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>e-books, upcoming and present

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Given that no one (big publishers, little publishers, individuals, stray elephants) has really mastered the internet equivalent of paying for a big fat book dump at the checkout counter, or paying for end displays, or massive print and distribution strategies to put the book in front of buyers in ever bookstore, etc or any of the other way that publishing cheated and gamed the system (to readers, authors and indeed publishing’s eventual loss) we’re still in a situation where e- book buyers are looking ‘other readers also bought’ and where a pre-existing name/series and of course sheer volume of offerings count, I have decided that I have to stretch a little and get some more work out there.

At the moment we have THE GOTH SEX KITTEN, CRAWLSPACE AND OTHER STORIES and forthcoming from Naked Reader, WITHOUT A TRACE.

THE FORLORN is also OOP and out of contracted grant of rights – I’ve asked for my rights back, and will give it its original ending back – and a new cover. At the moment it is available – for free – from Baen Free Library. It will be fascinating to see how many people buy it.

A MANKIND WITCH also appears to be OOP and I’ve asked for those rights to revert too. At last I will get that book a cover it deserves. It’s a part of a series, but as i am sole author, it’s sucked hind teat and been allowed to go OOP.

And finally, I’ve had SAVE THE DRAGONS sitting at Baen for (mumble) many months now. Patience is not my strongest suite, so that will very shortly be going up too.

It’s going to be interesting to see what (if any) impact 6 books(rather than 2 collections of shorts) have on visibility. Personally I am of the opinion these need to approach 20, and include some new novels, in series to be effective. I am thinking of a Rats Bats and Vats book, which will go directly to Kindle.

Interesting times. What do you guys think? How many books do you need out there? Are books (new) more effective than old material? And what do you want to see?

>Catching Waves

>Hi, everyone. It’s good to be back at MGC after a nice Easter break.

Thanks to Amanda for running a great Friday slot! And plugging my upcoming novella in the Yos universe – Flight of the Phoenix – which is coming from Naked Reader in May:)

We took the whole family and the dog up to Currimundi beach on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. We had a nice time catching waves and running about on the sand.

While the surf was not excellent, the water temperature was perfect. It made it worth getting in even when it was a little windy or overcast.

Catching waves – body surfing – is a favourite pastime of mine from way back. My family used to own a fibro holiday shack at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast (Queensland), and we used to go down in late spring every year.

Learning to judge a wave is really an art. The way it looks, the feel of the water drawing back across your legs and body. You get the feel of the power of it, when and how it will break, and whether it stands any chance of taking you down to the edge of the sand.

There are those perfect waves – the ones where all you have to do is get yourself in the right place at the right time and jump on board. You need to do little but enjoy the ride.

Then there are the rest of the waves. Some just do not have enough power to take you anywhere, but there are a lot of waves that may not have enough power to pick you up, but will get you through the surf if you give them a bit of a hand – paddle and swim furiously enough to stay on board until they break and the water gets shallow enough to give them extra speed.

I think publishing – and success in general – is a lot like catching waves. What you start out looking for is that perfect wave. Being in the right place at the right time. Some people get lucky and actually catch it. They sit back and enjoy the ride. And there is nothing like whizzing past all the other people in the surf with a wave like that at your back – you feel like a king.

Then after the perfect wave fails to appear, or for one reason or another you were in the wrong place to catch it, you realise that the real way to get back to beach is to catch any damn wave at all and just swim like hell!

At one point I was watching a television documentary about the ‘hot’ actors of the 1980s and ‘where are they now’. It was fascinating. All these guys were at the top. Most were talented.

Yet the ones that really stayed at the top were the ones who worked. They might have had even more flops than the young guns who ended up in B-grade – but they had twice as many that worked! They were not afraid to take roles, and even if the role stunk they damn well gave it there all. They put away the pride and did not let the fact that they were ‘hot’ stop them from experimenting, taking risks and generally putting their hand up for just about everything – even if their ‘hip’ contemporaries sneered at similar roles as being beneath them, or not lucrative enough.

