What Authors can Learn from Movies

 

[dropcap][/dropcap]For Christmas, Santa brought me and my kids the Lord of the Rings box set…twelve hours of film plus an additional fourteen hours of DVD extras. I had no intention of watching it all—I mean really, I don’t watch twenty-six hours of television in a year let alone a week—but I couldn’t help myself. I was hooked! In fact, I think I liked the extras better than the movies.

Obviously I’ve read the trilogy and as an author of children’s fantasy fiction, I’ve long been inspired by Tolkien. But what caught my attention this time around was the way the production team approached the characters and the world.

When I was in grade school, my English teachers had me write character sketches and setting descriptions which I thought were completely useless exercises because I never understood why I was doing them. Little did I know then that they would become the main building blocks of my career. Even so, my characters exist in my head alone, not on film. I don’t need to provide every detail of every item of clothing because I couldn’t—and shouldn’t—spend time in my novels describing them. It would weigh down the stories and slow the pace.

But for the Lord of the Rings movies, the production team had no choice but to develop these kinds of details. Designers spent months studying each group of characters considering what their clothes, hair, weaponry and architecture would look like based on where and how they lived, their culture, their history and their beliefs. And the movies are richer for their effort. No one would ever confuse Gimli (dwarf) for Legolas (elf) because everything about the dwarf culture is harsh, angular and utilitarian whereas the elfen culture is refined, flowing and graceful–and of course there’s also a massive height difference.

So what’s the lesson here for authors? If we aren’t going to give the reader minute detail, why do we need to develop it?

Simple.

Knowing these details enables us to bring our characters and settings to life. It becomes more like writing about people we’ve met and places we’ve visited which in turn, creates more enticing stories for our readers.

And that’s what this job is all about.

Publication News

 

And so, a quick update for those of you who have been asking about the progress of my book and when it may be published. (And a sincere thank you for being interested! :) )

Although I’ve been quiet on that front publicly as of late, a lot has been happening behind the scenes. I still can’t go into too much detail, but if all goes well Book One of my series, The Nature Knights, will be published Fall 2015.

I’m bursting to tell you more so as soon as I can start to reveal details, I will! For now, I’d better get back to the writing. There are eight more full length novels in the series, plus a novella – and they won’t write themselves.

One thing’s for sure … I’ll never complain of boredom.

Interview with Victoria Barbour (Part 1)

 

Newfoundland author Victoria Barbour is rereleasing her debut novel Against Her Rules as part of a ten-book collection of contemporary romances called Passionate Kisses. Victoria is the only Canadian writer to be selected for inclusion in this box set. In this interview she tells us a bit about her novel and her series.

The final part of this interview, in which Victoria talks about her decision to be an indie author, will be posted July 2, 2014.

And of course you can win a copy of Against Her Rules by entering your name in the giveaway below the video!

 

 

 

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Interview with Author Kate Robbins (Part 2)

 

In this interview, Kate tells us what Promised to the Highlander is all about, and introduces us to the hero, Fergus MacKay. Be sure to check out our blooper reel at 5:11. :)

Interview with Kate Robbins, part one.

The third and final part of this interview will be posted on Monday, June 16, 2014.

 

How to Promote Your Children’s Book

Katie Davis headshot

 

Katie Davis is an author, illustrator and host of the #1 iTunes podcast about book marketing, Brain Burps About Books.

As if that wasn’t enough, she’s just released the second edition of “How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks and Secrets to Create a Bestseller.” But guess what? It isn’t just for kidlit – the information she provides can be used to promote any book, fiction or non-fiction.

Since we live two timezones away, we met up in cyberspace for a chat about her latest venture. Take a look!

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon … Videos!

A few months ago, when I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever finish my novel, a wise friend listened to my frustrations with patience and understanding and told me to relax and enjoy the writing process. That friend is Lesleyanne Ryan, author of the award-winning Braco. When I asked why, she said “because writing the book is the easy part.” I scoffed. Nothing could possibly be harder than writing a novel.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Enter book marketing.

For a while I would start to convulse every time I thought about having to flog my wares—book signings at the local Costco where I’d sit for hours unnoticed, lost in a jumble of oversized shopping carts. Public readings with no one but my mother in attendance, the sound of crickets chirping in the background. A basement filled with unsold copies of my magnum opus, destined for use as door stops.

