Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.

 

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.

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Fact vs. Fiction – Historical Novels

Persona is my first attempt at the historical fiction genre and while I love history, I found writing within the confines of known facts difficult. This isn’t too surprising given all my other novels are fantasy or science fiction, but it was still an eye-opener for me.

Take, for instance, the very first chapter of the novel.

Without giving too many spoilers, I can tell you that my main character – whose name underwent several changes throughout the editing process – is traveling to England. Young Megan Shepherd couldn’t stay home, not with her father breathing down her neck about the engagement she just called off, so she answers the call to help translate papers for the war effort in Europe.

The very first version of this novel had Megan in a big, noisy, military airplane.

Said airplane was shot down. There was a lot of action in that first chapter. It was exciting and fun and I loved it.

But …

Given that Megan is not in the military, she would not have been on such a plane. And even if she had been in the military, they did not often fly personnel like Megan to and from their respective workplaces.

SO … I had to change it.

Thus, the opening chapter of Persona has Megan on board a boat – the SS Ceramic.

And yes, that’s a real boat. I know the name is a trifle alarming. I’m not certain I would have boarded a boat called Ceramic, but it existed and it became one of the wonderful things I learned about while researching for this book.

Still, this serves as an example of one of the things History made me change about the novel. While I was able to stretch a few things elsewhere in the book or gloss over some of the others, I couldn’t risk losing the reader’s trust in the very first chapter of the novel. I had to find an alternative, something to show that I really had done my homework and that I was going to be respectful both to the history I was working in and to the reader’s intelligence.

I admit that historical fiction feels like more of a gamble to me than many of the other genres. When we’re dealing with science or fantasy, readers automatically walk into it with the sense that they are going to “suspend disbelief” for a portion of the book. They accept that they are walking into the fictional world and want to see what we can make of it.

Not so with historical fiction, and especially not so with something as well known and documented as World War II. While I need the reader to suspend disbelief a little, to accept that Megan Shepherd is not a real person, many of the events she walks through ARE real. And I had to treat them real.

Because people died there.

A lot of people died there, actually. And to treat it with anything less than the utmost respect would have been wrong.


Persona is scheduled to be released on May 2, 2017

 

Old School Textbooks

Alright, so I graduated in 2014 and the textbooks aren’t that old. Still, I did graduate (cum laude, thank you very much)  and I haven’t touched them since. In fact, the whole school thing feels very distant to me now.

Did I really manage to go to school for three straight years, no summer breaks, all while holding down a full-time job, caring for my child as a single parent, and somehow finding the time to write?

How in blazes did I do that?

I must be a superhero, seriously. Or I had divine Grace on my side.

It’s probably divine Grace.

Anyway, I decided to pick up one of the old history books this week and start re-reading it, this time for fun.

Yes, reading a textbook can be fun. And in this case, it was both fun AND inspiring. While reading The Heritage of World Civilizations, I stumbled over one sentence that threw my creative muse into a whirlwind.

It was about plastered skulls as memorial art in the Neolithic Period and I decided I had to use that somewhere. It has become a detail I’ll be putting in Swans (the Fantasy I’ve been working on) and with a little brainstorming with a very handsome and intelligent man, I have sealed it into the outline.

One line in a history book and suddenly I have a really cool, fun detail and sequence of events to follow through my novel.

Old textbooks are fun. Really. If you have some lingering at home you should pick one up. I’m not sure how Accounting 101 or Trigonometry might help in a novel, but I have every faith in your creative powers. There might be something in there you can use, you just have to take the time to look.

A More Textured Story

Stories are not just about the characters on the page. True, they hold the bulk of our attention, but they would not exist outside of the world in which they live. We’re taught as authors that in order to sell the books that we write, we have to have character and conflict.

There are even formulas we are given while attempting to write query letters that focus solely on the character and the plot. But when push comes to shove, a lot of us aren’t reading a novel to see character and plot.

