Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Appreciation of Serials

After suffering through a very long dry patch (18 months to be exact), I finally started a book that has survived past the 25,000-word mark. I had about five false starts on other projects, and to this day I don't know why I abandoned them. It wasn't for lack of ideas or enthusiasm. I could blame my day job, but I was still working when I wrote the majority of my current project. The only thing I do know is what worked this time.

I'm currently at 64,125 words on my current project, which is tentatively titled Starnight. I won't give too much away, except to say that the genre does contain the words young adult, paranormal, and romance. I'm still reluctant to put the words together, I guess out of fear of the inevitable Twilight comparison. I promise, however, that there are NO vampires. Anyway, when I was only a few chapters into the book, I did something I've never done before with a WIP. I sent the chapters to two of my best readers, my best friend Julia and my niece Kathy. They are a fairly safe bet: they've read and enjoyed everything I've written (with the exception of a 112,000-page sci-fi manuscript that will never see the light of day). But there's always a chance that I might bore them. After I emailed it, I started to have serious misgivings. I was still so early in the process, in that precarious, fragile stage where the tiniest thing could shut me down. If they didn't like it, or were even kind of "meh" about it, I doubt I would have continued writing it. Thankfully, not only were they enthusiastic, they were demanding! And I have to say that nothing has ever given me so much motivation to write. Every 5 to 10 days I send them what I have, and they devour it and demand more. Not just that, but Kathy has offered insightful guesses as to where it's headed as well as pointing out a couple of silly mistakes I made, and Julia calls me immediately so I can get her instant, gut reaction to specific things. It's incredibly rewarding to know what works and what doesn't (at least for these gals, and if anyone is my target audience, they are), and which characters are pushing buttons. I've made several decisions I may not have thought of based on their feedback. But most importantly, because they're excited about it, and anxious to find out what happens, I've never had more fun writing a book. I think about them now when I write: oh, they're going to love this, or hate it (but in a good way). I think I'm more anxious to hear what they have to say than they are to find out what happens. Last week I sent what I had so far to my agent, and she was frustrated that I left her hanging as well. Can't say that I'm sorry though!

All of this has put me in the mind of the lost art of serials, when authors, most notably Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, published their novels in weekly or monthly installments in magazines. The public went crazy for them. Apparently even American audiences would line up at the docks when a new Dickens serial was due for delivery, shouting questions to the crew about what was going to happen. Not only was this fantastic publicity, but it made the novels cheap and accessible to everyone. I mentioned to Julia that many contemporary writers were doing an internet equivalent: each week they post a new (and free) chapter of a novel on their website. It's a good way to develop a following. And now I've discovered another benefit -- if it catches on, it's excellent motivation for the writer. I'm seriously considering giving it a shot myself. Maybe not with Starnight, but with something completely new. The thought of writing just one chapter and posting it for free is rather intoxicating. The instant feedback, questions, criticisms and compliments would completely shape the entire novel. It would turn my whole writing process upside-down, and probably in a really good way. I've always been too private with my work, and don't give many the opportunity to provide feedback until it's already published and too late. This would almost be like a group project!

I'll keep you posted if I decide to start my own free serial. In the meantime, I want to thank Julia and Kathy for being such a fantastic audience, not just on this book, but all of them. I'm a very lucky writer.

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul

A lot of people ask me if the Shadow Fox series is YA. They usually get a resounding "No!" along with a look of horror. If they have an older teenager (or are an older teen themselves), I usually tell them I don't recommend anyone under 17 reading the series. It's not that the first book is that bad; I'd say some mature 15-year-olds could handle the first one. It's the sequels, and particularly the third book, that I'm concerned about. I have a rating system for anyone who asks. Shadow Fox is PG-13, Fox Rising is R, and Night of the Fox is NC-17. I haven't been too worried about the third book until, of course, it came out this week. Now I'm starting to get nervous.

It's a lot for an author to ask his or her readers to care about the "hero" when he's committed an unthinkable crime. Heroes are supposed to rescue, not terrorize. However, books shouldn't just reflect the lighter side of human nature. People screw up and make bad choices. They're driven by obsessions and haunted by past traumas. If they've been victimized, they often perpetuate the abuse, sometimes even switching into the role of the victimizer. One of my favorite themes to visit as a writer is the path that a victim of childhood abuse chooses as an adult. Usually I will have two people who have been victimized and showcase what happens when one chooses to perpetuate the abuse, and the other gains strength and wisdom from the experience. I understand that my portrayal of these choices will make some people really uncomfortable, but I want it known that this does not stem from an exploitative or perverse motive. I had a point to make that as awful as Jared's genetic disease is, his psychological issues are worse. As a reviewer so poignantly pointed out, "There are no monsters to blame the evil on, just the human soul and the depths to which it can sink." The inherent message which I hope will come across despite all the ugliness, is that we all have the power to self-destruct or not, and we can't use our traumatic pasts as excuses for depravity.

If you've come on the journey with me so far, I hope you'll hang in there to see it through to the end. I promise that there will be a lot of incredible things that happen on the way, not just the traumatic ending. I also promise that my next fantasy will be much lighter fare; I think we could all use a breather.

Many thanks to Darkiss Reviews who just gave me the most amazing review of this final volume, along with hope that the message will get through after all. http://www.darkissreads.com/2011/09/jared-dunefaellan-captain-of-kings.html

Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist