Midnight Magic

Emily and Beth at Cinderella

I was sitting in a box seat watching the ballet Cinderella at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House when inspiration struck. Nothing surprising about this, as inspiration tends to strike me at the most inopportune moments (see my first Blog post, The Imps.) This inspiration was a long time coming, and I felt a sort of desperate dismay that I had no pen or pencil handy to write down what was suddenly so clearly wrong with my poor, meandering fantasy story called The Gantean. I feared I would get swept back into Prokofiev’s dark, haunting music and the breathtaking choreography of Christopher Wheeldon and lose all track of my new ideas.

Fortunately for me, I have lots of practice at frantic feats of memory, and I managed to hold onto my breakthroughs, despite the seductive lure of the show and the irritating people drinking champagne and rudely conversing in the neighboring boxes. No sooner had my friends and I exited the opera house than I had launched into one of those horrible writer monologues that I try very hard to avoid, the type where I completely dominate the conversation while discussing the plot of my book to glazed eyes. My forbearing friends, Christine and Beth, very kindly did not roll their eyes, and even offered additional suggestions to further the breakthrough. By the time we reached the parking garage, fully a third of the book had been axed for a far simpler, tighter plot with more tension.

Beth handed me a stack of withered paper from directions to past acting auditions, and Christine produced a pen. I spent the drive back to Marin scribbling the new ideas into lists. You can’t imagine how precious those papers became in the space of a thirty-minute drive.

Perhaps because it was the magic midnight hour when I finally arrived home—after an adventure in my 1966 Mini Cooper whose headlights died halfway there, just to add some drama to the evening—I could not sleep. Snippets of dialogue kept popping into my head every time I started to drop off. I finally gave up and went down to my office with a stack of scratch paper and just wrote and wrote. By the other witching hour—three in the morning—I had a full outline of the rewrites I needed to do, and a plan to completely cut and redo—count ‘em—nine chapters of The Gantean.

This past week I’ve been working through the outline and making my changes, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Many of you know that The Gantean has been a labor of loathing for the past five years. A book I began when I was twelve, The Gantean has see so many drafts I lost count somewhere around 123. I really am shocked I didn’t trash it years ago. It still exists only because I’ve written—erg—six other books set in the same world, and I really need this intro book to get the series rolling. So my mid-performance inspiration was a gift from the Imps that I could not afford to miss.

Figures they would send it in the middle of a ballet.

Strangers on the Interwebs

When Beth and I set out to become Luminous Creatures, we knew nothing about being self-published authors. We simply wanted to do it, and with characteristic earnestness and eagerness, we leapt into the deep end of the pool. Marketing quickly emerged as our butterfly stroke—you know the butterfly stroke, the one no one can learn, the one that makes you feel like you’re a flailing cow in the water? That’s marketing.

Our deepest marketing questions: In a market flush with too many options, how do you convince a reader to take a chance on your unknown book? Particularly when you’re working on a budget of dreams and effort rather than money?

Determined to solve the mysteries of marketing with minimal flailing, we explored options. Social media emerged as an obvious avenue, though we were both a little skeptical about how participating in these websites might translate into actual sales. As Beth pointed out loudly in the middle of our favorite meeting spot, The Barefoot Café in Fairfax, California, “Twitter is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Tweeting is a moronic verb.”

Aside—the folks at Barefoot must get a kick out of us. We’ve had some pretty funny conversations there:

Beth, earnestly, in her onstage voice: “Did you know? I’m an extrovert! I can belt a conversation across the room from the power of my butthole.”

Emily, wryly: “Really? I had no idea.”

Then there was the time we performed squats after lunch to determine the best way to describe Emmeline’s exercise regime in The Velocipede Races.

Oh, yes. They love us at the Barefoot.

Being the introvert to Beth’s extrovert, I wanted nothing to do with putting my private thoughts on a public board. Being the intrepid extrovert that she is, Beth opened a Twitter account. Here’s what I love about my writing partner: She hates it? She thinks it’s moronic? She does it anyway!

I dug in my introverted heels, saying, “I don’t like interacting with strangers on the interwebs. It’s creepy.”

Beth agreed she’d be the official Luminous Creature on Twitter and cheerfully tweeted away, usually posting something about our books. She complained [loudly] about the stupidity of it for several weeks. But a month or two later, she began to make friends with other self-published writers, specifically those who write Jane Austen spin-offs like some of her recent work. She connected to a whole wide world of Austen fanatics.

We kept exchanging startled looks over lunch and saying, “Who knew there were so many Jane Austen fans out there hungering for sequels?”

