Category Archives: Authorial Trust

Wouldn’t it be cool if…?

One of the funnest elements of a story can be setting. One of the most dangerous questions we can ask ourselves starts with, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”

Here’s my story:

In putting together my Mankind’s Redemption series, I placed my characters in far away star systems and then had

to ask myself, “How did they get there?” Time travel? For colonization, not likely. Generation ships? Most likely. Easy-peasy, right? But then, for every cool element I added to their world, to the aliens’ worlds, to every scenario, I had to ask myself the traditional reporter questions of what, when, why, how, and where. It got complicated, fast. The Mwalgi species dwell on a hot, toxic planet that lacks water and what they have is largely contaminated. Cool, right? Even more amazing, it orbits a red dwarf sun with a sister-dwarf-sun in a binary orbit. So their suns orbit

around a central point, swinging each other around. Cool, but complicated, and it added a lot more research. I learned a lesson. Sometimes these amazing, interesting settings are worth it, and sometimes you might want to consider what you’re getting yourself into. Knowing what I know now, would I do it again? Probably. It is cool, but I might have toned everything down just a little bit so I could spend more time writing and a little less time on plausibility and research. Just an FYI, this series is a Galactic Fantasy so I have some wiggle room in the possible but highly unlikely sector. For hard sci-fi, you have to really know your science and accuracy is key.

When I started my next series, Legends of Power, I set it in Kentucky. I went there, took pictures, did research, and restricted most of my “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” questions to the magic system. I spent almost as much time researching reality as I had in researching scientific possibility. Hmm, not what I expected. Was it worth it? Absolutely, and if you ever get to Bowling Green, KY, I highly recommend Chaney’s Dairy Barn. Best ice cream I’ve ever had! (And some really cute cows.)

In The Number Prophecy, I set the books in a world with similarities to our own but significant differences in history, geology, religion, and sociology. So much fun! I get to explore so many aspects of humanity. Did I research any less? A little less on the physical setting, but so much more on all of the other aspects of my world and it’s people.

The moral of my story? No matter what you do there must be research. Everything is cool, from the craziest settings in your imagination–I’m thinking of a world where metal flyswatters hit you in the face every time you have an idea–to the most mundane, adorable, town in the midwest. Embrace it, enjoy it, and let the setting live as much as your characters. Give it equal, or possibly, even more attention that your protagonist. An interesting setting is the backdrop of interesting characters, interesting plots, and interesting conflicts. Put in the time to make it breathe and never be afraid to ask “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Just make sure you’re prepared with a good answer.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the new Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

 

Building Epic Worlds

J. R. R. Tolkien famously created entire languages and histories as part of his creation of one of the greatest world building exercises in all of literature. Even that wasn’t enough to satisfy his desire to create a complex and vibrant world. He used those languages to create unique poetry and songs, which he then translated into English as part of putting the Lord of the Rings on paper.

Frank Herbert had reams of notes detailing the history, economies, royal house intrigue and genealogy of a “world” that was far too epic to fit even onto one planet.

Is it necessary to mimic their herculean efforts in order to create immersive, believable worlds for your own story?

No, it’s not. Certainly you don’t need to create entire languages.

But it can be helpful if your readers wonder if you did. And that might be easier than you think.

One of the more consistent compliments I get on my War Chronicles novels is on the depth of world-building. I made a determined effort in writing those books to create an epic feel, not just for the character story arcs, but for the entire world. Not just for the story’s time, but for thousands of years into the past. Not just for the physical geography, but for the spirituality and myth.

Sometimes less can be more. In that story we encounter an ancient empire, one that is tied to the current story through a thread that traverses millennia, and will likely continue on into the future. To create the sense of an ancient empire that was palpable and relevant to the story, I wove that empire into the story whenever I could, in the most natural ways I could devise. But I didn’t write a hundred page treatise on that empire, I didn’t create languages.

What I did, was to have the empire be remembered in the land itself. The great mountain range dominating the main continent is named after that empire. Ancient structures dot the landscape. Terms are woven into the language of the townsfolk, idioms and proper names woven together even through dialog.

