Saturday, April 26, 2008

Character artists

X-posted from

How many of the characters in the stories you write are artists? Any kind of art. What do they do? How deep do you get into it as part of the story? Do you find—or think it's the case—that visual arts would be more difficult to portray in writing—or is it pretty much the same? Unless your character's a writer or poet—in which case, you can simply include some of their work to pull it off—or you're writing a graphic novel, it's tough to get the art across to the reader.

I have three different artsy characters in Seaborn. One who paints and draws, one who dances, one who's a composition major at a music college. I'd guess these abilities or interests help define a character. A dancer would certainly be athletic, someone who plays music, paints or draws might be thoughtful.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Publishing Timeline

Or, What happens between the acceptance of your manuscript and the launch of your book from someone who barely knows what he’s talking about.

What does happen to your manuscript after the publisher accepts it? I've always been curious.

What follows is my documented ordering of the events, editing, extra work, writing, pitching, and other stuff an author has to do before one precious copy of the book hits the shelves in a bookstore.

Anyone writing for years and breaking into the published market, reading the blogs of authors, agents, editors, will have heard all the terms and processes, things like copyediting and ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies--books printed ahead of the release date specifically for book reviewers, sometimes handed out by the thousands at conventions like Book Expo America).

But I've never understood the order of the activities clearly. When a writer says his book's "gone into copyediting," where exactly is that in the process? How far along the road to release is it?

What I've done--and I'd love some feedback from those who know a lot more than I do--is mark the road with all the various things I've had to do, attend to, understand, agree to, and receive in order to get to that glorious release day...July 20, 2008. (Obviously some of the stuff in the timeline has not yet happened, so I'm guessing with the dates there).

Click the image below to view the readable version.

Here's what the process looks like from my perspective:


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It's that time again. Wiscon. THE feminist speculative fiction convention.

Several Juno folks will be attending.
Sylvia Kelso, author of Amberlight, will be there.

As will Chris Howard, author of the forthcoming Seaborn. Yeah, a novel about sea sirens. I really want to get this.

As will Lori Devoti another Juno author.

If you're there, look them up. Hopefully, they'll give us a detailed report of their time there.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Shapeshifting anyone

Juno Author Lori Devoti has made a great post on Shapeshifting Romance about the definition of shapeshifting. Check it out.

Orphaned copyrights -- so-called

Call me paranoid and suspicious but this bit of legislation makes me raise my eyebrows. Will corporations be able to keep an orphaned "document" after they have done a "reasonable search" and been "unable" to find the creator of the work? Contact your senators and representatives.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

strange author benefits

One of the flakiest side-effects I've encountered since becoming a published author is the many many emails I receive from kids who pretty much want me to help them with their homework.

The email generally goes like this: "Dear Ms McDonnell, please I really need help. I have an assignment on writers (or an assignment on career day) due tomorrow and I need to do research on what it's like to do your job. Please, please, please, help."

There are also a few who mention that they have read Wind Follwer and were asked to analyze or review it. And could I please, please, possibly, tell them what my book's theme was all about?

Now, what do I, a former teaching assistant at a high school, think of all this?

I'll just say that I pretty much behave like a typical mom who sits down at her computer to writer her kid's term paper because heck, the thing is due today. (Okay, okay, once I wrote a paper so well that my son's college teacher suspected he had not written it and failed him for the class. I learned to write less writerly after that,) I simply can't help it...I'm a sucker for kids who bring in their homework late. Heck, I do a little procrastination myself. The only time I DO find myself getting a little annoyed is when the student is a graduate or undergraduate. I suspect because I'm thinking that by that time they should be able to think a little clearer about stuff and to at least attempt to analyze the book themselves. But even then I give them my help. I can only hope they really appreciate it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

RIF needs your help

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF's highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provides 4.6 million children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year. For more information, and to access reading resources, visit RIF's website at

From Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO, of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF):

"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S."

“Unless Congress reinstates $26 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries."

To find out how you can help, visit

Check out RIF’s third annual Program Excellence Honors .

