For many months now, I've had a place-holding cover for The Proper Bearing floating around my website. It had the most basic element I knew I wanted: a vine-covered wall, reminiscent of stately old school buildings. But it wasn't enough. I knew it needed something more: something which hinted that The Proper Bearing is more than just a standard coming-of-age tale. So I went prop hunting.
There's a particular item of significance which helps drive the plot forward after its inciting incidents, and I had a very clear picture of it in my mind... so I went antiquing. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of an amazing antique store. The Laconia Antique Center was converted from an old Newberry's department store, right down to the still-functioning soda counter. I could lose hours in there - and have! - but going with a specific item in mind made things a little easier. Soon enough, I found what I was looking for, along with the vintage postcards I used for my new marketing material.
Some careful lighting and a little dance with Photoshop later, I may now happily introduce you to the final front cover of The Proper Bearing, and along with it, the magical artifact known as The Dawning Urn...
Story time! Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we'll begin.
Once upon a time, there was a young(ish) girl who had loved books since kindergarten. An only child, she made some of her earliest and oldest friends between their pages: precocious girls like Pippi Longstocking and Anne Shirley were her favorites, but she soon grew just as fond of super-sleuths Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and went on adventures with the brave mice of Redwall and discovered the creeping, delightful horrors of Edgar Allen Poe and Christopher Pike. Around that time, she was also beginning to discover the prospects of responsibility, as her teenage years loomed on the horizon, and her parents, wanting to coax her into it in the best way possible, suggested she get a job at a bookstore.
The bookstore was tiny, tucked away on the shores of a nearby lake, and catered mostly to tourists looking for summer beach reads, but our heroine loved it nonetheless. She learned how to open up shop, run a register, and create workshops for the kids who came in to amuse themselves on lazy summer afternoons. (One particularly memorable afternoon was spent teaching them how to draw Mushu from Mulan... which might tell you how long ago this was, if you're very clever and know how to use IMDB.) She discovered the joys of coffee, classic literature, and mystery novels, but more importantly ... she discovered the concept of book signings.
She was only able to work at one of them, but one was enough. The author, though no one she had previously heard of, was a mystery author, just like the books she was starting to love so much, and was willing to talk to her at length about her craft. Not only that, but she signed a book for her:
The advent of the internet (yes, this IS an old story, isn't it?) meant that she began to meet other people who wrote their stories in secret, same as she did, and one of them, a little older and a little braver, convinced her to share her own stories with the rest of the world. The wide anonymity of the internet made this all seem so much safer, and she began to gain a little following, which made her think that maybe her writing wasn't so terrible after all. College and the so-called "real world" took their turns at her confidence, but eventually, she began to share stories which were entirely her own, and discovered self-publishing, and all the freedom and challenges that came with it.
There's no neat dovetail to the end of her story - of course, she's sitting here typing it to you. ;) I will say that things have managed to come full circle: later this month, I will have my second-ever book signing at the store that started it all. I invite those of you who are able to come and join me ... it's not quite a Happily Ever After, but as far as I'm concerned, it's damn near close enough.
I hope you'll come back next week, when I'll drop some exciting stuff: the cover reveal for The Proper Bearing, and the party schedule for the month leading up to its release! Until then, I'll see you in the stacks...
If you've been with me for a while now, it's no secret that I'm a proud dork. Movies, video games, comic books, TV, cartoons ... you name it, I've probably flailed about it for a couple of months at some point. But there's one common thread running through them all, which I believe accounts for the success of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short) films over the last nine years: they all tell a damn good story. I'd like to illustrate this point by comparing the first of them with the most recent. If you'll kindly indulge me, there are some great writing and plotting lessons to be had amidst all the explosions and - yes - spandex.
Exhibit A: Iron Man (2008)
I shouldn't have to worry about spoiling anyone for this one, but the gist? Super-smarmy, self-important, booze-soaked billionaire Tony Stark gets a serious reality check when he's kidnapped by terrorists and has to invent, engineer, and snark his way out to freedom. Once he's out, he realizes he's got to fix the mess he started, and thus, we get Iron Man. That, alone, sounds like a pretty good story, right? It gets better. The writers (it took four of them) add in little subtle layers to raise Tony's stakes even higher. He's got family issues in his past, which seem a little obligatory, but provide great hooks for his later development. He's got a romantic arc which, to my great delight, didn't actually resolve itself by the end of the first movie... or even the second, or third, or ... you get the point.
