Homed in on a Book Update

So in my pursuit of a productive year, I set myself some project deadlines and homed in on the first of the bunch. I’m happy to report that Goldmayne: A Fairy Tale has transferred over to my imprint. The updated ebook and paperback are both available.

The book received what I’m calling a typesetter’s edit. I.e., if a line or paragraph didn’t space itself well on the page I took the liberty of deleting a conversational tag or adverb. Sorry, not sorry. (There’s also a single line of dialogue that changed, primarily because it introduced a secondary context that wasn’t appropriate for the character speaking it, but I digress.)

Product Details, Ooh La La

Paperback

The paperback interior is a VAST improvement over its earlier incarnation, if only in ease of readability. Typesetting guidelines put a boundary of 10 – 12 points for main body text. The old Goldmayne was in 10-point Garamond, because the book is ~122K words long. (My longest published work. Surprised?) Technically, that typeset met the prescribed boundaries, but the text was tiny, and I didn’t know at the time that Not All Garamonds Are Created Equal.

The new typeset is in 11-point Charter, with no hazards of eyestrain to be seen. It is lovely. It is also roughly a hundred pages longer, even though the text is about a thousand words shorter. (A prime example for why word count is the most accurate measure for the length of a book; page count is variable, depending on the set.)

Old and new editions of Goldmayne: A Fairy Tale; the new one homed in on better readability

Old in front, new behind; what a difference a font can make!

Ebook

The ebook got a reformat in Vellum, for a nicer, cleaner file. It just looks more professional all around.

And some extra good news? For this update, I kept track of any actual “quality” corrections I came across. The missing word in Chapter 16. An incorrect homophone in Chapter 2 (!). A couple of misspellings and some inconsistent usage (drily vs. dryly, for example). I finally gave up on “intransience” and replaced it with “permanence,” and I made a universal correction of “honed in on” to “homed in on.”

Which, to be fair, I’m still a little salty about. More on that below.

Long story short (too late), after I republished, I sent that list of quality changes to Amazon, and they have deemed this a “major update.” Meaning, if you previously bought this ebook, you should be getting an email that there’s a new version available. Whether you get the email or not, you can access the update in the Manage Content and Devices section of your Amazon account, if you so desire to have it.

Two notes:

  1. If you want to keep the old cover, don’t update the book. I have mixed feelings about the new cover, but it’s one of those things where I’m going to shrug and move forward.
  2. If you have highlighted passages you want to keep, maybe jot down their context on a notepad before updating. Kindle locations changed in the new formatting, so the whisper sync feature might map them to the wrong text section. (Idk, I never highlight in ebooks, so it’s not something I can check in my own copy of the file.)

And now, a usage aside.

Honed in on vs. Homed in on

In my ten years of publishing, no one has ever called me out for using “honed” where it was supposed to be “homed.” I am, quite frankly, shocked and disappointed in all of you.

No, no. I joke. 

I discovered this usage argument a couple years back and was dismayed more than I can here express. The prescriptive rule states that “home in on” is correct and “hone in on” is an erroneous usage that has wormed its way into vernacular speech. “‘Hone’ refers to sharpening things! It has nothing to do with visual focus!” quoth the naysayers.

But here’s the thing.

My brain had a marked semantic difference between the pair of phrases. For my idiosyncratic usage “honed in on” denoted a sharpening of focus from across a distance, like a camera lens zooming in on its subject from afar. “Homed in on” implied movement toward that subject, like a homing missile closing in on its target. Basically, I had learned the “wrong” phrase as a separate semantic unit.

You guys, I get called out on the silliest things. Like, there are readers, bless their hearts, who delight in finding any little error they can (or perceived error, because they’re not always right, lol). This one would have been easy pickings. WHY HAS NO ONE EVER HOMED IN ON IT?

(Haha. I couldn’t resist.)

Anyway, after reflecting on the misalignment between my internal lexicon and the mainstream prescriptivism, this is an instance where I decided to capitulate. I have duly retrained my brain to save “hone” for sharpening tools or wits or talents, because it’s a good word and I don’t want it dragged through the mud any more than it already has been.

Thus, I’ve edited its misuse out of Goldmayne and the first two Annals of Altair. It’s still in the Ruses books and The Legendary Inge. (I mean, maybe. I haven’t actually checked, but I liked the phrase, so I’m assuming I used it on the regular.) Timeline-wise, I think I discovered the discrepancy during my drafting of Namesake, but if anyone comes across it there, feel free to snark about it. We can both have a good laugh.

Final Non-related Addendum

For the time being, I’ve set my whole website to shut off comment sections after 14 days. Too many Russian bots were bypassing my discussion filters, and I got tired of cleaning them out of my moderation queue. I’ll revisit this in a few months, but for now, if you want to comment, strike while the iron is hot.

(Unless you’re a bot, in which case, kindly take your shady pharmacy links elsewhere, please and thank you. Why you gotta ruin everything for everyone else, huh?)

Discipline in the Year of Hindsight

Discipline: in each of us exists both creator and consumer, and we thrive when we strike a balance between the two.At the beginning of the month, people on my social media feeds started announcing their word of the year. I’ve never done that lovely practice, but it got me thinking: “If I were to pick one word that embodied my hopes for 2020, what would it be?”

Ever so softly, the vast ether whispered back, “Discipline.”

And I laughed. Hahahahahahaha!

If there’s one thing I have lacked throughout my life, it’s discipline. In large part, my body has been a convenient vehicle to get my brain from one place to another. And since my brain’s favorite “location” is its daydream-du-jour…

Yeah. Exercise, sleep, and meals all take a back burner to whatever thought pattern I’m engaged in. I mean, I get to them eventually, but they’re not scheduled or anything.

Still, as much as I lack discipline, I idealize the concept as well.

