Archive for the 'Arena' Category

Where I Get My Ideas

Sketch of the Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge from Plateau Point

Last night and today I have been doing something I haven’t done in a very loooong time.

I’ve been updating my website. Yes, I have a website in addition to this blog. The link is in the margin to the right.  The last time I updated it was in 2009, when The Enclave came out and all I did then was put a notice on my home page and add a page just fro it. I didn’t even remember to change the “last updated” blurb in the header, so that it still said “July 2007” when I started to work last night.

I had no idea it had been that long. I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to integrate it with the blog, but that’s about all I’ve done: think.  And not much of that, either.  Too many options, too little knowledge and WAY too little time!

But with the re-release of Arena, and this month’s free e-book special of The Light of Eidon, I figured I should probably get back to the website and at least update Arena’s cover and mention the special.

In the process, I’ve found some fun things there; things that I’d forgotten.

Like the Arena Scrapbook I made to illustrate some answers to the question, where do I get my ideas?

Here’s the start…

“People ask where I get my ideas.  As with all authors, mine come from things I’ve experienced in my life, either directly or indirectly through reading, movies or things others have told me. Sometimes places or events surface that I think are completely original, only to discover later that I actually experienced them somewhere before.

It was a real shock to be walking down the upper switchbacks of the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail some twenty years after the first time I’d done it and come to a spot that was “straight out of Arena.” Until then, I thought I’d made it up completely.”

To see the photos of experiences that spawned various elements of Arena, I invite you to visit my Scrapbook Page HERE.

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Retrospection — The Sale of Light of Eidon

I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve been going through some of my old files, and coming across things I wrote almost ten years ago.  One such writing was the story of how The Light of Eidon sold. In light of the special e-book offer Bethany House has this month on that book, as well as the recent re-package, re-release of my first novel Arena, I thought now might be an appropriate time to revisit those golden days when I was a newly published novelist.

This was back in 2002 when Arena was published, 26 years or so after I started writing what would eventually become The Light of Eidon, a fantasy which I had been told would never sell. In fact I had just begun working on a “bridge book,”  something partway between Arena and Eidon, in hopes it might sell and win readers and maybe publishers would decide to take a chance with my fantasy series. Ironically, that book was The Other Side of the Sky, which I am currently working on for Bethany House now. God’s timing is so not our timing!

Anyway, here’s the story, excerpted and edited from our Christmas letter of that year…

So here we are again, looking back over the last year to see what we have to tell about.  It’s been a big one, as the seasons of our lives have changed again.

As most of you know, the big thing for me was the release of my first novel Arena in May. It has been an adventure, and not at all what I expected.

My first reaction upon receiving a fan letter was something closer to outrage than joy. “What? Why is this person I don’t even know talking about MY characters? They’re mine. Strangers can’t have them!

“And what is this book-like thing with the multiple arches on the front and the title Arena? That’s not MY book. My book is a stack of manuscript pages.”

Original Cover

New Cover

Autographing books also felt all wrong at first, like something other people were supposed to do, not me.

Yes, I have adjusted and the Lord has blessed Arena’s release in marvelous ways: a good review and profile in Publisher’s Weekly (rare for Christian novels, rarer still for Christian first novels and unheard of for Christian first, science fiction novels), a contract with both the Crossings and Literary Guild book clubs, a contract with one of the largest Christian publishers in the Netherlands and a continuous stream of encouraging fan letters. After all these years the writing is finally being validated in a very satisfying way.

However, none of that compares to the biggest blessing of all.

Last year at this time I knew Arena was coming out, but had no idea what I was going to do next. I’d been told over and over that fantasy doesn’t sell, no one wants fantasy, fantasy is a bad word in the Christian market. I’d even taken to calling my next book “speculative historical fiction,” to avoid using the word.

I went to a writer’s conference this past spring and learned lots of good stuff about marketing which I was not at all eager to do. Still, I figured if I worked really hard at it, and Arena did well enough, maybe Bethany House will consider taking on my fantasy.

Ha! The Lord certainly showed me how important my efforts are (not very) and that when He is going to do a thing, He does it.

Arena had not even been officially released when my editor called. The reviews and feedback coming in on it were so good, he said, the marketing people wanted something else from me as soon as possible.

“So,” he added, “what do you have?”

An editor actually called me up and asked what I had lying around the house! This, they tell you in all the writing books, NEVER happens!

So I told him I had The Light of Eidon.

He said, “Go on,”

I told him it was finished.  “Go on.”

