Category Archives: Kim May

Kim May

When Your Setting is a Wild Card

Normally when you establish a setting in a story you only have to do it once. Unless some cataclysmic event happens, it’s not going to change enough to require another description. Huzzah! But what if your setting isn’t a clearly defined place? What if it’s more…well, this.

 

Okay, so your setting might not be the Dark Dimension but it may be like The Demos Oneiroi I created for The Moonflower in that it’s less of a landscape and more of an abstract concept given physical form. The Demos Oneiroi is the dream world of the Ancient Greek gods and since it’s quite literally the stuff of dreams it can be anything and everything all at once. A place like this, one that can change on a whim, can be hard to explain. Describing it with enough detail to get the point across without overwhelming the reader is a very tricky thing to do. It’s like doing a paint by number except all the numbers are imaginary.

The way I handled it is to treat the setting like an unreliable narrator. I established early on that the setting can and does change on a whim and that it’s perfectly normal for the abnormal to happen. If a lush forested park suddenly turns into zombie Jimmy Hoffa’s waterpark from hell, it’s all good. The reader doesn’t have to panic or re-read the previous page to figure out if they missed something. They can roll with it and get in the line for the giant octopus tentacle slide.

I hope I didn’t lose anyone there. I realize saying “do this tricky thing by treating it like another tricky thing” is not the best explanation; especially if you don’t know how to create an unreliable narrator. Don’t worry. I’m not going to leave you perplexed. It’s not quite as scary as it sounds and I promise, you don’t need to make a bargain with an otherworldly being to do this.

Dormammu, I’ve come to establish setting.

Since I keep throwing Doctor Strange references into this let’s use that film as a starting point. (Spoiler alert.)

In this acid trip on film we see multiple worlds, not all of which obey the same laws of physics that ours does. Besides blowing Stephen’s mind, it’s also establishing in the minds of the audience that there are many strange place the story can take us. So when Stephen does go to the Dark Dimension at the end of the film, we’re not shocked by it — especially since we’ve already seen weirder locations.

How do you create that on the page? In order to write an abstract setting you have to approach it in pretty much the same way that they did in the film. Start out by describing the setting as it is in that moment to create a base line. Then either through dialogue or a bit of exposition establish that things in this place aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, and that they won’t stay as they are now for long. It’s important to let the reader know that it’s gonna get a bit weird so they aren’t taken by surprise. A shock like that will knock them out of the story before you get to the really good stuff. After you’ve prepped them for the coming shift that’s when you can make the unexpected appear. How you do that, you may ask? Well that’s up to you. My favorite way is to have an inexperienced character encounter a shift in the landscape while accompanied by a more experienced character. The experienced character displays their knowledge and saves/helps the less experienced through until they’re back at a safe spot. This way I get to let my landscape live up to its potential while advancing the less experienced character’s development. Later in the story I can have them on their own, facing the same dangers — or worse — in that same landscape and it’s more plausible that they’ll survive.

It’s okay if it takes a few revisions to really get it to work well. It is a tricky thing but the freedom it gives you to create and be original makes it a lot of fun. Plus, a setting like this never gets boring. Bonus!

Starting Your Own Publishing Company

One of the wonderful things about indie publishing is that you don’t have to publish under a vanity press name or any other publishing service name. You can publish under your own company’s name. For some indie writers it’s not that big a deal and that’s okay. However, for people like me who have been entrenched in the sales side of the industry (almost two decades for me) it’s a sign of professionalism. The second booksellers see a vanity press or publishing service name we automatically regard the book as amateurish. (A small press that we’ve never heard of will always be in higher esteem than a vanity press.) Having your own house name is one of those little details that can make stores take you more seriously.

I usually don’t include disclaimer in my posts but in this particular instance I feel it’s necessary because I am not a lawyer or a business consultant. Besides, this isn’t a how to start your own company post. There are great posts from independent business organizations that explain it better than I can. I’m just sharing my own experience from starting my own publishing company. There are a lot of things that took me by surprise that I wish I’d been better prepared for.

Here’s a list of things that I learned along the way that might help ease the way for you:

