As is usual for my blog (and, let’s face it, my personality), I’m jumping around from subject to subject – history, animals, TV, Amazon, woo hoo! This post is for the fiction writers among you, mainly self published but also traditionally published.
Story Grid Me, Baby
For a few years now I’ve been in a wonderful, amazing, transformative, insert-over-the-top-praise-here writer’s group whose goal is to look at our stories from a structural viewpoint using ex-New York editor of bestselling novels Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid principles. Coyne’s system is helpful when it comes to figuring out the major elements necessary in a story to make it “work.” And his ideas about genres’ obligatory scenes and conventions are just as revolutionary. While I think Coyne’s information is very helpful, it does go into too many details for me. When he says to list every story scene on a spreadsheet and graph it out my eyes glaze over. Gimme simple, please. I need simple. (Along those lines, a fellow writer turned me on to the 8 point story arc method, which I’ve been using with success.)
To learn more, you can buy Coyne’s book Story Grid or attend his pricey seminars, or you can read a bunch of articles on his site and listen to his podcasts and find out pretty much everything you need to know, though you will need to take said seminars if you want to become a certified editor yourself and work with clients.
No, Book Launch Me Instead!
The reason I bring Coyne up is that his marketer extraordinaire, Tim Grahl, interviewed him for a gazillion episodes of the Story Grid podcast while trying to finish his novel. Grahl, a marketer who has engineered bestselling book launches, also started a podcast called The Book Launch Show. Grahl pretty much does the same thing as Coyne did for the Story Grid podcast with the Book Launch Show: it teaches you what you need to know to launch your book successfully if you don’t want to buy his book Your First 1,000 Copies or pay for his pricey seminars in which you become a certified book launch coach.
So, that long-winded explanation aside, the Book Launch podcast provides much invaluable book marketing advice. I’ve been listening regularly since a writer named Valerie Francis (also a Story Grid Editor) came on the show to walk through her particular marketing challenges with Grahl as her mentor. That series begins on 11/20/2018 with Where do we start? The whole series is very informative, but one episode in particular has really hit it out of the park as far as I’m concerned: episode 44, The Magic Number. In it, you’ll learn:
why selling 1,000 copies is an important milestone in your writing career
average sales figures for an independently published AND traditionally published book during its first year
an actual plan for assessing the success of your marketing endeavors
why publishing your books is a long term game, with specifics
why authors fail at this long term game
why blog articles that have titles like “119 Ideas for How to Promote Your Book!” are a bunch of crap.
how to evaluate your marketing progress in a low-stress, easy way
The entire series is highly recommended, but this particular episode provides information in a manner that makes sense, is totally doable, and does not involve losing your mind over marketing.
Give it a shot! And let me know what you think. This marketing thing is a multi-headed beast and most of us writers need all the help we can get.
This year’s survey report is now available. It’s taken me quite some time to compile the results because … as you know I spent the last five weeks recovering from a plane crash.
The survey attracted 2418 participants from around the world – 84% female and 16% male.
A few highlights to whet your appetite.
AS IN PRIOR YEARS, THE SURVEY ATTRACTED HIGH VOLUME READERS– 72% read more than 20 books a year; 55% read more than 30
49% of participants USE SOCIAL MEDIA REGULARLY TO SUPPORT THEIR READING
GENDER MAKES A DIFFERENCE– among the differences—women read more than men and use social media more regularly in support of reading; men and women prefer different types of stories and different non-fiction
PRINT BOOKS REMAIN POPULAR– Of 2418 participants, 75% frequently or exclusively use print books
Not surprisingly, ENTERTAINMENT IS THE DOMINANT REASON FOR READING…
I recently had the opportunity to make use of my master’s degree in history when I gave a talk to a local writers group on how to use history to spice up your fiction writing. The idea is that history is filled with stories–millions and millions of them. Down through the ages cultures have developed, flourished, and fallen, each of them expressing a path uniquely its own. There’s little need to do extensive world-building in your story when you realize the manifold variations of government systems, religions, wars, art forms, costumes, literature, philosophy and so on that have arisen in the past. But how do you find out about such things?
Does it sound boring? Fie up on you if it does! It’s not, once you get the hang of it, and then you will find yourself lost down endless tunnels of delight, rarely to emerge, like a gopher whose treasure lie underground. Wait. Did I just compare you to a gopher? Er … a quite splendid gopher, I assure you.
