Category Archives: Reflection

Authors Lie to Tell the Big Truths

When we pick up a work of fiction, we are seeking to lose ourselves in a beautiful lie. While some readers are driven by the need to escape their reality, most use fiction as an emotional exercise, a way to live vicariously through the adventures of another and stretch the limits of what is possible in our own lives. This latter sort of reader won’t be satisfied by fantastic worlds and flashy plots. While they may be entertained by these elements, they want to sink their teeth into some deeper meaning, a truth that resonates not only with the story, but with their own experiences.

The first step in delivering this deeper human truth is establishing a sense of empathy between the readers and the characters. No matter the culture, or even the species, of the protagonists and points of view, their motivations and choices must ring true. Would we be willing to accept a teratogenic dwarf that cons his way into the admiralcy of a space mercenary fleet? Sure, no problem. However, if Miles VorKosigan were to suddenly give up his military dreams and decide to become a farmer? We’d call shenanigans. Readers invest in characters, not stories. We must see them struggle against impossible odds and make choices that lead them to victory. No matter how fantastic the persona, it is only when our characters are true to their natures and goals that we as readers can invest in their struggles.
Once our readers invest in character, they will begin to look for a link between the protagonists’ fictional journey and the questions and struggles they face in their own lives. Sometimes these truths are topical and current. As an example, I can write countless blog posts about racism, discrimination, prejudice, and fear, but for the most part will have a hard time convincing those who disagree with me. Rather than arguing with my audience, I could make my characters argue for us. Furthermore, by couching my argument in the terms of a fantastic lie, I remove ego and defensiveness from the equation. After all, I am talking about my characters, not about them, right? I could make my protagonist an anthropomorphic bunny who is trying to break a species barrier and fulfill her childhood dream of being a police officer. I pair her with a fox conman and force her to question her own views of predators and foxes in particular, with whom she has had bad experiences in the past. As she questions her prejudice and preconceptions, so will the audience. In so doing, I use my fantastic lie to proxy larger, current social struggles and make an argument for diversity and inclusiveness that is more likely to achieve meaningful success than a thousand angry blog posts.

However, as writers we aren’t limited to current social questions. There are some truths so profound to the human experience that variations on their stories are repeated across generations and cultural barriers. We want to believe in a world where a hobbit from the Shire can face and destroy the greatest evil of his world because sometimes we feel small and powerless. We want to see Aragon and Arwen marry because if they can find a way for their love to survive war, distance, and hardship, then our own romantic futures aren’t hopeless. We want to return to the Shire with Sam because we need to believe that all the chaos and pain of living is for a greater purpose – home and family. Though we might not have the perspective to see the arc of our own lives, we can spend hours, days, or weeks with a story to gain the catharsis we need to push through our own struggles.

As writers, we rely on our readers to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to work our storytelling magic. However, no matter how fantastic and entertaining we may be, our stories must ring true on a deeper level for our readers to commit to the tale. It is only when our characters are believable, empathetic, and when their decisions and struggles resonate with our own experiences that we can truly connect with a story. Readers want to believe the lie, not only because they seek to escape reality for a time, but also because in so doing we seek to understand the truth of our own world.

Trashing Your Novel Might be the Only Way to Save It

PhoenixHappy New Year!

As we discuss new beginnings this month, I’m talking about those times when you must begin at the beginning – again – when to decide to throw away your novel and start over.

It’s a scary idea to consider for any writer, no matter how experienced. We slave over our work, sometimes for years, pouring our heart and soul into our new creation. It’s like our baby, a precious part of our identity.

So when do we kill it?

The answer to that question is kind of a sliding scale. As new authors, it can be a shock to realize that revisions are necessary, that we have to cut and chop and operate and rebuild our story, perhaps several times. At a minimum, some of those precious little nuggets we’ve worked into our story might have to get chopped as we refine and perfect the story. Other times, we have to cut and change more, making some fundamental shifts in our plot, characters, setting, etc.

And occasionally, we have to throw it all away and start over. In these cases, it’s usually because the story we thought we were telling was the wrong story. Or our skills as developing writers just wasn’t up to par with the story we were trying to tell, and there are such critical flaws in the story that it’s simply not going to work.

In those cases, to save the story, we must kill it. Like a phoenix, the story might only live to be amazing only through the ashes of its previous life.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m arguably the king of the phoenix. My first novel – the four-year, three-hundred-thousand-word monstrosity that I was convinced was going to take the world by storm – wasn’t. I cut my teeth as a writer on that story, and I still love it. A big, fat, epic fantasy that had some amazing elements, but was not a professional-level product. It simply was not going to work.

The day I realized that was a dark day. I faced a choice, as we always do when facing revisions of every kind. Either cling to my pride and embrace that parental impulse to protect this precious story I had worked so very hard for so very long to produce. It’s understandable, but that approach would have guaranteed the story never succeeded.

Or – kill the story and start over. That’s what I did. I threw it away (really should have held a solemn ceremony with a huge bonfire in the back yard). Then I started over. Page One.