Anyway. I guess what I am trying to say is you never know where a particular piece of work or project might lead. At one point I sweated for months over a SF novella – The Eyes of Erebus. Like everyone else I dreamed of publication in Asimovs, or maybe Analog. In the end I could not sell the damn thing anywhere. Then I got an offer to publish it electronically in the Daikaiju series put together by Robert Hood and Robin Pen. I really vacillated. Then in the end I just thought. Why not? It’s getting it out there.

In the end the editors decided to publish it in print in Daikaiju 2: Revenge of the Giant Monsters. The story then went on to be short-listed for the Aurealis Award in the SF category.

Have you ever been surprised by a story that led to unexpected success?

>Why I don’t interview my characters

>The scene: a more or less anonymous location somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind. I’m looking more than a little bit frazzled. My interviewee, on the other hand, is quite relaxed. Note to self. Never do one of these when your character is more composed and at-home than you are.

Me: So, what next? (Quickly, before I can get fobbed off – again – with an accurate but totally useless reply) I mean, you’ve got Constantinople, but there’s enemies on either side, and Mehmed is going to be practically frothing at the mouth.

Vlad: (Is that a smile or a smirk? Probably smirk, knowing him.) I certainly hope he is.

Me: So how are you going to stop him coming after you?

Vlad: Killing him first is generally considered good tactics in this situation.(It’s definitely a smirk. You haven’t seen smirk until it leans against a wall with its arms folded and adds in a kind of pitying, condescending ‘don’t worry your little head about it’ look).

Me: That isn’t an answer.

Vlad: (Smiling) You really are taking this far too seriously. You know where I intend to start. You will be informed as the need arises.

Me: (sourly) Gee, thanks. I know how that works. Hours of bloody research or bashing my head against a wall before you tell me what you think I should know.

Vlad: (raised eyebrow – you’d be surprised how cold it can get in here: I’m trying not to shiver, suddenly)

Me: I’m the one writing your books. You want good books, you need to tell me all of it so I don’t screw up.

Vlad: (I think my language amuses him) If you would only sit down and write, I would tell you all you needed. You know that.

Me: (speechless)

Vlad: (laughing)

*

The sad thing is, he’s right. The sadder thing is, I’ve got way too much else I’m trying to juggle. For starters, I don’t dare try to edit ConVent while I’m dealing with Kaziklu Bey (the sequel to Impaler). The two are so different I really don’t need to have the voice of one leaking into the other. Maybe when I’m a better writer. But then, given Sarah’s blogging, maybe not. Maybe it’s always like this.

>The Writer Answers

>*Sorry about this, most of the post seems to have got cut SOMEHOW when this first went up. So, let’s do this properly this time.*

Partly because I wasn’t sure what to write about, and partly because I think we keep trying to do articles on specialized points while there is a vast under-store of ignorance there that we aren’t even scratching, (mostly because today I got yet another nice email from a nice young man asking me to help him get published) I figured I’d ask my fans what I should be answering.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to certainties. I find that in casting my eyes over most of the entries, most of them are things I’d have answered unwaveringly a year or two ago but of whose answer I’m not absolutely sure now. Because ebooks are changing the way business is done, I can give you the “official” – i.e. this is how I did it/would have done it till recently – answer, then the answer I SUSPECT is true now. The caveat for those is please remember I broke in THIRTEEN years ago, and the new realities of the market are not something I’ve experienced first hand. I might know a little more than you, but only because I read blogs and listen to friends. I don’t know for sure.

I’ll use the questioner’s name for the question, then OA for official Answer then BG for Best Guess.

SS:To agent, or not to agent? And, if yes, *how* to agent?
What the heck is a “query”, and how does one go about concocting such a beastie?

OA: You have to have an agent to get published with a big publishing house. I suggest writing a query for your best novel (no one agents short stories). Then ask published writers for recommendations to agents and/or snoop on authors blogs to figure out who their agents are. Read the agents’ descriptions for fit with your work. Before sending queries to your picked ten or so, check preditors and editors to make sure you didn’t pick skunks. Send out. If one replies, then send out whatever they ask for, no more no less. Do not send out proposals or manuscripts to more than one agent at once. Wait for an answer. If the agent offers to represent you, watch very carefully to see how enthusiastic they are. You want an agent who LOVES your work.
A Query is a lot like the blurb in the back of a book, with a difference, you actually tell the agent/editor how it ends.

