Today, a quick note on 'choice.'
Later, I'd love to do a bit of an indulgent post on Self Publishing & Traditional Publishing - but for now, I just wanted to quickly mention 'choice' (and why 'indulgent'? I guess because so many people have said more insightful things than I on the topic.)
But for now, back to Choice.
What's amazing about the current landscape for writers is that the possibility of publishing and earning income is no longer linked as tightly to giant publishers with contracts that are frankly quite rough on authors. We have a lot more on the table. Small publishers, co-ventures, solo flight. Now, an author is free to choose.
And just knowing you have a choice is very powerful. It can boost motivation levels and allow a potential future to take shape in our minds, which again, is very freeing. It's a different feeling to slave away at a novel or project knowing there's a chance it will see release, and slaving away with no idea what will happen.
As more of a hybrid chap, I experience great joys from both approaches - but when I started out, even only 14 years ago, I had a hell of a lot less in the way of choice.
The Black Cauldron is the second title in the Chronicles of Prydain, a series Lloyd Alexander started in 1964, and one which I've read a great many times - though I've actually read The Black Cauldron more than any other book in the set.
For my money, it's the darkest and the most powerful - the story where the character's face more of their own demons and where the wonder is strongest, where the story is tightest, most self-contained. In it, Taran and his companions must destroy the zombie-creating Black Cauldron and the odds are stacked quite high against them.
Now, Taran is a classic boy-hero but far and above my favourite character in the story is the prideful but surprising Ellidyr, and right on his heels are Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch - the three witches who steal the show.
Alexander mentions how the books were influenced by Welsh mythology, which is clear from the first read, from names to setting and myths, all of which he weaves together so well. I devoured The Black Cauldron over and over as a kid (since 1991 I think it was when I was given a copy by Mum for a birthday) and have read it about once a year ever since.
If you've never read these books and enjoy 'children's literature' check this out. It's a classic and well deserving of its longevity.
I remember picking up Assassin’s Apprentice in my local bookstore in the 90s and foolishly putting it back on the shelf when I realised it was written in first person. Back then I seem to remember that it had this cover:
which I liked as it was a John Howe and the blurb sounded ace but I didn’t bite due to the perspective, which seems laughable because now, of course, I'll read a book no matter whether it’s written in first, second or third, so long as I enjoy it.
Around fifteen years later I was lucky enough to receive Assassin’s Apprentice as a gift from my lovely wife – with the beautiful new cover below – and got stuck into the story because in the intervening years from that first encounter in the 90s, I’d read Hobb’s ‘Liveship’ books and really enjoyed them.
And wow, the Farseer series was amazing. Really put me through the wringer too, as Fitz, the main character, is goes through a lot of torment in the series. But there’s a lot to enjoy, the mystery, the clash of magics, the deceptions and especially the powerful conclusion and revelations in the third book. The pacing isn’t breakneck, which I enjoyed, and there’s more time spent on character than action and so by the end the characters feel very real indeed – I doubt I’ll ever forget Fitz and Fool, nor Chade the sneaky fellow.
Check it out if you’re looking for something that can be demanding – and be prepared to pick up a second trilogy with Fitz and the Fool (along with the start of a third series, Fool’s Assassin, which has just been released!)
Below is the cover for The Lost Mask: Book 2 of the Bone Mask Trilogy!
Very excited to get this so early and I love the colours, they suit the forest-theme that features heavily in one of the storylines and the butterfly is perfect, very fitting for a group readers will meet in Book 2 - the Butterfly Eaters.
Aderyn Wood is a fellow Australian fantasy author who has just released a great YA novel, Borderlands: Journey, which I raced through in a couple of days – I recommend it, it’s got that classic ‘coming of age’ feel.
Aderyn was kind enough to answer a few questions for the City of Masks blog, we chatted about being an indie author, music, villains and tropes – for more about Aderyn check out her blog here or follow her on twitter right here.
Ashley Capes: I’m curious as to the kinds of protagonists that you find most satisfying to write? Would you say you have a preference for any particular qualities in a leading character?
Aderyn Wood: Writing characters is always an interesting process. I find that plots are easy enough to dream up, but characters always evolve for me. I'm never certain of who they are until about half way through the novel, but I enjoy the surprise of learning more about characters as I write them. For me, a leading character has to be someone readers can form a connection with. This is not always easy to achieve. I found this a challenge when I first started Borderlands - the main character, Dale, is an adolescent girl with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. In the first draft of Borderlands, Dale came across as a bit 'whingey' to be honest. I had to work hard to have her critical world view come across as legitimate and something the reader might agree with or at least understand.
The characters I find the most fun to write are definitely the bad-asses. It's always fun to write a villain.
AC: Agreed! Villains are great fun to write. With that in mind, who’s your favourite villain, both that you’ve written and that you’ve read?
AW: In my own books, I had a lot of fun writing one of the main antagonists in 'Borderlands' - a school bully and popular girl called Prudence Feathertop. Brimming with vanity, she loves to look around wearing a "designer pout." I think we all detest those arrogant 'alphas' and Prudence certainly personifies them. But, she was fun to write, both in terms of characterising her and showing the protagonist's disdain for her.
In the first four books of Katharine Kerr's Deverry series there is an arch villain who remained unknown to begin with. It was very mysterious, not knowing straight away who the bad guy was. Clues were unveiled slowly for the characters (and the reader) to learn more about his identity. As the story progresses, and the evil of this arch villain grows, we learn more and more until he is exposed and brought down by the story's hero. It was very satisfying to see him die, but the mystery made this character so interesting.