But the best thing about Tony's story isn't necessarily his "jerk-to-good-guy" redemption: it's the growth he has to undertake to get there. He doesn't just lose his creature comforts. He's reminded of some hard truths, he loses, he fumbles, he falters. People around him fail to understand what's going on in his head, because they weren't there for these things: they just see sudden change, and react with frustration and bewilderment, which makes it just that little bit harder for him to maintain The New Tony Stark. Why does this make a better story than the "bad things happened, now it's time for REVENGE" tale it could have easily been? I have a one-word answer for you: empathy.
Everyone knows what it's like to go through personal changes and not be "heard", to be understood or completely validated. Everyone has multiple stakes in their lives, and everyone has issues which can't be resolved within a two-hour or two-hundred-page storyline. The key to a great story, for me, is the growth. It's not just about how much they lose (I'm looking at YOU, George R. R. Martin), but how much they gain back, and how. It's about shedding any previous conceptions about the world that may have been keeping them from moving forward. Enter Exhibit B.
Exhibit B: Spider-man: Homecoming (2017)
This is, refreshingly, not a third take on "oh no, my Uncle Ben died, with great power comes great responsibility, and now I have to save my girlfriend from a villain who I thought was a mentor". Marvel does themselves a favor by skipping the bits that we, the audience, already know, and dropping us into the thick of something new. Peter Parker knows he's got these awesome powers, and he's pretty high on them. He caught Tony Stark's attention - he feels like the king of the world. He knows he can help, he can make a difference, and he's very eager to do so. He reclaims a bike without even knowing who it's been stolen from. He helps old ladies cross the street. His heroism is both big and small ... but it's the big stuff that gets him in trouble when he gets in over his head. Despite his great intentions and his giant squishy heart, Peter's Achilles' heel is the same as Tony's - his ego - and because of that, we're cringing for him from day one, because we can sense where this is going to go. Downhill.
Downhill it does, in spectacular fashion: not once, not twice, but three times, and by the end of it, you really just want to see the kid figure it out and triumph, because by this point, he really deserves it. Again: empathy.
So, what can a writer learn from these movies? SO much, but I'll give you the biggest bullet points:
I hope you enjoyed this little foray into fandom as a teaching moment ... If you have any movies, shows, or other media which have taught you about story structure, drop me a line in the comments: I'd love to start a discussion on this! Please join me back here next week, when I'm going to take a brief detour into crafts and DIY to show you a great writing tool.
Until next week, be yourself, create something good, and have FUN!
Despite how busy and strange this month has been, I still managed to cross the Camp NaNoWriMo finish line for the fourth straight year in a row! It's hard to believe I've been at this, in a constant and dedicated fashion, long enough for it to theoretically be a college degree. This is, by no means, to say that I feel like I know everything about How To Be A Self-Published Author: that'd be impossible. I will say that there are probably a few secrets lurking in the practice of surrounding yourself with people and experiences which make you happy and/or inspired. (For the curious: those current experiences, for me, include watching the entirety of Twin Peaks, attending a community theatre performance of The Hound of the Baskervilles, helping a friend move, picking blueberries while there's still dew on them, and stepping up my artistic noodling away from the written word.)
Those of you with a sharp eye may notice that I've changed the Arts & Crafts section of my website and removed my link to my DeviantArt gallery, replacing it with an onsite one. Not only does it make it easier for you all to see my art, but it helps pave the way for my secondary creative venture: an arts and crafts storefront called Gifts of Awen. Some of it is related to Aviario, but a good deal of it will be more inspirational and metaphysical in nature, focusing on the intent of creating magical and/or peaceful art for small spaces. My first project for Gifts of Awen is a series of artist cards dedicated to the seven chakras. Here's a peek at the first two, which I completed last night:
My goal is to also create postcards and other prints of these, along with other small art designed to help people find insight, inspiration, and a moment of peace in a busy, cluttered world. Commisssions will also be available through the site: I have several slots currently open. If you would like to see what else I have up at the moment, I'd be honored if you'd join me over at the storefront. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will also see pictures of new pieces as they're completed and posted! This may also mean the return of The Author's Oracle ... only time will tell. For now, I'm headed back to my creative corner to chip away at The Proper Bearing and work on some more illustrations. I hope you all have a lovely week!