BG: Someone I respect greatly in the field just said it’s stupid to have an agent these days, that in the current publishing climate an agent gets you nothing. I don’t fully understand her angle unless she’s counting out all of big publishing, but she’s not the first much-more-established-writer than I that I heard it from, and when she says stuff like that, I wonder.

JD: Contracts: What’s fair? What’s a Trap? How far to trust your agent?

OA: At the most basic, contracts should establish that money flows to the writer. Anything requiring you to pay is unacceptable. Beyond that, there are many things that are traps, things that you should be able to figure out with common sense: contracts that get the rights to all your characters, or where you transfer copyright to the publisher. (This might be all right for SOME short stories, like using other people’s characters per invite. NEVER for a novel, unless it’s a media tie-in.) Other clauses to watch for will say things like, you can’t work for anyone else until your story is PUBLISHED. Since you can’t control the date of publication this could tie you up forever. Sometimes they just say you can’t work for anyone else period. Anything like that, run very fast. And if your agent tells you it’s okay, run from agent, too.

CDC: Keeping track of query letter and sent manuscript submissions and responses.
OA: I haven’t done this in very, very long. It’s far more important for short stories, when it climbs into the dozens. But I suggest a spreadsheet program, or else one of many specialized programs available. I’m blanking on names, can someone in the audience help. I’m thinking of Write Again. Not sure if that’s true.

MB: Alpha readers, beta readers, writing groups, and all that. I just had someone fretting about “losing their ideas” if they participate in a writing group — I told them they were more likely to never find their ideas if they didn’t participate. But… there’s that running fear that somehow talking to people will ruin you, somehow?
OA: You need reality checkers. I’ve covered writing groups in several columns, and the importance of finding a writer group that works for you. If a writer group isn’t doable, at least find two critique partners you can trust and trade manuscripts.
No, you’re not going to have your ideas stolen. And no, no one can change your writing style, or at least not permanently. It is human to influence each other, but life also influences you. To grow you have to change and you don’t live in an hermetically sealed bag.

SS: In the absence of a co-conspirator with remarkably pointy shoes, how to recognize when one has reached the point of “polishing the cannonball”, as we called it in the Navy, and firing off a submission rather than endlessly re-reading and re-revising …
OA: Ah. I do this too and I went through long years without co-conspirators. It’s hard. My advice is that when you feel like you’re adding more errors than you’re removing (you find the subplot you just added in doesn’t mesh with an earlier one, for instance) or when you feel you’re being particularly clever (no, seriously, this is usually a symptom) or when you go above 200k words, it’s time to let go. Otherwise, establish an arbitrary number of passes, say, five. After five passes it leaves the house. (I can only do three or I kitchen sink it – I throw in EVERYTHING plus the kitchen sink.)

BG: If you’re going to self-publish as is an option this day, hire a trusted copy editor. I don’t care how good you are, you’ll drive yourself insane proofing and stuff will still escape you.

OP: As a former wannabe writer, I’m more interested in the business aspects. They are more relevant to my life. Your opinion of the right mix between paid writing and freebies that hook people in, for example.

OA: in general business “coverage” – I was told that you should quit your day job when you were selling fifty percent of everything you sent out. I’ve been there for years but if I had a day job I wouldn’t quit it. I’d guess right now, with the uncertainty, you’d have to be closer to eighty percent. Also, I would advise something I’m just now implementing: have multiple income streams, say novels and short stories and articles and whatever else you can get. If one of them can be regular pay, like a paid blog, that will give you some security. As for mix between paid and free – the freebies I give away that are fiction are usually already-published things. There’s also blogging and mine for my three base blogs (my own, my group blog and the other group blog) are still mostly free, but I’m starting to branch out into paid blog articles. Look, you need the exposure, it’s all there is to it, but if you find it taking most or even half of your time, you’ll have to cut back. Only you can find your balance.

