willingness to burn the candle at both ends. It requires re-seeing, a new vision of what balance means. It also means revising our priorities. This is how we begin:

high-stakes-frontcover    1.    Letting Go of the Super-human

Visit the local fitness center on January 2nd. You need look no further for proof that we set unrealistic goals for ourselves. Sure, I’m holding down two jobs as a single parent while coaching soccer, visiting the sick, and solving world hunger. But I WILL get to this 5am strength training class three times a week. We need goals, but we have messy lives. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

What this meant for me: I have four different jobs, and I couldn’t give 100% of time four ways. On the other hand, I could give 100% of my effort to each block of time. I take longer to build museum exhibits, but they are high quality when complete. I don’t turn papers back to my as quickly, but they are fairly and thoughtfully graded. You get the idea. And here’s the funny thing: no one noticed that I had slowed down. Why? Because no one else expected me to be super-human.  When I set realistic goals for me work and academic life, I had more time to devote to writing… but of course, I needed to set realistic goals there, too.

    2.    Making Peace with the Calendar

I love lists. They help organize my brain (a churning nebulous of colliding continents filled to brimming with eight libraries, three mountain ranges, two complete navies, junks bottles, horn-blowers, cavaliers, a fencing team, anatomical specimens, tea-biscuits, and a card catalog run by a kangaroo with an eye-twitch and perfect recall.) In many respects, the calendar is just another list, and we can make it work for us—or have it run rough-shod over us. If the latter has happened to you, it’s time to fight back.

What this meant for me: I now schedule time for everything, even relaxation. When the hour strikes, I drop what I am doing and move on. Is it academic research time? Then I research. Is it writing time? Then I write. Code switching is hard, I’ll give you that. Sometimes it takes a while to get my mind running in the right channel. But if you write at the same time every week, it becomes part of who you are.

    3.    Deciding to Be Well

The last item really relates to the first two. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I schedule relaxation. Self-help books often ask us to break routines, but in my experience, most of us have a harder time making them. Recently, I started yoga on Monday evenings with a friend who will be apt to keep me “honest.” It has the added benefit of being at 5pm, so I have to leave work on time. Could I get through a few more files on the forensic exhibit in the hour I am sacrificing? Maybe. Or maybe I would spin my wheels from exhaustion and then go home and crash in front of Midsummer Murders. So I take the hour and go to yoga instead.

Let go. Make peace. Be well. Academics already know how to hustle. It’s harder for us to know when not to. Instead of focusing on the top of that mountain (a mountain unlikely to get smaller year to year), look at the path you’re on. What you did today was enough. You may not write that research book in record time, or grade those essays before the sun sets, or complete the other half-dozen (million) tasks you thought you should have. The point it: you are doing it. You are a writer in addition to being everything else—and that’s something most people just talk about.

Welcome, rogues. We dare to stand apart. Let us dare to live balanced, healthy lives, too.

*****

Author, historian, and adventurer at the intersection, Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between literature and medicine. Taking a cue from Edward Gorey and John Bellairs, she writes Gothic fiction with a medical twist. Her first series, The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, will be out spring 2014 with Cooperative Trade. Dr. Schillace is research associate at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, managing editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, book reviewer for the Huffington Post, and chief editor for the Fiction Reboot and Daily Dose blog. She helps develop medical humanities curriculum for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College and teaches for Case Western Reserve University’s SAGES program. Her non-fiction book, Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying can Tell us about Life and Living, will be released in 2015 with Elliott and Thompson.

Links:
Website: http://brandyschillace.com/
Blog’s “about” page: http://fictionreboot-dailydose.com/
Goodreads book page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20927933-high-stakes

Writing Your Passions

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Or — Writing What You Know
(Or why I can’t write erotica.)

 My last post contained a comment that set off a heated discussion back channel. Apparently, following word count guidelines is blasphemous. You don’t write for the market, you write for yourself.

