Huge congratulations today to Rachel Caine, whose amazing suspense novel STILLHOUSE LAKE is not only a Kindle bestseller, but a USA Today bestseller as well!

Happy Ten Year Anniversary to Orbit Books in the US! To celebrate, they’re making the e-books for ten of their most popular titles, including N.K. Jemisin’s award winning SFF novel THE FIFTH SEASON, available for only $2.99 for a limited time. There are other amazing options from Ann Leckie, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, Mira Grant, Gail Carriger, M.R. Carey, Kim Stanley Robinson, James R.A. Corey and Andrzej Sapkowski!

Big happy book birthday to a novel close to my heart, NO GOOD DEED by Kara Connolly, quotes and cover copy below!

no good deed NO GOOD DEED by Kara Connolly (Delacorte Press)

“This cheeky take on the Robin Hood legend is pure fun. Connolly’s swashbuckling debut will satisfy any adventure fans, and Ellie’s struggle to come to terms with her brother’s decision gives added depth.” —Booklist

“Robin Hood fans will enjoy Ellie’s escapades as she runs around Sherwood Forest, bumping into bad guys, and teens interested in historical fiction with a generous mix of action/adventure will appreciate this page-turner. Read-alikes include fairy-tale and myth retellings such as Renée Ahdieh’s “The Wrath & the Dawn” series, David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey, and Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.” —School Library Journal

Cover Copy:

Fans of Dorothy Must Die will love this reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood. Girl power rules supreme when a modern girl finds herself in the middle of a medieval mess with only her smart mouth and her Olympic-archer aim to get her home.

Ellie Hudson is the front-runner on the road to gold for the U.S. Olympic archery team. All she has to do is qualify at the trials in jolly old England. When Ellie makes some kind of crazy wrong turn in the caverns under Nottingham Castle—yes, that Nottingham—she ends up in medieval England.

Ellie doesn’t care how she got to the Middle Ages; she just wants to go home before she gets the plague. But people are suffering in Nottingham, and Ellie has the skills to make it better. What’s an ace archer to do while she’s stuck in Sherwood Forest but make like Robin Hood?

Pulled into a past life as an outlaw, Ellie feels her present fading away next to daring do-gooding and a devilishly handsome knight. Only, Ellie is on the brink of rewriting history, and when she picks up her bow and arrow, her next shot could save her past—or doom civilization’s future.

________

FANGDEMONIUM - ebook In other news, my FANGDEMONIUM blog tour continues today at CTR, ALT, BOOKS! with a Q&A, excerpt and a link to the #giveaway! Looking for the full Vamped series? You can find blurbs and links here.

So much happened last week that I didn’t get a chance to post all of the awesome news here, though I did at least tweet it out! (For those on Twitter who don’t yet follow me but would like to, I’m @luciennediver.) But, I will remedy that today and hopefully get caught up enough by the end of the week that I can post some of the pics from Italy, which was beyond words.

To start, the third book in Rachel Caine’s amazing Great Library series, ASH AND QUILL, sequel to INK AND BONE and PAPER AND FIRE, was released by Berkley in the US and by Allison & Busby in the UK. Barnes & Noble did a wonderful write-up of the book on their blog, “Knowledge is Power in Rachel Caine’s The Great Library“. Fresh Fiction made it their Fresh Pick for July 8th.  Eater of Books did a fascinating Science in Fiction blog based on the book, and there have been many incredible reviews, giveaways and other posts. If you haven’t already started this series, you might want to get caught up!

FANGDEMONIUM - ebook.jpg

And I have a book out today! FANGDEMONIUM, the conclusion to my Vamped series is finally here. In honor of that, Let’s Talk! Promotions is doing a blog tour with a giveaway. I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win. Today’s stops are:

I Smell Sheep: The Character’s Court: Author Lucienne Diver vs. Vampire Gina Covello (Fangdemonium book tour) + giveaway  (Come mock me in my poofy pink dresses and see me answer for my authorial crimes)

The Million Words: Writing YA

Cover copy:

Fanged and fabulous . . . and hunted.