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Over at the juno blog

There's a great definition of urban fantasy. It's over at the Juno Books blog and it's great.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wars, small, great, undeclared, and recurrent

Yesterday I stayed in bed all day and watched movies. I saw two movies I hadn't seen before. One was called Tomorrow (by writer Faulkner by way of director Horton Foote and actor Duvall) and the other was called Constantine with my lifelong crush Keanu Reeves. (In fact I have had such a jones for Keanu for such a long time that in Wind Follower I actually named my character Kaynu after him.)

Anyways, Constantine --despite Keanu's gorgeous self-- just had me rolling my eyes. Hey, I'm okay with folks fooling around with Christian theology but what a mish-mash it all was! I mean...he had to look into the eyes of a black cat in order to enter hell. What's that about?

"Tomorrow" on the other hand touched me -- although I think the actual Faulkner story would have touched me more. I can't help it. I'm a Black Jamaican but I have always had this fascination with poor white folks in Appalachia. Supposedly --at least this is what I pick up from the media-- these salt of the earth types would be the first to lynch me. I can watch movies about city sophisticates having all kinds of angst but the stories that really touch me are those about poor, country people, whatever culture they're from: China, poor white, Africa, Latin America, African-American.

So there I was watching it and reminding myself that I haven't seen The Apostle in a while when it suddenly dawned on me that all my stories are about wars. Wars, small, great, undeclared, and recurrent. In Wind Follower, my main characters thought the human war was over and they figured that as long as they avoided the spiritual war, the spirits would ignore them. In Constant Tower, there's a war of a different kind going on. And in Inheritance, wars also abound.

Of course all stories are about conflicts...and conflicts are another word for war. War against the self, war against nature, etc. Each author has her own opinion about what wars abound in this life. Romance writers concern themselves with the emotional wars at home and the wars between the sexes. Sometimes status and race are thrown in but for the most part, the characters in a romance story are dealing with their home culture and emotional inheritances and how their cultural inheritances conflict -- war with-- that of the one they have come to love. Other writers, on the other hand, deal with more political and social wars. And Christian fiction writers often deal with spiritual wars: the conflict between the self, the soul, and the spirit....and how that inner conflict is compounded when it encounters the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I totally believe that a great romance is the best kind of story possible. Why? Because it concerns itself with love --which is eternal and which changes the soul-- and with the creation of a new family/community while retaining the best of one's self and one's community. In Romances, relationships are ultra-important.

Now all this is tough for me to balance in a fantasy story which aims for action from the get-go. I, unfortunately, am fascinated by normal life --the normal life of the world we know, and the normal life of the fantasy world an author has created-- and what makes normal life tick. This means that even when I create a fantastical world, if I'm not careful I'll find myself wandering leisurely among the poor folk of that culture, ambling along the country lanes...and not pushing the plot along. Romance writers and Christian fiction writers are used to this kind of slice-of-life stuff. They are used to slow country rambles with subtle small conflicts and stressors. Most fantasy lovers, on the other hand, are more into Constantine-type stories. They want a lot more action 30 pages of mucho drama, death, external warring. So I'm trying my best to get into that groove. What to do?

Work at figuring out how to work with cross-genres, maybe. Thank God I'm still growing as an author. I hope that whatever path my stories take -- the gentle ramble or the page-turning adventure-- that my fans will walk lovingly and patiently with me. Thank you all.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Antagonism or Antagonist?

Theresa of Editorrent has been doing a series of posts on her blog about the origin and development of protagonists and antagonists. At its beginning, in Greek drama, the protagonist was simply the Main Character. And the antagonist was the thing that opposed the main character.

And the thing is, maybe the antagonist is a character, and maybe not. Maybe the antagonist is different characters at different times. Maybe the protagonist gets a turn at being the antagonist. Maybe the antagonist is something intangible like the weather, not a character at all.
And I've been thinking about this idea. Especially about the one where the antagonist is different characters at different times.

I've had some editors tell me that stories should have three characters. The hero, the heroine and the villain. But wow, isn't this limiting?

In a romance, the hero and the heroine often act as antagonists for each other, driving the other on to change. Sometimes there's another villain, especially if there's another plot, as there would be in a fantasy romance or romantic fantasy. I like the idea, though, of floating the antagonist role around.

I actually haven't thought about this long enough for a real blog post. But I do find it very interesting, especially at the developing-the-story phase of writing. So. There it is.