 I tend to agree that it’s hard to write for the market. Mainly because it’s really hard to forecast what the market will be. But as far as following guidelines? It seems to me that it’s in your best interest to do as much as you can to help your story get sold. There are certainly exceptions that prove the rule, still, why do something that may get you tossed off the pile just because there were too many words.

 The erotica market is hot right now. I have several friends that have done exceedingly well as indies and I’m proud they’ve been able to do it. The work is astounding, and that’s not even the writing. A couple of years ago, someone I know took a bunch of erotica writers and betas to a BDSM club. In a Hummer limo. I beta. I usually skip parts that squick me out, and for some reason, they still want me to read. I didn’t understand some of the names for things, so there I was, in a Hummer limo, with a bunch of well-known erotica authors, discussing the market and public relations.

 Not very erotic, but very entertaining. Add to the fact that my father was a self-admitted porno pusher in the seventies, (yep, guess who hired his daughter’s debate team to stick UPC codes on Penthouse magazines because they were wrong and the allotment needed to go out immediately?) I should know something about erotica.

 Nope. Nothing I can write. I’ve tried. I’ve been given prompts. I’ve written short stories. Every single one of them ended on a humorous note and not a single character got any. My buds decided I needed to gather my shorts into a collection and call it ‘Coitus Don’tinterruptus’.  I think the one where the characters’ bathtub falls through the floor might be my favorite.

 You can know something, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can or want to write it. If you can, and it’s what the market wants, then it’s a happy coincidence of timing. Or at least, that’s how I see it through the looking glass, on the wrong side of any market.

Bio:

I’ve worked in a hazardous waste lab, where under the sign for the Right To Know Act, was added: ‘If you can figure it out’. I’ve been a metals tech, a bakery clerk, a professional gardener, taught human anatomy and ran two university greenhouses. Along the way I picked up my Master’s Degree in Biology, specializing in the population genetics of an endangered plant. I am also a top breeder, handler, and trainer of English springer spaniels under the prefix Muddy Paws. Every time I think I understand dogs, another one comes along and proves all my beliefs are totally wrong. Then I was gypped and ended up with a tubby, egotistical, magical basset as a muse. It’s a good thing my husband, the Tall Dude, has a real job, and makes great unpaid kennel help. I’m also a member of the SCBWI, since they seem happy to take my money. http://www.scbwi.org/members-public/mindy-mymudes

 Find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mindy-…) and George at Basset Bones. (http://bassetbones.wordpress.com)

 

Mindy Picgeorgeknows333x500-1

On the Writing Life (Nine Novels in Eight Months, or Insanity)

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky

Several months ago, I told folks here on Magical Words that I was going to write nine novels for publication in 2014, publishing one a month from April through December.

Klasky-PerfectPitch200x300I lied.Klasky-CatchingHell200x300  I’m writing nine novels for publication in 2014, publishing them all in eight months.  Perfect Pitch debuted on March 31, and the ninth novel, Always Right will appear on November 4, 2014.  The second Diamond Brides novel, Catching Hell, debuted on April 13.  That “double dip” — two books in one month — was designed to bolster sales for the series, to let readers who liked the first one know that there’s more where that came from, and to keep them looking on the first Sunday of every month till the series ends.

I’ve talked elsewhere about how I alternate writing days and administrative-task (including household task) days.  And I’ve explained my strategies for writing fast.  Today, I’m here to talk about the flip side of writing — promoting books.

Diamond Brides is a major departure for me.  The books are pure romance, without any speculative fiction element.  They’re short.  They’re hot (that is, they contain several scenes of explicit sex). 

Given all of these departures from my writing norm, I faced a major challenge:  promoting the books so that people understood what they were getting.  I decided to meet that challenge with a three-prong attack:

  1. Engage potential readers through my social media, including my blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
  2. Purchase advertisements to spread the word about the book.
  3. Solicit reviews from established reviewers and readers of the book.

