Two For Joy: publication day

My second book, A Case of Possession, is out today.Woo-hoo!Image

I blogged about how it feels to have your first book published (conclusion: pretty cool). Second book is definitely different. Still good, but different. It’s not a novelty now; there are the ‘difficult second album’ worries over how it will compare to the first; and really, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with blogging for it, planning publicity for my totally different third book, doing cover briefs and copy edits on the fourth book, writing the fifth one…

But there is a big new exciting experience here, and that is that Case of Possession is a sequel, and some people actually want to buy it for that reason. People have actually been waiting, many of them impatiently, to find out what happens to the characters in this book. People want to know more about my characters and be involved in the stories that previously just happened in my head. It is quite hard to convey just how that feels.

(It feels really good. Master wordsmith at work, there.)

I have a third book about those guys to finish, and I have blogged myself and probably everyone else to exhaustion this week, on rodents and romancewriting historical paranormal, secondary Imagecharacters, the shady side of Victorian London, and whether sex should be real or fictional. So I think we’ll all be relieved that there’ll a bit of radio silence coming up on this blog while I do some actual book stuff. See you on the other side. Continue reading

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A Case of Possession: promo post and book giveaway

(Please note, the giveaway has finished and the winners have been contacted. Thanks to everyone who participated!)

My new book A Case of Possession comes out on 28 Jan. I am pretty excited about this.

This is the sequel to The Magpie Lord, picking up four months on from the events of that book. It’s surprisingly scary bringing out a sequel (what if everyone who liked the first book thinks this is a horrific travesty of everything they held dear? What if you should have quit while you were ahead? Argh!) but so far people seem to be liCaseOfPossession-A300king it a fair bit. Which is a relief.

In A Case of Possession, it’s a long hot summer in alt-Victorian London. Magical enforcer Stephen Day is tackling a plague of giant rats, while attempting to keep a lot of secrets, from his employers, his best friends, and his lover. Meanwhile, Lord Crane has a blackmailer to confront, a friend to protect, and a decision to make about any future with Stephen. Also, the thing with giant rats. Did I mention those?

The blurb!

Magic in the blood. Danger in the streets.

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

 

I’m giving away a copy of the ebook here, see below. And I’ll be all over the place this week with guest blogs and more giveaways so here’s where you’ll be able to find me rambling on. (Or avoid me, if you prefer.)

And while you wait with rabid, barely controllable impatience (or total indifference, whichever) for 28 January, do pick up Interlude with Tattoos, a free short story, which happens between The Magpie Lord and A Case of Possession.

OK, that’s the promo done. Thank you for your patience, and enjoy the book!

I’m giving away an electronic copy of A Case of Possession. Just comment below to enter. (If you’re reading this on Goodreads, please comment on my blog at kjcharleswriter.wordpress.com, or I might miss you.)

  • To enter, leave a comment stating that you are entering the contest. Contest closes 7 pm GMT on 27 January 2014
  • By entering the contest, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
  • Winners will be selected by random number.
  • You must leave a valid email address in the “Email” portion of the comment form.
  • If you win, please respect my intellectual property and don’t make copies of the ebook for anyone else.
  • This contest is open worldwide, ebooks are available in the usual formats (epub, mobi etc).

Lower Your Standards: getting through the book’s babyhood

In honour of my son’s fifth birthday the other day, I present a Parenting Metaphor. (This really is a post about writing, not a kiddy blog. Bear with me.)

My son was born 17 months after my daughter, and as parents of ‘two under two’ will know, this is a bad time. I recall my husband coming home to find me sitting on the floor, crying, holding a crying baby and a crying toddler who had just wet herself copiously over her brother, me, and the floor. (Which is what we were all crying about.) It was not good. So I called my friend Natalie, who speaks wisdom.

KJ [wails about disastrous house, empty cupboards, nappies, failed breastfeeding, unsleeping children] I just don’t know how you’re supposed to DO everything! How do I do it?

Natalie [audible shrug]: Lower your standards.

This is, quite seriously, the best advice I have ever received.

