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.

About Reviews – April Round Robin

My mother always taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. While I haven’t always followed that advice, I’m certain many authors wish critics would.

I’ve had one or two reviews that scoured my work to the bone, which … let’s be honest here … required a pint of ice cream to get me through. Mint chocolate chip is the greatest comforter in times like these.

But when push comes to shove, negative reviews are always the ones that I learn from. I’m not a world-renowned author, not yet, and I’m still honing my craft. So anything that teaches me how to be better is good.

Sometimes painful, but good.

Positive reviews help sell a book, but not nearly as much as word of mouth. Like it or not, people talking about your book is still the number one way to push those sales up – or so all the professionals tell me.

I’ve sent my books out to reviewers for their honest opinions and come back with some positive results there, but those results never last for very long. To be honest, sometimes the only result of a positive review is my own feeling of accomplishment; somebody read my book and understood what I was trying to say!

Since Sedition was first published eight years ago I’ve held a 4.36 star average on Goodreads and about the same on Amazon, which I suppose is quite good considering there are a lot of things wrong with my early novels. But the only thing this knowledge serves is to push me to become better.

Maybe it sells one book every three months or so, but at the end of the day it still only pushes me to be better. I don’t have time to check reviews every day or even every week. I check them once or twice a month, see if I have anything new, and then I get back to work.

See what some of my fellow authors think about reviews …

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/how-to-get-reviews
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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

 

Endings

I am on the final chapter for Usurper. There’s an epilogue I’ll write next week (whilst on a plane headed East) but this is the … oomph! chapter. It’s been a long, hard ride for Usurper, but I finally feel confident with what I’ve done.

Several weeks from now I’ll hate it, that’s just the way my writer-brain works, but for now I’m confident.

Endings are … difficult.

I always knew where this book ended, I had a clear picture of that in my mind, but getting there and pulling out the details and digging deep into each character to present how they changed and whatnot …

Yeah, that’s hard.

Usurper is the third installment of my Sedition series. Trenna fans have been waiting a super long time for this one so it was important to me that I get it right. Without giving any spoilers, I can say that there is at least one more book – tentatively titled Warpath – and that there may even be another.

I’ll know more once I do the outline for Warpath.

For now, however, I will have Usurper completed by March 31st and will move into the edits for Dead Weight – the second installment of the Tapped series.

Why yes, I’ll be using Camp NaNoWriMo to really push my batoosh into gear when it comes to these edits. With any luck, I’ll have a completed 2nd draft of Dead Weight by June and then a 3rd revision completed in July and then … Polishing/Galley proofs done in August and then …

I hope to release Dead Weight the first Tuesday of September.

This is me throwing confetti for goals and deadlines. Now excuse me because … that’s a lot of work and I should get to it.

March Round Robin – Emotional Rollercoasters

Topic: Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?

Every once in a while there is a solid thumping sound emanating from my desk. It alarms the cats most days but I think my son is mostly used to it.

Alright, so three or four times a week there’s an incessant banging going on in my little corner. This is the sound my head makes as it smacks repeatedly into my keyboard. It generally happens when I’m having to deal with one of the “problem” characters.

Right now that character happens to be Liana, who I’ve talked about before. She’s just too full of angst for me to deal with and I can’t handle her for more than a few minutes at a time. But I’ve had other characters that drain me. Brodis Windringham from Saboteur was a deeply bitter man who put me through a ringer.

Generally speaking, having to write in the antagonist’s voice is always difficult. Their scenes only ever range between 600-1000 words long but once I’ve finished, I have to run off to soak in a bath or take a long walk through the park. Anything to refresh my mind.

Death scenes drain me too.

One particular character died near the end of a book and it took me a week to recover. I gorged myself on mint chocolate chip ice cream and Netflix that week, and once I got back to work it was still traumatic for me.

I suppose that if the death of a character can affect me in such a way then my characters feel very real to me. And in truth they are all, in some fashion or another, a part of who I am. Or at least a sample of traits I would like to inhabit; Trenna with her fearlessness, Megan with her gentle bravery,  Seach’s selflessness, Elsie’s sense of duty …

You get it.

The characters on the page are alive because they display the gamut of human behavior. I imagine this is the same as when you’re reading a favored book. Take, for instance, The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. I recently reread this series from start to finish (it’s 3 books long and includes Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess) and I was asking myself why I loved them so much.

These books can be found in the young adult section, which I rarely read but in this instance I find the books beautiful. Clare’s handle of language, the way she weaves classics into the narrative and lets books affect the characters on the page, never ceases to impress me.

Beyond that, however, are the characters themselves. Tessa and Will and Jem are unique and yet, they couldn’t possibly exist without each other. Together they tell a story of love and loss and grief and hope; a story I am very grateful to have been able to read.

It is my hope, and I imagine it is the hope of every author out there, that their characters come alive for those who take the time to read. It’s only when those characters really breathe on the page that they have any hope of being memorable.

So, essentially, if the characters didn’t feel real to me, then I think I would have missed the whole point of being an author.

Join our Round Robin discussion this month and take a peek at what some of my fellow authors have to say about emotionally draining scenes and the realness of characters on the page …

Participants:
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Dr. Bob Rich htt  http://wp.me/p3Xihq-Wo
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Camp NaNoWriMo

 

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Nuisance will likely keep me from working too much this April.

April 1st signals the start of another Camp NaNoWriMo, which is one of those events I look forward to. If you’ve never heard of it, you can visit their page here. In short, they’re kind of an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month, they just take certain months throughout the year to have another little get-together for writers.

 

You can work on a brand new novel or you can do what I’m going to be doing this year … Editing/rewriting a novel. I hope to have all of the original work edited by April 30th so that all of May can be spent on new chapters.

Currently, I am wrapping up the last 3 chapters of Usurper and will have that manuscript completed on March 28th.

Why March 28th?

Well, because I’m going on vacation that day. I could get some work done on the plane if I

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Pest will likely crawl in my lap and force me to work. 

wanted, and likely will, but I’d rather have the bulk finished before the first boarding call. That way I can enjoy said vacation and return home relaxed and ready to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo.

 

If you’ve never tried any of the writing months and you’ve been toying around with the idea, I highly recommend one of the camps. They are a bit more relaxed than the big event in November and, at least for me, I tend to celebrate any work that gets on paper that month.

 

 

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.