The illusion all this brings forward is one of an ancient empire, so powerful that its great works of art, science and architecture are still the pinnacle of culture and technology. Bridges and temples not only still exist, but some are still maintained and revered by their descendants.

The same approach works for geography and biology. A little variety, consistently applied, can create a compelling sense of distance and scope. As your characters move through the world, change the details of the local flora, fauna and terrain. New sights, sounds, even smells can delight or disgust your characters, which flows through their eyes and into the minds of your readers. Smell, in particular, is a very powerful memory aid. If you can associate a place in your book to a smell the reader recognizes and has a strong emotional response to, you can almost guarantee that place will stand out in their mind as they read it.

Finally, one of the most powerful ways to give a sense of world-ness to your story is to weave these different techniques together. Flowers can be associated with ancient rituals. Tolkien almost literally wove his history into his scenery. Think of the Dead Marshes, The Old Forest, Fangorn forest, Lothlorian… each place unique, each place memorable, each place as much a part of the myth and folklore as it is a part of the physical geography.

Once you start thinking about the story this way, opportunities to use these techniques will appear as you write, or as you edit.

Home As Setting and Theme

When my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, was released in 2016, many of my childhood friends, family, and even my teachers commented about my use of “home.” Where I call home is a long way from where I live now, but every time I’m there the feeling of peace is as palpable as wrapping a blanket around my shoulders. I was born and raised in upper east Tennessee in an area called the Tri-Cities. My family actually lived very near a small community known as Midway – it was Midway between Johnson City and Tennessee’s Oldest City, Jonesborough. The Appalachian mountains filled the eastern horizon, running in a roughly southwest to northeast line. It’s a beautiful place.

And I never intended for my story to go there.

As the story of a cloned soldier trying to find his identity unwound from my brain to the keyboard, I initially struggled with “What’s the point?” or even Eric Flint’s famous guidance of “Who gives a $^#@?” I needed something to make the character’s emotional struggle hit home and that’s where the inspiration hit. So, I took my character home. In the third act, he descends Cherokee Mountain, crosses the Nolichucky River, and ends up on a small knoll where a farmhouse once stood. All of those are real places and the knoll is where my family’s homestead still stands. My cousins own “The Farm” as we call it, and it’s wonderful to know that it’s still there and open for my family to visit any time we want. That openness and warmth led me to bringing my character to an very different emotional level. I gave him a sense of place, a sense of a home that he’d once had and was very different than the future one, but a place he could identify with fully and embrace his identity. Once I’d opened that door, I proceeded to move him further along the path by having him stand over his own gravesite in the Mountain Home National Cemetery.

The journey to find his “home” was really the key to unlocking his identity. My first ideas to bring him through familiar territory to help with my description and emotional resonance gave way to something else entirely: a theme I’d never intended. Our sense of home is a large part pf our identity. Even our home nation, or state, or municipality is much more than a common bond to our neighbors. We identify ourselves to that place forever. No matter where I go, when I am asked where I’m from I always say that I’m from Tennessee and just happen to live elsewhere.

My point is this – write about your home or wherever you consider your home to be. Pull that emotion and identity into your own writing. Your voice will improve, your characters will seem more grounded and real, and your readers – especially those who claim the same sense of home – will keep asking for more. When you’re not writing about your home? Put that same warmth and emotion into the characters who are there. It makes a difference to the story and to your characters.

The Call of the Small Publisher

Beware! All small publishers aren’t created equal, and most of them will do absolutely nothing for you except waste your time and tie up your rights.

First of all, there was a time when a small publisher could really help a writer. But this was before the Internet and before services widely used by small publishers weren’t readily available to writers.

Nowadays all services that are available to small publishers are available to writers in one form or another, everything from editing to interior and cover design to printing to promotion to distribution. As a writer, you can become the publisher. You don’t have to rely on someone else to control your writing destiny.

Now, if you talk to enough people you will hear plenty of positive and negative stories about small publishers, and this includes print and e-publishers.

