Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: March 2014

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Research. Also Being Rusty.

Tonight I'm researching things I'd rather not have to research because I wish they didn't exist. There's a scene in Soulwoven: Exile that was very difficult to write, and that it's extremely important to me not to get wrong. So. Research. Dark Things. Frightening Things. A whole mess of unpleasantness that taps my pysche in all kinds of unsettling ways.

And it's Monday, and that's one of the days I blog now, and I don't really have anything else to talk about.

Oh! Except being rusty. Good. Let's focus on that because it's less of a bear to write about without spoiling. Also, it's a happier subject.

This morning I finished making revision notes on Soulwoven: Exile and started revising. At the end, actually. Because one of the great tricks of a good novel is the way the end wraps around to the beginning, and the end wasn't working quite right. I need to nail it down before I go back to the beginning and make sure the circle closes.

It's been a month and half since I wrote anything new, and man, am I rusty.

Returning to writing after a layoff is always a little bit terrifying. I'm never sure whether it's going to come back, or whether I'm just going to keep on sucking as much as I do for the first however-many-hours-it-takes-to-get-out-the-kinks. Inevitably, it comes back, and then I get better. Thank God.

But right now, I feel like a shadow of the writer who finished Soulwoven. And having spent most of the last month and a half staring at the pages of Soulwoven, I'm not sure how I'm ever going to achieve that level of polish again.

I will. I'm quite certain of it, because that's how this whole thing works. You just keep spitting and polishing and spitting and polishing until it shines. And the thing that is Soulwoven: Exile lying underneath the grime of I-haven't-polished-this-yet is going to be beautiful. It's better than Soulwoven. It may even be much better than Soulwoven. The final paragraph (which only became the final paragraph this morning, after I snipped off some extraneous bits) gave me shivers. I will get the rest of it to look like that too eventually.

But in the meantime, I'm scared. And that's normal. And I say that because I don't think there's anyone in my life who isn't scared about their career sometime, no matter how good they are at it. And if you're reading this, there's a reasonable chance you think I do a decent job as a writer. Maybe if I'm honest about how terrified I am of sucking sometimes you'll think of it someday when it can help you.

And that would be wonderful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

News for the Week of 3.28.14: Back at Work!

Greetings, gentle readers!

It's been a while since I've given you an update on what I'm writing. That's because, well, I haven't been writing. Handling all the launch whatnot for Soulwoven, plus all the work I put off while I was making it ready for publication, has had me absolutely overwhelmed. It hasn't felt good, honestly.

But this week I got back on the horse! I've been cruising through the current draft of Soulwoven: Exile, which continues the story, and making revision notes. I should be finished with that in a few days and on to actually making the revisions, which is where the real magic happens.

It feels really, really good to be writing again. Exile is a darker and more mature beast than the first book was. It's been fascinating for me to read the reviews of Soulwoven as they come in. I've noticed in particular how many people are pointing out how the structure of the book---the heroic quest---is a bit, well, old-fashioned. Authors With Big Names aren't really writing those anymore.

Well, Exile's not a heroic quest. It's the aftermath. One of my reviewers compared Soulwoven to Lord of the Rings (we're talking broad strokes here, not enduring literary merit). If you take that comparison to the next book, Exile's what you might've gotten if Tolkien had spent a whole book exploring what happened to everyone on their way home, and if what happened was a little more frightening and difficult than chasing a defanged Saruman out of the Shire.

So that's what's on my mind. It feels like I'm sailing again after a month in port. The wind's in my hair and the sun is shining, and I've let the sheets out as far as they'll go. I hope to have bits of Exile to start sharing with you in the next few months.

Yours always,
Jeff

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lucy Hounsom on the Importance of Fantasy

Another post today coming from Fantasy Faction, where Lucy Hounsom penned an excellent article about what makes fantasy important. Most salient quote to me:

The camaraderie we feel with well-crafted characters – of shared trials while questing – is one of the reasons I started reading fantasy. I was an unsociable, diffident teenager and a bit of a loner frightened to make friends. The physical and psychological transition from childhood to adulthood is the hardest we face as individuals, and many of us find ourselves reaching out to others in the same situation. I found myself reaching out to characters that lived in entirely different worlds. That was part of their gift. Unable then to adjust to an adult world full of novelties, I felt that I could only grow with – and learn from – those who fought their battles and faced their demons in the realm of myth.
This is one of the reasons I write (and read, and edit) fantasy as well, and it's the reason I decided at a very young age to dedicate a life in which I believed I could've done just about anything to telling stories. I was not an unsociable and diffident teenager, but I still found the transition from childhood to adulthood incredibly difficult. I still needed stories. I too found what I was after in fantasy, and I have always wanted to give something back---or pay something forward, put more accurately---to it.