I told him it was part of a four-part series, of which the second book was also finished in rough draft…

Bottom line: within two weeks Bethany House had signed me to a four-book contract for the fantasy series. We’re calling it Legends of the Guardian King, with The Light of Eidon, Book One, due to release next summer.

Talk about a miracle! Now I am not only a “published author” but I also get to have the experience of writing with a deadline as I work to complete the first submission draft of Book Two, The Shadow Within, by next summer.

Walking in Fog

Last week, in the process of looking for something else, I stumbled upon a documentI created in 2007 called “The Muddled Phase, which is a collection of quotes from various nonstops I had made when I was beginning The Enclave.

Once again, they track dead on with what I’m experiencing now with Sky, and it was such a help for me to read them, again, I thought I’d share.

“Gah!  I hate all this muddled thinking I’m doing!  Just completely mushed up and tangled.  Nothing clear, nothing right.  A mess.  Ideas float in and out.  Who knows if they’re any good?  They sort of fit, but then need modification.  I just don’t know what I’m doing.  It all feels like a stupid idea, I should just give it up and go write something simpler.  But . . .

“I do recall feeling this way about Arena.  And about Eidon, for that matter.  So.  Again, I must walk by faith.  And again I am in the fog.  Where I can’t tell if I’m going forward or backward, where I’m going, if I’m actually going anywhere, or just in a circle.

“In fact, it’s hard to even think about any of it.  As I start to grope for it mentally, it seems to recede and fall into a jumble.  I want to wrest it all into order, and yet there’s nothing to hold onto.  Not even a direction to head in.” 

–Snip questions, possibilities, ideas —

“Hmmm. That could be interesting.  Urk and urk.  Swirling again.  Maybe I should just try and write it.  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to lie down or iron or something.  Something constructive.  Something besides just sitting here staring at the wall having half-formed thoughts flit in and out.  It’s maddening.  Maybe I should just paint.  Or clean or . . . but I don’t want to do any of those.  I want some order.  I want a map.  I want it now.  I have to make it myself.  My brain won’t cooperate. 

“Interesting about …” [and then my mind flits to something that is completely irrelevant but bothering me at the time]

“Where was I?  Trying to distract myself?  Is this avoidance behavior?  I don’t know what to do.  Sit and wait, or try to make something emerge?  Reread the material or . . . sit and wait.  Lie on the couch.  Stare at the penguin mobile.   

“Oh this is a waste.  My brain is dust.  Ash.  Urk and urk.  And urk.  So many distractions.  I am becalmed again.  There seems to be an awful lot of that.  I need to rebound I guess and ask for guidance because there doesn’t seem to be any. 

Oh.  That’s right.  My emotions have been turned off, so I can’t look for much help from them.  I listened to two songs today that usually get me going, and they did hardly anything emotionally.   Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for some great surge of  “It’s right!”  Maybe I should just look at what I’ve got and go with it, whether I feel good about it, or not.  Just do the plan I have,”

 From another Nonstop, later

 “Okay, I was being frustrated, angry.  I have need of patience.  I need to trust Him to provide and to be content in whatever state I find myself.  And if that is in not finding the lost object — AGAIN — then that is what I will be content with.  Looking for the object in my mind.  Or not finding the answer.  That’s what it is.  It’s not an object, it’s an answer.  An understanding. 

“And I haven’t found it.  And I feel as if I should be able to find it now.  Immediately.  But I can’t.  I look inside and only incoherent thoughts fly by.  Not even floating anymore, more like whirling, breaking apart, joining with others and breaking apart.  Maybe that’s what’s going on.  I don’t know.  Maybe I should just give it up and iron.  I am impatient.  I feel that I must get busy on this book.  That I must be professional and work.  That I must use my time wisely, when it seems all I do is write endless, worthless nonstops that get me nowhere.”

And then having read all the above, I opened another file, this one titled “Incubation” which justified everything I described above as being a legitimate part of the creative process. But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

A Request for Ideas

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a guest post for the Christian SF/F blog Speculative Faith and given a range of openings throughout the summer from which to pick. Since Arena in its repackaged version is due to release the first of July, I thought a guest post on something relating to that might be a good idea and picked July 6 for my publish date.