No, we’re there to experience a new culture. We’re there to meet more than just the protagonist, we’re there to see the kind of world that only the author could dream up.

We want to explore big ideas, such as the Trappist system that was just discovered by NASA. How many people are already imagining what it might be like to live there?

I certainly know I am.

But then, I did the same thing with Gliese – which is about 20 light years away from Earth and has several little planets orbiting it.

Gliese became the “shadow of the Big Bad” for my book Tapped. Rather than Earth being the host of civilization, I moved humanity to Gliese and made Earth a backwater town.

I have plans for Gliese. Big plans. Epic plans that I’m excited to implement in the coming novels. (And with Trappist just being discovered and all, you can bet I’ll be finding a way to nudge them into the Tapped series too.)

But beyond exploring new places, novels are also supposed to highlight the complexities of human nature. We read them to help us understand ourselves and the world around us. We just get to do it while jumping from planet to planet or befriending a dragon.

The texture of our stories is what makes them memorable. Harry Potter would not be nearly as memorable without Hogwarts and its talking paintings, moving stairwells, and history. Sure, we got a story about good vs. evil, but we got on broomsticks and with wands.

So how do you create this texture in a novel without info-dumping or making the book so long nobody will dare pick it up?

Well … I can tell you what I do.

I write the first draft.

And I don’t think about how long it is. I just write it. Anything and everything. Flashbacks, lengthy info-dumps, whatever I need to understand the depth of my own story.

And then … I edit.

 

Problem Characters and How to Negotiate

Since beginning Usurper I have had one character in particular who troubles me; Evaliana Auliere Dyngannon.

Nice long name, I know. She goes by Liana, for obvious reasons. Who wants that mouthful every time you’re being spoken to?

Liana and I constantly have issues, which I know makes me sound insane but I’m an author so I’m allowed. (I hope.) But when push comes to shove, every time I try to write in her point of view I end up hating the scene.

Loathing the scene.

It’s too shallow.

There’s not enough oomph to the character.

I don’t know her the way I know Trenna (her mother) or Nelek (her father) or even Kaden (her brother). She’s this … anomaly outside of her family.

Or inside it, however you want to look at it.

She is … angsty.

And I hate angsty.

Seriously, I avoid angsty with all my power.

But as I’m going through this edit I’ve come to the understanding that … I’m going to have to deal with angst. In order for Liana to be a three dimensional character on the page, she has to be allowed to explain why she’s so … arrrgh! About everything.

So …

I keep her scenes fairly brief.

I just have to. For my own sanity.

Until she grows up and gets over herself, she has a limited word count. (This is part of the reason I don’t do the Young Adult market all that well, can you tell?)

In return, I let her angst all she wants for that limited word count.

And then, once the angst has been written/edited/dealt with in some manner, I get chocolate.

Boom.

Those are my negotiations … with my fictional character … who only lives in my head and on the page …

Yeah, I know how crazy it sounds.

The Countdown

I am now exactly three months away from Persona’s publication date.

What does this mean for me?

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYWell, it means a lot of work, actually. I have a list of things that need to be done like … hunt for virtual space (AKA – look for people online who wouldn’t mind me commandeering their blog/site for a day) and prepping advertising spots and getting reminder letters ready for all the wonderful people who agreed to advance review the book and … so much more.

SO. Much. More.

Side Note: Thank you so much to all of my advanced readers. I’ve heard from most of you already and I really, really appreciate the time it takes to sit down and read a book these days. You’re all awesomesauce on toast and I uber love you.

What happened to the Kindle Scout Campaign?

As predicted, this was not the right fit for me. Kindle Scout is made for people who really don’t mind shouting over and over and over again that their book is up and needs votes. I am not that sort of person.

Granted, if I were that sort of person it is entirely possible that I would sell a lot more books. The tactic seems to work very well for a lot of people. For my part, I cannot justify being that much of a pest. And if I spend all my time promoting, I get no writing done. (I am a single parent. My time is limited.)