But then I remembered that marketing is really just about connecting with people. As an extrovert, this excites me. Writing requires copious hours alone in front of a computer and I found that challenging. I mean, the cats are fine company but they’re not interested in having ideas bounced off them. They have no opinion on things like character development and point of view. And the dog has long since abandoned me in favour of eating tissues out of the bathroom waste bins.

So while I research book two of my series, I’m also updating my business plan to include marketing.

Most of it will be social media for now, which will be a struggle given the time requirements and learning curves. But millions of other small business owners manage it, and so can I.

For example, this blog needs to somehow magically morph into a full fledged website. I keep waiting for the tech and design fairies to arrive during the night and do it, but so far there’s no sign of them. I suspect they’re vacationing in the Caribbean with the book-writing fairies who have also been conspicuous by their absence.

The other thing I’ll be doing is video!

This is really exciting…I mean, I love to read (love, love, love it!) but when given the option even I will watch a video over reading an article online. Yesterday afternoon I brainstormed a list of nearly twenty videos I can post to this blog and my YouTube channel.

Everything from interviews with authors (I already have two lined up) and the craft of writing, to topics directly related to my novel—fun stuff like character interviews, the Newfoundland dialect and language (we have some funky words—even our own dictionary), and a short stop animation film enacting a scene from my story. I’ve always wanted to try stop animation! Luckily my 10-year-old daughter is as excited as me. We’ve decided to take this on as our spring/summer project.

So, stay tuned! Lots of exciting things to come.

I’d love to hear your ideas for videos you’d like to see on this blog and eventually, my new website. Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Dreaming Up and Writing Down

Now that I’ve finished my magnum opus, many people have asked me what I’ll do next. The short answer is “write book two.” In fact, I’ve already started plotting it.

But what happens to book one? As I write, Crossing the Rubicon is safely in the hands of my beta readers—people who are reading my book and giving me feedback before I send it off to agents and publishers in mid-March.

When I started this blog in 2012, I called it “chronicles of a debut novelist” because honestly, the learning curve was enormous. I took a few writing classes, but for the most part I was learning how to write a book by writing a book. Actually, I think I could write a book about everything I learned about writing a book. :)

Ironically, one of the biggest lessons came from this blog—maintaining a social media presence is both difficult and time consuming. Difficult because I didn’t have a finished novel which meant I didn’t have anything really to talk about—no media interviews, public appearances, teaser text to share, trailer videos to post or cover art to reveal. I was just sitting alone in front of my computer. And that’s dull by anyone’s standards.

But it’s also time consuming and that was by far my bigger problem. I found myself spending precious writing hours drafting blog posts, crafting tweets, maintaining Facebook and well, my Goodreads account never did get off the ground the way I’d hoped.

I was increasing my follower numbers, but I wasn’t working on my novel.

So if social media is such a distraction, why spend any time on it at all? Terrific question. I asked a literary agent, a publisher and many authors the same thing. Bottom line? Publishers like writers to have an online presence. I’m not sure why but my theory is that it shows a person who can write consistently and well. It shows discipline, an awareness of marketing and a willingness to be an active participant in the successful realization of a story from initial concept to final ink and paper/digital product.

When a manuscript from a debut author comes across a publisher’s desk, one of the first things he does is a google search. (For the record, if you google “Valerie Francis” this blog should pop up in the top four. There’s a musician in Ireland with the same name and we toggle back and forth for the top spot. Go ahead, try it.)

Personally, I think quality of writing should trump a google rating or follower counter. That’s why last summer, as many of you noticed, I abandoned this blog and social media and spent all my time finishing my book. (Thanks for asking where I’d gone…nice to know people actually read my posts!)

Now though it’s time to revive the online presence, but in a manner that compliments my writing time. Not overshadows it.

I won’t be here everyday but I’ll pop in once a week (or so) to share more lessons learned, and give you a progress report on my novel’s path to publication.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming up and writing down worlds of new adventures.

Blog Hop: Writing Process—#thisishowwedo

My good friend and historical romance author, Kate Robbins tagged me in a blog hop last week. So now it’s my turn to answer a few questions – this time about my writing process.

What am I working on?