Discipline: An Etymological Dichotomy

Discipline sounds austere, like a schoolmarm with a critical eye and a ready ruler. However, it also exudes wisdom, like an ancient sage who has mastered body and soul.

The word shares its root with “disciple,” both of them coming from the Latin discipulus, “pupil/student.” Earliest English usage had to do with the “punishment” sense of discipline, but as an outward sign of seeking self-control. People would discipline in order to invoke obedience to a certain discipline.

Thus the word speaks to a broadening of the mind through strict adherence to a study or process.

One who has discipline is learning and growing. They understand and honor boundaries, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional.

And ultimately, when I considered making it my 2020 theme, it begged the question, of what disciplines am I a student, and how well does my self-discipline reflect that?

Ideal Versus Reality

In my ideal, I’m a disciple of writing. In reality, I’m more accurately a disciple of YouTube. Much as I love daydreaming about scenes and characters and plots, the process of connecting the dots and developing all of those in a believable (or at least passable) manner is HARD WORK. It’s so much easier to pull up social media and see what their algorithm has to feed me.

So, in my quest to find self-discipline, I took a hiatus from the internet.

(Mostly.)

Last week, I had about four approved websites I was allowed to visit. Two of them were dictionaries. It was lovely and, yes, oddly liberating to say, “No, I can’t go there. I’m not doing that today.”

And what was the effect?

First and foremost, I got to bed roughly 2 hours earlier most nights. I had nothing to do in the evenings, so why not sleep?

Second, I found time to exercise (four days and a total of 150 minutes, up from zero the preceding week).

Work-wise, I re-typeset Goldmayne for its transfer over to Eulalia Skye. There’s a few tweaks left, but the book is basically ready for its cover. (And it’s going to be a fat book. 474 pages. Yikes. But the original typeset was in 10-point Garamond, and I’m not playing that space-saving game anymore.)

I also wrote about 1K words on Eidolon. Still wading through the weeds on how to connect all my plot-points there, but I ain’t gonna sneeze at what little progress I can make.

Long story short: internet bad, discipline good. So, for now, I’ll be keeping my online time to a minimum.

(But we loves it, precious, we does!)

For Discipline We Strive

In each of us exists both creator and consumer. We work, and we play, and we thrive when we strike a balance between the two. Right now, I need that balance.

So that is my word for 2020: discipline.

Wish me luck. And for those who have also chosen a 2020 word, good luck to you!

Swift September, Waning Year

Title plate: Month in Review, September 2019September, that lovely transitional month, has come and gone. I knew it would be busy, and I planned accordingly. Just, with everything else happening, I neglected to set up a blog post in advance.

So here’s the official announcement: Annals of Altair Book 3, OLIVER INVICTUS, is now available on Amazon. It dropped back on the 18th, and it is, apparently, more high-tension than I realized.

…Whoopsie?

One of the problems with the whole pre-order process is that it’s easy to set up a title and then walk away. In this case, though, that “problem” was a blessing. Here’s what’s been happening.

Early September

I had a doctor’s appointment to evaluate a treatment plan I’d been on for the previous 3 months. Without going into a lot of details, basically I have a chronic (and genetically caused) folate deficiency. Because it was undiagnosed for most of my life, and because I had put myself into a cycle of ill health in the months prior to diagnosis, my system was haywire until I sought treatment.

The good news: most of my numbers vastly improved. Like, cholesterol down 30+ points, blood sugars back into normal ranges, vitamin D in double digits again (and nicely high double digits, hooray!).

The bad news: one of my numbers was worse. I kind of expected it. There’s family history involved, and I’ve lived my whole life knowing it was a possibility. Essentially, the damage at this point was too far along to reverse. So, my doctor tweaked my treatment plan, and I am now officially tied to a prescription.

(I’m also tied to a methylfolate supplement, but that’s over-the-counter. If you feel like you’re living life with your brain wrapped inside a lead blanket, maybe consider getting tested for an MTHFR mutation.)

After spending most of September on this new plan, I FEEL AWESOME.

Relatively speaking. I’m waking up alert instead of feeling like someone poured a load of mud into my skull while I slept. I have a happier, more hopeful outlook. Life has possibilities again.

It’s amazing the difference a couple of little chemicals can make.

Middle September

I celebrated my birthday. I’m now 39, for anyone who is nosily curious. Not sure why, but I’ve loved that number since I was a kid (it’s triple-thirteen, plus 3²=9; just some beautiful patterns happening). It was a good day, quiet but spent with people I love.

That same week, I attended the annual ANWA Writers Conference. I went with some of my specific writerly roadblocks in mind and got some excellent insight for how to maneuver through them. Plus, I got to reconnect with some of my favorite fellow authors and friends, amazing creatives who are bringing light and laughter and beauty into the world.

It was good times.

And, of course, the middle of September saw the launch day for Oliver Invictus. Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered, and to those who have since bought, read, rated, and reviewed. You people are the best.

End of the Month

The main reason Oliver had such a low-key debut is that I was leaving the country shortly thereafter, on a trip whose plane tickets I bought last February before I knew I’d be finishing a book. While his story uploaded into readers’ kindle clouds, I was slowly compiling my necessary supplies and wrapping my brain around the prospect of traveling for a week.

Mostly I was worried about my cat. Would she be here when I got back? Would she drive my mother insane during the interim?

Yes to both questions, as it turns out.

I went to the UK with the ever-intrepid Rachel Collett. We visited Bath and Welshpool, and had an overnight in London before flying home. I think I successfully converted her to travel by train. (We don’t do trains in the desert southwest. I mean, they exist, obviously, but the only passenger trains are specialty ones like the Grand Canyon Railway or the light-rail that runs through the Phoenix metro area at 25 mph.)