  1. Take the time to check local and national databases of registered business names. There’s nothing more embarrassing then picking a name that’s already taken. Yes, it’s extremely tedious and the print on the website is tiny. You still need to do it. Once you’re sure your name is unique register it in your state right away to stake your claim. Registering it nationally is a good idea too. Yes, there’s a registration fee (one for state and another for national) so be prepared for that.
  2. When deciding whether to register your company as a DBA (doing business as)/ sole proprietorship or to go ahead and file as a LLC don’t think you’re selling yourself short by wanting to do the former. If you feel a DBA is right for your business at this point in time, that’s fine. If circumstances change later and you need the extra legal protection a LLC provides you can upgrade your business.
  3. Decide now if you want to take on authors other than yourself (along with the expense and bookkeeping that goes with it). It doesn’t matter if you have a website or not. The second an aspiring author, or the mother of an aspiring author, finds out you’re a publisher you will get asked that question. It’s not a matter of if you’ll be asked, it really is a matter of when. Knowing the answer ahead of time will help you maintain a certain level of professionalism.
  4. Know how copyright works as well as how and when to file for it. You’re the publisher so there won’t be anyone to do it for you. It’s a good idea for authors to know how that works regardless but it’s doubly important when you have your own publishing company.
  5. Speaking of you having to do everything, you’re also financing everything so it’s a good idea to sit down and figure out a budget or even write a full financial plan for your start up — not just for the company but for the first title you’ll publish too. How much will it cost to: register your business, get a website, buy ISBNs and barcodes, get cover art, hire an editor to go over the manuscript, purchase publishing software, etc. If you need a few more months to save up day job income to buy ISBN numbers then maybe you should push out that publication date to give you the time you need. It’s also a good idea to figure in a buffer for unexpected last minute expenses.
  6. Terms of service and other user agreements are the bane of modern existence. That being said you really do need to read every item and subheading so you understand what the sites you’re selling your book(s) on expect of you. If they say that they’ll close your account and take down your titles if you break the agreement, they mean it. With that in mind I recommend giving yourself twice as much time to read them then you think you’ll need because trust me, you’re going to want to take a break on some of them. I also recommend that you don’t do more than one a day. They kinda blend together if you try to do all of them in quick succession.
  7. Keep receipts for everything! All of the expenses for the start up as well as the publishing costs are tax deductible.
  8. Don’t forget that you’re still a writer. The business side can easily take over your life. Make sure you’re still spending time writing the next release. With that in mind, my last bit of advice is…
  9. Be realistic. Don’t be afraid to farm out some less desirable tasks to someone else. I’m not saying that you have to take on an employee but you can take advantage of certain services that online retailers provide. I don’t have the storage space let alone the time and energy to fulfill book orders or process returns myself. But for a small percentage of the profits one of retailers I sell through will do that for me. I also have an accountant to handle my taxes. Being free of the headache and hassle so I have more time to write makes it a worthwhile expense.

My What?

So…when someone asks you what your “special sauce” is it’s hard to know exactly what to say. Do they want my katsu sauce recipe? Do they want the password to the secret underground culinary fight club? Are they coming on to me? Who knows.

I bet he knows.

But if the question is what makes my stories sound like me…well that’s a difficult question to answer. I’d like to think that my nerdy and off the wall humor is my signature thing but not all of my stories are humorous — my poetry definitely isn’t. Plus I’m not the only author who tells those kinds of jokes so I still couldn’t claim that it’s mine and only mine.

So what is my signature bit? Well…the best way I can think to describe it is to say that it’s like Doctor Who. Every Doctor has their own thing. Sometimes it’s as simple as a signature outfit, sometimes it’s a catchphrase like allonsy or Geronimo, and sometimes it’s jokes about eyebrows that can be used as bottle openers. While other times it’s a story line that makes you think. It’s that last one that I think if anything is my “special sauce” it’s that. When I write my stories, whether it’s a novel or a short story, I try to put in something that’s going to make the reader think and ask themselves if they would have done the same in that situation…followed by a pithy break the tension. Just kidding. I do it two pages later…and only on Saturday nights.

But of course this is all conjecture since only Mr. Shooty McBangbang knows what the question really is.

Deedle di ti dee…….Two Endings!


(Is the song stuck in your head yet?)

Whether it’s a sad ending, a happy ending (no, not that kind), or even a cliffhanger, endings can be hard to write. I know when I’m finishing a first draft I always wonder if there’s a thread I forgot to tie off or if there was enough denouement. Doubts like these can get the better of you. One doubt that doesn’t often pop into a writer’s mind is if the story needs two endings.

That’s pretty much what happened when I wrote Schrodinger’s Bar.

Schrodinger’s Bar is a short story I wrote for the Fiction River: Tavern Tales anthology. It’s about an alien refugee that finds a job at a very unusual dive bar. What makes this story really unique is that it has two endings that happen simultaneously. That’s right. Just when the reader thinks the story is over, not only do they get a second conclusion, it’s one that happens at the exact same time as the first instead of being another option.

Yes, it’s a very tricky thing to pull off. So how did I do it? I had a very good editor. No, seriously. It was all her idea and she walked me through it. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t really help you but I did learn how in the process.

Here’s the thing, gimmicks like this rarely work. Instead of it being a cool literary device it often comes off as cheesy or even lame. The only reason this one isn’t cheesy or boring is because of the title. Since the story — and specifically the dive bar — is a clever play on Schrodinger’s theory it gives me the allowance to do this. In fact, as my editor told me, this story really needed a gimmick like this to be good. Doing it with one ending would have been a missed opportunity.

But I hear you ask, “what if your story doesn’t have a quantum superposition but you still want to do two endings?” Well, that still has a prerequisite of sorts. Lets revisit the video I posted from Clue. Clue has three endings, each funnier and just as plausible as the others. Each of the possible solutions to the “who done it?” works because during the film, each suspect is without an alibi. It’s never highlighted during the film but if you watch closely you’ll see that it’s true. So if you want to pull off multiple endings, you need to do the same sort of prep work. Set up the scene, make sure you’ll have the plausibility you’ll need for each variation in each ending and at the final climactic moment, that’s when you start the divergence. In Schrodinger’s Bar that moment is when Myla has to decide to stay or go. In Clue, it’s the moment Wadsworth decides to reveal who the killer is and how they did it. The divergent endings all start at that same moment and progress to their individual conclusions. However the story as a whole needs to end before it becomes a Groundhog Day- like phenomena. You can certainly loop them around and around like that if you want it just takes more prep work.

Like I said. Tricky. Once you get it to work though, it’s really darn cool!

 

If you’d like to read Schrodinger’s Bar, you can purchase the anthology in print and digital here.

And you can find out more about Kim May here.