Funny you should ask … in fact, I just finished the first novel in a nine-book fantasy series for children (middle grade, ages 9-12). So right now I’m in the process of plotting out book two of that series, plus I have at last count, five other stories bouncing around in my head:

  • two literary fiction
  • one medieval (maybe historical, but probably fantasy) fiction
  • one women’s fiction (chick lit – my bestie wants me to finish it post haste)
  • and one regency novel set in Newfoundland

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’ll focus on the kids’ series for this one. The Nature Knights has been described as a medieval Narnia set in Newfoundland. So, having a Newfoundland setting certainly sets it apart from most other children’s fantasy novels. However, there’s also an important environmental theme running through the book, so I think that also sets it apart. Environmental protection has popped up in all sorts of books—the dystopian worlds of many novels are in effect, depictions of the world after environmental disaster. My story is pre-apocalypse, and although things haven’t fallen apart just yet, the writing is on the wall and it’s up to my four main characters to ensure Armageddon never happens.

Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy one. I’m writing The Nature Knights because this is the story that presented itself to me. I really can’t explain it any better than that. I was actually trying to write a different book entirely, but one character—Clancy Donovan—kept hijacking it and in the end, she browbeat me into writing The Nature Knights. She really isn’t the type of girl who takes no for an answer.

How does your writing process work?

I find this whole business of “writing process” fascinating. I know lots of authors who have a whole ritual set up to help summon the gods of creativity and inspiration. They couldn’t begin to put pen to paper until (and unless) certain elements are in place: they need to sit in a certain chair or have a particular drink in a particular mug. They need the wind to come from the east or the planet Neptune (which rules inspiration) to be in their fifth astrological house of creativity.

I don’t know about any of that stuff. To me, writing is like any other career so I show up every day and punch in the hours. Sometimes I work on computer, sometimes long hand. Nothing more to it than that.

Now I pass the baton on to three other authors, Lesley Richardson, Paul Butler and Jennie Marsland.

Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has just received her second grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and was also awarded a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets.

Paul Butler is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Titanic Ashes, Cupids, Hero, 1892, NaGeira, Easton’s Gold, Easton, and Stoker’s Shadow. His work has appeared on the judges’ lists for Canada Reads, the Relit Longlist for three consecutive years (2011 for Cupids; 2010 for Hero; and 2009 for 1892), and he was a winner in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards four times between 2003 and 2008 at which time he retired from the competition to be literary representative, and then chair, of the Arts and Letters Committee. A graduate of Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, Butler has written for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s History Magazine (formerly The Beaver), Books in Canada, Atlantic Books Today, and Canadian Geographic, and has also contributed to CBC Radio, local and national. He lives in St. John’s. His website is http://paulbutlernovelist.wordpress.com.

Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for most of her life, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction. Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia for the last thirty years, she lives with her husband Everett and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Chance and Echo. Her website is http://jenniemarsland.com.

Interview with NL Author Kate Robbins

Leave a comment below and enter to win the brooch pin featured on the cover of Bound to the Highlander.

Bound to the Highlander Cover Art
Bound to the Highlander Cover Art

Bound to the Highlander (BTTH) is the best selling, award-winning debut novel of Newfoundland author Kate Robbins. On the eve of publication BTTH won the 2013 Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA) award and since then, has cracked the top 100 on amazon.com and is listed in the top ten on three of amazon.com’s best seller lists.

BTTH is the kind of book you want to curl up with on a cold, stormy day. Nothing compliments a fuzzy blanket and blazing fire like a historical romance. It’s the story of Aileana Chattan who discovers she is betrothed to James MacIntosh, a man loyal to King James I of Scotland, the man responsible for her father’s death. (click here for a full synopsis and to read a sample of BTTH).

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Kate as part of a month-long blog tour celebrating the launch of her first novel.

Welcome Kate!

First, let’s chat about the cover art for BTTH. Talk about a departure from the traditional romance novel cover! That red tartan pops right off the page. How much input did you have into the design?

From my earliest vision of this series, I saw the book covers reflecting something about the chief the book centered around. So people never fit for me. Each book in the series will feature a clan crest brooch pin from that clan. My publisher, Tirgearr, were fabulous to work with on it. They understood my vision and did their very best to bring it to life. I’m thrilled with it. PLUS I’m giving away that brooch pin after today folks need to leave a comment! That’s how they can enter.