Gina Covella, fashionista of the fanged, and her entourage are primed to reveal the existence of vampires on the popular Ghouligans television show, when their former federal handlers swoop in to shut them down and imprison the vamps in one of their super secret testing facilities. Or not so secret, as the gang knows all about the horror hospitals and has sworn to take them down.

Their daring escape runs them right into the arms of “the resistance”—a group of humans and vampires who’ve joined together to stop the fighting that’s made Gina and her boy Bobby’s hometown a bloody battlefield. Going home brings them back to old nemeses as well, including the psycho psychic who declared Gina “chaos” and Bobby “the key”. They hope he’ll unlock the secret of stopping the Feds’ freakshow experiments for good, because they’re building up to something big. Huge. And they’re consolidating their power in the Big Easy, aka New Orleans, where what’s cooking is nothing less than the final showdown.

First 4 Books in the series: Vamped, Revamped, Fangtastic and Fangtabulous

In other amazing news:

Kalayna Price’s GRAVE RANSOM debuted at #143 on the USA Today bestseller list!

Entertainment Weekly put together a list of 27 Women Who Rule Sci-Fi and Fantasy Right Now, and N.K. Jemisin and Rachel Caine are both featured!

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and J. Kathleen Cheney’s DREAMING DEATH made Barnes & Nobles’ great list of “Books that Blend Science Fiction and Magic, Minus the fantasy Tropes”.

LOST BOY by Christine Henry is on Amazon’s list of favorite SF/F hitting shelves this month.

I’ll have a happy book birthday and more news to share tomorrow, so check back then!

Back on my birthday, I posted a special message on Facebook, because I wanted to start with friends and family, but after talking with my husband and daughter, I’m going to post it here as well, because I have a bit more to say on the matter and if I’m going to be an advocate, I can’t limit it to my own circle of friends.

The Post:

On my birthday, what I want most is love and understanding…for my daughter. Some of you are scratching your heads because you’ve known Ty, perhaps since he was born, perhaps through pictures or stories—and there have been a lot, because my child is a sweet, smart, funny, amazing person who I love bragging on. That is not going to change with her form.

Yes, I said her.

For the past few years, Ty (who now goes by Abby, so that’s the name I’ll be using going forward) has been working through issues of identity in counseling and in her day to day life. It’s become clear that Abby is not in the form with which she identifies. She’s been so much happier since she’s made it clear that she wants to transition and since she’s begun telling people and living externally as she feels internally.

Some of you will think it’s a phase. We thought this for a long time—or maybe hoped, not because we’re not supportive, but because we know what a difficult road this will be for her, in terms of the bias and hate she’s likely to encounter and in terms of the actual process—but we’re past that point.

We hope that we’ll have your love and support. We’ll all understand if this takes some adjustment and if you sometimes slip up on the name or pronoun; we still do, though we’re getting better.

If you have negative thoughts on this whole thing, we hope you’ll keep them to yourselves. Please feel free to unfriend. I will feel free to do the same.

Now:

As a comment on that post, a long-time friend asked if I had suggestions for how to talk with her kids about Abby’s transition. I liked the comment at the time, but I didn’t respond, because I didn’t really have an answer then. I think everyone’s approach will be different based on kids’ ages and references. But today we went to see the stage show of The Little Mermaid, and it occurred to me that in many ways it references the transgendered experience. (Disney’s mileage may vary.)

Think about it. The heroine, Ariel, is a mermaid who is obsessed with all things human. She’s never felt like she belongs swimming under the sea; she’s not happy there to the point of self-sabotage—missing practices and ultimately the concert at which she’s the featured performer, etc. She’s not happy with her body or the place in the world she was born into (ex. “Part of Your World”). She wants legs. She wants another life than the one she has. Her father and sisters don’t understand her. No one understands her. She has to sacrifice things to achieve her dreams. In the movie and play, it’s her voice (and her freedom if she can’t get the prince to kiss her within the three day time frame). Ultimately, she achieves her dream form and finds love despite what she’s sacrificed. No, not despite…because of it.

