marthawells: (Stargate)
* The True Queen by Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown) came out yesterday, and she has a great post here about her experience writing it: My Publishing Journey: How to Write Second Book. I think it will resonate with a lot of writers.

I had second book syndrome in spades. Two things contributed to this. The revision process for my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown had been extensive and emotionally challenging. Now, I have absolutely no doubt it improved the book, and it also developed writing muscles I hadn’t even known existed. But by the time I was done with the book — or by the time it was done with me, which is more how it felt — I had spent so long considering external feedback, working in a way that I found quite counter-intuitive, that it was very hard to find my way back to the inner voice that tells you what you want in your writing, what you are trying to achieve.

The second thing was the attention. Sorcerer wasn’t a huge bestseller or anything like that, but it did receive a measure of buzz and it led to far more people reading my work than ever before. This was great and what I’d been working towards, of course, but it was also stressful. Suddenly I had to contend with the pressure of reader expectations. I really, really wanted to get the second book right. I was terrified of putting a foot wrong, and that’s death to creativity.


I think it helps me to remember, when I'm buried neck-deep in the writing process, that everything about writing is stressful. Failure is stressful, success is stressful, even the fun parts are stressful. Writing is about making decisions, and pursuing a career in a creative field is about change, and decisions and changes are inherently stressful. As humans we can get decision fatigue just by going to the grocery store, and a novel is nothing but a series of hours, days, months, and sometimes years of nothing but decisions.

I'm working on the last third of Network Effect, the Murderbot novel, and the whole process has been very slow. Murderbot's ability to have multiple physical perspectives on a situation (its own eyes, security cameras, drones, other systems it has access to) all bring it information that has to be acted on and it makes the logistics and action scenes very complicated. I'm not a writer who outlines and I like to build my plots organically, so I'm used to a lot of revising as I go along. But with the Murderbot novellas and the book I've been writing 20,000 words, then cutting back to around 5,000 and starting over again, over and over.

I'm basically chasing that little feeling in the back of my head that says yes, this bit is right. (The little feeling only tells you when it's right, it doesn't tell you why things are wrong or how to fix them. It's like walking barefoot in the dark over a giant floor covered with legos, trying to feel for a lost marble.) Now that I'm on the last third of the book and the first two/thirds feels pretty solid, I'm hoping I'm on the right track. (knock on wood)

So this is a long way of saying that if I'm distracted or unable to make decisions about very simple things, that's why.
marthawells: (John Green Trees)
Sorry it's taken me so long to start getting to these, I've just been really distracted lately. Also, I went ahead and deleted my tumblr last night.

[personal profile] bravolimapoppa3 asked The Three Worlds is one of my favorite fantasy settings - largely because it's got such mind blowing scenery (a graphic novel or coffee table book would be amazing). Are there any landscapes or scenes that you didn't get a chance to use?

I always wanted to do more with the shallow seas, like having someone travel across one by wading from sandbars to islands to weird floating platforms. I never got to really go anywhere alone or explore much when I was a kid, so I guess I've been fascinated by being able to go someplace interesting by just walking through it.

[personal profile] ecmwrites asked I am working on the 2nd draft of my own first novel. I have shifted the POV from 1st person to 3rd because of world building issues. I am finding it harder to write the characters in 3rd - less intimate and more exposition required.

Could you comment on your approach to this? I was engaged by both Moon and Murderbot but must admit to feeling closer to Murderbot. (LOL where but here would I get to write that sentence? )

When I was first working on my first novel (The Element of Fire) which was in third person, I felt like I was having a lot of trouble really getting into the characters, like it was much less intimate and distancing. But I really didn't like writing in first person, because I didn't feel I was getting the character voices right and I guess at the time it was too intimate for me. What I've evolved into is what's usually called "third person personal" where you stay very tight in the characters point of view, and color your third person prose so it sounds like that character's thoughts, even though it's not in first person.

Before Murderbot, I'd experimented a bit with first person but had only published one story in it, back in 1995. I'm not sure why I did Murderbot in first person -- I think it was just the whole structure of the stories needed that extra level of intimacy.

I think it just takes a lot of writing and experience to find a style that works for you.

