Redemption: Even in fiction it’s tough

Redemption

Webster makes it sound so easy….

Redeemable. That’s a big word in fiction writing. When you create a character, sometimes you don’t want them redeemable. You want a villain so evil people stand up and cheer at their fate, a la Dolores Umbridge. (Sorry, I wanted that woman to die more than I wanted Voldemort dead!) Sometimes you want people to understand why they are the way they are, to perhaps feel a twinge of understanding. Sometimes you want the character to be puzzling, so readers can’t quite decide if they’re completely evil or not.

All of this, of course, presupposes you have A Plan.

blueprint

See how nicely it all comes together when you have a plan?

But life–and writing–being what they are, sometimes things just happen. Like an editor buying what you assumed would be a standalone book, and then, when it’s too late to change anything, asking for a spinoff. And realizing that only one secondary character truly stood out enough to be the main character in said spinoff. And that character just happens to be…well, darn near irredeemable. As in one of Those. Yes, she’s a b*tch.

Bitch-pups

Dogs are for the most part nicer than people anyway, right?

And I don’t mean this kind, loving, loveable, and generally sweet. No, this female, unlike the one above, hasn’t got a nurturing bone in her body. But at the time I’m young, still a newbie, and foolish. I think I can do anything. I mean, how hard can it be to turn somebody around, right? I’m the writer, in that world I created I’m God, I invented her, didn’t I? Besides, the heroine of the first book, who was absolutely heroine material, had been friends with her once. So there had to be something good about her, didn’t there? I only had to find it. So, I set myself to the task. And how did it go? Kind of like this:

 

Frustration

Whose idea WAS this, anyway???

It wasn’t long before I was pacing the floor, yelling at myself for being an idiot. Why on earth–or any of the worlds I was writing about–had I ever thought I could save this woman? What had possessed me to choose her as a heroine? How on earth was I going to make this woman in the least heroic, let alone loveable?

I finally realized there was only one way to do this. I had to go back to the bones. I had to tear this woman down and try to rebuild her into something heroic. And I had to do it so thoroughly that readers would believe that it was possible for this woman to achieve that redemption. Had I realized what I was letting myself in for, I probably would have rethought it. But as I said, I was young and foolish and probably a bit cocky thanks to landing on the fast track my first published year and having sold a ridiculous number of books quickly. Ha. That’ll learn me, as my uncle used to say.

So I began. And for a long time my life felt like this:

construction - roofing

Wait, where does that stick go again?

And nearly 600 manuscript pages later, it was done. Whether I succeeded is not really up to me. Whatever I think, it is the reader who ultimately decides. Although I will happily accept the assessment of reviewer extraordinaire I mentioned in the last post, Melinda Helfer, who gave SKYPIRATE that rarest of accolades, one that has since been retired–an actual 5-star review in RT Magazine. The book also won a Reviewer’s Choice award, a Reader’s Voice award, and along with its predecessor, LORD OF THE STORM, was on the RT top 200 of all time list. So I guess maybe I did succeed. But I swear I will never try that again. Next b*tch I write stays one.

Heroes, on the other hand…..

 

LORD OF THE STORM and SKYPIRATE, re-released and available now in both e-book and print! Links on the book page, here: http://justinedavis.com/booklist.html

 

 

 

Frustration: Tanya Little https://www.flickr.com/people/50965643@N06 via Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

 

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The true story behind an award winner

contract

The holy grail, back in the day…..

Last post I told the story of revisiting a world I created two decades ago, to write a new, long-awaited story set in that same world. Now I’d like to tell you about how it all began. You see, there I was, a newbie writer (yes, I had several books already sold and a couple published, but I still felt like a newbie. Heck, to this day I feel like a newbie!) with a signed contract in hand, deadlines, obligations, and the promise of payment to in turn pay for things like food and shelter. I was working a full-time job that often morphed into more than full time–you don’t walk out in the middle of a hostage situation with shots fired–so my time was very tight. And yet….