She doesn’t change sex; she changes species—mermaid to human. But for some reason, this is something everyone can accept. Everyone can identify. There’s no problem. Male to female or female to male many people don’t get. Why? We change our hair color and cut without thinking. We wear clothes or make-up or piercings or ink to change our appearance, to say something about ourselves. Yes, gender reassignment is more intensive, but it’s all in line with showing ourselves to the world in the way that makes us happy and valued and that feels true to who we are inside.

That’s what the transformation is about, in Ariel’s case and in Abby’s. It’s about being the way you need to be in order to be happy, and in the end it’s about the family and community’s support for that transformation.

Another friend on that birthday post said something really wonderful to the effect that most major religions agree that the body is just a vessel for the soul, so it shouldn’t matter what form that vessel takes. I thought that was beautiful. It meant a lot to me, as did everyone’s comments that day and everyone’s support since.

Anyway, I wanted to share all of this while it was fresh in my mind. If you’re working to understand gender reassignment or trying to figure out how to talk to your kids about it, maybe watch or rewatch The Little Mermaid and discuss. Ariel was always my favorite Disney princess. Now I get why.

With a million things (no exaggeration!) to do before leaving for vacation in Italy, I’m posting my happy book birthdays for this week and next a little early, but I hope that I can be forgiven for that, especially when I return with wonderful travel experiences and pictures to share with the class!

So, without further ado, happy upcoming book birthdays to…

 Queen-Swords THE QUEEN OF SWORDS by R.S. Belcher | Tor | June 27th

(Barnes & Noble, Amazon, IndieboundBooks-a-million)

“Belcher’s enjoyable third historical fantasy (after The Shotgun Arcana) employs considerable imagination to drop readers into a fully formed world of magic and mysticism, drawing on ancient cultures and rituals while serving up exciting action sequences… Fans of the Golgotha series will adore this, and new readers will find a rich new world to fall into as well as two very strong heroines to root for.” —Publishers Weekly

“Once again letting loose the reins on his formidable imagination and skill, Belcher creates another undeniable winner with his whimsically horrific characters, unparalleled worldbuilding, stimulating narrative and a diabolical storyline teeming with magic, mayhem and dark humor. Fans will cheer the powerful female protagonists who are indeed the queens of this world.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ Stars, Top Pick!

1870. Maude Stapleton, late of Golgotha, Nevada, is a respectable widow raising a daughter on her own. Few know that Maude belongs to an ancient order of assassins, the daughters of Lilith, and is as well the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Anne Bonney, the legendary female pirate.

Leaving Golgotha in search of her daughter Constance, who has been taken from her, Maude travels to Charleston, South Carolina, only to find herself caught in the middle of a secret war between the Daughters of Lilith and their ancestral enemies, the monstrous Sons of Typhon. To save Constance, whose prophetic gifts are sought by both cults, Maude must follow in the footsteps of Anne Bonney as she embarks on a perilous voyage that will ultimately lead her to a lost city of bones in the heart of Africa―and the Father of All Monsters.

One of the most popular characters from The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana ventures beyond Golgotha on a boldly imaginative, globe-spanning adventure of her own!