[profile] playswithworm I'm fascinated by the idea of the Aeriat and Arbora being a blended species (reminds me of some of the research on human evolution and evidence that early human branched out into different species and then interbred again, more a braided stream than a branching tree) and was wondering if you have anything worked out on how that went down originally?

I haven't really come up with any story scenarios, but I do kind of imagine that the Arbora were native to the Reaches, and the Aeriat actually traveled there from somewhere else and encountered them.

[personal profile] mizstorge My husband used to be a security consultant, and he loves your Murberbot books. You got the details right, and he's very curious as to where you learned the business so well...?

Oh cool, I'm glad he thought so! I haven't worked in security, but I have worked in software development and computer support back in the 90s and early 2000s, and had to deal with security for computer systems online and also in physical spaces, and that probably helped a lot.


[personal profile] spatz asked Feel free not to answer if spoilery, of course, but do you know how old Murderbot is? I imagine even it doesn't know with the memory wipe(s), but the way it talks about SecUnits being expensive and the equipment descriptions and stuff, it could be decades old? It's so cynical and jaded, of course, but I can't tell if that's 'I've seen too much shit over the years' old hand style, or young, hollow-eyed, jaded veteran style.

I haven't worked it out exactly, but I think it would have to be at least two to three decades old. The memory wipes really do confuse the issue. But I imagine SecUnits, especially ones that have built up a lot of client experience, as being really expensive and hard to replace so the company would go to a lot of effort to keep them operational. And the longer Murderbot had been part of the company system, the more chances it would have had to pick up the code that would eventually allow it to hack itself.
marthawells: (Stargate)
[profile] kjbooklog asked: It seems that Arbora are very curious about the outside world, but are almost never allowed to leave their court. Do they ever run away?

No, because they aren't human, and don't think/feel about it like humans would. They live in a very hostile environment, and they would find being alone outside a court terrifying and exhausting, partly because of their subliminal mental connections to the court and the queens. Living in tightly knit groups is part of their evolution and culture, even pre-Aeriat.

And now that they're trading with groundlings who make flying boats, will we start to see small groups of Raksura (Aeriat and Arbora) running around having adventures?

There were always small groups of Raksura who had adventures. The first contact with the Golden Isles was made by Solace and Sable, a queen and consort pair who led explorations for long distances around Indigo Cloud's eastern colony, which was how Stone knew to send Jade and the others there to get help. It's not uncommon, particularly in large healthy courts.

[personal profile] dranon asked: The probably silly one first. I love the Raksura (and will eventually figure out how to make a good costume wing), but I've never quite been able to get a feel for their size. Are the Raksura (and other races) more or less human sized, and the colony trees absolutely enormous, or are the colony trees about the size of large redwoods and the Raksura scaled to match?

Ooh, I hope you can make a costume because that would be awesome.

They're more or less human-sized, and the mountain-trees are that enormous. Think about an average big city skyscraper, but maybe three to four times as wide, and that's what the trunks are like.

The writing-related one, which I hope I haven't asked too badly. You've commented that Murderbot was rough going for you to write. Are you happy with the stories and the novel deal in spite of that? I, and many others, think the results were well worth it (and your Hugo looks very festive in the picture you posted the other day), but writing is hard enough already.

I'm actually very happy. When All Systems Red came out, I was completely not expecting my weird little robot novella would take off like this. At most I've hoping it would get some more attention and readers for the Raksura series. This has been a wild ride and I am dealing with some anxiety issues because I'm used to a certain level of attention as a writer and it's going to take some time to get used to more. But while the writing is hard, it's very rewarding in a lot of ways. I'm happy with the result, even when it's take two to three times the work to get there.


If you have any questions, general questions about publishing (how it works, agents, etc), or a writing advice question, or a question about my writing, or my books, or cats, or anything else I've been doing, ask in this post and I'll try to answer it.
marthawells: (John Green Trees)
[personal profile] bedlamsbard asked I'm on a Raksura reread (which I do at least twice a year!), and one thing I've been wondering is if queens mate with Arbora? I know we mostly get Moon's POV on consorts and Arbora (and producing mentors and warriors), but is it equally common for queens and Arbora, or is that something much rarer?