EM – ebooks. Are ebooks merely paper books transformed to electrons? (like the early TV shows were just televised plays) or is there more potential in this medium? Hyperlinks, embedded video, embed sound effects,…..what else?
BG: I don’t know. I find that a book is a book is a book. Once you put in hyperlinks and embedded video, you’re running the risk of people not coming back to the story. Maybe my opinion is influenced by all those examples I’ve seen of this sucking badly. However, I still think a book is a book. But things that can improve the book while just a book are available in e – like the ability to search for a character name/word. That can really help when you want to go back and check on something.

SB – How about baby steps for the very beginning writer, such as how to find someone who can say “you’ve got potential” or ” was that suppose to read like bad Twain?”
OA: I find that “potential” or “talent” is one of the worst lies writers buy into. We have a great desire to write and we want to believe it’s somehow meant to be. Look, the only thing I’ve found “natural talent” or “potential” good for is to give you some things “for free.” In my case it’s characters. I understand Dave Freer got plot for free. The rest we had to work for. What most laymen will tell you is that “you have potential” based on LANGUAGE. Language is easy. It’s the story telling that’s difficult. I am telling you now that if you really want to write, and are willing to study how to, including grammar and expression, you have enough talent. How to find critiquers, OTOH is a problem. Ask at your local library if there’s a writers’ group and then screen them for experience, right field, etc. Alternately, grab a few friends you know are readers and make them read your stuff. (Paying in chocolate works!) This has the advantage that you presumably know your friends’ idiosyncracies.

AKD: Years ago, I had an agent who convinced me to write a truly appalling cover letter cum proposal letter (yes, same document). Which was mailed to every publisher in the world, and was rejected. I parted ways with the agent, but I still have great faith in the series that was rejected. However, I can’t even bring myself to do anything with it, because I’m convinced that it was so appallingly presented that my letter is still be laughed about in the publishers’ offices. Should I just kill the whole idea? Change my name?

Okay. Breathe. First of all 99% of the submissions or queries sent in by a low-status agent don’t even get read. I’m assuming this was not an A lister with offices in NYC, so, chances of it having been read at all are zero. Second, even if it was read, if you got back a standard rejection, it was read by an under-editor or an intern. These stay at the houses a maximum of a year, according to my experience. The chances of anyone now at publishing offices knowing or remembering this letter are zero. Honestly, if you’d done slush, you’d realize what it takes to be memorable in the bad category: death threats, live animals, body parts and nude pictures MIGHT do it. A bad query is as unmemorable as a oh, hum face in a crowd. Don’t change your name. Don’t kill the idea. Just send it out again

BG: or, alternately, publish it yourself on Kindle. *At this point, for certain genres this might be a better way to break in.*

RE: not just tell, SHOW it, if he’s a nose picker have him do it in a scene where it’s funny or inappropriate while being given instructions or mission orders and all he can think about (along with the reader) is where to put the booger.
OA: Okay, this was part of a longer ramble on a different suggestion for another post, I know, but I MUST insist RE go on over to my blog and read the post called Ick. This is an example of something memorable to have the character do that… serves no purpose and makes me instantly go “ick” and fling the book away. Unless you’re writing “gross out horror” for which the market is very limited, you can’t get away with having the VILLAIN do this, much less the hero. Remember your character is supposed to be someone we want to spend time with (if only to see him coming to a bad end.) Evil might fascinate. Gross will just make us look away.

*Crossposted at According To Hoyt*

>The Fun Side of Writing

>We writers spend so much of our time, working away in a back room somewhere for years to produce the books we love. Then comes the day when we get a contract and … gosh … a cover!

Here’s a sneak preview of one of the covers for The Outcast Chronicles. The is the front and back of a bookmark I’m producing (with my publisher’s approval). I sent the proofs to the printer on Thursday. I’ve seen the cover art for the three books and I’m just waiting for the text to go on and permission from my publisher to show the world. Very exciting!

I’m still neck-deep in the clean up of the trilogy, which I must send to the publisher by the end of May. I’ve been through book one and there were moments when I got shivers.