(Excerpt here!)

stillhouse lake STILLHOUSE LAKE by Rachel Caine|Thomas & Mercer| July 1st

(Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieboundBooks-a-million)

“Caine spins a powerful story of maternal love and individual self-realization that cries out for at least one redeeming sequel. Compelling characters and plenty of credible plot twists…” —Publishers Weekly

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

LostBoy.jpg LOST BOY by Christina Henry | Berkley | July 4th

(Barnes & Noble, Amazon, IndieboundBooks-a-million)

“Bestseller Henry (Red Queen) will delight readers with this thrilling origin story, which reveals the true Peter Pan and the long road that led Jamie the lost boy to become pirate captain James Hook… Multiple twists keep the reader guessing, and the fluid writing is enthralling. Henry perfectly captures what it’s like to live on Peter’s island, and Jamie is a powerful character. Through his perspective, Henry immerses the reader in Neverland and genuinely shocks with the meanings behind Peter’s secrets and the intentions of his adventures. This is a fine addition to the shelves of any fan of children’s classics and their modern subversions.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“…a deeply impactful, imaginative and haunting story of loyalty, disillusionment and self-discovery.” RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ Star Top Pick!

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a familiar story with a dark hook—a tale about Peter Pan and the friend who became his nemesis, a nemesis who may not be the blackhearted villain Peter says he is…

There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan’s first—and favorite—lost boy to his greatest enemy.

Peter brought me to his island because there were no rules and no grownups to make us mind. He brought boys from the Other Place to join in the fun, but Peter’s idea of fun is sharper than a pirate’s sword. Because it’s never been all fun and games on the island. Our neighbors are pirates and monsters. Our toys are knife and stick and rock—the kinds of playthings that bite.

Peter promised we would all be young and happy forever.

Peter lies.

Grave Ransom Hi Res Cover GRAVE RANSOM by Kalayna Price | Ace | July 4th

(Barnes & Noble, Amazon, IndieboundBooks-a-million)

“Over the course of this transfixing series, Price has built a uniquely compelling world and made sure her characters were truly unforgettable!” —RT Book Reviews

The world-building in this series is phenomenal, with more intricacies to discover in each and every book… this is one installment of the Alex Craft series that you won’t want to miss.” —The Novel Lady

In the thrilling new novel from USA Today bestselling author Kalayna Price, Alex Craft comes face-to-face with the walking dead….

Grave witch Alex Craft is no stranger to the dead talking. She raises shades, works with ghosts, and is dating Death himself. But the dead walking? That’s not supposed to happen. And yet reanimated corpses are committing crimes across Nekros City.

Alex’s investigation leads her deep into a web of sinister magic. When Briar Darque of the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau gets involved, Alex finds herself with an unexpected ally of sorts. But as the dead continue to rise and wreak havoc on the living, can she get to the soul of the matter in time?

her guardian shifter HER GUARDIAN SHIFTER by Karen Whiddon | Harlequin Nocturne | July 4th

(Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-million)

Some boundaries are made to be crossed… 

A rare Vedjorn bear shifter, Eric Mikkelson lives on his own terms. So allying with wolf shifters, even gorgeous Julia Jacobs, bristles his loner instincts. But Eric must protect his infant son from the dangerous shifter cult stalking him. However, keeping JJ at arm’s length proves nearly impossible. She gets under Eric’s skin, exposing them to new risks as their staggering attraction defies Pack laws, and JJ’s own dark secrets fester between them.

When the safe haven of their shifter-friendly town is violated, lying low is no longer an option. Julia and Eric must embrace the power of their inner beasts, even if it means sacrificing their forbidden bond.

 

While we’re on the subject of new releases, right now if you pre-order UNDER THE PARISIAN SKY by Alli Sinclair, you receive exclusive content AND are entered to win a beautiful pendant. It’s a win-win-possible-win situation!

The Publishing Process

(as previously noted, I’ve written about this before, so it may seem familiar to some readers)…

First of all, there’s no one path. Successful publishing takes a village. If you have the time, energy and personality for it, you may want to be that village (or hire it). If so, you may choose self-publishing. If you want someone else to do the work of a publisher while you focus on writing, you’ll pursue traditional publishing, which is what I’m going to talk about here, because that’s been my path, both as an agent and as an author.

It all starts with sending out queries, and probably to agents, since most major houses and many mid-sized houses won’t accept unsolicited submissions, which means that manuscripts must be submitted via agents.