I took the elements that had been good – some of the worldbuilding, some of the characters, etc. And I redesigned an entirely new story. It was a painful process, but it was also amazing and awesome because the resulting story was ten times better. I will likely release it this year.

You’d think after all of that, I’d know how to write a first draft that was mostly good and only needed minor revisions.

Nope. Not me.

Set in StoneMy second book – Set in Stone – book one of my popular YA fantasy series – suffered its own issues. I actually outlined this story to the Nth degree in the hopes of a near-perfect first draft. Problem was, I was outlining the wrong story. By the third draft, I realized there were fundamental flaws with it.

So I chopped about 80% of that novel and rewrote it again. The result was amazing. I added the humor, which is such a big part of the series. And I plunged deep into the unique magic system and added several new characters, which are some of the most popular characters in the series. If I had clung to the original draft, the story would have tanked and I would have wasted an entire world and years of effort.

So shredding that story and rebuilding it again was the only way to save it. Phoenix number Two a success.

Just about every other novel I’ve written has also required massive rewrites. Maybe you’re smarter than me or better skilled and your stories don’t require such overhauls. But don’t hold back. The story is what matters, and first drafts are sometimes a process of discovering what your story’s heart really is. Rewrites are when you get to polish the story and craft it to perfection to make that heart really shine.

This week, I’m enjoying a rare writing retreat where I’ll be diving into edits on my next Facetakers time travel thriller. I’m not expecting to need such in-depth rewrites, but as I get into the revision process, I’ll do what it takes to make the story shine.

The story deserves it. My fans deserve it. So I do the work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

So what kind of year has it been? A year of transitions—although that may not be saying much since it increasingly seems that all years are transitioning to and from one thing or another. The idea I once held in my imagination of a stable life and career seems more far-fetched every day.

The reality is that I didn’t make much overall progress on my fiction in 2016, although the business of my writing life is a different story. After a four-year absence, I dove back into the convention pond (I attended two, When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta and World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio) and emerged with some excellent prospects. I had a very good year in my writing-adjacent day jobs, as a newspaper owner/editor and freelance book editor. I broke ground on a novel which I expect to be my most challenging and ambitious project to date; it’s the sort of project that keeps you up at night for the sheer excitement of plotting it out.

And yet I didn’t actually do very much writing, an ugly truth which I must stare down. In the face of this, it can be small consolation that I’ve greatly strengthened the infrastructure of my life. I must do better in 2017. It’s as simple as that.

Let me talk about those convention appearance, which I came back from energized to produce more and better work. Every time I attend a convention, it solidifies my certainty that there’s a market for my writing. That’s the value of conventions, but they are really hard.

Well, maybe they’re not hard for everyone. For me they’re nigh impossible. Gone are the halcyon days when I went to my first conventions and filled my days with programming. It didn’t take long to realize that the panels are mostly doesn’t come at all naturally to me. You need the ability to walk up to strangers, or near-strangers, and find something to talk about instantly—without seeming needy and pushy. This is quite a tightrope.

Because that’s what you’re there for. You’re generally not there to listen to a panel of novelists talk about the importance of map-making in fantasy literature, nor are you there to listen to well-established professionals wax eloquent about their decades-long careers and the generally pretty unrelatable logistics of publishing fifteen-volume epics. Those are definitely perks, but eventually you’ll realize that those panels are more or less all the same, and they don’t get you from A to B. You could get a similar result from an afternoon browsing YouTube clips.

I spent the first evening of World Fantasy returning periodically to my hotel room to steal precious alone time, breaks from the stress of wandering through the convention halls looking desperately for people to talk to, like a feral animal.

At one point, a friend of mine said to me that most of the people there were just like me and they were wildly faking their smiles and easy-going manners. He pointed out that a majority of writers are probably introverted shut-ins, which explains why they would be attracted to a field where so much of the work happens when you’re, well, very much alone.

But anyway, you don’t spend hundreds (thousands) of dollars on convention fees and airfare and hotel rooms and pub food only if you’re going to actually dive into that pond. So when the second day dawned, I pulled on some swimwear and got wet. The water was excruciatingly cold at first, and only slightly warmer by the end when I finally crawled onto shore like a beached whale, but damn it I came away with a couple of manuscript critiques and some short story anthology opportunities. (One of those opportunities came when an editor inadvertently dumped his entire beer all over me, a soggy mess which ultimately paid off handsomely by weekend’s end.)

It’s not comfortable, and it’s not my favorite part of the job, but I’ve already booked a couple of conventions for 2017 and hopefully it won’t take me so long to acclimate this time.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

Frog Jones Year-in-Review

OK, they tell me I have a single blog post to recap one of the biggest years in my writing career. So, here we go.

1. January

January was actually relatively calm. We will think of this as the quiet before the storm.

FFG Cover2. February

February kicked off with my first time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. Despite spending a third of the conference in bed due to altitude sickness, thereby becoming the black sheep of the seminar, I made a lot of great connections and met a lot of good people. Also, I was introduced to this group of authors who call themselves the Fictorians–you may have heard of them.

But wait, there’s more.