The books are long (about 700 pages each) and I’ve been writing them for ages. The first draft when off to my ROR critique group in 2007 but the books were written in pieces over the last 10 years, so it has been a challenge to pull them all together. And this means that sometimes as I turn the page to edit, I don’t remember what’s coming next. I get the same surprise a reader would. This is a funny position for the author to find themselves in.

It also means that the big rewrite I’ve done over the last year has been a real challenge because I’ve had to unify the pacing and the tone of the story. I threw out whole scenes or completely rewrote them from a different perspective. In some ways it is harder to rewrite an old piece than to write something fresh. There’s been a lot of work gone into these books.

Which brings me back to the Fun Side of Writing, when all that work pays off and you see the covers and start producing the bookmarks! (I plan to give these way at Supanova).

As writers how do you keep yourself motivated during the long hard slog, before the fun stuff happens?

And here’s an update. My new Blog Banner for The Outcast Chronicles page.


>Input and changes…

>So my week has had a couple of interesting developments (Besides watching Kris Rusch’s blog with… interest. The potential shakeout from this could be a whimper. Could be. Or it could be the first domino. Interesting time to be in this this business.) Firstly I’ve been asked for input into my covers for CUTTLEFISH and THE STEAM MOLE (which have been bought by Pyr). They asked me for detailed descriptions, and also sketches of the submarine and tunnelling machine. Now Bob Eggleton, who did the cover DRAGON’S RING asked me for input. But it’s a novelty having this from a publisher. I’m not actually sure it’s a good thing – I can’t tell them ideas suck in so many words, and also, I’m a writer, a fisheries scientist, a weird little hairy guy who lives on the outer fringes of nowhere. Writers are possibly good at writing. Fisheries scientists are good at fantasy and sometimes also at math and fish. Neither of these skill sets automatically qualify me as an artist or as a cover designer. And weird little hairy guys on the outer fringes of nowhere are a poor sample of the potential market. We (I presume there is at least one other) are not a good target market, and it matters not a jot if it appeals to us or not. Finally, it’s a time sink of note. I could have written a short story in the time I’ve taken do ONE set of very bad sketches. So what do you think: is a good thing? How much input should authors have into covers?

Secondly I got an e-mail from Toni Weisskopf (The boss-lady at Baen) asking me if I’d do a short story set in DOG AND DRAGON’S universe (for which they will pay me 5 cents a word) as a promotional tool for publication on the Baen Website. This too is a new development. BTW DOG AND DRAGON is tentatively scheduled for April 2012, so don’t hold your breath. It’s a new development, and, depending on the contract I get for it(ie, how soon the story reverts) I think it a good one. What do you think? Should all publishers follow suite?

>Controversies and a Squee

>Let me start by wishing everyone who celebrates it a Happy Easter this Sunday morning. Be safe and enjoy family and friends.

Now down to business. This week has seen a couple of controversies in the world of publishing. The first began last Sunday night with the 60 Minutes broadcast. One of the stories centered on the facts of Greg Mortenson’s best selling “memoir” Three Cups of Tea. In case you missed the story or the follow-up articles, questions have been raised about the accuracy of some of the claims Mortenson made in the book, including whether he actually became separated from his group and wandered into the small village on his own, needing medical assistance and the villagers nursed him back to health. Another part of the book that was questioned was Mortenson’s claim he’d been kidnapped by the Taliban. The 60 Minutes piece also raised questions about how much of the money raised by Mortenson’s charity — monies that are supposed to be used to build schools in Afghanistan and other areas — is put to use.

I don’t know whether the inconsistencies raised by 60 Minutes are the result of conscious fabrication by Mortenson and his co-author, editing issues or what. But it does point out a problem that isn’t new when it comes to memoirs. Who bears the responsibility for fact-checking and for determining if the book is a non-fiction memoir or a fictionalized memoir?

Remember this isn’t the first time this sort of situation has arisen. Oprah got burned by James Frey and his book A Million Little Lies. There was Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit. When the so-called facts in the book were challenged, “Carolyn Coleburn, the vice president and director of publicity for Viking, which is an imprint of Penguin Group USA, said, “We rely on our authors to tell the truth and fact-check.” Herman Rosenblatt’s memoir, Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived was cancelled after it was revealed that, while he was a Holocaust survivor, he’d fabricated the details of how he met his wife. There are a number of others, including Clifford Irving’s supposed bio of Howard Hughes.

