Monday, February 6, 2017

Whose Identity Is It, Anyway?

For as long as I can remember, I have read for a while before going to sleep.  No doubt my mom took the book from my hands, took off my glasses, and turned off the bedside lamp more times than she would have liked.  These days I aim my wee little reader's light directly at the book so as not to annoy Patient Husband.  I'm currently reading a modern French translation of a work by the woman who will be my next main character, and I'm enjoying it immensely because, although I've read dozens of her poems, this work in particular has given me special insight into her mind. I was starting to wonder if she would come to life for me--and through this work, she has--but it wasn't until I turned off the light that I realized something else.

As a writer, I naturally create characters, the world they inhabit, and the problems they face.  Even picking real people and situations from history, I have to ensure my characters are fully, believably human.  This became less of a worry when I realized that my characters represent facets of myself in one way or another.  To me that's a big part of the fun, but what I realized last night is I must identify with my main character.  She can't come to life in my mind unless we become friends, as it were.  I need to know what motivates her, what her fears are, what keeps her up at night--and at least some of those things we need to share.  Last night as I lay thinking about what I had read, I was stunned to realize how similar she and I really are, even at a remove of some 600 years.  Even my fictional depiction of my grandfather from For Two Cents, I'll Go With You resembled me as much as I resemble him--although I didn't realize it before I wrote the book.  It didn't matter that the character was male.  As I read his letters home from the war and learned about what he did in France I came to understand that we share DNA both in real life and in the fictional world I created, and it's awesome.

Of course, human nature hasn't changed over the millennia; that's why we can read the epic of Gilgamesh, Greek theatre, or The Art of War and the works will still speak to us.  As Stephen King said, "All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation."  Because human beings figured out how to put little bugs on paper--to borrow Edgar Rice Burroughs' phrase--in ways that mean something, we can pick up something as simple and as cheap as a book and instantly enter someone else's mind.  Now I know that someone is both the author and his/her creation.  No wonder I miss them when I finish writing.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Forging Ahead

Well, the Facebook page merge finally happened.  I'm not sure why they called it a merge, since everything from the second page disappeared, but at least now I only have one page to maintain.  I need to rename the page now so it's associated with me as an author instead of with just my first novel, especially since I have two books and the audiobook should appear any day now.

I'm also continuing to research my next work, and it's going very well.  I found three volumes of late-medieval poetry that have helped me enormously.  They date from 1886, and the Luddite in me rejoices that an old technology still works.  It was a real thrill finding them for sale online, thanks to  Most of the texts I need are available online, but I find it hard to read a screen for any length of time.  They're not the oldest books I own (that dates from 1865, and belonged to my great-grandfather) but they're in excellent shape, having been on the shelves of the Butler University library from 1925 according to the bookplate.  I also bought a translation of another of my main character's works in prose and another book about her life during the Hundred Years' War.  It examines her from a different perspective that I've found very interesting.  All of these books I found in reading the notes of another book, which is a large part of the fun I have researching.  My students simply plug something into Google; they never had to flip through a card catalog or dig through an editor's notes in search of ancillary texts.  I also find it very cool to read the work of people who put their words and thoughts onto paper centuries ago.  To my mind it's the ultimate form of immortality, and one I hope to establish for myself one day.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I know it's been a long time since I posted something, so here goes. In case you've been wondering, I've been elbow-deep in editing TRQ's audiobook, which I finally finished yesterday. Woohoo! It's now back in the hands of the producer to make final corrections before hopefully going live in a few weeks--just in time for the holiday season.

With that off my plate, I can dig back in to research for my current project, which is set in France during the Hundred Years' War. Lordy, what an endless series of disasters that was. Just like when I was researching my novella on World War I, I had a lot to learn, but for me that's half the fun!  I just finished Juliet Barker's book on Agincourt--very well-researched and well-written. I need to go back and review the research I've already done to get the synapses firing again, then see what else I need to read. It really helps to be able to read French--modern and medieval--which also gives me the gift of a different perspective.