‘Lower your standards’ doesn’t mean ‘leave the child in a dirty nappy while you go to the pub’, of course. It means that you turn ‘playing educationally with your spotless children in an impeccable house while a casserole cooks’ into ‘playing with your children’, and the hell with the rest. It means you get the important stuff right. The rest of it can always be done later, when you have time – and if you never have time, that’s probably because it wasn’t really important. Pick it up if it starts to smell.

‘Lower your standards’ got me through early parenthood. The house did not fall down, nobody got cholera, the kids survived and so did we. We lowered our standards, and cleared up later, and you know what, it’s worked out pretty well.

And ‘lower your standards’ is also excellent advice for your difficult first draft. (Subject to deciding that it’s worth writing at all.)

  • Forget that blasted descriptive passage. If you need it, it will come, later. If you don’t, aren’t you glad you stopped trying to write it now?
  • Conversation not working, but you know where it needs to go? Force it. Leave a space if you have to. Don’t get bogged down. If it’s really where the book is going, it’ll come to you, and you’ll probably find out what your characters wanted to get at in fifty pages’ time. It doesn’t have to be perfected now. It will probably change anyway.
  • Realised you want to do a thing which requires going back and seeding all the way through the last fifty pages? Make a note, and do it later. Don’t go back and fiddle and overwrite. You can do that forever.
  • Your Edwardian heroes are on a train to Berlin and you need to find out the name of a station they stop at on the way? If it’s not plot-shapingly crucial, just put [STATION] in the MS and do it later. Do not break your writing flow to mess about with 1904 Continental railway timetables. (I’m talking to you here, KJ.)
  • Your subconscious will work with you, but it needs something to work on. If you just get the full story nailed, I guarantee that the little character notes and pertinent descriptions and seemingly trivial vital details will sing out on second draft. Like careers, manuscripts make most sense with hindsight.

Of course, your standards need to shoot back up in the second draft, when you remove the awkward transitions, and see, in the glorious light of a completed story, why that scene didn’t work and this conversation doesn’t flow. That’s the point where you start to get it all right. And when it comes to editing stage, your standards should be those of the Tiger Mother from Hell. Your finished book should be as perfect as you hope your finished offspring will be. (Hahahaha.)

But in the baby-and-toddler period, sometimes you just need to concentrate on keeping the damn thing alive.

Do you agree? Disagree? Are your standards too low even to engage with this conversation? Let me know!

Where Magic meets Science: Victorians and the paranormal

The Victorians loved magic in their books, so much so that Victorian literature has shaped how we read and think about fantasy and the paranormal today. William Hope Hodgson invented the occult detective and cosmic horror, Bram Stoker brought the modern vampire into being with Dracula, and the massively best-selling The Sorrows of Satan pits the Prince of Darkness against the first and worst Mary Sue in literature. (Spoiler: he loses. I’ve written about this book, the Victorian Twilight, elsewhere, so I will just say here that I’m not taking any responsibility for anyone incautious enough to read it.)

But there’s something very special about Victorian fantasy, which is the way magic exists through – in fact, is – science. Dr Frankenstein births his creature as a scientific experiment. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is based round the discovery of a personality-splitting chemical formula. Trilby, one of the few books to inspire a hat, uses hypnotism as a means of forcing someone into international stardom and sexual thraldom (which is way more interesting than making a student think he’s a chicken).

Arthur C Clarke famously said, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ In Victorian England, most of the technology must have seemed like that. Trains could go so fast, passengers might suffocate! The air was full of tiny invisible killing machines that caused diseases! You could turn on a switch and make light! Words could fly through empty air, without wires, and come out on paper or even as sound! So why shouldn’t there be other amazing things out there too?

In the Victorian era, ‘animal magnetism’ was widely recognised as a universal principle of something through which everything in the universe is interconnected. The – I’m not sure of the word here, discoverer or inventor or simply ‘guy who made it up’ – was Franz Mesmer (as in mesmerism). He called it a ‘universal fluid’, and a lot of people believed in it. The magnificently named Baron von Reichenbach propounded a similar underlying principle of the universe, a force that a small proportion of individuals could control, with a light side and a dark side. He called it ‘Odic Force’. (If backwards he talked, know I do not.) And Thomas Edison – yes, that Thomas Edison – was sufficiently convinced by his version of a mysterious undetectable force carrying power through the air that he even drafted a patent for an ‘etheric telegraph’.