Having re-read the manuscript hunting for any last-minute errors and the like, I have to say that Persona is a favorite of mine. While I may have bemoaned all the research I had to do writing a historical fiction, it is still one of my favorite stories. Megan is a gentle hero, which I believe to be one of the more common and less noticed heroes in the world today.

In any case … the countdown has begun! Three months and two days and this novel will finally be out for sale. It’s been a long but very satisfying road to see it get to this point and I’m excited for the next step.

 

 

Round Robin Discussion – Scarring your characters

This month for the Round Robin topic we are talking about emotionally scarred characters. The questioned posed is; “What mental, physical or spiritual wounds or scars have you used in your stories?”

The truth is … we all have scars. Whether they’re big or small or whatever, we have them. They define us as people. And the same should be said of any fictional character.

Now as a writer I don’t sit down with a particular “scar” in mind for the characters I’m dealing with. It’s really a discovery process for me. But once I’ve discovered that particular “wound” in my character’s personality I make sure to highlight it during the editing process and really draw it out.

Because being a writer is really being a student of humanity. We’re here to show what it is to be human and touch on subjects, both painful and joyful, that are often too complex to be fully expressed.

But which scars have I actually used?

Well, Trenna Dyngannon (Sedition series) had a serious issue with her mother that was really brought out in the second book of the series; Saboteur. Basically there was neglect and self-worth issues that Trenna had to battle through, which I found very interesting given how very strong Trenna is as a character.

One wouldn’t expect someone like Trenna Dyngannon to feel a sense of inadequacy, but due to close contact with her mother she finds herself struggling to remember that she isn’t actually defined by what her mother does or says.

In the Tapped series, both Seach and Jorry are deeply scarred by the fact that they had to abandon their former Captain. Relo’s absence is a deep burden for both of them given that they know exactly what has been done to him at the clutches of the government.

On top of that, Jorry and Seach are haunted by things that happened during the war. Moments that they wish they could forget, and truly traumatic orders that they found themselves bound to follow. This particular scar carries through the whole series (I’m in the middle of writing the second book now) and, inevitably, will come to a crisis point where they have to make a decision to either fight again, or try to find some other way to change the galaxy as they know it.

But perhaps the most noticeably scarred character of mine is Reesa Zimms from the book Deviation. Reesa is a science fiction novelist who has used her writing as a means of therapy for herself (no, this is not even remotely autobiographical, I promise) and in the book … well … let’s go ahead and give a snippet. I haven’t done one of those in ages.

“I’m dying, Matt,” she whispered.

She felt him move to her side, felt his knuckle graze her cheek, and heard him sigh.  “David is very good at what he does.  You should have a little faith,” he said.

Opening her eyes again she met his gaze. “And why should I be spared from a fate I forced onto the whole female race?”

He frowned, gently pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, and made a thoughtful hum.  She waited for his answer, praying it would be right.  She needed him to have an answer, to have some form of redemption for her.  Perhaps justice was served in her death, but even death-row inmates were given a chance at clemency, weren’t they?

A final prayer, a last wish, she thought.

“I think we’ve come to the matter of your own motivations, Reesa,” he said. “Tell me why you really wrote the books.”

Her heart might have stopped at the sudden wash of pain.  She certainly wished it would.  Fixing her gaze on the juncture between wall and ceiling above them, she was transported through her memory, to the small clinic exam room when she was eighteen years old.  Her mother’s voice rang loud in her ears, calling her irresponsible and thoughtless, convincing her that a child would ruin eight years of modeling competitions and progress.  And in her hand, Reesa could still feel the coarse, politely brown paper bag of contraceptives she’d been given after it was all over.

Matt made a soft, soothing sound and wiped the tears from her face.  Reesa closed her eyes, unwilling to look at him as she made her confession.

“I wrote a book where everyone was as ugly as I felt.”

Take a look at what others are saying about scarring their characters!

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/the-wounded-healer
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com