Anaea Carlisle, raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women, believes the rest of the universe has been plunged into anarchy and ruin by an alien-engineered disease known as Y-Poisoning. On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew.
Forced to flee the station with Gwydion, Anaea finds herself in an inexplicable, often hostile world, permanently divided between the Galactic Collective and the Pinnacle Empire. She longs for someplace to call home, but first, she’ll have to survive.
I both love and hate Lindsey Duncan. She is just so damned good at what she does that it’s easy to be jealous of her talent. It’s also all too easy to fall in love with her writing. Lindsey releases her next novel Scylla and Charybdis on April 15, 2018. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. I tell you, if you don’t pick up this book, you’ll deprive yourself a seriously good read. Below is an interview with Lindsey.
What kinds of writing do you do?
I write speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy, in novels, and short stories. Also, I get in the occasional bit of poetry. My wheelhouse is secondary world (non-Earth) fantasy, epic and/or humorous. But both my published novels are outside that umbrella, so apparently, I’ll try almost anything in the speculative vein.
In poetry, I love form poems, particularly those with repeated lines, such as the villanelle.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Scylla and Charybdis was never supposed to be a novel. It started life as a short story. The focus of the plot was to leave Anaea with an impossible choice: which of two unfamiliar, hostile societies would she make a life? Her decision was left up to the reader.
Editors received it well with multiple personalized rejections. They all said the same thing. This story needed to be a novel.
I kicked, flailed and sulked. (In private, of course.) And finally, I gave in, even though the story was outside my world building comfort zone.
I initially described Scylla and Charybdis as soft science fiction, and I’ve joked that it’s actually “gushy science fiction.” Kristell Ink described it as space opera. This may be more accurate as long as you don’t expect the plethora of planets and alien species common to the genre. In the past, I’ve shied away from science fiction due to technical knowledge. I didn’t grasp enough engineering, physics, and other sciences to feel confident in creating a precise, accurate universe. I’ve been able to fake it for short fiction, but for a novel? That took me aback. After all, it’s not what you know that trips you up. It’s what you think you do, but you’re wrong.
I decided the best way to make sure that I didn’t build on false assumptions was to construct the setting in exacting detail. Knowing that (for instance) this planet had a ten-degree axial tilt would keep me from idly describing massive shifts in the seasons. So even though you don’t see most of the numbers in the text, for every planet, I know the star intensity, axial tilt, day length, year length, moon rotation.
I do a lot of world building for my projects, but this was on another level and restricted in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with. (Pesky physics.) I didn’t get all of it right. My lovely editor caught a few errors that needed tweaking. But my extensive preparation paid off. In editing, I found that most things I needed to clarify were already in my notes. I had to make very few changes for the sake of scientific accuracy.
The planetary research was a lot of fun for me. I’m a closeted math lover, and I find numbers soothing. But it was uncharted territory, and it was the hardest part of bringing Scylla and Charybdis to the page.
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
In the writing world, we talk a lot about “plotters vs. pantsers” – those writers who outline and develop in detail, and those who write by the seat of their pants. I describe myself as a quasi-pantser. I do intensive world building and character creation and come up with a general plot and big moments, but otherwise write freely.
Before I set down one word of the novel itself, I write a guide of cultures, histories, magic system, religion, currency—anything relevant. A lot of what I develop will never see the page, but even the unused details perform two purposes for me.
First, these details buttress the underlying structure of the narrative. Second, I’m an incubator. The story develops, often subconsciously, in the downtime and on the back burners of my brain. My planning process allows me the time I need to create beats, scenes, nuances I may not consciously know until I reach that point in the narrative.
This preparation gives me a framework in how the characters will interact, and how the world will push back when their desires collide with the status quo. In this context, I don’t feel as if I’m “pantsing” my plot. It’s an inevitable outgrowth of the setting and people I’ve created.
But there are still surprises. In Scylla and Charybdis, the character Flick didn’t even exist in the building phases. It wasn’t until I wrote that section of the book that I realized Anaea needed a guide. Flick sprang into being, and (I think) he’s one of the most colorful characters.