And then, because I’m Mindy, I created a Promotion Plan that listed the specific dates when I would do specific actions to accomplish each of those goals.  I figured the plan would be useful for other books, so I created it in a general format, rather than a date-specific format.  The first five entries look like this:

Day -120:  Send review copy to RT Book Reviews

Day -90:  Contact ad services (prices are as of July 2013; they probably have changed)

Day -90:  Contact bookstore to schedule in-person launch party

Day -60:  Submit to Library Thing Early Review

Day -60:  Publish book to Amazon and Barnes & Noble with elevated pre-release price, to receive reviews from Library Thing Early Review reviewers

And so on, and so on, and so on.  Every promotional venue that I could think of got listed in the Plan.  As I scheduled my blog tour, each stop got listed with three entries — a delivery date for the blog post, a reminder date (to remind the blog owner to make the blog post), and a posting date (to remind myself to check back for comments).  Similarly, interviews, in-person events, and other activities got added. 

I used an online universal calendar to translate my -[number] and positive number entries to actual dates.

And then I work the Plan.  Day by day, week by week, I complete each task on the list.

Sometimes, I conclude that the tasks as I defined them are too onerous, or that the approach I thought I’d take isn’t working.  (For example, some of the advertising services that I identified don’t seem to be kept current and/or they’re too expensive for the results (as reported by other authors)).  In those circumstances, I edit the Plan and move forward.  The Plan is, after all, a guideline, a draft, a plan; it’s not Holy Writ.

The key, of course, is staying on top of things.  Most elements of the Plan can slip a day or two or ten.  But do I really want to be paying expedited shipping for my business cards, just because I pushed off designing them?  Do I want to miss the opportunity of placing a high-value ad because I waited too long, and the date I need was sold out?

So far, at +15 days, I’m on track.  Of course, there are seven and a half months left of this.  (The Plan assumes that later novels in the series will enjoy the benefit of my promoting earlier volumes.  We’ll see.  I might need to flesh out the later entries for the Plan.)

So, that’s my writing life these days.  It’s sort of like that TSA mantra:  “See something, say something.”  For me, it’s “see something, do something”.

What about you?  If you’re a published author, do you create promotion plans for your work?  Do you help authors with their plans, participating in things like cover reveals and launch day promotions?  If not, why not?  What would make you more likely to participate?

You can buy Perfect Pitch here.

You can buy Catching Hell here.

You can follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook, or read my blog.

Formal Head Shot SquareMindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice.  Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult.  In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.

Gail Z. Martin: My So-Called Writing Life

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So the prompt says “how you live and write and stay sane.” Hmm. I’m not sure that I do. (Stay sane, that is.) Reign of FINAL

This year, 2014, is turning out to be a happy and challenging year. Happy because I’m fortunate enough to have two new novels out—Reign of Ash from Orbit Books (April) in epic fantasy, and Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books (June) in urban fantasy. A new steampunk novel is under contract with Solaris, due out in 2015. I’m in at least seven anthologies (!) and more seem to keep cropping up. I bring out a new short story on ebook each month and I’m working on a novella. These are all good challenges to have and I’m grateful for the opportunities, but you know what they say—be careful what you wish for!

If there is a secret to staying relatively sane, I’d say it’s “ask and accept help”—and be able to delegate!

I’m fortunate that my husband has joined the writing team full-time, so he is very involved in editing and manuscript clean-up as well as plot brainstorming. That’s essential when there are so many different stories going in divergent directions and occupying different time periods. He also formats the ebook short stories and creates the covers for them. It requires a lot of trust and coordination, but it works for us.

I also have a part-time virtual assistant who helps me with things like Facebook ads and graphics, posting the content I write to my blog and some of the Twitter tweets, updating my newsletter and website and uploading interviews on my podcast. Without that help, I’d lose a lot more writing time.