An idea struck. Actually, more like an entire story, full-grown and feathered. (I blame the release of Star Wars at a very impressionable stage of my life) Scenes fully formed, characters I knew inside out, strange places, odd words that were unfamiliar yet clear (no glossary required, something that will turn me off many books), it was all battering at me. This had never happened to me before. I promised it I would get to it, as soon as I could. I placated it, begged it to leave me alone until I finished this contract. It would not. This story was nothing my current publisher would or could publish. It was pure self-indulgence, I told myself. It would be a book without a market. But it haunted me, day and night, until finally, when I had a vacation coming from the day job (which was really the night job, but that’s another story) I decided to use it to get this thing off my back. I warned my husband, closed the office door, and began.

It started like this:

Fire_close_up_texture

Wow, this is hot! In more ways than one….

But before long it was going like this, like taking dictation, and my fingers could barely keep up with my brain:

fire-speed

Where is this coming from???

It turned into a frenzied white-heat of writing, a string of twenty hour days that lasted…..three weeks. Yep, three weeks. And that is something I waited a very long time to publicly admit. As award-winning author Cindy Dees recently observed on Facebook, “Decades ago, authors were thought to be hacks if they turned out more than one novel a year. That was also before the advent of computers and the Internet which greatly streamlined the writing process.” But I’ve found a lot of that mindset lingers even after the ability to quickly create, edit, and communicate. And so I was hesitant to admit how quickly this book came.

What did it take to convince me it was safe? This:

???????????????????????????????

Okay, maybe it is safe to admit.

And that’s not even all of the honors LORD OF THE STORM accumulated. I don’t live and die for awards, but I won’t deny the satisfaction and gratification of receiving them. It is a tremendous honor, whether they come from fellow writers or readers, although I tend to think continuing to buy and talk about my books is the best award any reader can give me. And in this case, after the book received all these accolades and awards, I finally felt brave enough to admit how quickly it had been written, and that it was published virtually unchanged from my final manuscript. I probably wouldn’t worry about it that much today. Having sixty-plus books/novellas under your belt gives you a bit of confidence, I guess. But at the time, it was a Big Deal.

And I can’t talk about LORD OF THE STORM without acknowledging the godmother of the book, the late, much-missed Melinda Helfer, RT Magazine reviewer extraordinaire. Melinda read this book in manuscript form, and insisted it would be huge. It was Melinda who hooked me up with Hilary Ross, an editor from NAL/Penguin who happened to be looking for just such a story as this. The rest, as they say….

And so that is the story behind the book that will be re-issued this June by Bell Bridge Books, in both print (and they do gorgeous print books!) and e-book. But the tale doesn’t end there. (I’m a writer, of course it doesn’t…) Stay tuned for the next chapter, about the second book I never planned on, and how many times I kicked myself for even thinking a certain character was redeemable enough to be a heroine.

Twenty years in the making

Shack_house

Wow, when did THAT happen??

So, I admit, I’ve neglected things here of late. And yes, my house does kind of look like that picture at the moment. But you know something? I don’t care. I don’t care, because I have now finished the main draft on a book I’ve been waiting nearly twenty years to write.

I had my doubts about whether I could get my mind from its current place back to the entirely fictional world I had created all those years ago. It had been such a unique experience, (more about that in later posts) one that I sometimes called channeling, because it was the only way I could explain how that first book came to me. Would that they were all so clear and sharp and quick!

In this case, I wasn’t just starting with a blank, earthbound landscape like this:

Triotian grass

Hmm, that’s quite a moon there. Picture fits better than I thought!

No, I had to get my head not just back in the clouds, but back into space. Into the proverbial galaxy far, far away. And frankly, it had been so long I didn’t know if I could do it. At least, not with the completeness this particular book would demand. Because this was one of two books that readers have been asking me for for all of those two decades. And I take that very seriously. That people would remember so clearly, for so long, and bother to write me and ask, even beg me to revisit this place, was so incredibly moving and inspiring. But the stars (pardon the phrase) seemed to conspire against it. Until now.