I have been with three small publishers over the last fifteen years. I needed the first small publisher because it was when the Internet was still in its infantile stage, and self-publishing had so many negative connotations.

Back then, subsidy publishers were rip-off traps that raped writers young and old. They charged outrageous prices for their services and offered little help after they finished printing your book. You were left to swim or drown. Most writers drowned, never recouping their initial investment. Many of these companies are still in business in one form or another.

My first publisher represented a dozen or so writers and helped when they could, but they had a limited budget. Most of the footwork and promotion was up to me. I understood my part and did what I could to promote my book. Things were going along slowly, but smoothly. Then, the publisher ended up biting the dust, and that was it. I was back to square one.

My second publisher was someone I respected greatly. He had been in the business for a long time, and had connections with a lot of different people in the industry. But publishing is a grind. It burns out those with the best intentions. He ended up giving all his authors back their rights and closed shop. To his credit, he helped me a lot with my writing and was the first person to suggest I start my own publishing company. The company would publish one author—me. I should have taken his advice.

Unfortunately, I was offered a three year deal from a larger small publisher, one that represented several hundred authors in one form or another. They gave me a small advance that was used for a three minute video to promote the book. When I signed the contract I knew they were a lot different from my previous two publishers. Their contract was much longer, and contained clauses that would make it difficult to leave if I wanted to sever my relationship early.

Things started off well. They were polite and attentive, answering all my questions. But in the back of my mind there were things I didn’t like about them. I almost didn’t sign with them, and looking back at it I should have followed my gut and passed on their offer.

First of all, their acquisition editor confused me with another author. That was the first warning. Then, they didn’t care what size the book was or what was on the front cover. They were like ‘that’s up to you.’ Then came the price they would charge for the book, and my discount rate. I thought both were too high for an unknown author.

Lastly came the advice they gave me for any future books. They suggested that I make them a certain length so they would be easier to package. After a few months, I realized I was going to make zilch from this deal unless I really busted my butt. They were going to make money no matter what happened.

That’s when it hit me! Why bust my butt for a small percentage when I can bust my butt and reap the lion’s share.

Now I have to admit that I had no idea about cover design, interior design, blurbs, price points, discounts, promotional pieces, giveaways, reviews, ISBNs, and a bunch of other information that my publisher knew.

But you know what? All that information is readily available on the internet. There are many good people out there who are willing to help you. Of course, you have to beware of the many sharks too, but it is like any business. There will always be good with the bad.

Next, look at the life expectancy of many small publishers, both traditional and on-line. Notice how many of them are out of business after a short while. A lot of them! They will never have the passion that you have for your work. no matter what they say. Many of them are like a lot of agents—they will suck your blood dry, and then when there is nothing left, they’ll move onto the next victim. I mean writer.

If you can start your own publishing company this is the best time to do it. There is a ton of information out there. If you’re still a little nervous about taking the plunge, team up with another writer. You can share the cost, the hours, the ups and downs.

But remember, it’s a business and you should treat it like a business. The more you put into it, the better chance you will get something positive out of it. But be realistic. Most likely, you will never get rich. You probably won’t even make a living or you will make a marginal living.

As writers, we all want to make money, but if you’re in the business just for the cash, do something else. You can make a lot more money in other lines of work.

Lastly, I want to give two references that everyone should read if they even have an inkling of becoming a publisher or if they just want to become a better writer.

One of these people I know well, and I consider him a friend. He’s smart and at times inspirational. The other is someone that I don’t know. But the guy is friggin’ brilliant. Every article I read from him gives me hope and makes me want to write and publish.

The first gentlemen is Harvey Stanbrough. You can find him at HarveyStanbrough.com. The second gentlemen is Dean Wesley Smith. You can find him at deanwesleysmith.com.

Guest Bio:
Glen M Glenn is an entrepreneur and a fiction writer. His books Last of the Firstborn, Dark Ritual and Sheepland will be coming out later this year. You can check his website out at glenmglenn.com.