I detailed some of the responses to the 60 Minutes piece here. One response that came out after I initially wrote about the episode reminds us that the real scandal here — if there is a scandal — lies not with the publishing industry but with the charity. While that is true, at least to a degree, the fact that this sort of problem continues in publishing is a scandal. Publishers have to take some responsibility for ensuring that the book they are selling to the public as a non-fiction memoir is just that — non-fiction. It would have been very easy for Viking to contact some of the people named in the book to see if what Mortenson claimed happened did and in the way he detailed. They need to take to heart this comment from Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Atlantic: “At some point, publishers are going to have to start fact-checking memoirs. At least a little bit. No disrespect to my editors, but I know having done a memoir, that it is shockingly easy to create fiction and claim that it’s real.”

But that wasn’t the only controversy of the week. After it was announced that Jennifer Egan had won the Pulitzer, the shine was tarnished some — not by critics decrying that her book shouldn’t have won, but by Egan herself. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Egan took what appears to be a potshot at genre fiction and the authors who write it. Also, she has an opportunity to condemn plagiarism and doesn’t; in fact, she appears to tacitly give a hat tip to it — as long as you do it to the right authors.

Over the past year, there’s been a debate about female and male writers and how they come off in the press. Franzen made clear that “Freedom” was going to be important, while others say that Allegra Goodman was too quiet about “The Cookbook Collector.” Do you think female writers have to start proclaiming, “OK, my book is going to be the book of the century”?

Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models? I’m not saying you should say you’ve never done anything good, but I don’t go around saying I’ve written the book of the century. My advice for young female writers would be to shoot high and not cower.

For more on this, I recommend you check out this post at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Read the post all the way to the end…it seems this isn’t the first time Egan has taken shot at the author of The Tiger’s Wife and the fact she didn’t plagiarize the right sort of authors.

Finally, a squee. Nocturnal Origins, which has been available as an e-book is now available in print. You can order it from Amazon and it will soon be available through B&N and elsewhere. If you want to get it at your local bookstore, it should be available for them to order within the next few days.

>On with the motley

>In other words, I can’t be trusted to remember when it’s my week, and my reminder service glitched. So instead of a nice, planned out post, I’m winging it. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Anyway… Impaler moves closer to the dead tree edition. It should be there Real Soon Now – watch for the deafening squee when this happens. As is, the kindle edition is sitting in the mid-60k range of the Amazon rankings, which for a new author’s book with zero promotion is pretty good. I’m pleased.

My con schedule for the rest of the year is set – Discworld Con in July, Capclave in October, and Philcon in November. Details to come as the time gets closer.

Now, did Amanda’s challenge scare people away? Really… Let’s up the stakes a little. Instead of two free ebooks, the winner can choose one of NRP’s dead tree books – Death of a Musketeer, Impaler, Nocturnal Origins, Without a Trace, and The Calvanni. Is that sufficiently awesome to attract new entrants?

Don’t make me go into the comments section with a non-entry example. Just don’t. It’s too scary to contemplate (Remember, I’m the woman responsible for Impaler, ConVent, AND the Knights in Tarnished Armor. This is not someone you want running around uncontrolled).

>Friday Morning Prompt

>Good morning, everyone. Chris is away today and left me in charge….bwahahahahaha. I thought we might do something a bit different today since we had an open thread not too long ago. So I talked with Sarah for a bit yesterday and she came up with an exercise for us. Well, an exercise and a contest. I’m going to give you two writing prompts. Choose one of them. In the comments post up to 1,000 words. It doesn’t have to be an entire story. What we’re looking for is something to hook us enough that we want to keep reading. The only caveats are to keep it PG and to watch the language. Anything that steps over the line will be deleted (if you need to check on ick factor-ness, read Sarah’s post yesterday on her blog.)

Prompt #1: Choose three words from the following list. Two of them must be central to the story.