Life is like a hurricane around here. (Blame all the D23 Expo stuff this Disney girl has been seeing online.) I'm juggling a lot of great stuff: a short story and graphic novel project with fellow author and artist Julianne Black, the two novellas Nature & Nurture, and of course, my release preparation for The Proper Bearing. I'm also knee-deep in great books right now, so you'll have more reviews from me soon, too.
This is that funny little quiet lull in between all of it where I don't have a Big Thing to share, but I have a lot of Little Things. Mostly, though, I want to get you all excited about The Proper Bearing, which is coming out in just shy of two months!
My beta readers (or CPs, depending on which author lingo you prefer) have it in hand, but I could still use one more. If you're seriously interested in helping me make this a better book, please shoot me an email or direct message through the internet grapevine of your choice. I would ideally need it back with your comments by August 15th.
I have a front cover prepared, and will soon be working on the back. Cover reveal will be going down a month prior to release, on August 18th, so that'll be exciting. I have to say, this is my favorite cover so far, and I can't wait to share it with you all! Special thanks to my friend and fellow author Tim Savage for scoring me a photo for its creation during his recent trip to the UK.
I'll also be giving away a couple of prizes on the week of the release: my protagonist, the wonderfully bookish Nicholas Forsythe, has helped me brainstorm a few of his favorite things to give away to my readers, so that their escape into my world can be just that little bit more complete. I'll be sharing more details about that as time draws closer. In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at part of that amazing cover ...
If the suspense is absolutely killing you, and you can't wait ... you can always go and pledge your support to me on Patreon! Patrons get to see the full front cover TODAY! I hope you all have a wonderful week, stretch those imaginations, and I'll see you all next Wednesday!
The more independent authors I meet, the more I realize just how diverse yet wonderfully alike we all are. No matter what the genre, no matter what our involvement in social media, our politics, our personal lives ... we all have stories to tell which we are incredibly passionate about. When an author's passion combines with a long-simmering desire to share those stories, the results often touch the heart: and Timothy Savage's debut, Davey's Savior, is no exception.
The eponymous Davey is a four-year-old growing up in Avila Beach with his single father, Sketch: and from the first chapter, we know they have secrets they are keeping from the community. Sketch goes out of his way to keep a low profile: it becomes clear fast that no one in Avila actually knows his full name. Davey's curious and outgoing nature is a dangerous counterpoint to this secrecy, and secrets begin to come to light when a whale shark is found washed up on the beach.
The owner of the local coffee shop, Anthony, is convinced that a blemish on the carcass looks like the face of Christ, and manages to make a photo of it go viral, drawing more and more people to the town. Among the visitors are a trio of Mexican nuns on a pilgrimage and a marine biologist, each with their own problems and challenges to face. As Davey and Sketch's secrets come to light, every one of them comes together in a climax I did not expect.
The novel starts out at a slow burn: Savage makes it very plain that Sketch and Davey have things to hide... big, potentially dangerous things. Aside from the discovery of the whale shark, this is the major thrust of the first third of the book. I admit that at first, I was frustrated by how much The Secret was dangled in front of my face: how often Sketch would fret and worry and obscure, despite any further clues to what he was hiding. I was so preoccupied with this that I missed the artful, tiny clues peppered throughout the story which foretold the climactic moments of the book. In retrospect, then, my frustration was negated, and I feel like I owe Tim Savage an apology for judging him a little in "stringing me along". What he did with his story is masterful: not just in its obfuscation of the plot twist, but in completely leading this reader in one direction at first, and then turning my expectations upside down in terms of theme, as well.
There were a few rough patches: notably the text conversations of Kendra, the marine biologist, which were a little jarring next to the prose, and some of the build-up between the whale shark's arrival and the furthering of the plot. But for those willing to forgive the novel its flaws, it has a fine reward.