I do write tighter outlines for short stories because if I don’t, they wander and turn into novels. Sometimes they do that anyway.
What do you like to read in your free time?
In fiction, I read primarily secondary world fantasy and character-centric science fiction. Bujold is a favorite in the latter category. I’m not much for military SF. I do read a fair amount of urban/contemporary fantasy, in part because it’s almost impossible to avoid it. Not that I harbor a dislike for the subgenre. My first published novel, Flow, is contemporary fantasy.
As a writer, what I like best about fantasy stories set in our world is the ability to make call outs to popular culture. Kit and Hadrian converse about The Princess Bride, fava beans, and a nice Chianti.
I enjoy a good themed anthology. It’s a pleasure to see the different perspectives, styles, and plots that develop out of a single topic.
I also love historical mystery novels. I’m a big fan of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series. Also, I’m fascinated with mystery. Occasionally, I pick up a cozy, where the detective has to rely on wits and deduction, without forensic backup. This interest leached into my writing. My next novel, in the final stage of editing, is Unnatural Causes. It is a secondary world fantasy-mystery where a familiar and an apprentice investigate their mage’s death.
I’m usually read a non-fiction book at the same time. Right now, it’s synesthesia research for the next novel. But it might also be history, viticulture, mythology or psychology. My day job is professional chef/pastry chef. I spend a lot of time with recipe books, particularly those that explore the culture and history behind the cuisine.
About Lindsey Lindsey Duncan is a chef/pastry chef, professional harp performer and speculative fiction writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. She writes predominantly fantasy, usually epic and/or humorous, with some soft science fiction. She plays the traditional lever harp with a specialty in Celtic music, but also performs modern and Renaissance tunes. For Lindsey, music and language are inextricably linked.
Thank you for letting me share my new book with your readers. Like many, I’m a fan of the Hobbit movies. More specifically, of Lee Pace, who played Elven King Thranduil. The character so resembled my hero, Pietas, that I delighted in watching Pace portray him. There was one scene where Thranduil puts the dwarf king, Thorin (actor Richard Armitage), in prison. He tells him he can stay there and rot because a hundred years is a mere blink in the life of an elf. I loved that scene and watched it repeatedly. When I wrote the scene below, I saw a chance to pay homage to the scene (and the actors).
THE BOOK–FORGED IN FIRE.
When the immortal Pietas is marooned on a barren world with no food and few survival tools, he knows it could be worse. He could be alone. But that’s the problem. He’s not.Half a million of his people sleep in cryostasis, trapped in their pods and it’s up to Pietas to rescue them. Before he can save his people, he must take back command from a ruthless enemy he’s fought for centuries. His brutal, merciless father. Immortals may heal, but a wound of the heart lasts forever…
Angst, a little humor, some sweet romance, and a ton of betrayal with plenty of vengeance. Oh, and let’s not forget–one ginormous black panther “kitty.”
INTRODUCTION TO BOOK EXCERPT
In this excerpt, Pietas and the search party sent to find him have become lost and have walked for hours. When he realizes they’re near a summit that will allow him to see the valley they searched for, he heads for it. Joss, the telepath, and warrior he loves tries to keep him from going, insisting she has a better vantage point. Pietas suspects a trick.
“Joss. The truth this time.”
While she studied him, Pietas remained motionless. The gentle prod of her mind across his shields reminded him she’d seen his thoughts despite his best efforts. Or perhaps she’d allowed him to be aware. In the past, he’d noticed such intrusion during training but not outside it.
“Pietas, if you want to see the caldera from this point, I can’t stop you, but once you see what’s out there, you can’t un-see it. I want to spare you the devastation until you’ve had a chance to see the good side. If I take you in through the pass, you can appreciate the true beauty of this place first. Maybe come up with a way we can make it work here. Survive.”
According to Joss, half a million of his people lay in helpless cryosleep within lifepods on the other side of that hill. Over three thousand pods had been damaged beyond saving. The frozen immortals within them shattered.
A short hike above, the summit waited. In two short minutes he could see for himself. “How long would your route take us?”
“Less than a half hour.”
Once more, the short distance to the actual summit drew his attention. How many steps?
“Pi?” Six nudged him. “Is that even a blink in the life of an immortal?”
“No, ghost, it’s not.” How grateful he was for this man. “Besides, I’m patient.”
His sister scoffed. “You?” Turning to the twins, she pointed at Pietas. “That is not my brother.”
No, he was not. He was far better. His sister could see the change. Why would she not accept it?
Resisting the urge to respond with cynicism, Pietas shut his mouth.
He indicated the route Joss wanted to take. “Let’s go your way.”
“Thank you for listening to me.” Joss took Pietas by the hand, reached up, and dragged a fingertip down the cleft in his chin.
“This place is stunning. I hate that so much of it will be spoiled by our being here.”
“Why? Has Mother released environmental impact studies?”
“No, she–” The look Joss sent his way resembled pity. “You’ll see. Not far now.”
“You’ve been saying ‘not far’ for hours. Did I not teach you to mark trails?”
“I’m sorry, Pietas. It won’t happen again.”
Oh, but it would. She wouldn’t mean for it to happen, but it would. He’d tried for centuries to teach her how to find her way, to no avail. He kissed her cheek and drew her into his arms, savoring her warmth.
“Joss.” He placed his mouth near her ear. “You couldn’t find your way out of a round room with one door.”
She jerked up her head and looked at him, eyes wide.
“And I adore you for it.”
Kayelle Allen writes Sci Fi with misbehaving robots, mythic heroes, role playing immortal gamers, and warriors who purr. She’s a US Navy veteran and has been married so long she’s tenured.
Interviewer: We are here today with Beth Turnage, the author of Forced Labor and the sequel No Free Lunch, and the protagonist of those stories Arekan Mor’a’stan. Welcome, both of you, though, I must say it is unusual to have a fictional character sit in on an interview.
Arekan: What the hells are we doing here?
Interviewer scratches head. So Beth, tell me. You are writing a series of books of what you call the Mor’a’stani Universe. How did you decide to develop these stories?
Arekan: She got bored in geometry class.
Arekan: Well, it’s true. You started writing that first piece of trash in that geometry class and then when you finished that you started on Kelleen’s, that’s my daughter’s, story. Forty years and she’s still not done.
Beth: You were never meant to be a main character.
Arekan: So you keep saying.
Interviewer: Ah, Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
Arekan: Are you kidding? (Points to Beth) In-tro-vert. Look it up on your communication net. One of her selfies is the illustration.
Beth: (with a pained voice) I get out. And it’s called the internet. And my picture does not illustrate the word “introvert.”
Arekan: It did the last time I looked. And the food market DOES NOT count. And you might want to rethink the number of trips you make to it. And your carb count.
Beth: You’re worse than your daughter.
Arekan: While you are at it, hit that fancy gym you pay for each month a couple times a week. I can’t have you having a heart attack before you finish writing my stories.
Beth: Nice to know you have my best interests at heart.
Interviewer: (takes a deep breath) Okay then. What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Arekan: Her strong narrative voice as dictated by me.
Beth: (stares hard at Arekan) My quirky characters.
Interviewer: Well, then. I see we have time for one more question. Seeing that you two seem to have a contentious relationship how do you work together?
Arekan: Easy. I have a sword.
Beth: I have a pen. And you know what they say is mightier.
Arekan: The sword of course.
Beth: Arekan, you need to catch up on nineteenth century authors. The pen.
Arekan: Your nineteenth century? I don’t think so. I don’t read Kyn fiction led alone Earth fiction. Sword. Every time.
Arekan: Scribe, do not try my patience. Sword.
Beth: What patience? With you it’s swing first and ask questions later. Pen!
Interviewer: Thank you for tuning into “Interviews with Authors.” Next week a pleasant chat with a nice fantasy author about faeries. No swords involved.
Writing is hard. Difficult. Okay, it’s the kick in your stomach when you are working like a demon to scrape the words out of your dissolute soul.The words refuse to arrive like the A-list celebrities you invited to your party. Your characters snottily refuse to talk to you, your descriptions fall flatter than gluten-free pancakes, and your inner world sucks.