Let’s get at it. You are after two things in research: primary sources and secondary sources. Both have their places and both work off one another and provide you with juicy, delectable details.
Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, photographs, artifacts, tools, and other objects. In the more modern age, primary sources can be found in interviews, surveys, fieldwork, email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups. They are firsthand experiences such as a letter about a battle from a Civil War soldier; a diary entry from the Queen of England about her coronation; photograph of a woman, arms raised in horror, after a student is shot at Kent State University in the 1970s. They can also be artifacts like ancient Greek urns with painted figures on it (beware though – some of these are downright pornographic. Naughty Greeks.). Basically, primary sources are the closest you get to what happened in the past. Consider this primary source from the beginning of Popol Vuh from 16th century Guatemala:
Secondary sources depend upon primary sources; they are the study of them and the interpretation of them. They describe, discuss, analyze, evaluate, summarize, contextualize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials are articles in newspapers or magazines, book or movie reviews, articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else’s original research, and most frequently, books and web collections. Here is an example of a secondary source that discusses the Popol Vuh:
Pretty big difference, right? Both are necessary for research. Secondary sources so you can get your head around the culture/event/person from the past in an objective, intellectual way. Primary sources are present, impactful, vivid, in your face – and studying them will inform your fiction by helping your tone, voice, setting, and more.
Okay, so now that we have terms down, here is how you are going to go about finding them. With the ….
Isn’t it beautiful? And by beautiful I mean barely acceptable, appearance wise. But the info! Oh, the info! Let’s dig in.
On the left you see those nifty arrows. You’ll start at the BOTTOM of the triangle, which are sources that are okay, and you will proceed up the triangle to sources that are better and better and more wonderful until finally you will reach the apex of amazing primary sources! *cue dramatic music*
Start with Children’s Books and/or Encyclopedias/Wikipedia
Once you have a general idea of your topic, such as Ancient Rome, I recommend that you start your research with children’s books. Say … what? Heck yeah! And not just because I’ve written a gozillion of them. Children’s books – usually middle grade, not picture books or alphabet books! – are great at distilling information down to a level that will quickly and clearly orient you to place, time, and the people/institutions associated with it.
An encyclopedia is also good for this. I often go to the juvenile section of encyclopedias to get the simplest information, and work my way up. Respected encyclopedias are the best, such as Britannica. My local library has a subscription to the online version that I access from home. Yours might as well.
I also recommend Wikipedia with a caveat. It’s good to get a general overview of a topic and to give you ideas about how and where to start more intensive research. Beware, though, because anyone can change the content and while problems are usually corrected promptly for popular subjects, this may not be the case for more obscure ones. Wikipedia is best for sources which you will find at the bottom of the page – the footnotes and underneath them, the external links. These will give you respected sites to work from.
2. General Interest Books and General Interest Books with Bibliographies
You can find these books at your local public library, or online if you prefer – Amazon, Abebooks.com or Thriftbooks.com. These books are for the general reader, not the specialist, and usually for adults. They will generally be well-written and an overall pleasure to read. In addition to the content and whatever interesting details/important figures/events you discover, you will also want to flip to the end of the book to the bibliography, which most general interest books have, though not all. Sometimes the bibliography is separated by primary sources and secondary sources. These will provide you with many more resources to follow up on.
I recommend that you use a number of different books, since each author has their own biases that color what they choose to focus on and how they present the information. For example, let’s say you are writing about Alexander the Great. You will find no shortage of books by authors who think he was a magnificent bastard who triumphantly conquered in the name of Western Civilization. And then there are those books whose authors find him to be a despicable, murderous megalomaniac. Both kinds of books are helpful but as you can imagine, they provide different evidence to support their theses.
3. Specialized Books and Journal Articles with Footnotes and Bibliographies
These books are authored by academics and can generally be found in research libraries on university campuses. They are usually not written very well and can be dry as the dust, but they can provide you with laser sharp focus into the subject at hand. I find that they can be a bit much, though, since you have to take high level scholarship and translate it to something on the page. Maybe that appeals to you, but sometimes for me it can be difficult to wrap my head around and translate into fiction.
The footnotes and bibliographies will lead you to even more resources. And thus you are deep into the gopher hole. You will begin to find the same names of authors and academics pop up again and again. These will likely be the recognized experts in the field. They will provide you with the highest quality information.
Each of these categories will also list primary sources, which makes up the next tier.