Beth found a blog to review Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven and wrote a guest post. She connected with a young woman in England and exchanged reviews. Mysterious marketing leads were arising! The social media were working! With great reluctance and a fair amount of [quiet] grumbling, I slumped to my desk and opened my own account on The Twit to begin the painful process of interacting with strangers on the interwebs.

At first, I was overwhelmed by self-published authors tweeting the titles of their book IN CAPITAL LETTERS and the seemingly endless stream of people informing me that their wrists hurt because #amwriting and OMG 1550 words today!!! Gradually, I learned to use the list function to sort the interesting tweeps from the shameless self-promoters, the thinkers from the whiners.

And now, in the past two months, two exciting things have happened because of strangers on the interwebs! I can hardly believe it. Momentum Magazine, which covers “the bicycling lifestyle,” put out a call for bike commuters interested in being interviewed. I submitted my name because I wanted to promote The Velocipede Races, which I largely composed while commuting by bike, desperately repeating phrases as I rode so I could scribble them on index cards when I arrived. Momentum wrote me back with interview questions and photo specs and collected my replies in a matter of days. I’m currently waiting to receive my free copy. Keep your eyes peeled for the April/Spring issue on stands in your local health food store. You can also check out Momentum online.

The second, more exciting lead revolves around writing. I follow Maggie Stiefvater on The Twit. She is the author of fantastic YA books, including The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys, and she is also an entertaining and humorous tweep who made it onto my “real people” list for her amusing posts. A few weeks ago she posted a match-up on her blog for writers to connect with potential critique partners—not friend crit-partners as all mine have been—but rather strangers-from-the-interwebs critique partners. I submitted my data and bit my nails. I exchanged information with five other writers, including brief descriptions of my works-in-progress, an introduction to my reading and writing interests, and of course, samples of my work for them to critique.

Two of my exchanges were discouraging, one a flat-out poor match, the other a rather painful case of drastically different writing styles and strong opinions. But the third stranger was a match! I was so excited to receive my first feedback from Tony Caruso of Long Island, New York. And truly, I was even more excited to give my first feedback to him. My secret fantasy profession—aside from a velocipede jockey or a circus acrobat—is an editor.

At any rate, I thoroughly broke out the red text all over Tony’s gripping work-in-progress, Welcome to the End. People who know me know I only bother with the red text if I think something is good. But I’m so used to working with Beth that it never occurred to me to take it easy on my first real possibility of a new crit-partner. I’m a little…avid. Especially if I get to write rather than talk, though those of you who have heard my rant about the pitfalls of belly-breathing and the importance of the side-belly muscles may think I’m…avid when I speak, too.

After hitting send on my editing demonstration, I gnawed my already-chewed nails. Had I been too aggressive? Would he think I was a big meanie for creating all that red sprawl on his pristine document?

And there it was, quickly! The reply! I opened it with a shaking hand. (One of the reasons I now know Tony is a good crit-partner match for me is that he always gets back to my emails very promptly, and he writes a nice long chunk of an email when he replies, too.) He told me he was surprised when he first saw my edits, and my hopes fell.

He hates my comments. I’m a big meanie.

Soul-searching commenced. I admitted to being aggressive when it came to editing. I asked myself, Am I one of those people? A nasty dream-crusher?

If I am, I defended, it’s not my fault. It’s all that ballet training when I was a child. I only learned to give criticism because we had no time for compliments while seeking perfection.

Tony, a mature, open-minded sort, reassured me that he thought my edits were helpful, and we have proceeded with sharing more. He sent me edits on the first few chapters of my epic fantasy book, The Gantean, offering suggestions for line edits, cuts, and world-building. The exchange has so far been an incredibly rewarding process and fascinating, too. I’ve gotten to do fact-checking research on pharmaceuticals, methods of murder, minarets, and the difference between acids and bases. I’ve gotten to experiment with recreating fight scenes in the privacy of my office, not to mention discussing the best insult for a teenage girl to use on her sister.

Who knew it could be so much fun to connect with strangers on the interwebs?

Looking Back and Looking Forward

We’ve had a look back over our first year as Luminous Creatures Press and were pleased by what we saw! During 2013 we:

*published four books: two collections of short stories, a novella, and a novel.
*got some lovely reviews of our books on Amazon, Goodreads, and book blogs
*made great connections with other writers and readers via social media
*did a couple of interviews about our work
*did a guest blog post with Indie Jane

We also learned a couple of important things:

*finding readers, though key, is a big challenge
*marketing is a mystery

Here’s what to expect in 2014:

*paperback versions of books
*a new novel set in the same world as The Velocipede Races
*the first two books in a new fantasy series
*the next Regency Magic Book: Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas
*audiobooks (Beth is dusting off her voice-over acting skills as we type)
*a contest for writers