You’ve spent all the time honing and perfecting your novel. Don’t do any less for your query letter. It’s not an e-mail to a friend, it’s a professional, business letter, like the cover letter for a resume.

The query letter should be one page, just like any cover letter, and about four paragraphs long:

Opening: For example, I’ve written an epic fantasy novel of approximately 100,000 words entitled XXX.

Summary of the work: Think back cover copy.  This would be a teaser that hits the high points of the plot and the main characters.  Remember that this should intrigue us, so you don’t want to boil it down to the point that it sounds generic.  Let us know how it’s original—not by telling us that its original, but by bringing those unique elements to the fore.

Bio: Tell us a bit about yourself.  Do you have previous publications and/or award nominations? Did you major in or work in a field relevant to your work in any way?  If not, is there something intriguing in your background that might pique our interest?

Close: I look forward to hearing from you.  Many thanks in advance for your time.  (Or something to this effect.)

Note: If you’ve enjoyed the work of any of their authors or benefitted from any interviews or articles they’ve done, you might want to mention this as well—not because they’ll be swayed by flattery, but because they’ll know you’ve really done your research.  If you’ve met an agent or editor and he or she has invited you to submit, this is definitely something you’d want to mention right up front.  Also in that case, you’d write “Requested Material” in the subject line of your submission.

While you’re honing –

#1) Do your research. Here are some great places to go when compiling a list of appropriate agents to query:

The Association of Authors’ Representatives

SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Author Beware site

Preditors and Editors

If you’re a member of a writers organization like SFWA, MWA, HWA or RWA chances are they have a list of publishers and agents they’ve vetted within their fields.

You might also look in the acknowledgements of authors to whom you would compare yourself.

#2) Continue your research by checking out the publisher or agency’s submission guidelines and then FOLLOW THEM. This is very important. It says that you do your research, you’re willing to put in the work and you’ll behave professionally. Also, it keeps your submission from being caught in someone’s Junk folder and never viewed.

#3) Persevere.  Don’t give up, don’t get discouraged and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Get this submission out, then get your mind off it by starting work on something else.  It’s a rare author who sells right out of the gate.

What happens on our end?

Usually the first person to read your work is an intern, an assistant or a submissions coordinator, who will pass the work on to the appropriate person if they think it shows merit. Remember that the business is subjective, so a “no” is really a “not for us” not a “not worthy”. Most often you’ll receive form rejections, since we don’t have time to respond to every submission personally. If we did, we’d never have time to do anything else! So, you may not know exactly why your work was turned down. Here are some frequent reasons for rejection:

  • The material doesn’t fit in with what we represent.
  • The material really isn’t ready yet. Either it’s several drafts away or the person hasn’t yet mastered their craft.
  • It’s got the craft but it’s not firing an agent or editor to champion it (the craft but not the spark).
  • The idea is too a) off-the-wall, b) un-categorizable, c) like something we already represent, or d) commonplace.

-Something about the query leads us to believe that the author will be difficult to work with.  This can manifest in overwhelming ego, negativism, virtriol, condescension or any number of other red flags.

If you do receive a personal rejection, take this as a sign that you’re on the right track. If the comments are especially complimentary and the critique resonates, it’s acceptable to recontact the agent once rewrites are done to find out if he or she would like to reconsider. Unless a project has been pretty significantly revised, however, it’s not advisable to query the same agent with the same work. Although some guidelines will say otherwise (thus it’s always important to check), it’s also not generally acceptable to query multiple agents within the same company. Ditto for editors, although most publishers insist that queries come through an agent, so there’s a good chance that you won’t be submitting directly to editors (at least at major houses).

So, we’ve talked about rejections, but what about acceptance? If the agent likes what he or she has read so far, s/he will request more material, either a partial or full manuscript. Now is your time to shine! It’s fine, perhaps even advisable, to look it over once again, but don’t let too much time pass before sending it out. Now comes the waiting game – the agent’s letter or the guidelines on their website should say how long they take to respond. Feel free to follow up on your submission if that time passes, but always be professional in your correspondence.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – acceptance!