I learned the hard way that skipping gym time is not good, and that goes for yoga too. So getting a workout in several days a week is up at the top of my must-do list. I stay happier and healthier. And because my hands and arms are my livelihood, I make sure to see my chiropractor regularly and sneak in a massage whenever I can. Every now and then I celebrate by taking a day off and not doing anything related to writing. (That’s OK—there’s more than enough housework waiting for me that’s been put off far too long!)

I also work with my publishers to see where they can help with promotion, arranging signings, setting up guest blogging opportunities—anything. If they can do it, I don’t have to—and it lets me focus on writing.

My dogs also help. They are wonderful stress reducers (most of the time), and when I’m stuck or feeling blue, giving them hugs and getting some puppy love is a real pick-me-up.

It also helps immensely to have a network of author friends, people I can talk shop with at conventions and connect with on social media, who share the same interests and frustrations. Sometimes just sharing a funny writing-related photo brightens the whole day! Meeting readers at conventions and signings is also a big sanity-saver. It often feels like we writers send our words out into the void, headed toward the end of the universe. It’s wonderful to hear from people who have read and liked what I’ve written—that makes all the late nights and rushed dinners worthwhile.

Oh, and did I mention a crockpot and a pizza delivery place on speed dial? Absolutely essential!

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread) from Orbit Books. Gail’s new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, debuts from Solaris Books in June, 2014. Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel, will be published by Solaris in 2015. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Find her at www.AscendantKingdoms.com, on Facebook as Winter Kingdoms, and on Twitter @GailZMartin.

 

So Good to Be Bad: The Study of a Bond Villain

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I remember being on a panel about Character Construction and hearing the con’s distinguished Guest of Honor say something along the lines of “You want to make your villains complex and multi-layered otherwise they resemble something out of a James Bond movie

My own reply to this was “You say this as if it were a bad thing.”

bond-goldfingerLet’s face facts — no villain is more fun to watch in action than a classic James Bond Villain. I’ve heard authors mock the megalomaniacs of Bond’s world, dismissing them as forgettable, cookie-cutter caricatures. I find this argument irrevocably flawed as we all recall with delight that legendary exchange between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond as an industrial laser is slowly inching its way up to Bond’s body:

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

The crafting behind a Bond Villain begins with a study and deep appreciation for hubris. When Bond Villains are producing and executing their plans, they know what they are doing is wrong. They know it and they love it. They revel in it. They delight in watching innocents (provided they believe in “innocents”) suffer. The superiority complex usually develops from Bond Villains growing up in a wealthy, privileged, and self-indulgent family, decorum insisting they are referred to by their full name — Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Hugo K. Drax, for instance. After the initial meeting, though, heroes usually refer to them by last name only which means their last names must possess a certain kind of panache. This is why you would never come across a Bond Villain carrying the surname of Smith or Kowalski.

Hubris, you will find, will also help in defining your villain’s sense of style and finesse; and again, Bond Villains possess an abundance of both. When I first heard actor Mads Mikkelsen would be playing the title role in the NBC thriller series Hannibal, I knew the “intelligent psychopath” (as Will Graham describes Lecter) was in good hands as Mikkelsen as I remembered him from Casino Royale as the enigmatic Le Chiffre. Down to the cut of the their tailored suits, their refined manners, and their preferred cuisine and entertainment, etiquette is everything to Bond Villains. This finesse contributes, in turn, to charisma. Perhaps there is a direct connection between hubris and charisma. Even a monster the likes of Raoul Silva has a charming side about him; and as terrible he is, the joy you take in watching a Bond Villain’s rise and fall relates to exactly to how charismatic you make them.
oddjob
A Bond Villain must be charming as they need to attract people, and from this attraction comes the loyal sidekick or minion as well, but there is a better title we give these anointed few: Henchmen. If you have a Bond Villain for your story, better start working on a cleverly-named Henchman. Before he was Tattoo, Hervé Villechaize played Knick-Knack to Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. The earlier mentioned Auric Goldfinger had his Oddjob, and I would be amiss not to mention Dr. Evil’s hysterical parody, Randomtask, from the first Austin Powers film. While Bond Villains are the brains behind the evil deeds, it’s the Henchmen that get their hands dirty. They should be competent and capable, but if the henchman or henchwoman is smarter than your Bond Villain, this can add an interesting thread to your story.

