Thursday, April 29, 2010

Champagne Books - Book of the Year




So how in the hell did this happen? Like every other novel written, Rogue Dancer began as little more than a jumble of ideas, in this case bolstered by being the second book in a series. Still, it was all in my head, and ideas are a dime a dozen. Seriously, you can get some great ideas after spending one hour at a science fiction convention listening to a room full of dreamers. I had an interchange once with Todd McCaffrey who explained things quite simply. "Write a novel with good characters and people will buy it."

I would add one more caveat to his sage advice. Learn how to use the written word, and don't forget that what one pair of eyes can do, two or more pairs can do much better. Especially if those eyes belong to other writers.

Lets start with characters. This is why I write what is often termed "space opera" - science fiction where the emphasis is not on forecasting the future so much as presenting the struggle of people caught up in future events. Characters are living, breathing, imperfections of an ideal. The hero with a conflicted soul. The villian who is simply trying to do the right thing. A soldier who stares at their weapon, and asks why. No props. No cut-out comic book characters. People, in all their wonderful flaws and virtues. Rogue Dancer is about people. I clothe them in alien forms, but we are still talking people. My main character is not always smart, and not always right. She faces adversaries moved as much by a genuine fear of change as they are a perceived threat to their influence. Neither side is particularly happy with what they see in the mirror. There is also a natural longing for companionship, and a need to return to simpler times as the young woman strives for recognition from within a reluctant savior. You will see friendships born, and others frayed, as the cost of being a hero is made clear. This is how I interpret good characterization.

Amazon.com is choked with the flotsam of writers whose talent outweighed patience. VanGoghs with a bucket instead of a brush. They self-publish because no respectable publisher will tolerate the poor grammar, broken sentences, and heavy info-dumps typical of untrained writers. You have to learn how to write. Not just basic grammar, but how sentences flow. What makes a good plot, and how to control the pacing like a rising crescendo toward your grand finale. How to gently let the last refrains drift a reader into a satisfied ending. This takes time to learn - and lots of practice. Too many of the "I want it now" crowd fail to pass this crucial test, and add to the heap of garbage being processed by the various vanity presses out there. Me? I took three college-level writing courses just to get the basics tacked down. I spent years practicing with short stories, and wrote two novels that taught me much - but were not ready for prime time. In short, I learned the rules. It doesn't have to take decades, but it certainly takes more than a High School English class. Rogue Dancer is a better book than its predecessors because I continue to learn. It is the culmination of all the above and two previously published novels.

Finally, and for me the most important stepping stone in finding my novel recognized as the best written story of 2009 by my publisher, is the simple fact that I did not do this alone. Rogue Dancer went through five drafts. The fourth draft was produced through the cooperation of people with handles like "Pixie" and "Foxy". These were the writers and lovers of the English word who populate an online writing group I am still enjoying (and are currently helping me wrap up my next novel). I had five authors working over my chapters with line-by-line editing - a truly international effort spanning two continents. In turn, I was doing the same service for their work. This is "WePub", a colony of talented folks with roots in the old "IPub" effort launched by Time Warner. Most of them are published writers, on their way to being so, or simply in love with the written word. Their diligence is behind each of Rogue Dancer's pages. It doesn't stop there. The fifth draft was due to the efforts of Devin Govaere and J Ellen Smith who worked the final product into shape. The graphical talents of Amanda Kesley provided the cover, and the production/promotion was handled by Kat Hall and Tami Winbush. Odds are I forgot a name or two as well. No, Rogue Dancer wasn't just me. It was a team.

And that, dear reader, is how a Book of the Year is created.

Kerry
www.kmtolan.com

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