And I will be looking forward anxiously to Lucy's first book in 2015, since it seems we're cut very much from the same kind of cloth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Easter Eggs

When I was a kid, I used to hunt for Easter eggs a lot.

Not just the plastic kind my parents used to stuff with jelly beans and chocolate (though I did that too, and loved it). I hunted for the kind that video game developers left in their games. I hunted for them in books too, though I didn't know to call them that at the time.

The term "Easter egg" in that context refers to a little prize or extra feature hidden in a book or game (or other form of media). Wikipedia's got a pretty good definition going. The hunt for Easter eggs in games with vibrant communities tends to be a pretty exhaustive affair, with players combing the game en masse and compiling lists for others. People do it in books too.

Soulwoven has a few. Not a ton, but they're in there. I won't spoil them all, but I'll give you one to start out with in case you're a dedicated egg hunter. Turn to page 341 (about halfway through Chapter 47 for those of you with the e-book). Read this poem, which I did while writing the book. Ta-da!

More interesting ones have to do with hints at what's coming in the next book. Once you've read Exile, come back and have a look at Chapter 24. It's stacked with 'em.

Y'know, it occurs to me that with the advent of e-books, we could be doing a lot more in terms of Easter eggs with the application of a little clever HTML. In fact, someone cleverer than me probably already is.

Hmm. Food for the mysterious machine in my brain that crunches ideas and turns them into books. Wonder what I can do with it.

Anyway, happy spring! And if you celebrate Easter, either with church or with bunnies and jelly beans, I hope you enjoy it. A month from now, which you wouldn't know from the displays in my grocery store.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hubris and Its Wages

I put the last of the hand-annotated copies of Soulwoven for domestic Founder's Circle backers in the mail today. Still a few more copies to go overall, but for the most part, the mad sprint around the book's launch is now over, and I've got a few thoughts to share on hubris.

One of the wonderful things about creating these hand-annotated copies was that doing so let me go over the book again and again and again, moving through it at a pretty good clip and picking out themes and relationships between scenes and characters and chapters that I hadn't put in there consciously (there were also things I did put in there consciously, and I saw those too, but they were less interesting to me because I expected them).

In several copies, I found myself making the following note, or one very much like it:

A lot of the stories in the book are about hubris and its consequences.

This is quite true. Quay, the prince who leads his friends out of their homes without fully understanding his own limitations, is a lesson in hubris. Len, the Aleani who's spent his life hunting a necromancer and who continues that hunt in the face of everyone important in his life telling him to abandon it, is another. Leramis gets his own brief, painful lesson partway through the book.

I got my own lesson in hubris with these hand-annotated copies. I knew I could do them. But I'd never done them before, and in light of that, I probably ought to have set my sights a little lower than 26 copies for my first go. Today was the first day in about a month that I haven't had to spend three or four hours after work making one of those copies. I laughed aloud when five o'clock rolled around and I set down my normal work for the day, because I realized I felt like I was on vacation because I didn't have any work to do tonight.

I don't want to make it sound like I didn't enjoy making these books; I did. They're works of art (their quality is up for debate, but they're art nonetheless) in and of themselves, and each one's unique. I did about as many line drawings in the last month as I have in the rest of my life combined, and some of them turned out really beautifully. There's a depiction of the gull's feather in chapter 41 in someone's book that's among the best visual art I've ever made. I got to know the story I told more intimately as well; I realized that Dil's decisions shape the narrative perhaps more than any other character's and that hers is the only full hero's journey in the book, and I absolutely love that.

But I also got a lesson in my limitations while working on a book in which several characters receive painful lessons in their limitations. There's a certain irony in that that doesn't escape me.

Writer, beware thyself.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Some Thoughts On Marketing

As I swing from the production part of publishing Soulwoven over to the marketing part, people have been asking me questions about it. One of those questions turned into a pretty interesting conversation via text message this week, and I thought I'd present it here for the edification of anyone who's interested.

Voila!







I find I use the words "Haha" much more often in text messages than I do at any other time in life, which is to say at all. But at least I still speak in sentences. ;-)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Michael Martinez on Self, Hybrid, and Traditional Publishing

Mike Martinez, for those who don't know, writes an incredible hybrid blend of science fiction and historical fantasy, in which tall ships battle for control of the solar system rather than the New World (full disclosure: I edited his novella The Gravity of the Affair, so I'm not exactly unbiased). So it's only fitting that he's a hybrid author, and he took the time recently to weigh in on a brouhaha in the publishing world forming around a survey of author earnings done by a prominent self-published author and his partner. The survey in question grabbed a bunch of data from Amazon and crunched it to try to compare average earnings of various types of authors.

There's been a lot, and I mean a lot of vitriol floating around concerning this survey.