I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about the Spec Faith post for a week or two, but so far haven’t come up with anything that keeps going past a paragraph or two. So I decided to see if you all, my readers, might have some suggestions of things you might be interested in seeing a post about. If so, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

So far I’ve thought of:

telling the story of how Arena/Light of Eidon were published;

talking about how things have changed in the publishing field since those times;

discussing the idea that sex, violence, and dark events are not appropriate subject matter for Christian reading and should not appear in books;

grappling with the still prevalent idea that fantasy is only for kids, and why that isn’t necessarily so;

examining some of the specific elements of the allegory in Arena;

pr relating some of the responses I’ve gotten to Arena, both good, bad and wacky…

If any of those ideas seem particularly appealing, or you’re curious about a particular aspect of them I didn’t mention, or one of them triggered an entirely different idea or…

Please! Feel free to fire away.

What Do You Think of the New Cover?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just thought I’d do a bit of an informal poll today — what do you all think of the new cover?

Looking at them side by side, I can see that the original cover was aimed much more at women — with the pink and light blue and purple (on the back). And the woman walking  in the middle, of course!

On the other hand, it says “adventure” to me very clearly. I especially like the multiple arches, though when I first saw it, I  was somewhat alarmed. I hadn’t written the original description of the scene with multiple arches, seeing as  passing through it was to represent the one-time decision of believing in Christ.

But then my editor (who is now my agent) told me about his discussions with the art director and how the multiple arch design worked much better artistically than the single arch and did I think I could rewrite the scene to include it?

Well that threw me a bit, but I went to the Lord, asked for guidance and He provided it through a friend who pointed out that the verb tense for believing is the one where you make the decision once but the results go on forever.

Loved that. So I rewrote the scene, and the arches stayed.

The new cover is more mysterious and science fiction-y and definitely has a more masculine feel than the first. Which I think might have been the intention. Ten years ago, the primary buyers and readers of Christian fiction were women. And although typically it’s the men who go for science fiction, it made no sense in the marketers’ opinion to try to appeal to them even if Arena was science fiction. And so they did not. It’s one of the reasons why Christian science fiction and fantasy has had such a difficult time getting going in this field.

With their reprints, Bethany House is trying for a simpler, more … generic? … look than the first releases and I think this one’s quite intriguing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, whatever they might be.

Arena Repackaged

Yesterday after spending the day doing so many different, mundane things I can no longer recall them all, I went to the mailbox and discovered a package!  From Bethany House.

It was my hot-off-the-presses copy of the new, repackaged version of my first published book, Arena, which will be releasing July 1.

Maybe. A quick check of the general Amazon listing, is confusing at best, indicating that the Kindle version is to be released July 1, but is  eligible for pre-order.  Even as you can get it on the Kindle for free now if you are a member of Amazon Prime. If you click through to the actual page for the book, there is no mention made of any pre-ordering or July 1 release, only the fact that it’s out of print and you can only get it for Kindle.

There’s also a new review up, giving it five stars from a person who’s read it three times, and should’ve stopped with her review there. Unfortunately she did not, going on to add “I had always hoped for a sequel to the story. Karen Hancock has not done much as far as a good story line since.”  😦

Then there’s Christianbook.com, which is worse. It has two entries. Arena, repackaged, but showing the old cover and saying it will be available for purchase June 16, and Arena showing the new cover but for the e-book which won’t be available until July 1.

Worse, each has a single one star review, and each one star review is written by a different reviewer.

The reviewer on the repackaged version entry didn’t think it was good or Christian and was disgusted by the  “(fairly graphic) sexual violence.” This one is listed as releasing June 15.

The reviewer for the e-book entry with the new cover was disappointed because “Unfortunately, this book contains much graphic horror and implied sexual abuses. I could not recommend it as a positive experience for anyone seeking to grow closer to God.” It is listed as releasing July 1, 2012.

[To be clear, the ebook is already available and has been for a year. The repackaged hard copy version will have the new cover and is supposed to release July 1, 2012. I’m not sure if you can pre-order. You should be able to, but the entry’s too confusing.]

It all reminds me of when Arena was first released back in 2002 — my very first Amazon review ever was a total slam, though the reviewer did give it 2 stars. I’m not sure why since he found nothing good in it. The odd thing was, he began his spate of reviews for Amazon on March 20, eleven days before Arena’s debut, and ended July 26 all in 2002. During that time he reviewed exactly 6 books.  One of his favorites, and the one he reviewed right after Arena, was “The Gospel of Judas” which, as the title suggests, explores “certain heretical ideas” involving the supposed discovery of a document that would cause the downfall of Christianity.

Looking back it really seemed like the kingdom of darkness at work. And so seeing how things are going now, it looks like that again. Which I think is cool.