W. Somerset Maugham said:
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
You can construct a plot, get the pacing just right, create compelling characters but if the words on the page are lackluster the story just isn’t going to fly.
We’ve discussed lexical density in previous posts and took a good hard look at the conclusions of a study called Success with Style: Using Writing Style to Predict the Success of Novels, by Stony Brook University’s Vikas Gajingunte Ashok, Song Feng and Yejin Choi, whether or not a book will sell can be determined by the use of certain parts of speech. Successful books used a higher percentage of nouns and adjectives and conjunctions. Less successful books had a higher percentage of verbs and adverbs.
Less successful books, they concluded, used less descriptive and duller verbs and clichés.
But what makes a word interesting? What makes a verb exciting?
Part of making your words interesting is reducing the number of vague and sticky words. These words are usually from the list of the two hundred most common words.
But this also begs the question of why people seem to pick up on nouns and adjectives over verbs. I believe this has to do with how the human brain acquires language.
Babies first sort language from sticking shapes in their mouths. Parents reinforce the word shape with verbal prompts. Hard, square, round, soft, are initial concepts a baby learn through touch. And those concepts are? Nouns and adjectives.
So is it logical to assume that people concentrate more on concrete words than abstract ones?
So the secret of lexical density is giving the brain more of what it makes sense of easily.
Let’s take a look at two different sentences conveying the same information but in different ways. These sentences were taken from the Romance Writer’s Phrase Book, (Kent and Shelton, pg. 6) (What? You didn’t know I wrote romance novels as my day job?)
Example One: He reached out and touched her arm.
Example Two: A tingling of excitement raced through her as his fingers trailed sensuously down her arm.
1.) Concentrate on increasing your nouns and adjectives.
2.) Cut prepositions, verbs, and adverbs when possible.
3.) Natural sounding dialogue tends not to be lexically dense. You need dialogue to sound natural so use just enough to get the story point across. Use some exposition as a reaction to what the other character says though don’t overwhelm the dialogue.
4.) Aim for precise descriptions rather than abstract ones. Use more nouns and adjectives over verbs.
5.) Test out your lexical density with a website like Analyze My Writing and cut out sentences below 30% that aren’t absolutely necessary. Try to increase the lexical density of sentences falling below 49% but editing unnecessary filler and vague words such as preposition and adverbs.
And if you don’t need this exercise at all, God bless you and I’m jealous of you. The writers who naturally turn out descriptive phrases that make us weep always amaze me.
What do you think of increasing lexical density in your writing?
Until next time,
Image used under a Creative Commons License as issued by Flickr user Windell Oskay.
Beth: Hello, new guy. Welcome to my head. Have a seat and get comfortable.
NG: [looks around] Gee. It looks crowded in here.
Beth: Yeah. I write a lot. Some people like to read it.
NG: Hey, that’s good. You should use it as a tagline or something.
Beth: [clears throat, because Beth has indeed used this a tagline] Let’s get going.
NG: [craning neck] Who are those people over there with the swords? They look dangerous.
Beth: No one you need to worry about. They aren’t here for you. So, I’m about to start this piece featuring you and I thought I could get to know you a bit before I start tort—I mean writing about you.
NG: Wait. You’re a writer?
Beth: [mumbles. Scribbles on paper before her “not quick on the uptake.”]
NG: [Rises from seat] I don’t know. I heard writers do scary things to characters.
Beth: Please sit down. We have a lot of work to do, and frankly [voice turns menacing] you aren’t going anywhere.
NG: Why? Can’t you write a chapter or two and forget all about me? I hear writers do that all the time.
Beth: Not this writer. Besides, they already put up money for you.
NG: [frowns] Who are “they?”
Beth: The clients who bought this story.
NG: [fear spreads on his face] Wait. That means you are a—
Beth: Yes, ghostwriter. Now, what’s your favorite color?
NG: [staring at a character with a sword walking toward them] Um, Red.
Beth: Hmmm. Favorite food?