What is the significance of the brooch?

The brooch pin has been used for centuries on both the ancient plaid and modern kilt. Like any functioning piece of jewelry, the brooch pin would have varied depending on the wearer. I had envisioned the one on the cover when I wrote Bound to the Highlander. Can you imagine my surprise when I actually found one like it?

Are these clan brooches that exist outside your novel, or are they specific to your fictional characters?

You can buy these brooches at just about any pipe band or kilt supply shop. Mine came from Gaelic Themes Ltd in Scotland as distributed through License to Kilt. :)

BTTH is the first of three novels in your Highland Chiefs series, which has as its backdrop, the reign and subsequent assassination of King James Stewart I of Scotland. What inspired you to write about (a) Scotland and (b) this period in Scottish history?

I’ve always been fascinated with Scotland, right from my first historical romance when I was about 15. I’ve read Johanna Lindsay‘s A Gentle Feuding so many times over the years and I still love it. Once I knew I was writing a Scottish Historical, I set out to learn more about the political climate during the high middle ages. Once I learned about James Stewart I, I was hooked! From his imprisonment in England to his attempt to unify Scotland and subsequently restricting the noble’s power, James Stewart’s reign was volatile and fascinating.

I know you worked hard to maintain the linguistic integrity of this time in history (using the vernacular rather than modern colloquialisms).  How much of a challenge was that for you when writing BTTH? Why is it important to you, that the language in your novel reflect 15th century Scotland?

That was an interesting balance to strike. Had I chosen words only existing in the 15th century, modern readers would have unlikely taken a chance on it. When was the last time you read a book written in middle-English? You could say I really did choose my words carefully. I decided not to add dialect as well, since as a reader, I find that jarring. Where possible I changed words – aye instead of yes – but I stayed away from including how the words may have been pronounced. Again, this makes for ease of reading. Having said that, words like ‘ok’ would not be acceptable. Every historical fiction writer faces this, and each must find their balance. I couldn’t say the lady thinks the laird cool, that wouldn’t fly. 😉

Keeping with the issue of linguistics, how difficult (or easy!) was it to find the right language when describing the more intimate sex scenes? I mean, the spectrum of words used to describe body parts alone is incredibly broad – from proper, textbook names to street slang and everything in between. 

Writing good sex scenes is all about knowing your characters. If you know how they’d act in other situations, you know how they’d speak and act…and moan in sex scenes. LOL The secret to good sex scenes is the chemistry and anticipation leading up to it.

Tell me, how does it feel to be a best selling, award-winning debut author?

Lordy. Where did I put that wine glass? It’s a bit messed up actually. I had hoped it would do well, but never expected anything like this. I’m so grateful for all the amazing and supportive people I have around me. Our Scribe Wenches group contains some of the best writers I know and I see much more good news coming.

Thank you so much for having me here today Valerie! I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen some of your work and can’t wait until we’re celebrating your debut release. :)

Author Kate Robbins
Author Kate Robbins

Kate Robbins writes historical romance novels out of pure escapism and a love for all things Scottish, not to mention a life-long enjoyment of reading romance. Her journey into storytelling began with a short screenplay she wrote, directed, and produced which was screened at the 2003 Nickel Film Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She has also written and directed several stage plays for youth.

Kate loves the research process and delving into secondary sources in order to give readers the most authentic historical romance possible. She has travelled to Scotland and has visited the sites described in her Highland Chiefs series.

Bound to the Highlander is the first of three books set during the early fifteenth century during the reign of James Stewart, first of his name.

Kate is the pen name of Debbie Robbins who lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada with her hubby, the man-beast, and her two awesome boys, the man-cubs.

Follow Kate on Facebook and Twitter!

Rare Footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

YouTube is kind of like the Klondike River of the late 19th century. Lots of noise about it and plenty of people flocking there hoping to make it rich. For the most part though, what you find is fool’s gold (or maybe just fools). But for all the silly videos posted on YouTube, every now and then there’s a nugget of genuine gold – and the thrill of finding it makes panning through pages of junk worth it.

This video is gold. It’s a rare 1927 video interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author or the Sherlock Holmes mysteries among other works. In it he talks about his inspiration for Sherlock and his study of the spirit life – including his belief that it is possible to communicate with the dead.