Friday, July 31, 2015

Five Enchanted Roses is Finally Here!!

Is it even possible to tell you how excited I was to get my copy of Five Enchanted Roses in the mail? No, probably not.

But I was pretty darned excited!

I just sat there for 5 minutes straight, just holding a real-live-honest-to-goodness paperback book in my hands. With MY name on it!! It was a good feeling.

I want that feeling to continue. 

On Monday evening, several of the authors of the anthology were part of a launch party hosted by Anne Elisabeth Stengl on Facebook. It was so much fun!

I thought I'd include some of the questions/answers from the launch party here on my blog, as well as any other stuff that's bouncing around in my brain and needs to be let out.

What inspired you to set Rosara and the Jungle King in the Amazon?

When I sat down to brainstorm my take on Beauty and the Beast, I wanted my beast to be something different from the mish-mash beast as seen on the Disney movie. I wanted it to be some sort of actual beast, whether real or imagined. I also knew that I wanted to have my story set in an exotic location. I had done the "once upon a time in a faraway kingdom" kind of story, and since I was writing specifically for a contest, I wanted my setting to be more memorable than that.

So, I thought of settings that I was familiar with. The first one that came to mind was Japan. Since I lived in a small, rural town in southern Japan for three years, I had a lot of schema to draw on to set the tale there. And I did write a Beauty and the Beast story set in Japan. It became Ai of the Mountain. I also thought of another setting I was familiar with, not because I had actually been there, but because I had learned so much about it, and had kinda fallen in love with it.

In college, one of my very favorite (if not so useful) classes was Anthropology. I loved this class! I loved learning all about  unique people groups that I'd previously never known about up until that point. One of the people groups I learned about was the Yanomami people of the Brazilian Amazon. They captured my imagination, and I wrote a couple of short stories for creative writing classes set in a Yanomami tribe.

Almost simultaneously with the decision to use this Amazonian tribe as my inspiration, came the realization of who my beast would be -- a jaguar. Thus, Tupa, the jaguar was born!

Did you create the magic system for your story, or is truly part of the Amazon tribes' belief system?

Most of the magic in the story has to do with the Karawara spirits. In my research for more information about the Yanomami, and similar tribes of the Amazon, I came across this phrase:

Some, like the Awa, take no stimulants or drugs but go into a trance through the power of rhythmic dancing and clapping to journey to the iwa, or abode of the spirits, where they meet the souls of the ancestors and the spirits of the forest, the karawara. 

Even though, the Awa are a different tribe, I knew that I wasn't recreating the Yanomami people exactly. I was creating my own tribe inspired by them and other nearby tribes. I loved this idea of the iwa - the abode of the spirits, and the spirits of the forest, the karawara. I couldn't really find much more information about what the iwa was, or what the karawara could or could not do, so I made up what I wanted to happen. Call it poetic license if  you must - I simply call it writing.

What advice do you have for someone submitting their story for the next contest?

Here's my two cents...

1. I feel like setting was really important. Consider these setting of the stories in Five Enchanted Roses...a pirate ship at sea, a haunted abbey, the Amazon jungle. Not your typical castles set far away and long, long ago. That's not to say that you can't have your fairy tale retelling take place in a castle or a familiar location, but then something else has to be truly unique. Turn the story on its head. Make the heroine the villain, for instance. Make something ordinary into something magical, or take something everyone assumes is good - into something truly evil. 

So, I guess I'm saying to make it unique, not just uniquely yours.

2. Write the story that you want to read. I love stories that are magical. But I also like stories that take me through strong emotions, whether that's disgust, anger, rage or wonder, awe, and enchantment. Don't be afraid to be brutal if necessary. Rosara has some very brutal scenes in it that make me squirm to read them. But, so did The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. It's okay to be be a sadist to your main character. Just don't do it in real life.

So, tip number two is to write the type of story that you like to read, but it's also to make sure that there's a lot of tension. The stakes should be very high for your protagonist - like life and death sort of high.

3. Write. Write. Write. Then re-write. Re-write. Re-write. Then ask for some help.

Get your first draft out. Fast. Don't worry about stuff that doesn't make sense. 
Misspelled words? Fuggatabout it! Just write!
Not sure what you're doing or where your story is going? Congratulations! You're a writer!!

Just get the first draft done. 

Then put it away.

Like for a week. Maybe two or three. 

Then go back and revise and/or rewrite it. Look for plot holes. Look for inconsistencies. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure your story delivers on answering the readers' questions. 

What do I mean by this?

I mean, if you add details to your story - they have to be there for a reason. An important reason. 
If the room suddenly goes dark because the lights go out, you need to let the reader know why. Was it because of the presence of a ghost? Did the power go out in the whole neighborhood? Was an electrical line cut by a serial killer on the loose? 

If you write that the lights went out, and then your protagonist just lights some candles but never says, "Hmmm...that's odd. I wonder what's going on..." then you've created a question in your readers' minds that doesn't get answered, and that's not good. So, make sure you give your readers a payoff by delivering on unanswered questions. 

That doesn't mean that EVERY thing needs to be answered. If you're going to create a sequel, then you'll want to leave some hooks that lead the reader to say, "I wonder what happens in the next book!" 

Okay, so let's say you've written your story.
You've re-written it. 
You've edited, polished and revised it to near perfection - or at least as perfect as you feel you can get without some outside feedback. Guess what it's time for!  Outside feedback!!

In other words - BETA READERS.

These are trustworthy people that you can ask to read your story and give you their honest, gut-wrenching critique of your story.

They should not be: your parents, your siblings, close friends (who are not writers - unless you REALLY trust them). Why? Because they love you too much and won't want to hurt your feelings.

You need to find some people who don't love you so much.

They can still be friends, but some distance helps. 

I have found that the best beta readers are people who are - READERS. So, if someone reads one or two books a year, it probably wouldn't help to ask them.

They should also be interested in reading stories in your genre. If they read biographies and rarely read fiction, they're not going to be as helpful to you as someone who reads a lot of fiction. It's not rocket science, but sometimes in our desperation to find someone -  anyone! - to read our stories, it's easy to give it to everyone. Don't. That's a mistake. 

I also find it very helpful to give my beta readers a list of questions to answer for their critique. These questions usually center around: When did you loose interest? What pulled you out of the story (or made you say, "That wouldn't really happen?")? What was unrealistic? What part was compelling? What unanswered questions did you have at the end of the story? 

If I ask questions like this, the readers don't feel so bad being harsh real in their answers. After all, they're just answering my questions. 

And finally, keep in mind that less than half of the people who say they will help you out, will actually do it. LESS THAN HALF. I'm not joking. I know they don't intend to make promises they won't keep, but just know that it happens. Therefore, ask twice as many people to read your story than you really need. Want five people to give their feedback? Then ask 10 if they'll read it for you. You'll be lucky if you get four. That's just how it works.

So, that's my 2 cents. I hope it's helpful. 

Above all though, don't be afraid to try! 
And keep writing!!

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