4. Primary Sources in English and Primary Sources in Native Language
As demonstrated above, your primary sources are going to give you fantastic subjective details and commentary on whatever you are studying. Those sources in English can vary (think about how many translations of the Odyssey there are) depending on the translator, so you may want to get several versions depending on what is available. The absolute best primary sources are in the native language but they are not always accessible if you don’t read Old English, ancient Persian, German, or whatever.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to find lots of information online – including primary sources. A couple of good ones are the Internet Sourcebook at Fordham University (every time period you can imagine) and StoryCorps (oral history interviews numbering in the thousands). Universities (.edu) will provide you with high quality information, as well as government agencies (.gov). Institutes and organizations can also be a good source (.org) though you may want to figure out their bias, if they have one, by reading their “About” page.
So that’s a quick and dirty look at how to do quality historical research without getting too overwhelmed by the subject and avoiding, you know, actually writing your work in progress. Like I may or may not be doing by authoring this blog post.
As someone who writes nonfiction for kids for a job, I find myself confronted with an obstacle that primarily affects me when I work on my personal fiction. Which is, I don’t want to do it. After all, for my nonfiction I have an editor and a deadline and most importantly, I get actual money from it to pay my bills. Those things get me typing away. And while I’m working on making more of a profit with my fiction, I don’t have the same motivation in terms of structure and incentives that I do with my nonfiction. So here are some things that have helped me get my words down despite the financial incentives.
Major. These actions have had the most effect on my productivity.
Goals and Deadlines. I always have one project or another in the works so for me there is no shortage of things…
This week, I’ll post three holiday activities that will get you ready for the blitz of writing you’ll swear to accomplish in New Year resolutions. Here’s what you’ll get (the links won’t be active until the post goes live):
Although Reddit can be, in the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi “a wretched hive of scum and villainy,” it is also the source of historical amusement, if you are selective about the subreddits you follow. One of my favorite is Old News, which shares interesting old newspaper articles on various and sundry subjects. A couple cat-related ones I discovered lately earn the Hiccups in History designation.
Forgive the yellow highlights, which I can’t seem to get rid of. These items are from the California Digital Newspaper collection, which lists sources from 1846 to the present.
Since I have a currently untitled Icebound tale in the works that is set in 1910’s Alaska, this one caught my eye. I wonder about how H.J. Coleman’s cat scheme turned out. It is rather ingenious, though how in the world did warmth-loving cats fare in Alaska?
And then there is this one, in which cats are meant to combat “great armies of gophers.” Did they put on armor and sally forth with tiny little swords, guns, and tanks? I’m reminded of this infamous gif:
Currently, I’m almost finished reading a wonderful nonfiction history of cats. I haven’t been able to find much in the way of real history about animals so I was thrilled to find Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Catby L.A. Vocelle of http://www.thegreatcat.org. The book relies on artwork and literature primarily to fill in the historical gaps, primarily in the ancient time periods, and even through the Middle Ages. Artwork and literature are useful in that they demonstrate the presence of cats and how they were conceived of, at least by the social class that is depicted, and they are particularly pleasant to examine–not always the case with books, unfortunately!
The author also makes use of some older histories of domestic animals published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s always a bit perilous to write a complete history of anything because an author opens herself up to claims of “but you forgot this and that” which I suppose I am super sensitive to, but this book seems to carry it off with confidence.
It is written in engaging language and focuses on particularly interesting–and sometimes tragic–instances and individuals important to feline history. It proceeds chronologically and while it is well-written, it is also largely unbiased, another important feature of historical writing. Relevant photos and pictures are provided, a timeline, lists of tombs and cemeteries in Egypt to do with cats, and a voluminous references section. In short, this book is a giant YES and will be included in my future historical writings.
If you have any other references for me to check out please feel free to leave them in the comments.
Today is a day that will live in infamy! Errr, wait a minute. I mean, today is a famous, fabulous, FANTASTIC day! For Book One of the Land, The King’s Champion, is finally available for purchase. How many years have I been writing, revising, angsting about and generally fiddling around with this book is more than I want to admit. If you like swords, sorcery, friendship, bickering, fun, drama, and dastardly deeds, this book is for you.
Anyhow, enough blathering. For, *drumroll please* ta-da ….
A nameless orphan and a despised prince must conquer a living magic that threatens to destroy them and the people of their sprawling, beautiful land.
The first book in a fantasy series of swords, sorcery, and adventure.
A generation ago, a great war convulsed Cantwin. Amidst blood-soaked battles the Stormlifter kings rose up to save the kingdom by imprisoning the dark god Moleck in hell for all eternity.