 This week's mini-project has been merging my two book pages on Facebook, which is a lot more complicated than it should be, I think, but then again I'm not the most tech-savvy person on the planet.  I had to retitle both pages, then set the merge in motion.  So far nothing seems to have happened.  I guess these things take time.

It's a windy, rainy, grey day here. Perfect for reading and reflection. Peace.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Have I Been Doing??

Holy moley, it's been a year since I posted anything here.  What have I been doing, you ask?  Well, in the spring of this year I finished corrections and published the French translation of my WWI novella, For Two Cents, I'll Go With You.  I decided to "go wide", meaning that it would be available on as many outlets as I could find.  Direct2Digital is great for this, offering seven different e-publishers, including Kobo, iTunes, and B&N.  I did this because they also publish for the European firm Tolino.  Since the book is in French and Tolino is a strong competitor for Kindle in Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to try and tap into that market.  Unfortunately, the book has not gotten much traction anywhere, in English or in French.  I believe this is because war stories are just not very popular.  Top-selling genres are as follows (from strongest to weakest): suspense/thrillers, general fiction, classics, mystery, action/adventure, sci fi, romance, fantasy, religion, horror, graphic novels, and Westerns.  I did class it under action/adventure in choosing my key words, but since women are far and away the largest book-buying audience, it's been a hard sell.

I had already started working on a third novel on an early aviation pioneer, but having learned my lesson with Two Cents I changed direction and am currently reading and researching for a novel with a strong female lead set in the late medieval period.  It's been fun, digging into my grad school notes and texts and refreshing my knowledge of Old French.  As Stephen King advised in his memoir On Writing, write what you know.

I've also delved into audiobook production this spring, offering The Rogue Queen on ACX.  The book is currently being produced, and will hopefully be offered for sale within a month or six weeks.  I made the decision to try the audiobook market because, frankly, I ended up giving a lot of my e-book royalties from last year to the IRS.  I did plan appropriately for taxes on my royalties; I did not know I would have to shell out several grand to cover interest on savings bonds used to pay for our daughter's college tuition.  Once upon a time said interest was deductible if used for education, but no more.  We should have cashed in a few each year instead of waiting until her senior year, but live and learn.  Luckily I had the money available.  Hoping to tap into another revenue stream, I headed over to ACX (another Amazon company), where they make it easy to find producers willing to narrate in a clear step-by-step process.  As soon as school is out I'll be reviewing the recording as well as working on research, so it looks to be a busy summer.  I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

On Translation, Chapitre Deux

Exciting things have been happening in my writing world this spring.  Thanks to some hometown networking by my mom I now have a booth rented and book signing scheduled at the Dairy Festival July 9-11 in Elsie, MI, which is one town over from where I grew up and where my dad and grandparents are still remembered.  I'm planning on offering paperback copies of The Rogue Queen for sale as well as giving away postcards with information on the e-book and the upcoming release of novel #2, titled For Two Cents I'll Go With You.   I was able to easily reformat TRQ's blurb to put on the back of a copy of the book cover, and I delivered the props for Two Cents' cover art to Jordan, who has again graciously agreed to help me by creating the cover.  I bought a WWI hat, a Red Cross armband, and a two cent coin on eBay to use on the cover.  The coin is going to be hard to incorporate due to its size but I have complete faith in Jordan's abilities.  She did such an awesome job with my first cover; I can't wait to see how the second one turns out!  And it'll be exciting doing some marketing for my books.

I've also been working somewhat erratically on Two Cents' translation, erratically because it's the end of the school year and life is correspondingly busy.  There's also been a learning curve.  I normally don't have too much difficulty expressing myself in French, but translation is a particular skill.  In the end the Larousse website and have become my go-to sites.  Still, it's a slow process.  I'm glad I didn't wait until June to start, as it's taking about an hour a page.  I hope to improve on that now that I can work on it every day.  I've also handed over the pages I've already finished to a French-speaking friend for her input.  That, too, will help me learn what I need to do because I'm sure I'm making mistakes on every page.  Still, writing is a process.  You have to get words on the page.  So, back to the desk!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Translation