When Anthony first hatches his plan to draw in customers through the miracle of the whale shark, readers may assume - as I did - that the titular Savior was meant to be Jesus Christ, and that the novel was about to take a heavily religious turn. The trio of nuns reinforced this ... but each character's own personal challenges eventually make it clear that this is not a novel about the saving power of Christianity, but the role of any form of faith in life. By setting the reader up and then dropping his twists and turns, Tim Savage makes them think right along with the characters ... connecting them to the book even more deeply. The book I found so slow to start was impossible to put down by the time I reached its second half. Davey's Savior is the literary equivalent of a log flume ride: you drift along for most of it, but the climb and the plunge at the end are so satisfying that you'll end up wanting to go again.
You can get your own copy of Davey's Savior here on Amazon. Tim Savage can be found most often on Twitter, and occasionally at his blog, Extemporalia.
I hope you've enjoyed my two cents this week, and that you'll join me again next Wednesday for whatever the moment brings!
Until next time, I remain your hostess,
How time flies, readers! Since last we spoke, I've started a new job and had my schedule turned upside down. This has wreaked havoc on my writing schedule ... and all the aspects of my online presence as an author. I had to stop and do some hard thinking, and forgive myself for falling so far behind, before I could make it over here to apologize to everyone else.
I am still working out my new author schedule - I'm thinking this blog will move to Saturday updates. I do know one thing for certain: I will be retiring the Friday at Charlie's newsletter and migrating those special previews to my Patreon account. I want to thank everyone who signed up for the newsletter: your support has meant so much to me in the past two years, and I hope you'll stick around. In the end, the fewer social media facets I have to manage, the more time I have to focus on the novels and art.
Please stay tuned - my next update will be a review of another colleague's indie novel, and you're all going to want to hold on to your seats!
Since I'm in the process of shoring up my own edits before handing it off to my esteemed cadre of beta readers, I thought it was a good time to share a little more of my next novel... Please enjoy this little snippet of Nick's unlucky Guy Fawkes night, and I'll see you all here next week!
Hello, again, everyone! It feels good to be back after a very crazy April. Sadly, I did not reach my Camp NaNo goal, but I did get some great writing done, and I have my energy back again! This week, I want to step a little outside my author circle and share a bit about my life ... I promise, it relates to the writing process. Ready? I'm going to tell you about how and why I spent seven years of my life running in the wrong direction.
When we're young and first starting out in the world, we're told we can be anything, but we still have a lot of expectations and standards to consider, whether they're spoken or unspoken. We must get A Good Job, make Decent Money to Support Yourself, and have certain other criteria to meet, as well, depending. We try to do these things because they're supposed to let us be able to do what we want. So, I got A Good Job to make Decent Money and Have A Career so I could Support Myself, and the moment I started there, they said, "Hi, Ang. Nice to have you here. We're all really happy to see you, and we like the work you do, so ... we're going to give you a gift."
I was so excited about being appreciated and wanted as an Official Working Adult that I didn't care what the gift might have been: they liked me enough to give me it! How cool was that? "A gift? Oh, THANK YOU, that's so awesome, what is it?"
"It's a carrot!" They said, smiling. "See, we know you said you like to do all these different aspects of your job, and we decided that if you can catch the carrot, you'll be able to do them ALL. Your dream job. We want you to have what you want. Just ... get the carrot."
It's a pretty thin allegory, I know. I'm sure you're all familiar with the metaphor of the carrot and the stick. But the tricky bit is this: for the first few years, I thought that carrot was the best thing ever. I wanted it. I needed it. And even more? The people around me reinforced that. "Wait, they're going to give you a carrot?? That's amazing! I'm so excited for you! When do you get it? ... Oh. You don't know? That's okay! Be patient! It's totally going to be the best carrot ever."
But after four years with not even a peel of carrot skin, I realized I was feeling pretty unfulfilled. So I went back to writing. And when I wrote, I found the sort of satisfaction I'd been chasing after every time I reached for the carrot. I felt like I was doing the work that resonated with me, that mattered. The more I wrote, the less I wanted the carrot.
But after six years, the string the carrot was on wasn't any shorter. And I decided it was time to say something. "Hey," I said, "you told me that I'd get this carrot soon if I worked hard enough and did these things, and if I was patient."
"But things have changed," they said, "so we couldn't quite give you the same carrot. We've got another carrot for you, though, and it's pretty awesome, if you'll just hang in there and wait for it."