NG: [gulping as the man with the sword stands over him scowling] Thai.
Beth: (shrugs) I don’t know. This is supposed to be a Mafia romance. Well, maybe I could work in an interesting subplot with that.
Sword Guy: Who in hells is this, Beth?
Beth: [distractedly, concentrating on paper] Hi, Arekan. Contract character. Just temporary.
NG:[indignantly] Temporary! And just who is this?
Beth: A character from one of my personal works-in-progress. Arekan, New Guy, New Guy Arekan.
NG: [accusatory] He doesn’t look like a romance character.
Beth: That’s right. He’s part of a science fantasy series I’m writing.
NG: There’s no such category as Science Fantasy.
Beth: So agents have told me. It’s a tough sell.
Arekan: Now wait a minute.
Beth: Hey. Are you paying the bills? No. Then don’t complain.
Arekan: You’ve been spending a lot of time with these “temporary characters.”
Beth: A girl’s gotta eat.
Arekan: You haven’t written anything about me in months. And didn’t you say you’d get my two books done this year? Look at it. Six weeks left, and you aren’t even halfway there yet.
Beth: I’m working here. Please go somewhere else.
Arekan: If I didn’t need you as my scribe I’d…
Beth: You’d what? You were never intended to be a main character.
Arekan: Too bad for you then. I’m not going anywhere.
Beth: You sure about that? Remember I know where the bodies are buried.
Arekan: [innocently] What bodies?
Beth: Don’t play games with me. Or do you want me to rewrite that scene again that reveals your personal pain?
Beth: I think you are confusing me with a character. Now, please, go wander off into some other corner of my mind, before I have to do something about you.
Arekan: You haven’t heard the last of me.
Beth: That’s what I’m afraid of. [Waves hand dismissively] Go.
[A cute woman wanders to the table.]
Cute Woman: Um, hi.
Beth: Hello. And you are?
Cute Woman: Don’t you remember me?
Beth: [scratches head, then smiles] Um, sure. You’re from that MC romance I wrote a couple years ago.
Cute Woman: When are you going to write more about us?
Beth: Sorry to break it to you. I’m not.
Cute Woman: But—
Beth: Look. You were part of a contract piece and it’s done. You had your HEA. What more do you want?
Cute Woman: But didn’t you have fun writing us?
Beth: I did and it was great, but it’s over now.
Cute Woman: [looking dismayed] But there is so much left to our story. And you left some plot threads dangling. Can’t you—
Beth: No. Look, I don’t own the rights to you. They go to the person that bought the story.
Cute Woman: I-I don’t think I can accept that.
Beth: Persistence was always one of your best traits. But I have to get back to work now.
Cute Woman: Look, if you don’t write more of our story, I’ll haunt your dreams. I whisper plot lines in your ear that you can’t resist. You always wanted to go to Mexico. Well, go with us.
Beth: I can’t. I have work lined up for months in advance.
Cute Woman: Please. I want to live again. I want—
Beth: [Sighs] I’ll contact the client and see if they want a Valentine’s story. But no promises.
Cute Woman: Thank you! I so appreciate that. Oh? Is that my little boy crying? I have to go! [character runs off]
Beth: [Sigh of relief] Well, that was awkward.
NG: Wow. Characters really cling to you, don’t they?
Beth: [writes on paper “emotionally perceptive.” And sighs again.] Yeah. I don’t think this is going to work. You don’t fit the tropes at all for the romance I’m writing.
NG: What? What are you saying?
Beth: I’ll just have to find someone else. But don’t worry. I like you. Just go over there and wait in that corner, and when I have a story that fits you, I bring you in.
NG: Seriously? You’re dumping me? I thought this was my story!
Beth: It’s not you. It’s me. The piece is due in less than a month, and I just don’t have the time to twist your character into this story. But don’t worry. I’ll call when I need you.
NG: [grumbles] Don’t expect me to wait around for you. I’m a great character. I deserve a writer that appreciates me for me. [Walks away in a huff.]
Beth: [Writes on paper: “too emo for Alpha male story. Maybe gay romance.” Looks up to the line of new characters.] Next.