Drinking the Bath Water

Roman Baths in September

Living my best life in the Roman Baths. Yes, I drank the water, but not from this crusty pool!

Bath is phenomenal. Some highlights:

  • The Bath Abbey
  • The Roman Baths/The Pump Room
  • The Jane Austen Centre
  • No. 1 Royal Crescent (now a museum)
  • Basically every street and park and river walk

Netflix was filming their upcoming Regency series, Bridgerton (based on the Julia Quinn novels, which I have not read), so some streets were off-limits to visitors. It was fun to catch a glimpse of actors in period clothes, though, and horses and carriages and an entire street covered with gravel to hide the modern pavement. One of the buildings had a green screen up the side of it so they could modify the setting in post.

Kind of crazy. Totally fascinating.

People kept apologizing for the weather, but it was honestly lovely.

Tromping through Castle Grounds

Just over the border from Shrewsbury, England lies the town of Welshpool, Wales, home of Powis Castle and Gardens. I’ve followed the Powis Twitter account for a few years now, so actually visiting there was an awesome treat.

Powis Castle September 2019

At the Powis Castle entrance, ready for adventure. Ignore my derpy face.

Everything in the castle is authentic, right down to the 2400-year-old Etruscan vases sitting demurely atop the 14-foot shelves in the library (which is stocked with, among other things, much of Empress Joséphine’s personal book collection—just a minor souvenir the family picked up from the continent after the Napoleonic Wars, nbd).

Robert Clive, aka Clive of India (a regular pirate if ever there was one), had a son who married into the Powis family (the Herberts), so his collection of artifacts—bought and plundered—passed to this estate. The Clive Museum on the castle grounds displays many of these items, along with an acknowledgment that some were ill-gotten spoils (which is a step in the right direction, I guess).

The family lived there until at least the mid-1900s, but the castle and grounds now belong to the National Trust. Hence, conservation is the name of the game. Light sensors in every room record daily UV exposure, and one of the volunteers disclosed that if they exceed their yearly quota, they get shut down until January rolls around. So, blinds are pulled low, and castle visiting hours are set, and absolutely NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY allowed.

Between the castle tour and exploring the gorgeous gardens, this excursion merited a full day. The bi-polar weather went from sunshine to rain and back again half a dozen times, and I sang silent praises for the pair of duckboots I wore.

When you’re mucking about the loam of Wales, appropriate footwear makes all the difference.

Powis Castle and Grounds September 2019

A view of the castle from across the grounds

And that’s how I spent my September.

I don’t usually cram so many events together, but that’s the way things converged this time. Now it’s back to the proverbial grindstone for me.

Oliver Invictus | Official Reveal and Pre-Order

If you read between the lines of my last post, this one will come as no surprise. I’m pleased to announce the upcoming publication of Book 3 of the Annals of Altair: Oliver Invictus arrives on September 18, 2019.

You can pre-order the ebook HERE. Hooray!

Oliver Invictus book cover

Summary: Oliver Invictus

Dead at Fifteen

Oliver Dunn’s life is officially over. Pulled from his bed in the black of night, he’s headed for the Prometheus Institute’s mysterious shadow campus, where anomalies like him vanish forever.

But no sooner does he leave Prom-F than the school descends into chaos. The student body revolts, classmates make a break for freedom, and one silent, powerful projector among them corrals the adults into a hive-minded collective of slaves.

Yanked back from his impending doom, Oliver’s mere presence restores order. The Prometheus heads demand that he ferret out the rogue projector, but he’d rather die than cooperate.

His life is already over. They can’t threaten him with any fate worse than his own. But they can threaten the one person in the world he actually cares about: his former handler, Emily Brent.

If you haven’t read the first two books of this series, that summary might raise a lot of questions. If it’s been a while since you read them, ditto. Because I’m a giver, I’ll go ahead and post links for those two books as well:

Book 1: A Boy Called Hawk

Book 2: A Rumor of Real Irish Tea

That’s it for the announcement part of this post. A new book! Go forth and pre-order!

Or, if you’re game, stick around and read on.

Background Notes

I always considered the Annals of Altair complete at 2 books. This is apparent in their structure, which is pinned to the US Constitution. A Boy Called Hawk uses the main body for its chapter numbering (Preamble, Articles, and Sections) and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea uses the amendments (27 in all).

My younger self thought it was funny to have the Constitution as a meaningless frame for a hypothetical future in which that document itself had become meaningless. Actually, my current self thinks it’s funny too.

So.

A third book was not on my radar. What was I supposed to pin it to, the tax code?

The Plot Thickens

Still, I had family members that asked for more, and I knew that more happened beyond the scope of those first two books. Besides, if the original structure was meaningless, and meaninglessness was the point, then abandoning it for a meaningless chapter-numbering system would be fine.

Confident in that reassurance and the knowledge that I don’t have to publish everything I write, I tackled a third book for NaNoWriMo.

Back in 2015. (Seriously did not realize it was that long ago, but the timeline checks out. Tsk tsk, Kate.)

The story stalled at the third act, as my stories chronically do. I played with it a bit over the years, but it was definitely a back-burner project.

Why?

Well, I’ll tell you.

This series gets the least amount of traffic among my literary canon. Not a surprise. It’s dystopia lite instead of the gossamer fantasy that is my usual fare, so it’s easily skipped. It was also more like a personal art project than a commercial endeavor. Hence, for a while, I saw it as my weakest link.

We don’t draw attention to the weakest link.

But I truly love the story and its cast of characters—on both sides of the conflict. My initial vision to spin a yarn about four kids escaping an oppressive government morphed into a tale about the rotten little antihero tasked with bringing them back. By the end of the second book it was clear that Oliver and Emily were more the main characters than Hawk, Hummer, Honey, and Happy. I’ve always known what became of them afterward, and part of me always wanted to write it.