Once an agent offers representation, there are all kinds of questions you can ask to find out if you’ll be a good fit, everything from where they see your work fitting into the market to what revisions they’d suggest.

If you’ve got your work out with others, you can feel free to ask the agent to hold that thought and give the others a chance to read and respond (something like a week), unless, of course, you already know that this first agent is the agent of your dreams, in which case you’d be putting the others through a rush read for nothing. If an editor makes you an offer while your work is on submission to agents, you tell him or her to hold that thought, that you’re talking to a few agents.

Then give those agents a call before you agree to anything. You should be sure the representative you pick is enthusiastic about your work and not just the fact that you come with an offer on the table, but you really don’t want to go about negotiating your first contract on your own.  Among other things, like getting you more advantageous terms, an agent will also help you avoid certain pitfalls, like strict non-compete and broad option clauses.

So, what exactly does an agent do?

  • Know the market. We keep on top of who’s selling what to who, what editors’ tastes are, who’s responsive and who’s not, what the strengths and weaknesses are of the various publishing houses.
  • Keep on top of submissions and responses and keep you in the loop.
  • Negotiate terms: beyond the financial, what territories and what rights are being granted or reserved, like film and television, merchandising, audio, translation… We also go beyond the big picture to haggle out nitty-gritty contract language that could make a big difference down the line.
  • Exploit the reserved rights with the help of film/television and other agents around the world.
  • Advise you on marketing and social media and help you liaise with publicity/marketing people at your publisher.
  • Chase contracts and payments, check over royalty statements, and argue when something doesn’t look right.
  • Play bad cop in general. We deal with conflicts so that you can work smoothly and editorially with your editor.

So remember that village I told you it takes to publish a successful book?

I’ve told you what an agent does. Here are just a few people at a publishing house who will have a hand in your publishing process.

Editor: Editors are indispensable.  They make you look good, catch things that you can’t see, call you on things you’re hoping no one will notice and make suggestions for improvement.  They’re also your point people for dealing with the rest of the company and most of the others on this list, though you will have some direct contact, especially with publicity and a few other peeps.  At some houses, you might have more than one editor.  A different person might do the line edit or continuity edit. Good editors help you achieve your vision rather than impose their own.

Contracts Department: After the editor makes an offer and the author and agent accept, the deal memo is off to the contracts department to draw up the agreement between all parties.  It’s now down to the agent and contracts department to iron out any additional bumps in the road and come up with a mutually acceptable document to be signed and abided by.

Copy Editor: Copyeditors are your last line of defense against typos, misplaced commas, run-on and nonsensical sentences, etc.

Copywriter: You know the teaser copy on the back of paperbacks and inside the cover flap of hardcovers?  You know who writes it?  Well, in some cases it’s the author or editor, but more often, it’s a copywriter.  It’s a special skill.  If you’ve ever tried to sum up your own work in a paragraph or two, you’ll appreciate exactly what I mean.

Art director: The art director hires artists and works with cover designers to  develop the look of your book.

Artist: Artists are commissioned by publishers to create an original piece for a book cover, though often these days, covers are developed from stock photography manipulated for your enjoyment.

Production Department: Estimates the cost of printing and deals directly with the printers and the nitty-gritty details of actually getting books produced.

Publicity: The publicity department at the publisher sends your work out for reviews, does press releases, sets up tours, pitches you for interviews, and various other things that go into publicizing your work.

Marketing: The marketing department arranges and designs ads and other promotion, which comes out of their budget.

Subrights Department: The subsidiary rights department submits work and negotiates deals for any rights external to print publication rights that are granted to the publisher and not exploited in-house.  For example, publishers often hold onto book club rights, and any arrangement for book club publication will be made via the subrights department.