I also think George RR Martin did a great job with Prince Joffrey. I don't remember hating a character as much as I hated him!
AC: What for you, is the greatest thrill – and conversely, the biggest challenge of being an independent author?
AW: I think the greatest thrill is probably the same for all authors whether an Indie or traditionally published author - positive feedback from readers. When a reader lets you know how much they enjoyed your book, nothing beats that feeling!
For me, the biggest challenge is the promotional aspect. It's very hard to get your work out there as an unknown author with few contacts and no automatic network to tap into that a publisher may provide. It means starting from nothing and building up a profile, all by yourself. It also means I have to spend time on promotion, and this can take away from writing time.
AC: Actually that prompts me to ask you about time, because the many hats worn by most authors can really impact writing time. How do you ensure you maintain a balance between timely output and other necessary tasks?
AW: I'm still trying to get that balance right, so I don't know that I have the answer (maybe I never will!). I always make sure that I do more writing than anything else. The writing must come first. Because of this I do my writing first thing in the morning, or as soon as I can get to it. Twitter, blogging, emails, facebook, etc. It all has to come second to writing. And reading for that matter. I once read that a writer should aim to write 1000 words and read 2000 words every day. That's what I try to do. But, I have given myself two days off a week. Fridays - because it's Friday! And Sunday - as that's when I usually try to do reviews and blogging. This seems to work for me, mostly.
I also think it's important to do things that make you switch off from writing. One author I know enjoys volleyball ;p I have a bit of land, it's a hobby farm I suppose, and I spend a fair chunk of every day managing my gardens and animals. I love it and when I'm engaged in it I have a good break from writing, which recharges my mind and my muse.
AC: I definitely agree about that switching off (thank you, volleyball :D), we need outlets, we need distance from our projects don’t we? Music is another way to switch off for me – though it helps me write too. Are you the kind of writer who can or needs to work with music? And if so – what sort of music do you use most? If quiet is more your thing, how do you achieve the required hush?
AW: I prefer to write in silence. But sometimes that's not possible, especially when my sports-mad partner watches television. So I do listen to music when I have to block out other noise. I mostly listen to soundtracks. But I have an app on my ipad with all sorts of nature sounds - stuff like rain, storms, forests, the ocean, etc. Sometimes I listen to this to get into the mood of the setting.
AC: I love soundtracks for writing too – I actually use the Vertigo OST sometimes, what’s your soundtrack of choice?
AW: My soundtracks are embarrassingly old or obvious! At the moment I use HBO's Game of Thrones or 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'. They both have dramatic tunes which can help me to convey the mood of a scene.
AC: Do you feel tropes and conventions are more of a hindrance or help to an author, especially one writing speculative fiction?
AW: My main interest as a reader and a writer is in fantasy fiction, and let's face it - fantasy is saturated with tropes! But I think the tropes and conventions in fantasy attract us to the genre. I love reading about an evil dark lord and the little hero or heroine who brings him down. But I don't like reading a story that becomes predictable because it may adhere too strongly to well known conventions that have been done to death. Therefore, as a writer, I don't necessarily shy away from tropes and conventions but I do take my own approach. And I also try to add twists and turns to surprise readers throughout the novel so that (hopefully) my stories aren't too predictable. I think it's important that writers challenge, play with and subvert tropes to provide different reading experiences of a similar theme. Otherwise we're serving up the same old meal.
AC: I agree, I think tropes and conventions are vital because, as you say, they leave room to create a sense of familiarity for a reader, but also to surprise when such tropes are subverted – such as the way Whedon does with the opening to the first Buffy episode. Can you give us a trope or convention you love to work with and one you’re tired of reading?
AW: I love Buffy because she subverts the 'damsel in distress' trope that seems to dominate Hollywood. But, disappointingly, this trope also has a strong foothold in many YA books for girls and young women. It's one of the reasons I don't pick up YA often. Even the strong female characters seem to require rescuing, by men. This is why Buffy was so refreshing. She was the saviour! I guess I've tried to challenge this trope in 'Borderlands' although it won't really be apparent until further in the series.
AC: Looking forward to it, Dale already has that spark I feel :)
Perhaps the most emotional volume in Herge's Tintin series, Tintin in Tibet (1960) is certainly the one I've read the most times.
Not as much action as in other adventures, but with its mystery woven around a heartfelt storyline that sees Tintin and Haddock searching the snowy mountains of Tibet for Tintin's friend Chang, it's a fantastic piece of storytelling, that, despite the darker subject matter, is still graced with Herge's usual fine sense of humour.
While it can be difficult to separate pleasant memories of reading this one as a child from the reviewing process, I can safely say that Tintin in Tibet remains distinctive not just for the personal nature of the story, but for the powerful use of white space in the panels - Herge's famous 'clear line' style is so direct in conveying a sense of space that I always find myself drawn in to the setting as much as the story. This is partly what makes the moments of colour, such as the visit to the monastery, so vivid.
If your only experience of Tintin is the more explosive CGI outing from Jackson and Spielberg, and you're not sure about the comics, perhaps start with some of the faster-paced volumes such as the Calculus-themed releases - but if you're already a fan and you don't actually have this one by chance, then don't deny yourself one of the most moving Tintin adventures any longer.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
Moss Dragon - draft 1
Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline