Tag Archives: writing

Publishing Snake Oil

My guest post over at thebookdesigner.com has sparked quite a lot of good conversation, which is great. Good thoughts, good questions, good suggestions — the perfect blogging storm.

That post also connected with another blogger, Candace Johnson, who used my post as a jumping off point to discuss some of the shadier corners of the publishing marketplace, Snake Oil Salesmen in the Editing Biz. In particular, she’s discussing two kinds of questionable “services” that are offered to writers: first, a site that charges authors to become part of a mutual editing group; second, sites that offer to read and review your work for a fee. She discusses each of these in depth.

For what it’s worth, here is my response: Continue reading Publishing Snake Oil

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop


Ken Schneyer tagged me for this meme in his own post last week.

I’m a bit late posting this… Been madly finishing work on an audiobook and trying to care for my very flu-felled wife. But here’s my response!

What is the title of your book?

Risuko. That’s Japanese for “Squirrel,” which is the protagonist’s nickname.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of places:

First of all, I read an article about a war widow in sixteenth-century Japan who set up a  school (of sorts) that trained young girls to be kunoichi  (female assassins, spies and bodyguards), all under the guise of being shrine maidens (miko) — something like the Shintō equivalent of novice nuns.[†] I’d always been fascinated with the Japanese Sengoku (civil war era), so when I read that, I thought, Wow! There’s a story someone should write! A while later, I had an image of a girl climbing a tree… and realized that someone should be me.

The other thing that got this started was reading the Harry Potter books with my kids, loving them, and thinking, Now, what about these has to be fantasy? As I’ve been writing Risuko, my intent has been to write a story that feels like a fantasy — but isn’t. Continue reading The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Seven Gods of Luck Available Now!

The Seven Gods of Luck – Now Available!

Limited-Time Special Offer:
Print, Ebook and Audiobook for $23.95 $9.99!

Stillpoint Releases Classic Folktale

November 1, 2012 – Stillpoint Digital Press announces the release of the fifteenth anniversary edition of the picturebook retelling of the classic Japanese folktale, The Seven Gods of Luck by David Kudler with illustrations by Linda Finch. Set during O-Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year festival, The Seven Gods of Luck is a magical holiday tale of generosity rewarded.
Continue reading Seven Gods of Luck Available Now!

Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected

A novel never sleeps.

We’re on vacation. As my family plays, I’m working on yet another round of rewrites for a young-adult novel, trying to add a scene about half of the way through.

This has had me thinking quite a bit about the idea of justification—not as in left, right, and center, but as in setting up a scene properly so that a reader neither feels as if it came out of nowhere nor as if it was far too long in coming. Getting it just right is obviously every storyteller’s goal, and one of the more challenging aspects of storytelling. Aristotle said that the end of an effective plot must be “unexpected but inevitable.” I’d say, though, that the same can be true of any good scene, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to mess it up in one direction or the other.

The reason that I’ve had this on my mind, other than my on-going story addiction/obsession, is that the last two books I’ve emerged myself in were Victoria Roth’s Divergent and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Continue reading Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected

The (Other) Little Death

Painting by Helene Steele © Helen Steele
Painting © Helene Steele

My fourteen-year-old interviewed an artist yesterday for Fastforward, the local kids’ newspaper: a wonderful painter by the name of Helen Steele. I went along as chauffeur and photographer.

Julia asked some great questions, which got Ms. Steele talking eloquently about the most interesting thing of all: her process as an artist. She talked about how she starts a painting–not the way that I’d have thought, with an image in mind, but by working with texture and color until she sees something on the canvas and then begins to work to bring it out. Fascinating.

“There comes a point in every painting, though,” Steele said, “where I have to take what I thought I was doing–the thing that I’ve been so focused on–and kill it off, let it die. And that’s usually when the painting really takes off.”

Her comment hit me between the eyes like one of the diamond pickaxes from the games of Minecraft that Julia’s friends are always talking about.

I realized that the same thing was true of just about every writing or editing project that I’ve been involved with: that at some point, I have to take the part of the book that I’ve been fussing at and obsessing over for hours or weeks or months (or, in the case of a book I finished writing recently, for four years) and kill it. Let it die.

And that made me think of the schema of the Hero’s Journey mapped out in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. There’s a point in most hero tales where the hero (or heroine) has to face a death–either real or metaphoric. Harry Potter allows himself to be killed. Luke Skywalker cuts off his own head (though he thinks it’s Darth Vader’s at the time). Odysseus goes down with his ship before washing up naked on the beach to be found by Nausicaa.

It’s only after this death that the hero can reach his or her potential–can become truly a hero. The old self has to perish in order for the true self to be born.

In every creative project, there’s that moment: the pinnacle of frustration and the abyss of despair. And it’s only by letting go of the thing that we think is so important–the sequence or passage or sentence or character or scene or chapter that we’ve been banging up against that we can discover what the heart of the piece we’re working on truly is.

So, hard as it is, we have to learn to welcome that little death and learn to see it as the narrow, dark passage to the unknown, glorious fulfillment of our own creative work.

Editor! Editor!

So I’ve had this experience a number of times in the past few weeks: someone starts talking about this wonderful Joseph Campbell book they’ve read, Pathways to Bliss

And I find myself feeling very shy.

Here’s the thing. Part of me is tickled pink—I spent two years of my life on the bloody book, and so it’s gratifying to hear that it had a profound affect on someone. Part of me is a bit astonished, because all I see when I open it are the typos. (I haven’t found a new one in a while—it’s been out seven years—but I know they’re in there somewhere, mocking me.)

And part of me bristles. Joseph Campbell book? Yeah, yeah, he’s the author and all of that, but who do think pulled the gorram thing together???

See, editors don’t do readings. We don’t do book tours. We don’t do radio interviews. And so we aren’t confronted with the affect our work has on readers on quite as immediate a level.

We also don’t get to toot our own horns. At least, not very loudly.

And yet there’s a part of me that definitely wants to say, “Hey! I’m listed on the title page too! My blood, sweat, and cerebral matter are splattered across every page of that book!”

Which is silly. But interesting.

Just thought I’d share that.

Lavinia: The Aeneiad Brought to Life

Many of us are familiar at this point with what is known as fanfiction, a largely internet-based genre in which writers of every level of ability apply their skills to worlds and characters created by others. At worst, they offer amateurs a chance to allow their imaginations to play in fields plowed by more skilled craftsmen. At best, they create a fractal lens to the original work, expanding the reader’s understanding of the original book and its themes, turning the perspective offered by the original author inside-out and upside-down.

Of late, this genre has gone mainstream. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked recast the Wicked Witch of the West as the protagonist of Frank Baum’s Oz books. Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad tells of the hardships suffered by Odysseus’ abandoned queen.

In Lavinia, master fantasist Ursula K. Le Guin takes a minor character who appears late the Aeneiad–Aeneas’ second (or perhaps third, but certainly last) wife, and tells a rich story around her, properly epic in scope and detail.

The book starts with a breath-taking descent into the point of view of Lavinia, princess of a minor Latin kingdom. She is a seer, and the subject of numerous prophecies–the most powerful and closely guarded imparted to her by the dying poet Virgil, who lived hundreds of years in Lavinia’s future.

The narrative continually seems to loop back on itself, as Lavinia’s knowledge as the point of view character looking back on the events about which she is telling, the knowledge imparted to her by Virgil, and the urgency of the crises through which she lived seem to cross and overlap.

As the book reaches its halfway point, several things begin to weigh it down: Lavinia’s own passivity as a character, which is quite profound, and the author’s desire to tell the story fully. The final chapters are rushed, whole decades sailing by in the space of paragraphs.

Nevertheless, this wonderful storyteller’s ability to weave a fantastic tale out of the material of everyday life (even the everyday life of the Latium of some 2500 or 3000 years ago), and the compelling philosophical questions that Le Guin raises and Lavinia considers–together they make this a worthwhile and original glimpse into Virgil’s world.

Great Literature in Five Sentences Meme

So, this is a simple meme: take a Great Novel (the more complex the better) and retell it in five sentences or less. Think Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Finnegans Wake: Abridged

goes around. THWWWAAAAAAACK. HCE dreaming. Shaun and Shem fighting. Livia Plurabelle being. And it all