Or so they thought.
Seventeen-year-old Lance thinks his life is just about perfect now that the prettiest girl in the village wants him. Sure, he dreams of fighting far off battles, but that’s nothing more than a fantasy. Until the elders order him away to find a name for himself.
In the dazzling capital, Lance navigates court intrigues with Prince Kieran’s unlikely friendship. Yet the glitter and gold obscures a dark conspiracy. Soon the two friends find themselves propelled to the edges of the world on a desperate quest. The stakes: Lance’s life, Kieran’s throne, and the survival of the Land itself.
Hunted by assassins, and haunted by the awakening of a strange and frightful power within them, they must find proof of Kieran’s claim to the throne before a dark god’s vengeance destroys them all. For the Power is summoning a champion, and it will not be denied.
It’s this sense of fun, combined with a fast-paced series of adventures, which constantly place Lance in dangerous situations, lends a surreal atmosphere to the story, and leads readers to become more than casually involved in the outcome of his quest …. a story packed with satisfying twists, wry humor throughout, and the coming of age of a young man just beginning to realize his strengths and weaknesses. Young adult through adult readers will relish this original, lively story. – Midwest Book Review
Bundles are a thing now. Did you know that? Because I didn’t until recently. And now I’m in one! Wild! Anyhow, a bundle is when a number of authors combine their books or stories into a bundled set–also known as a box set–for readers to download. There are a few bundling sites, one of which is Bundle Rabbit. I may have signed up with them because of their association with bunnies.
Anyhow, the bundles are usually themed. Like, bunny books. Or westerns. Or Heroic Tales. Like this one, which includes 19 tales of adventure, heroism, fantasy, and derring-do:
The advantage to the readers is that they get a number of books for a low, low price. For the bundle above, the minimum is a mere $4.99 USD. OR you can pay whatever you want above this price. It’s available through Kobo, Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble, too. WAY COOL, huh?
Look at how pretty?
My contribution is my dark fantasy/ancient history inspired adventure Necropolis. It’s down off Amazon and related sites now (except for the paperback) in order for me to try some different promotions with it.
What? You say you haven’t heard of Necropolis? I’ll be generous and assume you haven’t been living under a ziggurat.
In an ancient desert city where the spirits of long dead rulers rustle through the winding streets, a prison guard is forced to save the life of a young priest whose lost memory holds the key to the fate of two cities. Become entangled in the web of political rivalries, sorcerous intrigues, headlong adventure and deep emotion that is . . . Necropolis!
If you’re a reader, give bundles a try. They are a good value, especially since Necropolis alone is priced at $3.99. If you’re a writer, look them up – the book landscape is changing at a lightning speed, and bundles are the latest storm.
At last, the day has come! What, you say? The Second Coming is upon us? Nay! My romantic historical wackadoodle novelette is here! Surely that’s of equal import … ? Err. Let’s just forget I wrote that.
Anyhow, this novelette is 10,000 words of icebergs and explosions, potions and provocations. Don’t wait to get it! Seriously. The end might be nigh.
Whiter Pastures Xina Marie Uhl
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance, Humor
A romantic novelette in the Icebound series, an ongoing collection of polar delights.
Behold dogsleds and penguins. Howling winds and cold, pitiless wastes. This is Antarctica, where the intrepid inhabitants of the frozen ends of the earth battle the terrain, and each other, to find love—in a past much like that of the early 1900s.
Reluctant spinster Florance Barton fled to the British Antarctic base to escape a scandalous love affair, among other things. Amidst the handful of other women there, Florance is the perfect chambermaid, meek, mild, and forgettable. No one has a clue that she’s also a novice spy.
When handsome young Handy McHanagan arrives at the base, he sets everyone agog. He’s charming, artistic, and … an accomplished gardener. His arrival may just be a mistake on the part of naval command. Or is it something more sinister?
Killer seals and subzero ice storms and aren’t the only danger in Antarctica: a enemy spy is on the loose. Florance has been ordered to choose between queen and country and her heart. Because penguin is off the menu now–and murder is its replacement.
So excited to get the author copies for my hi/lo readers from Black Rabbit Books! These are books for kids who have difficulty reading at their level but are curious about subjects that others are reading and not “baby” books.
You have only to browse my Comic Con or WonderCon tags to see why I am so excited to write these books. Looks like they’ll be available for purchase in September.