However, it seemed self-indulgent to work on a book that strayed so far from my perceived fantasy brand, and that few people—if any—actually wanted to read.

So what changed?

For my birthday last year, I sat down and conducted an inventory of my writing: unpublished projects, planned-but-unwritten projects, and works-in-progress. The list was kind of a slap in the head: I had 20 books in some form of development, not including my notebook of story kernels, and not including the six published books I still needed to switch over to my imprint.

The creative pile-up weighed me down. When you have too much debt, you get rid of the smallest one first. Thus, Oliver Invictus, 75% complete, moved up in the work queue.

(As a side note, the idea for Soot and Slipper hadn’t even occurred yet. I’m not great at managing my plot bunnies.)

The final impetus to complete the draft came from a comment on my blog last April. It’s one thing for people you know to ask for more of your work—there’s always a voice at the back of the head saying they’re only being polite, or that it’s their way of expressing a compliment. It’s quite another for a stranger to speak up. That’s a call to action.

And, as it happens, answering that particular call was within my ability. So.

Long story short (too late)

I estimate that roughly twenty people outside my own family might actively want this book. I hope more than that will read and enjoy it, but if its total market saturation is only those twenty, I still consider it time and effort well invested.

Mostly because I want this book.

Whether Oliver Invictus has a large audience or a small one, I’m excited for its readers to experience the next leg of this upside-down world.

And why September 18th?

It’s Oliver’s birthday. It seemed a fitting day to bring his story to light.

Annals of Altair series book covers

Look at these covers, you guys! They look like they belong together! +1 Branding skills for me!

Project Updates and Other Ramblings

Greetings, my friends! It’s time for a few project updates. Some bad news, some good news, maybe…? Idk. So, as Li Shang says, let’s get down to business.

First of my project updates: Thank you! May this classy purple flower convey how awesome you are.

First of all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who has read Soot and Slipper, double-thanks to those who have recommended it to others, and triple-thanks if you took the time to rate and/or review it on the venue of your choice.

Full disclosure: as a general rule, I don’t read reviews. My mother does, though, and she thinks it’s fun to pull them up and read them aloud to me as I hastily vacate her presence. You, my lovely readers, have been SO NICE.

Thank you. I am overwhelmed and humbled and grateful that you have found value in my work. You are awesome and amazing.

And speaking of value…

(Terrible segue, I know.)

Ebook Pricing

Around the time I released S&S, I had multiple people tell me I need to up my ebook prices (including a couple of commenters on my own blog, haha). I’ve kept my prices low as a courtesy, but those discussions have left me with a lot to ruminate on. After several weeks of wishy-washy contemplation, I’m ready to capitulate. Sort of.

Over the next few months, my ebooks that are 50K words and above will all get a price update to $2.99. For Tournament of RusesThe Legendary Inge, and Namesake, this is no increase at all. The Annals of Altair series, Kingdom of Ruses, and Goldmayne will each go up $2.

I did look into upping the price on the longer books (90K+ words) to $3.99, but price increases statistically lower sales. Basically, I’d be charging more for fewer people to buy, to the benefit of no one. So that’s been shuffled to the side for now.

For the time being, my two fairytale novellas will remain at $0.99. I know I could probably raise their prices as well, but I like them as introductions to my writing, so the low courtesy pricing makes sense to me.

It’s not that big of a difference on most of these, but hopefully the new prices will better signal that yes, I do value my work and I want readers who value it as well. I don’t have an exact timetable for when each price increase will happen (see below for why), so this is your courtesy notice that if you want any of my books at their lower price, grab them sooner rather than later.

And that brings us to…

Project Updates

When I created my imprint (Eulalia Skye Press) a couple years ago, I intended to transfer my earlier titles over. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons.

Or, well, mostly because of all the paperwork involved. I’m using a different trim size under ESP than with my earlier titles, so transferring over means re-typesetting six books, which also means new covers. And that in turn means updated ebooks, which would ideally correspond with the aforementioned price hikes. In short, it’s a lot of dominoes that have to be lined up and tumbled, and since I’ve already been through the process with these books, I’ve dragged my feet on doing it again.

But I finally learned InDesign (as the print version of Soot and Slipper will attest, yeehaw), and I really ought to use that subscription to its fullest. So.

Annals of Altair Books 1 – 3

The print versions for A Boy Called Hawk and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea are no longer available. They will return shortly. This series gets the least amount of traction in my collected works, so no great loss.

For the ebooks, the price increase is effective immediately. I’ve uploaded new covers and reformatted book files for a nicer reading experience. Because these were my first books published, I’ve also done a medium-light edit (cleared out excess verbiage, cleaned up the writing style, etc.).

The stories are the same. They’re just not quite as wordy.

For those who want a hard copy (Hi, Mom!), the typesetting for the print versions is complete. I just have to upload files, order proofs, and make sure everything is pretty. My self-imposed deadline is the middle of September, for Reasons.

Look for this newly rebranded series on Amazon.

Ruses, Goldmayne, and Inge

I’m not messing with the wordiness of these books. Goldmayne is meant to have a folksy fairytale voice, so my older style of writing still works. The same goes for Inge and the Ruses books, to a lesser degree.

Kingdom of Ruses, however, will get the addition of a bonus short story, “The Prince among Men.” It’s roughly 4K; I wrote it a few years ago to answer that burning question, “But where did Will go?” And then I had nowhere to publish it, because it was too long for a blog post and too short for a standalone novella.

L O L

Since I’m adding a short story to the end of Kingdom, I think I have to dis-enroll it from Kindle Unlimited so that it doesn’t look like I’m trying to game the system for more page-reads. There were shenanigans to that effect a couple years back, as I recall, and I’d rather not chance having a book flagged because previous readers are skipping to the end for some added content. So whenever that update happens, no KU for a few months. (Sorry, my lovely KU readers. It will return eventually.)