Just something to consider.

So what’s next? You’ve got the hubris, the charisma, and the henchman. What else do you need? You need a place to launch your plans into action, a place to not Moonraker-space-stationonly rest your head after a day of planning and scheming but also let the world know you mean business when it comes to evil deeds. You need a lair. The delicious freedom in crafting your own Bond Villain is that you are not limited to where you locate your lair. You got an underground network of caves under your country estate that you want to make your base of operations? Sure, why not? You want to gut out a dead volcano and make it your Mission Control? Okay. Underwater base? Done. You want a freakin’ platform with multiple shuttle bays in low-Earth orbit?!

Did you want that with or without the radar jamming cloaking device option?

With your lair, you are only limited to your imagination, and at this point you want your imagination to play. “World domination” as a motivation opens a creative door for you as a writer. How are you going to do it? Pitting two superpowers against one another only to be the last man standing? Wiping out the population with a toxin and repopulating the planet with your “perfect” specimens? Or hold the world for ransom with your death ray? Think big. After all, that’s what the Bond Villains do.

Bond Villains are a joy to create, easy to spoof (as well as their henchmen), and so much fun to play with in a story. Perhaps in my own setting with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, incorporating a Bond Villain is easy; but it might surprise you how fitting the qualities of a Bond Villain can fit within your Epic Fantasy or Military Science Fiction. Think about it. Where was Sauron making his hideout in Mordor? The Queen of Hearts had her own palace as a base of operation? And let’s not forget when Emperor Palatine wanted to remind people who was in charge, he commissioned a space station the size of a small moon equipped with — wait for it — a death ray.

Perhaps in the space of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, we all have room for a touch of Bondage.

 

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tee_headshotTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieterthat meant more time to write at night) would pave a way for his writings.

 

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrencesseries, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affairwere finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new ventureOne Stop Writer Shopoffering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

 

Brandy Schillace: The Plot Doesn’t Thicken; It Grows Up.

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Brandy SchillaceI spent my afternoon between a clock and a hard-case.

Writing to a deadline, I found myself fighting with a character of my own creation. Surely this has happened to some of you? You run into a particularly disagreeable fellow who won’t do what he’s told (or wants to dictate his own parts). Naturally, we had an argument…out loud… and there’s nothing like getting caught yelling at an empty sofa. My long-suffering spouse no longer asks “who are you talking to?” He is more apt to say “Give ‘em hell, sweetheart!”

These moments of frustration represent the growing pains of character, setting, and story. As I said in my post about character building, characters and their interactions with the story world drive plot in unexpected ways. I like Carolyn Haines/R.B. Chesterton’s idea of story “seed.” Her brilliant depiction of scenes arriving in flashes that we have to feed, water, groom, or unearth rings true to me. But there’s something else about seeds. It’s actually very difficult to know what sort of plant you’ll end up with by looking at the seed alone. We can’t always see the whole story. Plots don’t thicken; they, like our characters, grow up.

I’ll use an example from my recently published series, The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles. The initial idea came from a confluence of events—a graduate class I took on gothic literature and a very vivid dream. The details are lost on me now, but when I woke, I could see him plainly, from his too-long blond hair to his quirky grin: Jacob Maresbeth, teenage not-vampire. I knew something about direction, too. I wanted to turn the vampire myth upside down and start with a medical condition. I knew, too, that our hero wouldn’t want the whole world to know about it, for fear of being farmed out to research labs, or worse, staked through the heart. The trick was how to get these ideas to re-order themselves as story. I needed a plotline, and plotlines need conflict and action.