So I re-read the original two books that led to this. I loved them as much as I always had. This was a good sign. And it got me here, about halfway there:

Fenceposts Across the Universe

I can see it, I just have to get there!

But I needed to be out there, no longer earthbound. And the only way to do that was to jump in. And find out once and for all if this was going to work. So…I took the leap. And to my thankful surprise, the story took off like a runaway one of these:

runaway train

Whoa, this thing is going FAST!

It was going so fast, I couldn’t help thinking that trains that go too fast often end up like this:

derailed

Ooops.

But I was having too much fun to worry about it, and before long, I was so completely in this Other Place that it was hard to come back to reality. Old and new (and boy was one of those a pleasant surprise!) friends, old and new enemies, I lived in their world(s) and loved it for 125,000 words.

planets

It’s as much fun as ever!

It’s nice to know I still have a “big book” or two left in me. That part of my career got derailed (again, pardon the phrase) a while back, but it’s back on the tracks (oh, dear, there I go again) now. And thanks to a great new publisher (Bell Bridge Books, more about them later, too) this story people have asked for for all these years will finally be done.

And leading up to that day, Bell Bridge will be releasing in both print and as ebooks the two books that led me to this one, LORD OF THE STORM and THE SKYPIRATE, beginning this June.

I hope you’ll join me on this adventure!

****************************

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The Light of Day

My friend and social media connector extraordinaire, Piper Bayard, held a cover reveal of her first book on her blog a couple of days ago. (http://piperbayard.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/the-nine-year-baby-firelands-cover-reveal/) If you’ll notice, the title of her post is “The Nine Year Baby.” Funny, catchy, and painfully true. This is Piper’s first book, and I’m sure it won’t be her last. Just reading her blog is enough to tell you that. But besides my delight for her, her post got me to thinking.

I’ve written a lot of books. From this one, back in 1991:

Hunter

on through a couple of favorites like this duo, that still bring in mail after more than fifteen years (and more news about them upcoming soon!):

LOTSskypirate

to this one, coming up in July (yes, I slipped my own little cover reveal into this one!):

Cutter 3 cover

But it’s not these published or soon to be published works that I got to thinking about. It’s the unpublished ones. Books that have never, and may never, as the title of this post says, see the light of day. I’m sure all writers have them. Ideas that seemed good at the time, but in the end didn’t have enough muscle to carry an entire book. The things you put away, and frequently dig out again when you realize that partial idea is the perfect partner for this other partial idea you just came up with.

Or that book of the heart, that one that calls to you so strongly you can’t stop working on it, even though it’s other stories that will be paying the bills. I have one of those I’ve been working on even longer than Piper’s nine-year baby. I’m so in love with the hero of this book I’m not sure I can bear to send him out into the world. He may never see the light of day, although a few lines made it onto Facebook in that “seven lines” meme that was going around a while back.

I have a few  several  okay, I’ll face it, a ton of bits and pieces squirreled away in a folder titled “Beginnings.” Because that’s what they are. Beginnings. Some are mere paragraphs, a scene, a setup, a fragment where I have no idea where it came from or where it’s going. Others are maybe two or three pages. Some are longer, and a couple are twenty-plus pages that came out in the white heat of “I have to write this NOW.”

I’ve often wondered what other writers do with this stuff. Is it deleted? Filed away never to be looked at again? Personally, I have a hard time deleting anything that I was moved enough to write in the first place. Not because I think my every word is golden–I wish!–but because I can’t shake the feeling that some day, somewhere down the line, that little bit of writing might save my sorry backside when I’m mired deep in deadline hell. So my process has become I save it and walk away. And my criteria after that is if I remember it after it’s in that beginnings folder, if after a while it’s still in my head, then it has a potential worth looking at. Maybe.

Is anybody else curious about things like this, would you love to peek at these bits and pieces, or is it just a writer’s weirdness that makes me wonder?