These four books will update in the following order (theoretically): Goldmayne, Inge, Kingdom, Tournament.

Namesake

And now we arrive at the elephant in the room. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a sequel to Namesake, like, a year ago?” Why, yes. Yes there was. And then it turned into two sequels and I threw a creative tantrum.

I have a hard-and-fast rule of not publishing a book that needs a sequel written. Namesake can stand on its own, so I waffled over whether even to write the follow-up. When it split into two, that waffling doubled. I am still working on them, but there’s no timetable for completion.

Just, when you see Goddess (Book 2) finally make its appearance, you can rest assured that Eidolon (Book 3) will be close on its heels. I won’t leave you hanging from that cliff for long. Pinky promise.

Final Thoughts

A disproportionate amount of my writerly life has been me feeling like I fall short of other people’s expectations. I lack follow-through, I disappear for weeks or months on end, I hoard creative control, and I happily nest down in my comfortable corner of obscurity. The truth is, I only ever wanted to write. It was never my dream to publish a book.

So here I am, ten titles down the road and wondering how the heck this all happened. It has been a long, meandering path, and there is still so much meandering yet to come.

Long story short, thanks for joining me on this journey. Life is full of surprises, y’know?

Music and the Written Word

Albert Einstein on musicFor all you book purists out there, the paperback of Soot and Slipper is now live! (Click HERE) In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m going to explore a fun little element of writing: the background music.

Some writers need total silence. Others need speakers blaring. I fall closer to the second category, where listening to music can help me focus on my writing, but with a caveat: I can’t usually handle new lyrics. If I don’t know a song, my brain will turn more toward discerning its content than unraveling the scene I’m supposed to be creating.

Hence, my playlists often feature instrumental arrangements or foreign-language singers. But one other element comes into play when I pick my writing songs: the atmosphere. Every book is different.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t have any connection with the artists I’m discussing in this post. I’m not an affiliate for any of the sites I link. I just really like their music.

The Music of Soot and Slipper

As a Cinderella retelling, Soot and Slipper has a light and fluffy atmosphere, with some maybe darker undertones at play. (No spoilers, haha.) The playlists I gravitated toward definitely reflected that.

Music Backdrop #1: Eurielle

Around the time I started toying with the plot idea, I came across Eurielle on YouTube. At times epic and other times floating, her music has echoes of Enya if Enya were orchestrating a feature film about ghosts and medieval yearning for salvation.

Her album, Arcadia, provided backdrop #1 for this novella. She sings in English, Latin, and French. Probably the most influential song was “Je t’Adore,” which came to represent Eugenie’s first masquerade. It starts with gravitas (“Liberate me from the fire” is the Latin phrase, which works nicely with my recurring theme of embers and ashes) and then transitions into an airy refrain.

Eurielle on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

Music Backdrop #2: Boggie

This artist has been on my radar since the video for her song “Parfüm” went viral a few years back. A Hungarian jazz singer, she has songs in Hungarian (of course), English, and French. I have two of her albums, the eponymous Boggie and All Is One Is All.

Her playful song “Camouflage” became Pip’s anthem. And really, it suits him to a tee.

Boggie on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

Music Backdrop #3: Erutan

Sometimes I got too lazy to sign into my digital music account. (This is true first-world laziness, I fully admit.) Both of the above artists have YouTube channels, though, and after a few video plays the algorithm kicked in to find me similar songs.

And Erutan appeared in my suggestions.

Kate Covington AKA Erutan (“Nature” spelled backward) combines medieval instrumentation with etherial vocals to create an otherworldly musical experience. She sings both original music and covers arranged to her celtic-influenced style, with intertwining melodies and harmonies that stoke the imagination. I suppose, in many ways, she might represent the fairy of my tale.

From what I can tell, Erutan is an independent artist in every sense. She’s ridiculously talented, too. You can support her by watching her videos on YouTube or buying her tracks on [iTunes] or [Amazon].

Honorable Mention: Cœur de Pirate

So this artist didn’t show up in my algorithm until a couple days after I finished the Soot and Slipper draft. Since I was on a French kick, though, I gave her a listen. When I encountered her song “Combustible,” it embodied Marielle so well that I had to include it here.

I will definitely be listening to more of her in the future. (Especially since I’ve bought two of her albums so far.)

Cœur de Pirate on [iTunes] and [Amazon]

A Musical Trend

On looking back at the playlists I listened to while writing this book, a lot of them had Halloween and/or phantasmic overtones. Although Soot and Slipper was the very soul of creative escapism for me, that secondary atmosphere is oddly fitting.

If you enjoyed the songs above, please consider supporting the artists. Music, like books, can’t happen without a lot of work.

Soot and Slipper | Cover Reveal and Pre-Order!

Hey, remember how I was writing a sequel for Namesake? I wrote a Cinderella adaptation instead. It’s based on Charles Perrault’s version of the fairy tale, I’ve called it Soot and Slipper, and it releases April 1st.

Because April Fools! It’s the wrong story!

(But in all seriousness I’m still working on the other one, just slower than anticipated.)

Anyhoo, because this is only a novella (~35K words), the writing and publishing processes have seemed more like a whirlwind than usual. Today, I’m pleased as Punch to bring you the summary and cover reveal.

Soot and Slipper: A Summary

Eugenie lives in isolation on her father’s estate, with only her elegant stepmother and two stepsisters for company. When the crown of Jacondria announces a series of royal masquerades, she yearns to go. However, her stepsisters’ fortunes hinge on them finding wealthy husbands, and Eugenie doesn’t want to interfere with their odds.