It's not common, but it would happen, if the Arbora ended up with a bloodline that needed to be combined back into the royal Aeriat bloodline. And a queen mating with a mentor would probably be more likely to produce queens or consorts than a queen mating with a regular Arbora.

[personal profile] nenya_kanadka asked Was there anything that struck you as different about the process of writing and/or publishing YA vs adult SFF?

I think YA is a lot bigger and produces a lot more income for publishers than people outside publishing realize. I still have people telling me confidently "kids don't read anymore" when anybody who's seen a library (or been to the ALA) knows this absolutely is not true. School and public libraries buy tons of books, and if I'm remembering right, YA and other books for younger readers tend to sell more in hardcover than ebook and audio. (Audio is much bigger than it used to be, now that you can get audiobooks on your phone or MP3 player, but it trends more for adults who can now listen to books while doing other things.) Libraries tend to buy truckloads of YA, sometimes 3-5 copies of a book per library. (Not for the whole library system, but for each individual library.)

With adult books, you can have any age range of character from babies to ancient, but in YA publishers usually want a character who's an older teenager. Also some publishers really want you to hit a particular tone: not too young (which puts the book back a few years into middle grade) and not too old (which might put it forward into adult). But you do see a lot of YA books that have crossover with middle grade and vice verse, and a lot of adult and YA crossover. (There's an attempt to categorize the last one by calling it New Adult, but it doesn't take in the number of books with older characters that are still popular in the YA market.)

I think the interesting thing about YA is a lot of it is hard to characterize, which goes back to its origin of librarians pulling adult books for readers who had aged out of the children's section. It can be any genre, literary, romance, SF/F, mystery, or combination of genre. It's very unique in commercial publishing and I think that's why there's so many attempts to categorize it very specifically, and then YA books that don't fit those specific characterizations will pop up and become bestsellers.

This is very rambly, but basically YA can be more difficult to succeed in than adult books, not because the audience is difficult, but because publishers often have very different ideas of what YA is and what YA needs to be popular.


If you have any questions, general questions about publishing (how it works, agents, etc), or a writing advice question, or a question about my writing, or my books, or cats, or anything else I've been doing, ask in this post and I'll try to answer it.


Dec. 12th, 2018 07:35 am
marthawells: (Miko)
I haven't done this in a while (according to the tag, since 2017!) so:

If you have any questions, general questions about publishing (how it works, agents, etc), or a writing advice question, or a question about my writing, or my books, or cats, or anything else I've been doing, ask in this post and I'll try to answer it.
marthawells: (Miko)
This has been a week of extreme highs and lows. The high points were awesome but the low points are...low.

I've got news I can't share yet so this is kind of a boring post. I need to get back to my book rec posts but Fridays are kind of a bad day for them.

We were supposed to have a hurricane but it turned and is now torturing a different part of the country.

Oh, I did a Reddit r/Fantasy AMA yesterday, and got a great question on Worldbuilding:

Question: One of my favorite things about your books is the incredible detail and authenticity to the cultures and societies you create. I've read City Of Bones and your Raksura books and I am always immediately engaged when the characters travel to a new city. The residents, architecture, customs, languages, and overall presentation feel well rooted and historical. It really adds an incredible flavor to your writing and inspires me to improve my own.

Are you willing to describe the process in which you develop a new city? When you sit down to create a new location, how you start the vision and do you have a system in how you begin to add layers of detail until the city/town/society feels authentic?

Me: Thank you so much!

I use different methods for different types of book. For the Ile-Rien books, where the locations are based more on real-world places, I did a lot of research into cities in similar cultures, climates, environments as my imaginary city. For the Raksura books, I tried to think of a neat setting for a city, then tried to make it as weird and extreme as possible. Like the Turning City, Keres-gedon, which started out as just a camp in the mountains.