Sales: Sales is in charge of marketing the books to retailers and the ID markets.

Bookstore reps: Individuals who liaise with booksellers within their territories.

So what’s your job as an author?

  • Keep your agent & editor apprised of anything that might be relevant to submissions: new short-fiction sales, contest wins, networking that you’ve done (particularly with editors who’ve expressed interest in your work).
  • Promote your work and be available for promotions, keep your website and other social media up-to-date.
  • Stay professional and don’t argue back with reviewers, bloggers, etc.
  • Write the best damn books you can and hit those deadline!

Without you, we wouldn’t have any business at all.

Conflict

The shape of your conflict will vary depending on your genre, but all novels need both internal and external conflict.

Internal: I’ve already talked a bit about this (see Part I). What makes things personal for your protagonist? Whatever drives the character and invests him or her in the outcome will invest the reader as well. Maybe there’s a killer after your hero or heroine. Maybe the killer is after someone they love. Maybe they’ve been accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Maybe there’s a new drug on the market and they know what addiction is like, because it’s struck them close to home. Whatever it is, something has to make the hero or heroine cares very deeply about events so that when we experience the story through their lens, we care as well.

External conflict: What is the broader conflict? What’s at stake? Every chapter/scene should have conflict of some kind. No chapter or scene should simply be informative or something that moves the characters from one place to another. Take every chance you can to up the tension, but remember there also need to be quiet moments for the readers and characters to catch a breath.

So, what internal and external conflicts are driving your plot? What’s keeping those pages turning? Where’s your sense of urgency?

Whether you’re writing a romance and the primary tension is whether the hero and heroine will get together or a science fiction epic about the overthrow of an evil empire, a good novel needs three things. The reader must:

  1. fear that the protagonists might fail
  2. understand the very real danger of that failure
  3. care deeply about the outcome

In order for the reader to do any of these things, of course, the author must plot out:

  1. what’s at stake
  2. what form their adversity will take
  3. what face evil will wear

There’s rarely a one-word answer for what’s at stake, since there will need to be tension throughout the book, and a single note will start falling on deaf ears. Let’s take a pretty straightforward plot for example—a hostage story. The main goal will be to get the hostages out alive. The consequences of that failure are obvious, and if the author makes the readers care about the characters, they’re emotional invested in the outcome. However, things need to happen during the story to make us believe in this danger—not just “If not this, then that,” as in “If we don’t get the money, we start killing.” Obstacles need to be thrown in the way of the this which threaten to precipitate the that. For example, legalities will prohibit actually giving the hostage-takers what they want. So people will try to go about things another way. They’ll call a negotiator. Maybe that negotiator is having a bad day, and personal issues threaten the negotiation. Maybe he or she doesn’t make it to the scene or the baddies refuse to communicate or they’re all really just playing for time. Maybe the negotiation is going well, but one of the hostage takers is less stable than the others. Or maybe one of the hostages is a hotshot and wants to play hero (or maybe =is= the hero). The important thing is that things go wrong.

If everything goes well, according to plan, there’s not much tension, there’s no suspense and the ending is a foregone conclusion.   And what about the victims? Is one in need of medication? In danger of doing something stupid that might get the others killed? In league with the baddies? Any of these wrinkles will add character to the face of adversity. You don’t want to end up with a featureless, forgettable face, but one with character, stamped with tragedy and triumphs.

Because you must also have triumphs. Just as things have to go wrong, sometimes things have to go right. A piece of the puzzle falls into place or a battle is won on the way to winning the war. Things have to go more and more wrong, tensions have to rise, but not so continuously that there’s no relief. Just as we have to believe that the good guys could fail, we need to have hope that they will win. They must have the means to fight back, otherwise the inequality of power will make any end triumph unconvincing.

Okay, so you’ve got your characters and conflicts and you’ve written the most amazing novel. Now you’re ready for the publishing process, which I’ll post tomorrow as Part III.