Enter a mischievous fairy who has other plans.

A scant few hours of light-hearted revelry seems harmless enough. By the fairy’s own rules, Eugenie can’t stay the whole night, and with everyone in costume, her stepfamily will never know she was there.

Really, how much trouble can result from attending a masquerade or two?

And now for the eye candy…

Soot and Slipper book cover

Isn’t it pretty?! I have a soft spot for the pale pink/dark gray color combo anyway, and this just exploits that to its fullest.

But wait! There’s more!

Want a preview of the first chapter? You can read it over on novelthree.com.

More importantly, do you want the ebook added to your Kindle library on release day? It’s up for pre-order on Amazon.

Rejoice and wonder, my dear friends!

(Yes, this is the first time I’ve done a pre-order. And yes, that’s why it’s only a week in advance.)

There will be a print version as well, hopefully around the same time. I’m waiting for a physical proof in the mail, and if everything checks out, I’ll give it the thumbs up when the month turns.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Final Thoughts | Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Final thoughts: Pamela Meyer quote on relationship between liar and recipientAnd at long last, we come to the final thoughts.

Through real-life patterns of deception, we can identify weaknesses in our writing and shift those weaknesses into strengths. With that in mind, I offer the following summary of this series.

The Poor Liar

  • Fakes emotions in the moment
  • Provides excess details to prevent the listener from questioning their authority
  • Dumps information
  • Forgets or contradicts essential points in their narrative
  • Uses language defensively, as a barrier to keep their listener at bay

In short, the poor liar spoon-feeds their audience because they don’t trust them. They either control every aspect of their narrative so tightly that it loses all authenticity, or they treat it with such vagueness that it never had any to begin with.

The Skillful Liar

  • Mimics authentic emotional patterns
  • Keeps details to a minimum so as not to draw unnecessary attention
  • Strategically withholds information
  • Maintains continuity in their narrative
  • Uses language as the tool it is, as a mechanism to draw their listener close

Skillful liars exploits their audience’s truth bias. They use cooperation defaults to further their deception instead of allowing those defaults to constrain them within the boundaries of truth.

As fiction writers, we need to be skillful liars, not poor ones. Our ability to engage our readers and to keep them engaged depends largely on how well our stories resonate with their perception of truth. Immersive reading only occurs when the reader forgets they have a book in their hands and starts living within those pages instead.

Final Thoughts

In her first chapter of Liespotting, Pamela Meyer shines light on an incredible truth.

“The liar and the recipient participate in a fabric of mythmaking together. A lie does not have power by its utterance—its power lies in someone agreeing to believe the lie.” 

Pamela Meyer, Liespotting, p. 22

This hold true for fiction as well as real life. The author and the audience are partners in creation. Thus, when you engage in Cooperative Deception, your words have power.

So, with that in mind,

  1. Trust your audience. They are with you for this ride.
  2. Lie to them with every pattern of truth you can mimic.

And that is the end of this series. Now get out there, my lovelies, and let your stories take over the world.

***

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The Misdirection of Agatha Christie | Liar, Liar

The mystery genre requires careful threading of information from character to character, between narrator and reader, and from author to audience. And Agatha Christie, as the queen of mystery, has mastered the subtle art of misdirection.

Hence, she’s the perfect author to study for breaks in the Cooperative Principle on multiple levels of dialogue.

SPOILER ALERT: This post includes some serious spoilers. On the one hand, Christie’s work has been out for decades, and this is a discussion on craft. On the other, spoiling a Christie novel is almost a capital offense. If you’ve not yet read the following titles and you want to read them without external cues, kindly skip this post and come back when you’re ready.

Title Plate: The Misdirection of Agatha Christie

Misdirection #1: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an icon of the whodunit genre. Our 1st Person narrator, Dr. Sheppard, records events surrounding the death of the eponymous Ackroyd, along with the exploits of the famous Hercule Poirot in uncovering the murderer.

And oh, is the misdirection strong.

Early in the narrative we have the following exchange, in which Ackroyd and Sheppard discuss a letter just received by the soon-to-be-murdered man. The letter contains the name of a blackmailer, and its writer, a friend of Ackroyd’s, has already killed herself because of the wicked soul.

Ackroyd, his finger on the sheet to turn it over, paused. “Sheppard, forgive me, but I must read this alone,” he said unsteadily. “It was meant for my eyes, and my eyes only.” He put the letter in the envelope and laid it on the table. “Later, when I am alone.”

“No,” I cried impulsively, “read it now.”

Ackroyd stared at me in some surprise.

“I beg your pardon,” I said, reddening. “I do not mean read it aloud to me. But read it through whilst I am still here.”

Ackroyd shook his head. “No, I’d rather wait.”

But for some reason, obscure to myself, I continued to urge him. “At least, read the name of the man,” I said.

Now Ackroyd is essentially pigheaded. The more you urge him to do a thing, the more determined he is not to do it. All my arguments were in vain.

The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread. I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone. I could think of nothing. With a shake of the head I passed out and closed the door behind me.

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Chapter 4

Analysis

So here we have the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Not just the book, but this particular passage. The narrator is the murderer, and he kills Ackroyd in that ten minute interval between when the letter arrives and when he leaves. (I told you there were spoilers.)

But he’s masterfully breaking the Cooperative Principle on both the character-to-character and the narrator-to-reader layers of dialogue.

Maxim of Quantity

Sheppard withholds information by being vague (“if there was anything I had left undone”). He also gives too much information about Ackroyd’s stubborn character and his own concern for the man.

Maxim of Quality

Sheppard lies: “But for some reason, obscure to myself, I continued to urge him.” He knows Ackroyd is pigheaded. He doesn’t want him to read the letter because it has his own name in it, so he urges him to read it, knowing that will make him refuse.