Basically it's a process of coming up with an element you want in your city, like canals. You look at cities with canals, like Venice, and maybe Angkor Wat. What are the canals used for? Transportation, a reservoir, entertainment, defense, etc. You think about how the environment and climate of your city is going to affect your canals. Can they freeze over? Are they affected by drought? Sewage? Plant growth? Underwater monster issues? Etc. Why or why not are they affected by these things? Once you make all those decisions, you decide how they affect the inhabitants of the city, their culture, their everyday life. It can be simple or complicated, and ideally, it leads to ideas that can further characterization and plot. And the big thing to remember is that the reader doesn't need to know everything you know about your canal system. They'll be able to infer a lot from the bits and pieces they see as your characters move through the story, and the sense that the city is operating by a logical system is more important than knowing the exact details.

I also don't usually figure out too many of the details of my settings in advance, since I'm going to concentrate mainly on the parts my characters are interacting with. Like most of the city may be sketched in, but the characters are going to need this little train system and this temple hospital, so those bits are going to get more attention and development. Also keep in mind that cities change over time, with new buildings, new roads, and what stays in place and what gets built over or torn down all say things about the people who live there.

It also helps not to set too many boundaries. You never want to tell readers that there's nothing over the mountains, because it's going to make the world feel closed in, like a puddle instead of a huge mysterious ocean. And if you keep writing in this setting, you may eventually need those empty places to put things in.

I hope that helps!



I have a signed copy of The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red in the Authors for Grenfell Tower Auction:

There are tons of other great items up for auction to benefit the tower fire victims. Please check it out or pass it on.
marthawells: (Default)
(repost of something I wrote earlier this year)

I wanted to do a blog post about getting through writing slumps, because of something someone said on Twitter. (I can't remember what it was now, but that's how my brain rolls lately.)

A lot of people talk about the mid-book slump. Writing the beginning of a book is exciting, everything is new, you're creating the world, meeting the characters for the first time. The end is also exciting, because all the plot threads are tying up and you should be done soon.

The middle is the hard part, where you have to make the magic happen and start pulling things together, increasing the complication but starting to find answers to mysteries. You have to make all the cool stuff you came up with in the beginning make sense.

Sometimes it feels like a slog, and that's when you want to quit and go write something else. You want that really, really bad sometimes. If you do that with every book you write, it's going to be a problem and end up getting you zero finished books. (This, by the way, is why agents, and publishers who take unagented submissions, only want to see finished books from new authors. It's a lot easier to start a book than to finish it, and they want to make sure you can finish.)

So if your book middle feels like a horrible slog and you'd rather go out and shovel snow or haul rocks or dig holes in the back yard, it isn't necessarily a problem.

One thing I've noticed about myself is that if the writing doesn't come easily (and it's not just because I'm tired or unwell or stressed etc.) then the chances are good that there's a problem that part of my brain is aware of even though the rest of me is willfully trying to ignore it. Figuring out what that problem is can be tricky, but first you have to figure out whether it's actually a problem.

*I think you do need to ask yourself if it's just that you're tired and need to apply more hard work?

* Or is there an actual problem? Is it a pacing issue, are things moving too slowly?

* Are the characters still in character, are you making them act in ways you kind of know they wouldn't just to make your plot work?

* Is there something you're trying to do now that needs more setup earlier in the book? Did you forget to put in something you know you really needed?

* Or are you actually getting bored with your plot? Because if you're bored with your plot, readers may be bored with it too.

If you're saying: "I have to write this part and I don't want to." Ask yourself: Do you really have to? Is it necessary for the plot, characterization, the story? Why don't you want to? Is it not right for the pacing, slowing things down when it should be speeding things up? Maybe it doesn't need to be there.

If you don't like it anymore, it's okay to make something else happen instead.

You can always take a step back and re-imagine your plot. You should know the characters better at this point; maybe your plot needs to change to accommodate that. (It's often hard for some writers to create a character in a vacuum. It's only when I write characters interacting with other characters that I start to get a real sense of who they are and how they behave under stress.)

What is the coolest, most exciting thing that could happen here that will still fit the story you want to tell? Maybe you should be writing that instead.

Your plot is not carved in stone, even if you did an outline. One thing I've found out over and over again is that plot points can sound great in the outline and it's only when you start actually writing those scenes that you see the flaws.

This is where experience and understanding how your own writing brain works is important. The only way to get experience is of course to keep writing through those middles, no matter what you have to do to conquer them.


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