In any case, please pray that the hardcopy will do well. If it does, maybe they’ll repackage the Guardian King series as well… 🙂

I Do Outline Eventually

The comments on Monday’s post (The First Draft is a Slog) got me thinking more about my process, especially as relates to outlines. Becky Miller’s link to  a post on Harvest House editor Nick Harrison’s blog about getting stalled because you’ve let go of the tension, also sparked some thoughts.

Letting go of the tension means you’ve resolved your main line of conflict long before you reached the story’s end… which is not a good thing. And the outline method I use does address this potential pitfall.

(I was amused by one of the author’s suggestions for figuring out what to do — i.e., consider that perhaps you don’t have enough plot for a novel.  I have never had the problem of too little plot material for a novel.  LOL!)

But back to the subject at hand, which is that eventually I do outline. In fact, before I ever start to write, I spend time gathering notes on 3×5 index cards I’ve cut in half. (being smaller, more cards can be laid out than if I used the 3×5 cards whole)  Notes about characters, the world, possible motivations, possible events, incidents… So it’s not like I’m diving blind into the book. If anything, it can feel like I have too much material. Some of it I’ll use; some of it I won’t. It’s hard to know, sometimes, which is which.

In her book Novel-in-the-Making, Mary O’Hara (also the author of My Friend Flicka) talks about various ideas for what might happen needing time to sort themselves out. At first you may not be able to tell which one you like, which one fits, but over time they will sort themselves out as some rise to the surface while others sink into oblivion.

All this work with the cards is a way of allowing some ideas to rise to the top and other to sink out of my awareness.

Once I’ve gotten started though, tested the waters a bit, as I said I do have a form of outlining that I use, which is based on information Jack Bickham provided in his Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction Series book Scene and Structure.

The structure is based on cause and effect and the notion of alternating “scenes” and “sequels”, all oriented to an overall story goal.  Bickham uses an example of Fred needing to be first to climb a mountain .

“I must be the first to climb that mountain,” Fred said.

Thus the reader wonders, “Will Fred succeed in being the first to climb the mountain?”

So Fred begins his quest. First up, he must convince the bank to give him a loan of sufficient money to  finance and equip his expedition. Thus, in the next scene, taking place at the bank, his goal is to get a loan.

If he gets the loan, everyone’s happy, and his plan moves forward but the reader will be asleep, or worse, annoyed, wondering why he was made to read through such banal material.

No, we have to have conflict. Therefore, the banker is opposed to Fred’s absurd notion right at the start and they have a fight.

This little scenario illustrates the components of a scene

First, it is active, something that could be staged in a play. It has a viewpoint character (Fred) with a goal (get a loan), and an obstacle to his achieving that goal (the banker). He and the banker conflict over the goal, and the scene ends in disaster for Fred’s goal. (the banker says no, and never come back to this bank again; the banker says yes, but you’ll owe me for the rest of your life; or yes, but you must take my bratty, 14-year-old son with you.)

A sequel, on the other hand, is static, it’s reflective. After the above scene, Fred will have to go away and think things through. Review what happened, deal with his emotions, decide what he really wants, consider his options and come up with a plan of action, which should involve a new goal related to the overall story goal of climbing the mountain.  A sequel then, recounts the character’s feelings about what’s just happened, these move into thoughts about what to do next, and culminate in a decision.

I try to organize my stories based on this framework, and I’ve found it helps at least not to end up with everything wrapped up before you want it to be, seeing as the scenes always have to end in some sort of disaster, or they’re not a scene.

Obviously there is a LOT more to all of this, or Bickham wouldn’t have been able to write an entire book on the subject. And it’s not quite as simplistic or as formulaic as I’ve made it seem here. Sometimes the viewpoint character is not the one with the goal for example, but the one being acted upon. That is my situation right now with Chapter 1. My POV is reacting to events that have suddenly come into her life, which is part of what’s making this chapter so difficult. Plus elements of the hidden story are emerging, but of course, neither she nor the reader will realize that at the moment.

Anyway, I had written about two-thirds of Arena, got bogged down, got hold of Bickham’s book and spent three weeks reworking the book in accordance with the scene/sequel structure. I think it helped a great deal. I’ve used Bickham’s approach on all my subsequent books, though maybe not as religiously as I did in Arena. After awhile you start to get a sense for doing it automatically. But when you hit a wall, it’s these principles that have most often helped me get around/over/through it.

And just writing about all this has been helpful as well. Because I have rediscovered all those note cards I had, which I knew I had but didn’t feel ready to look at yet… Maybe tomorrow I will.


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