I thought, why not? I still had my writing, and at that point, two books under my belt. I could wait a little while for Carrot 2.0. And then it arrived, and it looked something like this:
,Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I went back and said, "You call THIS a carrot? I'm insulted. I do a lot of work around here, a lot more than you initially asked me to do, and I'd like a little more than this shrively thing."
They said, "We know you do - so we're hiring help."
They hired another manager - all ego, buzzwords, and bluster who was no actual assistance to those of us still doing just as much work as before. And then they gave us MORE work. To make matters worse? One day, they called me in and said, "So, we were able to get the carrot you originally wanted ... sort of. With some modifications. In fact, it's not really the carrot you want, it's more ... the carrot WE want you to want, with just enough in common with yours to make you think it'd be pretty good."
I said, "Okay, but I'd better get it, or I'm leaving the farm."
Long story short? I didn't get it. I'm leaving the farm. In two weeks, I'll have a new job, and I made sure before I even took it that I'd have what I wanted: enough to Support Myself, and enough time to do what makes me happy, to do the Real Work: to write.
So ... next time you sit down to your Real Work, whether you write, paint, fix machinery, tie lures ... look for carrots. See if there's anything that you think is helping you do the Real Work, but is honestly just getting in your way and dragging you down.
Cut the string. Throw the carrot back in their face. And go find a piece of cake instead.
Until next week, try everything!
Comedian Bob Marley has a somewhat famous routine about camp in New England, specifically Maine. I won't link it here, but those of you who don't mind explicit language can easily find it on YouTube. "If you're not from New England, camp is a structure ... next to a body of water. It's not a lakehouse, it's not a cabin, and it sure as shit ain't a cottage, 'cuz we ain't Hansel and Gretel. It's a friggen camp. You don't go down to camp, over to camp, or through to camp, you go upta camp. ... Can we get a screen door at camp that doesn't sound like we shot someone every time it shuts?"
Bob then goes on to extoll the unique little aggravations that every New England camp seems to have - and while he's spot on about all of them, I'd like to share the better things about camp, having grown up at one on the occasional summer weekend.
When we went "upta camp", it was always by boat, since Camp JanJuKip was on a tiny island on Lake Winnepesaukee. It was named after my great-grandfather's three kids, Janice, Judy, and Kip, and I always thought it sounded appropriately like something out of Salute Your Shorts. Camp had no electricity, just a small generator that made an awful lot of noise, and was used primarily to keep the ancient refrigerator with the faded Trix bumper sticker on it running. My mother's hand and footprints were in the cement step onto the screen porch, which was high and wide enough that some genius had fixed a swing to the ceiling beams. Until I got too heavy for that swing, I spent a fair share of afternoons on it, pretending I could let go and fly up, up through the air and splash down into the lake like a kingfisher.
Camp was for cookouts, snacks, puzzles, and time-worn board games. It was for reading old and musty books long abandoned by others but brand-new to me. It was for coloring, drawing on yellowed sheets of construction paper, and singing at the top of my lungs on the bow of the boat as we hummed across the lake. (In my early teens, I discovered that despite the rushing wind drowning out the world around me, everyone had been able to hear me the entire time, to my great embarrassment.) At camp, we were cut off from the world. No phone, no TV, and usually no radio ... then, later, once it became a possibility, no internet.
My creativity always flourished at camp: I would spend long, lazy afternoons sunning myself on the boulders at the water's edge, listening to the waves from boats' wake lap the shore, and hear other worlds in their song. Socked away in my little corner of nature, cut off from the rest of the world, it was always easier to dream. Out of sight, out of mind.
When Camp NaNoWriMo began to roll around earlier this week, I started thinking more and more about Camp JanJuKip. It's changed a great deal since my younger days: repainted, fitted with a new deck and chimney, a better generator, and - yes, Bob - a screen door that doesn't slam like a gunshot. Wireless internet had made the world accessible from the boulders. The last time I went, I had to admit... it had lost a great deal of its magic. The rough edges had been sanded down, and much of its simplicity had fallen away. It no longer seemed like an old, well-loved treasure tucked away in the wilderness: somehow, camp had become just another house, though harder to get to. But I keep its spirit in my heart, and as I take a break from this blog for the month of April, I'd like to think that every time I sit down to write, I can hear the lake lapping near my feet, and hear the buzz of a hardy generator in the near distance, keeping the hot dogs and my soda cold.
I'll see you all in May,
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