With one novel published and another waiting in the wings, what's an author to do?  Why, learn to translate, of course!  Although it might seem a whimsical choice, I did spend quite a bit of time mulling it over before deciding to tackle it.  In the first place, my second novel is set against the backdrop of World War I and takes place mostly in France.  As a French teacher with years of language study under my belt I thought it could be a good way to learn something about the language while exploring a new revenue stream.  After all, French is the most widely spoken language around the world.  I did consider translating The Rogue Queen since it's my first novel but not knowing how to handle various dialects and levels of language gave me pause, as did the novel's length (140,000 words vs. 37,400 for the second). 

With that, I did what every good researcher does--I went looking for books that would help.  I bought two.  Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais by Vinay & Darbelnet arrived first, and I've been slogging through it.  A lot of it is stuff I already know, expressed in heavy-duty academe-speak.  I did learn the official distinction between futur simple and futur proche, which is good to know, and I picked up a few other pointers, but I'm waiting on Le Guide anglais-français de la traduction to arrive from before putting pen to paper.  I don't know how or indeed if this is going to work.  Having received my fair share of negative reviews in English, I can only imagine what might happen if I try publishing in something other than my native tongue.   The French have been known to verbally flay those who have the temerity to make grammatical gaffes when speaking.  It does give me pause, although I plan to ask one or several francophone friends to read it through before publishing.  Hopefully they'll catch the mistakes I'm bound to make.

I'm going to publish novel #2 in November, in time for Veterans Day.  With any luck I'll have both the English and the French versions ready to go.  And in between time I'll be researching for novel #3!  Allons-y!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Reviews

As of today, The Rogue Queen has been live on Amazon for just over a month, selling over 200 copies.  I've gotten five reader reviews there and five on GoodReads (also owned by Amazon).  Most of my reviews have been positive, but I've gotten three negative reviews.  As a newcomer to the publishing business, I've been trying to come to grips with that, especially when the reviews seem unfair.

The first negative review claimed I hadn't done my research.  That made me laugh, as I spent quite literally hundreds of hours digging up details on clothing, fabrics, colors, food, pastimes, human armor, horse armor, hairstyles, theology, songs, maps of London and Paris, not to mention the history behind Isabelle's story in both primary and secondary sources.  I was very careful to avoid anachronism not only in the story but also in my characters' speech.  Full disclosure: I did use the word "explode" twice in a 140,000-word novel even though it would not have been in their vernacular.  I tried but I couldn't find a way around it.  Likewise, I made carefully reasoned choices about the characters as I told the story.  For example, I moved one character's birth up a season and another character was childless because it worked better.  This was upsetting to at least one reviewer but I don't think I need to make excuses for those kinds of decisions.  TRQ is, after all, fiction.

I'm having more trouble with reviewers criticizing the way my characters speak, saying it isn't "authentic to the period".  Again, I made a conscious choice to have my characters speak in a natural way.  I didn't want to write Ivanhoe, nor did I want to create a weird mashup the bloggers call "speaking forsoothly".  I wanted my characters to sound like real people.  James B. Shannon opined about an excerpt from Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom: "It derives its authenticity from its context. It contains names, activities, and values authentic to the period. The language seems less important. Cornwell’s world-building has already put us in the period and he is simply using the dialogue to reinforce what we already imagine. This type of writing puts more pressure on the author to do his or her research so that the world they are building is as authentic as possible. This then frees the author to use the dialogue simply to build character and to drive the plot forward. When considered in this light, the choice of speech and dialect seem less important."  And this is precisely what I tried to do.  Apparently, however, some reviewers felt I dropped the ball.  I could've written it in Anglo-Norman French, which was the language spoken in 14th century England--but what would be the point?  This kind of criticism recalls people nitpicking "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" because the actors didn't assume British accents.

I know that I shouldn't give a toss.  I told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it.  I'm proud of the characters I created.  Rationally, I know that you can't please everyone.  But when someone says your dialogue is worse than Fifty Shades of Grey, well, ouch.