Conflict Driven:

What sort of conflict might happen to a sixteen-year-old boy? Well, he might be forced to spend the summer away from home with an eccentric maiden-aunt who mistakes his condition for bowel trouble. That’s almost world-ending when you’re sixteen, but it isn’t really life threatening. I intended all along for Jake to face 1) his appetite and 2) his fear of being mistaken for a monster, I just wasn’t sure who would do the mistaking. That problem mended itself with the creation of Aunt Sylvia’s seductive graduate assistant, Zsòfia. Hungarian and slightly exotic, Zsòfia quickly had Jake’s rapt attention—so far, so good. But given his age, awkwardness and the influx of puberty hormones, it was going to be a short book (ending with Jake walking happily to his doom). Luckily, a character I’d created as a foil suddenly found her way to center stage: Jake’s theatre-loving sister, Lizzy. Younger, but highly protective, Lizzy’s cool head provides a counter-point to the mysterious machinations of the fair Hungarian. So, in nurturing the plot’s conflict, I had also been maturing my characters, giving them depth and personality. Meanwhile, the introduction of new characters helped the plot move ahead to its climax—in a cemetery—in Cleveland.

high-stakes-frontcoverFrom these beginnings, new plot lines emerged. Henry, a character only mentioned in High Stakes, becomes crucial to the story of book two, Villagers. A character first glimpsed in Villagers returns to be a driving force—and a returning villain—in book three, The Vatican. And along the way, that seed of story became a very different plant than the one I’d imagined, stronger and healthier for the tugging and pulling of conflict, character, and action.

Action! A Word about Method:

The first time I wrote the climax for book two, I essentially summed up the whole of the action in three sentences of extended metaphor. A kind friend pointed out that the reader waited all along for this moment, and instead of rewarding them, I gave them cliff notes. The solution wasn’t to write overly detailed or wrought descriptions at every turn, but rather to choose carefully when and how to reveal action. My strategy is three-fold; 1) write a bare scaffold for the action, cliff-note style; 2) Go back and write a heavy version, spilling words with abandon; 3) Go back again and see which parts are really necessary for revealing the story and which parts only serve to slow it down. The resulting method combines plot and structure, but allows for the middle step to be a messy, crazy, hair-pulling wrestling match between my ideas and the demands of the text itself. Note: this is usually when I end up yelling at the sofa.

In the end, the plot frequently goes in directions I didn’t intend. That’s the beautiful part about writing; it frequently surprises the writer. If that ever stops, I’ll hand up my pen. But it’s still a tough thing to swallow when your carefully constructed plans don’t materialize. In my classes, the students struggle with this, and some never get over it. I remember one writer who desperately wanted to include a roof murder scene on the 4th of July. The story and its characters simply did not live up to that plotline, however. To be honest, they were better than the plotline. Ex-lovers, maybe; clearly there was a tension underlying the narrative that begged to be let loose. But the writer forced the plot into the original outline, much to the detriment of the story (and the frustration of his peer group).

I know there are some who write to formulas, and if it works, I say do! But for me, it ushers in a kind of stagnation, stifling the living, breathing characters and the constantly maturing story arc. Light, air, and water—a little healthy wrestling—these are my means of bringing up plot. What are yours?

*****

Author, historian, and adventurer at the intersection, Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between literature and medicine. Taking a cue from Edward Gorey and John Bellairs, she writes Gothic fiction with a medical twist. Her first series, The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, will be out spring 2014 with Cooperative Trade. Dr. Schillace is research associate at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, managing editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, book reviewer for the Huffington Post, and chief editor for the Fiction Reboot and Daily Dose blog. She helps develop medical humanities curriculum for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College and teaches for Case Western Reserve University’s SAGES program. Her non-fiction book, Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying can Tell us about Life and Living, will be released in 2015 with Elliott and Thompson.

Links:
Website: http://brandyschillace.com/
Blog’s “about” page: http://fictionreboot-dailydose.com/
Goodreads book page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20927933-high-stakes