I went with Edison. In my Victorian England, it’s called etheric force, and it carries magic. I’m sure Baron von Yoda would have approved.

Find out how that works in The Magpie Lord, out now. The sequel A Case of Possession comes out on 28 January and I’ll be running a giveaway in a few days. A free short story, Interlude with Tattoos, set between books 1 and 2, is available now from Smashwords.

Oh,  and incidentally, The Magpie Lord got some votes in the Goodreads Members Choice Awards. Thank you if yours was one!

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When Stories Go Bad: what to do with a flatlining MS.

In my last blog I mentioned the editorial definition of ‘tweak’.

Tweak: A change to a book. May be the alteration of a comma to a semi-colon. May involve identifying a huge timeline flaw and swapping scenes according, bringing a character back from the dead, and changing the ending.

However, sometimes tweaking isn’t enough.

  • When you decide, after 30,000 words, that you’ve used the wrong main character, and the plot is actually someone else’s story…
  • When your plot for book 3 of a series would, you realise, utterly torpedo everything you’ve achieved in books 1 and 2 and/or banjax any hope of a book 4…
  • When you realise, after 30,000 words, that you have no idea at all where you’re going with this / you dislike your characters intensely / you’ve used POV that now mean you cannot tell a crucial part of the story except in an extended two-chapter flashback narrated by a minor character…
  • When it turns out your carefully worked-out plot that means none of the above will happen is as inert as a fish on a slab…
  • When every writing session is like wading through cold treacle and you have so many other things you want to write instead…

If you’re hoping for advice on what to do in these circumstances, you’ve probably come to the wrong shop, because I have no idea what’s wrong with your MS and I have enough trouble with mine. But here’s a few thoughts.

Is it really that bad? ‘Just get on and write it’ is good advice in some circumstances. Sometimes pages carved out of granite by your teeth will end up reading exactly like the sparkling pages that flow effortlessly from your dancing fingers. But if you have a long-lasting sinking feeling that it’s not working, it probably isn’t, and ‘just write’ may mean ‘just waste more time on this dirge’. So you need a brutally honest beta reader or crit partner that you can trust to say, ‘Mate, this is just not that good.’ That way you can believe them in the unlikely event they tell you it’s great. (They won’t. It sucks. Sorry.) It is very hard to be that beta reader, and if you have one, take them out to dinner or something and assure them you still love them. You should.

Is some of the basic structure salvageable? Can you cut it back to chapter three and start again from there? Kill that subplot that’s slowing it down? Drop the whole plot strand that’s taking your characters to a really stupid place and take the book in a totally different direction, from early on? Is this like a badly pruned tree that needs cutting back to the trunk to make it grow properly, or like a child’s self-inflicted haircut that requires a shaved head?

Can you strip it down for spares? It may be that some of those lovely chunks of dialogue and scenes will fit seamlessly into a revised version. Junking 30K words is less painful if 10K of them can be salvaged. However, the key word is seamlessly, not ‘stitched together like a minor villain from Hellraiser’. Be ready to let go.

Is this coyote ugly? Which is to say, do you need to chew off a limb in order to escape? Do you need to jettison the whole damn thing and start again with new story, characters, setting, genre and possibly author name? If this is or may be the case, do not be tempted to fiddle. Don’t tweak, don’t tinker, don’t twerk; don’t strip it down for spare parts; don’t try retelling it from a different perspective with a completely different ya di ya; absolutely don’t be tempted to think that you have to keep writing this one book because you’ve put so much time into it. That’s a sunk cost. Future time is the only time that counts.

 KJ Charles has junked much and restructured more, but is finally past the 30K word mark and I swear to God it’s working now. Commiserate or argue in the comments!