Mike took a more peaceful approach, one shared by a lot of authors, including myself, and I wanted to share it with you.

There are an awful lot of reasons to publish a book, and the various approaches to doing so will suit you better or worse depending on what your reasons are. One book may have different reasons than another. Your reasons may change as your career progresses, and it's a good thing that authors can and are moving fluidly from one publishing model to the other and back as it suits them. Personally, I love working with authors who were self-published as an editor; they tend to be better educated about the industry than those who never went through that crucible.

I'm also immensely enjoying being my own publisher. It's teaching me a lot.

And for what it's worth, I haven't read much that's self-published that's as good as Mike's books are.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Some Thoughts on Gardening

Yesterday, Stephen Deas posted a thought-provoking article over on Fantasy-Faction (where I've been writing reviews of indie books this year) about one of George R. R. Martin's quotes on writing and the idea of authors as gardeners and architects.

One of his points, about the move toward multi-point-of-view narratives in fantasy in recent years, struck a chord with me.

As an aside, here’s a thought: is ensemble fantasy with no clear central character a relatively new thing (although Lord of the Rings arguably splits the lead between Frodo and Aragorn)? Does the rise of this type of story owe anything to table-top roleplaying games, the goal of most of which is to tell a story using an ensemble cast of roughly equal status? Has Dungeons and Dragons trained a good swathe of modern fantasy authors towards a certain kind of storytelling?

It was an interesting idea, but one I didn't quite buy. The roots of fantasy run deep, deep, deep, into the realms of mythology and religion. So I commented.

I do think that wandering stories with no one main character are as old as stories themselves though. It’s been a while since I read the Iliad, but my recollection of it is that it wandered all over the place and let many characters share the spotlight. It is, after all, the Iliad. It’s about Troy, not about Achilles or Agamemnon or Paris or Hector or Helen alone. Shakespeare (not a novelist, but what fantasy writer isn’t familiar with Midsummer Night’s Dream?) certainly didn’t confine his plots to one main character. And while Dickens (not a fantasist, but for my money as much a contributor to steampunk as Jules Verne) did at some times, at others he wrote pretty broadly. I’d have a tough time saying that Tale of Two Cities was about one character over the others.

That's all, really, except that it's now occurred to me that maybe Dickens was something of a fantasist. He wrote A Christmas Carol, after all. But it's an interesting topic, and I wanted to point you the gentle blog reader toward it. Hope it gives you something to wrap your heads around. I'm sure there must be examples of pre-D&D fantasy that don't center on one main character, and it's interesting to me that I didn't come up with anything off the top of my head, and neither did anyone in the comments.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unexpected Influences

I'm presently about halfway through doing the hand-annotated copies for early Soulwoven backers. Doing them has forced me to look at the book in a different way than I have before. Among other things, it's meant scanning for influences and spotting broad trends, because I jump around from page to page and sort of skim, which isn't a normal part of my writing or revising process.

One of the trends I've spotted is an unexpected influence.

I've never been a huge consumer of stories in the horror genre. When I was a kid, they terrified me. Like, seeing movie trailers for scary movies would give me nightmares, never mind the movies themselves.

And yet horror has its fingerprints all over key moments in Soulwoven.

It starts with the descriptions. When things get dark, really dark, the characters begin to see the world in the way that characters in horror stories do, where everything is out to get them. And their descriptions reflect that fact. There's a character with sharpened, yellowed teeth. There are undead crawling out of the ground and terrorizing people. And there's the dragon itself, floating in their minds and taunting, taunting, taunting them.

Soulwoven is a fantasy novel. There's no doubt in my mind about that. But if you wanted to, you could plot it against the structure of a horror novel and find a surprisingly high correlation. There's one (short) chapter, in particular, that's more ghost story than anything else in terms of structure.

So apparently, even though I didn't enjoy horror stories much growing up, and I still don't read a ton of them, they left a strong imprint on me. Maybe it's because they resonated so strongly with me that I didn't enjoy them. Or maybe it's because they terrorized me so much that their elements burned themselves so deeply into my brain. I can't really be sure.

But they're there nonetheless, and I don't think they're going anywhere. I suspect all writers have these sneaky little influences. There are things we're aware of that shape us (for me, Tolkien, Martin, Kay, Gaiman, Mieville, Hickman and Weis, the teams who wrote the Final Fantasy games, and much more), and there are influences we're not aware of until after the fact. With all the hours I've spent staring at and analyzing and fine-tuning this book, it's amazing to me that I continue to find things inside it I didn't know were there.

Incidentally, I think "What Lies in Darkness," the horror novellette I wrote for All Hallow's Write last year, is one of the best pieces of short fiction I've ever put together. It's up for free here on the blog as well as on Wattpad, and if you've got the stomach for horror, you might want to check it out.