February also saw the release of Book 3 of the urban fantasy series I co-author with my wife. We launched the book live at RadCon in Pasco, Washington; the good folks at that con and the Central Washington Authors Guild helped to insure our best launch ever, putting us briefly in the top 40 list on Amazon’s Urban Fantasy category.

3. March

March saw the release of Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Magic. This is an anthology we were really happy to be a part of. The entire anthology is filled with stories in which close is good enough. Our story, “Some Kind of Way Out Of Here,” involves a thief who steals a number of magic wands–only to need to use their random effects in his botched escape attempt.

12998266_10154046171413080_5286021561999122271_oMarch saw us attending Norwescon, the largest of the regional conventions at which I’m a regular. The picture’s a little fuzzy, but the bowler stands out). In addition to being a big, awesome con that gives its authors free booze in the evenings (no joke there, just awesomeness), Norwescon is the home of the Fairwood Writers Workshop, which is a really amazing chance for me to give back to new authors in exactly the way I got my own start.

4. April

I’m going to cheat a little bit, here; while at Norwescon we recorded the first episode of 3 Unwise Men, the comedy genre fiction podcast I record alongside two other nimrods. Season 2 released in April, though; it was a six-episode season, beginning with the Livecast from Norwescon.

5. May

In May, I attended Miscon as a professional. Miscon was an amazing experience; I did dinner with Jim Butcher, drank beer with Kevin J. Anderson, and ended up in a sweet game of Fiasco with Christopher Paolini. In addition, with the help of the Fairwood Press table, we had our greatest single day of physical book sales ever. Possibly the most heady con experience I’ve ever had. There was a moment at Miscon where a fan walked up to the WordFire Press table, where my wife Esther volunteered, and asked Kevin J Anderson where he could find our book. That’s something that makes you really feel like you’ve arrived.

13415482_10208446988645564_8879850187004161903_o6. June

June is a time for getting things done. CampCon happens in June, a small gathering of professionals in the woods surrounding Mt. Hood in Oregon. We bring our laptops. We place them on picnic tables. And we throw down word count. Esther and I finished the draft of the first novel in our new series, Black Powder Goddess. When is it coming out? Well, that’s up to whoever buys it. But CampCon is an amazing experience, where the creative juices are flowing and nobody has an internet connection to distract them. That’s the group pic we took; there’s several new authors that come, but we also have Phyllis Irene Radford, Bob Brown, Sanan Kolva, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, and Blaze and Leah from Knotted Road Press.

13516369_10206756434249727_4232598126185580488_n7. July

In July, we did Westercon! Westercon was the first con at which Esther and I appeared at a table featuring our own books. We shared that table space with the great David Boop and Peter Wacks, and broke all of our sales records. Also, the Unwise Men made an appearance at Westercon. It was the last panel of the day for me, and you can tell that all three of the UWM were shocked to see us not only invited back to a convention, but actively advertised by that convention.

But wait there’s more.

During July, we also appeared at Capital Indie Book Con in Olympia. We had a table here, as well, and had decent sales as well as a couple of unexpected guests.

13699999_10206858004628923_3882587901125880649_n

8. August

During August, we took deep breaths and dove headfirst into revising Black Powder Goddess. In addition, we began drafting Graceless, book 4 in the Gift of Grace series. Normally in August we attend Spocon, the convention which gave us our start back in 2011. This year, Spocon took a year off after putting on Sasquan in 2015.

9. September

Easily the best-selling anthology to date for us is the great How Beer Saved the World.  Keeping a copy of this book on the table at any given con is difficult at best, and the online sales for it have been fabulous.

In September, Esther and I were proud to be a part of the launch of the second volume of How Beer Saved the World. Having two of these books on our table from here on our is really going to be quite something, because we cannot stop people from buying the first one. Here’s a quick marketing tip: if you want to sell an anthology, make it about booze. Half the people at a convention are already thinking about it.

10. October

October…sucked.

The editor of our first three novels, Sue Bolich, lost her fight with cancer in early October. Sue has been with Esther and I from the beginning of our careers, and losing her was a serious blow. I would not be the author I am today if it were not for Sue flaying me alive at every step. Sue, we loved you, and we are far better writers with far better books for having known you. Nothing we do in the industry would have been possible had you not ever-so-politely laid the skin from our flesh every time we looked at you. She was a great author and an amazing editor, and I still feel directionless in this industry without her.

11. November

November began with the release of Dragon Writers. a charity anthology put out by WordFire Press. If you’re reading the Fictorians regularly, there’s fair odds you’re going to see this mentioned a lot this month. Frank, Jace, and Kristin (and maybe some others I missed, sorry guys) appear alongside Brandon Sanderson, Jodi Lynn Nye, David Farland, and Todd McCaffery in this anthology of stories featuring (1) dragons, and (2) creativity.

In addition, Esther and I made yet another con appearance, this time at OryCon in Portland.

12. December

It is December 2nd as of this post. Who knows what the next 24 days will bring?

That’s me for the year. It was a huge year with our biggest releases, our most effective con appearances, and some of our best networking. For Esther and I, 2016 is going to be looked back on as the year we started going full-bore as professional authors.