2017-06-15 WW Lucienne Diver Last night I gave a talk at the Hart Memorial Central Library in Kissimmee, FL on Characters, Conflict and Publishing, which put a smile on my face, because my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Hart, was the one I credit with sparking my love of writing and with teaching me about butt in chair and other lessons I apply to this day. The attendees were a lovely bunch of people with great questions. As always, the ad-libbing and elaboration that comes from an in-person talk goes missing from the formal, on-paper speech, but since I promised, I’ll be recreating it here on the blog in parts. (Note: if you’ve followed along on my other posts and articles, some of what’s said here will already be familiar to you.)

Part I

For some, novels begin with a concept. For others with a character or characters talking in their heads. Either way, the best thing an author can be is as contrary as possible.

If your concept starts with a conflict, think “Who would be most thrown for a loop in a situation like this? Who would be most discombobulated and out of their element?”

If it starts with a character, think “What would really challenge this person? What’s his/her own personal version of hell?”

Then, I kid you not, put them through it. Characters and conflict are at the heart of every story, inextricably intertwined.

Characters

Let’s begin with characters. Who is your protagonist? What is his or her background? What does he care about and what’s at stake for him or her in the story? This is always ALL important. There must be stakes — something the character wants or needs but that obstacles may prevent or something the protagonist desperately fears that might come to pass if events aren’t thwarted. In the best of all possible worlds, both of these things are true. We’re all bundles of hopes and fears. Your characters should be no less. The difference is that for us, hopefully, there is no opposing force (a villain or a killer, say) battling against us.

When creating characters, be unique and be creative. Do not create stereotypes, but living and breathing characters. How do you do this? Here are a few things to think about:

Background: characters should be products of their cultural and personal experiences. There should be elements of both nature and nurture. For example, in fantasy werewolves (or vampires or even humans) will likely have certain behaviors in common because of their biology and biochemistry. People need to eat and drink, sleep, etc. Werewolves might have a need to change, particularly at certain times, or for red meat. Vampires aren’t really vampires without the need for blood (or energy in the case of pranic vampires). How your particular character deals with these urges and with others inside or outside their group will largely be informed by their personal, familial and societal history.

Uniqueness: while your main character or characters should be identifiable and sympathetic to the reader and may fit an archetype (hero, villain, caregiver, visionary) he or she should also be unique. Remember that even villains have a story. They may be doing the wrong things for the right reasons or responding to pains in their past or viewing everything through a lens of sociopathy, but in their minds they are likely doing what’s right or necessary. They probably don’t see themselves as evil. The same goes for your hero or heroine – most don’t see themselves that way. They’re not good or noble all the time. Think of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, who is heroic in standing up for her sister, but doesn’t set out to lead anything for the greater good, and when she takes on that role, realizes that it’s not black or white, but gray. People will die for believing in her and the symbolic role she plays.

Strength and Weaknesses: what are your protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses and how does the conflict challenge them to be better. Characters should not remain stagnant from the beginning of a book to the end, they should grow and change, the conflicts the wringer they must go through to achieve their final shape.

Relatable: No matter how unusual a main character you choose, the reader should find him or her relatable and sympathetic. You may lose some readers if you choose a main character with whom they have nothing in common or who they feel is too immoral. Give us something with which to identify.

I’ve started with character, because that’s how stories often start for me. With the Vamped series, I first had my fashionista character talking in my head, and I absolutely had to get her out. I thought to myself, “How can I torture this girl?” (Authors have to have a little of the sadist about them and then write it out in their fiction so that they can be perfectly lovely people in real life.) The answer was to make her a vampire – take away her reflection so that she’d have no way to fix her hair and make-up, take away her tanning options and make her dig her own way out of the grave, totally ruining her manicure. Have her discover that the parents buried her in that dress she literally wouldn’t be caught dead in. And then, give her a bigger, badder, even more fashionable foe to fight against.

Which brings us to conflict, which will be Part II.