  • motley
  • signal
  • estate
  • glitter
  • cut

Prompt #2: Use the following specifics to build your story. All three need to be included in the 1,000 words.

  • character — apprentice
  • setting — the beach
  • problem — fecundity

You have your challenge. All entries must be posted by 0600 EST Sunday morning. You can enter twice — once for each prompt.

Now, I guess you’re wondering what the winner will get — and the winner will be decided by a group of MGC authors. The winner can choose any two titles from Naked Reader Press. This includes Chris’ upcoming novella Rise of the Phoenix.

Any questions? Post them in the comments. Now, have fun and see where your muse takes you.

>Writing the Magic Moment

>The first time the Magic Moment became clear to me wasn’t a book: it was an opera. Les Miserables, in the original Sydney production, which was very closely based on the original London production. Since a Magic Moment is a lot easier to describe by example than definition (it tends to be one of those “you know it when you see it” things), allow me to describe it as it occurred.

This was quite early in the Sydney season, so most of the audience were seeing it for the first time. For those who aren’t familiar with Les Miserables, one of the pivotal sequences is the barricades battle: Parisian students throw furniture and whatever else comes to hand into the street to create a defensive barricade of sorts. Their mini-revolution is a dismal failure: the students are killed almost to the last man (and woman). After his friend Marius is shot, the iconic leader Enjolras takes the red flag and climbs to the top of the barricade, where he waves the flag in defiance until he is shot multiple times and falls forward, over the barricade and out of sight of the audience. It’s important to note that Enjolras is wearing a scarlet and gold waistcoat over a white shirt – he’s one of the few splashes of color in the musical.

One of the key staging devices used in Les Miserables is a rotating section of stage. Soon after the Enjolras falls, the stage rotates, slowly and majestically. Here is the Magic Moment. The dead are scattered in front of the barricade and draped over it. Enjolras is in the center, head down, facing the audience, with his arms splayed out rather like an inverse crucifixion. The bright waistcoat and white shirt against the backdrop of his red flag pulls your eyes to him: he is absolutely the focus of attention. The audience gasped. In that one moment, the waste and pointlessness of the whole attempt at revolution came into brilliant clarity, with fiery, charismatic Enjolras as the symbol and centerpiece of the devastation.

That is my first memory of a Magic Moment, where something immensely moving and profound hits with the force of a sledgehammer and nothing is ever quite the same again.

There aren’t many of them, and I’ve certainly never been able to write one deliberately. I think I may have managed one in Impaler, but I’m not sure. Even Pratchett only has one or two. The moment in Thud! when the terrible tragedy of Koom Valley becomes clear. The secret of the Grandfathers in Nation. They’re that rare – and that precious. They also only ever have the full impact once: the first time you hit them.

Here’s my attempt at a definition: a scene or image in a narrative work (i.e. opera, musical, book, play) where a number of plot and character threads connect to illustrate a deeper sense of meaning than expected.

Pretty lame, yes? But when one hits you, you know all about it. It’s personal, too – because what goes into that illustration of deeper meaning is also all your experience up to that moment (which is why they only ever hit once – after that you know it’s coming and the power of the moment is lost).

Here’s some of the things I’ve identified in creating a Magic Moment:

– foreshadowing in buckets, but subtle. In Thud!, for instance, there are hints all along that Koom Valley is a lot more than we know, but Pratchett sets up an expectation that the truth will still be something more or less expected.
– strong interaction between character and plot. I’ve never seen a Magic Moment where the characters weren’t central to the plot as it unfolded. The Koom Valley revelation in Thud! would not be the same without Vimes being present and being who and what he is.
– one or more characters is fundamentally transformed by the event. Again, in Thud!, Vimes is transformed into… well, himself. He sheds the various layers of social expectation, and in that moment is more quintessentially Vimes than we have ever seen him – and he understands and accepts that this is who he is.

I suspect there are more requirements – for a Magic Moment in a book to work, a single word that doesn’t quite ring true will kill it. But when it does work… well. In all the examples I’ve given, I was left shaken, deeply moved, and with the books I couldn’t hold them properly. My hands shook too much.

What are some of the Magic Moments you’ve found?