Manipulation at its finest, in other words.

Maxim of Manner

His false sincerity toward Ackroyd (making excuses for Ackroyd’s behavior) belies his true intents; his insistence for Ackroyd to reveal the blackmailer’s name implies his own innocence to the reader, too. Why would a guilty man urge his own unmasking?

Maxim of Relevance

By focusing so keenly on the letter (“It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread.”), Sheppard indicates that it’s the most important element of this scene. This misdirection is especially brass because Ackroyd is already dead.

But sure, tell us about the letter. That seems relevant.

This is the scene that first-time readers inevitably flip back to when they reach the grand reveal. Sheppard, the unreliable narrator, presents a picture of honesty and forthrightness, but his perfidy was between the lines all along.

Misdirection #2: The Secret of Chimneys

One of Christie’s lesser-known tales, The Secret of Chimneys is actually my favorite of her novels. Some of its characters reappear in her other work, but the book itself is a stand-alone rather than part of any of her serials. It has a light-heartedness despite being a murder mystery, and some fairytale elements render it a delightful read.

Best of all, it begins with a deceptive wink toward the reader.

Chapter 1: Anthony Cade Signs On

“Gentleman Joe!”

“Why, if it isn’t old Jimmy McGrath.”

Castle’s Select Tour, represented by seven depressed-looking females and three perspiring males, looked on with considerable interest. Evidently their Mr. Cade had met an old friend.

This is misdirection from line 1. We know from the chapter title that our hero’s name is Anthony Cade. We know from the third paragraph on that he is the person referred to as “Gentleman Joe.” After his conversation with McGrath ends, the nickname leads to the following exchange between him and one of his Castle’s Select tourists.

“Is your name Joe?”

“I thought you knew it was Anthony, Miss Taylor.”

“Why does he call you Joe, then?”

“Oh, just because it isn’t my name.”

“And why Gentleman Joe?”

“The same kind of reason.”

“Oh, Mr. Cade,” protested Miss Taylor, much distressed, “I’m sure you shouldn’t say that. Papa was saying only last night what gentlemanly manners you had.”

Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys, Chapter 1

Analysis

Within the opening scene of this novel, Ms. Christie calls into question her hero’s identity and then immediately reestablishes it. Of course he’s Mr. Cade. Who else would he be?

As the story unravels, the reader takes it for granted that the hero knows things beyond the scope of what a mere Anthony Cade might know. He’s clever and quick-witted and affable. He’s lived abroad and encountered lots of people and cultures. When characters’ identities start getting called into question, we can count on him to be who he says he is.

…Or can we?

Other characters begin to speculate on Mr. Cade’s true identity, and the reader has this scene playing in the back of their mind. He answered to a different name. Does anyone really know who this person is?

Christie both foreshadows and disarms that foreshadowing, so that the truth emerges in a delightful plot twist.

Maxim of Quantity

The abundance of attention paid to Anthony Cade’s name in the first chapter seems to point to his authenticity instead of away from it. But this is a case of TMI. Instead of reassuring us, it should spike our suspicions.

Maxim of Quality

Our hero never actually tells Miss Taylor his name. He hedges around it by saying he “thought [she] knew it was Anthony.” While what he says is technically true, it also leads her—and the reader—to believe something false.

Maxim of Manner

Mr. Cade’s vague manner of speaking allows those around him to assume they know who he is. So, too, does the narrator’s ambiguity allow the reader to make assumptions about his identity.

Maxim of Relevance

The nickname itself, Gentleman Joe, gets played off as a bit of playful sarcasm. In fact, it’s an insight to Anthony’s character, that he comes from different origins than he pretends.

So who is he really? The infamous jewel thief, King Victor? The missing-and-presumed-dead monarch of Herzoslovakia? Or simply an old Oxford boy drawn into an adventure of murder and mayhem?

This one I won’t spoil, except to say that he’s not Anthony Cade.

Misdirection #3: Her Real Freaking Life

In December 1926, at the age of 36, Agatha Christie disappeared. Her car with her coat in it lay abandoned on a hillside above a chalk quarry.

Was it a publicity stunt? An abduction? A suicide attempt?

No one knows. Eleven days later, she turned up in a hotel in Harrogate, where she’d checked in under the name of her husband’s mistress. While a massive manhunt searched the countryside for her, she’d been attending evening parties and other such events.

She claimed amnesia and never spoke of it again.

Speculation has abounded, that she crashed her car and lost her memory, that she tried to commit suicide but had a change of heart, that she faked her disappearance to make her philandering husband the center of a murder investigation. Personal events in her life at the time pointed toward emotional upheaval: her mother had recently died, her husband wanted a divorce.

But the episode remained shrouded in mystery.

When, decades later, she dictated an autobiography, audiences expected some revelation about this period to emerge.

Christie opted out. She didn’t even mention it.

But really, what better badge of honor can the most successful mystery writer of all time have than an unsolved mystery in her own life?

Conclusion

Christie is a master of misdirection because she uses her audience’s truth bias and cooperative defaults against them. She drops subtle clues and then plays them off as nothing important, and we believe her.

And thus, she fulfills her Author-Audience contract to a tee. She tells us a gripping yarn, and twists a knife in our backs when we least expect it.

***

Up next: Final Thoughts

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Breaking the CP on 3 Layers | Liar, Liar

Now that we’ve explored the Cooperative Principle and how to break it, we turn our attention back to our three layers of dialogue. Breaking the CP will look different on each of these layers.

Some breaks are good and can drive the plot, while others should be avoided at all costs. We’ll examine these by type of break and layer of dialogue.