Send those Twitter pitchesThe newest kidz on the block are Twitter pitch events where writers pitch their books in 140 characters or less to catch the attention of agents and publishers. If interested in reading more the agents and publishers like your pitch which is an invitation to query them.
Yes. You must go through the query process. But at least you have an invite and aren’t a stranger knocking at the gate.
Pitch Events are very competitive with only eight to ten percent of submitters gaining that coveted Twitter like. So what is it going to take to make your Twitter pitch shine? What do the agents and publishers look for.
Dan Kobel, an ardent supporter of SFFPit, says that they are looking for the main character’s name, the challenge they face and the stakes.
In 140 characters?
Well, it goes a beyond that because let’s face it. Your pitch is a marketing tool. And here I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you want to get the attention of agents and publishers you may have to write like a copywriter.
A copywriter employes in his or her bag of tricks a knowledge of emotional value words. (I linked to a post that shows some, not all Emotional Value Words.) These words trigger an emotional response in the reader. Hint. They are not the two hundred most common words in the English language.
But how do you know if the words you are using are high emotion words?
Let’s look at a tweet pitch I crafted for September 7, 2017 PitMad event.
#PitMad Earth Ambassador Kaj Deder must untangle the mysteries of a doomed planet governed by a repressive theocracy #A #ER #SF #LGBT
EMV Score: 29.41%
And it returned this:
Your Headline’s EMV Score:29.41%
This score indicates that your headline has a total of 29.41 Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Words. To put that in perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words.
And for comparison, most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.
A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.
While the overall EMV score for your headline is 27.78%, your headline also has the following predominant emotion classification: Intellectual
Notice though that this contained emotional trigger words, clash, repressive, theocracy, secrets, mysteries, doomed. The more you can put it in helps the efficacy of your pitch.
Sometimes though, depending on how many pitches you are allowed you can switch up the pitch with something directly from the book.
For Forced Labor in a PitMad two year’s ago I wrote:
Arekan’s to do list: Save idiot from spacewalk-check, save ship from pirates-check get sleep-sigh-Novella-Jackman #SFFpit #NA #SO
EMV Score: 21.43%
As he travels the stars Arekan uses many names. It’s safer that way.-Novella-Jackman #SFFpit #NA #SF #SO
The EMV Score: 30.77%
If you want to see what other people submitted during a Twitter Pitch you can enter #pitmad (or any of the others), go down a far bit, (because people are still talking about Pitmad and hashtagging it,) and look at the ones that got hearts and the ones that didn’t.
You’ll see that ones that don’t get likes are too generic, don’t have emotional value words, don’t show the stakes, and at times sounds like a television show you’ve seen already.
Shoot to get above 20%. I suspect the closer you get to 30% or over the more likely it is an agent or publisher will heart your pitch. But caution, the analyzer ticks off points for more than five words and you aren’t writing a headline. It’s possible to shorten the pitch to improve the score and ruin your pitch. Keep your pitch within the 30 to 40% range should be sufficient to generate some interest in your post.
And for those that are looking for October (2017) Twitter Pitch events here is a list:
OCTOBER PITCH EVENTS: (As listed on misascottikole.com)
>Date: San-Tanaran Eve (or thereabouts) (May 20, 2017)
That’s the best I can approximate dates between the Scribe’s homeworld calendar and Kyn’s. If you ask me hers is a crazy calendar. They add a day every four years to it. I ask her why they don’t use the moon like any normal civilization and she gives me one of those looks, like it’s useless to tell me anything.
Maybe I’ll find a new scribe.
But then again, it’s so very fun to watch her face twist when I say something that she disapproves of.
The Scribe’s been busy, earning a living, she says. She’s written about 1000 words on Pirate’s Luck and nothing else on my story, which is a damned inconvenience. She replies that if the stories I already told her sold better she wouldn’t have to write other people’s stories for them. What can I do? And I shouldn’t feel bad because she hasn’t worked on anything else of hers. I call bull pucks and point to the blog posts she writes, which, she spits back don’t count.
And you wonder why I never married.
Until next time.
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