Breaking the Cooperative Principle on 3 layers graphic

Unintentional Violations

Layer 1: Character to Character

As discussed in our case study of Miss Bates, unintentional violations on this layer can have many forms. Characters who unintentionally violate the CP may do the following:

  • Talk too much or too little
  • Give false information by accident
  • Accidentally skip necessary information
  • Use pronouns without referents, causing confusion
  • Mumble
  • Speak too quickly
  • Fail to allow their conversational partner to respond
  • Wander off on tangents they assume have relevance

The only item on this list that is possibly undesirable is the fourth bullet point, particularly when missing pronoun referents lead to conflict. (Not to point fingers, but this happens an awful lot in the romance genre…)

In the real world, we are keyed to tie pronouns to their referents. When the referent is missing, there’s usually a double-check, “Sorry, who are we talking about?” or something similar. Pronouns only have meaning in their context, so this is one area that we instinctively clarify when there’s any ambiguity.

Long story short, if you’re using a “vague pronoun causes misunderstanding” trope, make ABSOLUTE CERTAIN there is a reasonably assumed referent. Otherwise, this trope becomes contrived.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

In a perfect world, we would never see a narrator breaking the CP in this manner. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Unintentional violations from the narrator include the following:

  • Dumping information and/or backstory (wall o’text exposition)
  • Leaving out information by accident
  • Contradicting earlier information later in the book
  • Repeating or recapping events the reader already knows
  • Using barrier objects
  • Taking long tangents on non-plot-essential details (or, why an abridged version of Les Misérables exists)

These types of breaks frustrate a reader at best. At worst, they drive the reader away from the book entirely and can generate ill will and scathing reviews.

The narrator should not commit unintentional violations of the Cooperative Principle.

Layer 3: Author to Audience

If the narrator should not commit these types of violations, it’s doubly so for the author. Breaking the CP in this way on the Author to Audience layer of dialogue includes the following:

  • Plot holes and/or contradictions
  • Inconsistent characterization (usually caused by sticking to a plot outline even if it requires out-of-character antics to maintain)
  • Inconsistent world-building
  • Accidental failure to meet genre expectations
  • Blatant anachronisms

Unintentional violations on this layer break verisimilitude with the audience because they are mistakes in the very mechanics of a story.

Intentional Violations

Layer 1: Character to Character

Intentional violations on this layer of dialogue can drive a conflict. Characters breaking the CP in this manner might

  • Lie and get away with it (for the moment)
  • Omit important information on purpose
  • Use ambiguity to keep their listener out of the loop
  • Hurl veiled insults

The reader might or might not recognize that a violation occurs, but at some point, it should come out. It can be a strong reveal or a satisfying payoff. Or, it can be a detail that lies dormant, waiting for the canny reader to ferret it out from the other clues around it.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

This type of break signals an unreliable narrator, easier done in 1st Person, but a possibility for 3rd as well. Narrators intentionally violate the CP when they

  • Strategically withhold information
  • Misdirect the reader to a red herring
  • Give unreliable or biased accounts of events

Because the narrator knows they’re violating the CP, the reader shouldn’t realize in the moment. Otherwise, the violation becomes a clumsy attempt at storytelling rather than an authentic, immersive tool.

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author SHOULD NOT intentionally violate the Cooperative Principle. Violations on this layer of dialogue include

  • Plagiarism
  • Subtly trolling their audience

What do I mean by “subtly trolling”? This happens when the author sees their audience not as partners in creation, or even as fellow humans, but merely as a means to a paycheck. The recent book-stuffing epidemic on KDP, for example, violated cooperation because readers often didn’t know they were helping those authors commit fraud.

Author-to-audience violations happen outside the narrative of the book. When discovered, they are a rude awakening to those who were duped.

Flouting

Layer 1: Character to Character

We’re back in “desirable” territory in breaking the CP. Characters who flout are the pride and joy of readers everywhere. They

  • Hurl blatant insults (often with a smile)
  • Use sarcasm as a conversational tool
  • Talk around a subject instead of addressing it (circumlocution)
  • Mutter audible asides
  • Code-switch and/or gate-keep

Flouting on this layer amounts to wonderful exchanges, where alternate meanings create multifaceted conversation. It’s the antagonistic flirtation between reluctant lovers and the battle of wits between rivals.

Everyone loves a good character-to-character flout.

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

On this layer, breaking the CP in the manner takes a more literary turn. Narrators who flout the Cooperative Principle

  • Invoke dramatic irony
  • Foreshadow events yet to come
  • Leave open endings
  • Adopt an experimental point of view instead of telling the story straight

The reader knows there’s more than what they’re receiving, but the narrator doesn’t elaborate at that time (or ever, in some cases).

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author who flouts on this layer of dialogue shows contempt for their audience. This is an author who

  • Insults readers on social media or elsewhere
  • Intentionally fails to meet genre expectations (overt trolling)

This is the author who lists their book with keywords that don’t apply, or who claims a genre they’re not remotely writing. It’s the erotica listed as a clean read, or vice versa. The audience comes to the table expecting one thing and gets slapped in the face with another.

Don’t flout your audience. It’s not nice.

Opting Out

For funsies, I’m including how to opt out on the three layers, but breaking the CP in this manner is pretty basic.

Layer 1: Character to Character

When characters snub, give the silent treatment, or avoid encounters with other characters, they are opting out. This can add a fun dynamic to a scene (or to the novel as a whole), but beware falling into the trope of “a single conversation could have prevented disaster.”

If your characters are opting out, they should have solid reasons for so doing, none of this namby-pamby “can’t talk to that person because [contrived excuse].”

Layer 2: Narrator to Reader

The narrator opts out when they stop telling the story. (Surprise!) Don’t like a cliffhanger ending? Too bad.

L O L

Layer 3: Author to Audience

The author opts out when they stop writing, and the audience opts out when they stop reading an author.

DO NOT WANT, for either of these.

***

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