I'm feeling more and more that the single most important element of any novel is tone. This is also called voice, and is the feeling behind a story. It's not the story, or the characters, or the plot, or even the world. The tone is the flavor of the book, in a way. It's how words are strung together, how images are used, and more. And it's simply impossible to teach. You either use a tone that resonates with your readers, or you don't.
The last three books I've read all had magnificent tones. I read the two books of Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle, followed by Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. The latter made me especially aware of the power of tone, and it's what I'd like to talk about.
I've been a fan of the film version (shown above and below) of Howl's Moving Castle, as directed by Hayao Miyazaki, for well over a decade. In fact, since seeing it, I'd describe it as one of my all time favorite movies. It took me too long to get to the book, but I dove into the novel with a lot of preconceptions. The book came first, of course. I usually try to read books before I see the movies, but in this case that didn't happen. Most book to movie adaptations involve cutting. The movie's removed certain elements, simplified things, and sometimes made small changes. They're the same story though.
I began reading Jones' novel thinking that would be the case, but it wasn't at all. The movie and the novel are like sisters. They're related, and have many overlapping elements both character and story-wise. However, the differences go far beyond some simple cuts. There are drastic character differences (including in the main character- in the book, Sophie has magic which is essential to the climax, where she has none in the movie). And even the genres of the two are different. The movie is high fantasy (an invented world), but the book is low fantasy (elements of our world, including the fact that Howl was born in and visits Wales). I'm not complaining. I didn't like the book more than the movie, or less. It was essentially a different work, and I enjoy both immensely.
Yet, that brought me back to tone. The movie changed so much that it was practically a different story completely. Nearly every major detail was altered in some key way, and the conflicts and resolutions were similar but not the same. Yet, the movie captured the tone of the book perfectly. The book has a voice, a feeling of happiness and wonder and bemusement. Sophie is cranky but lovable, and the movie captured both of dynamics like a mirror. If you enjoyed the movie you should absolutely read the book, and vice versa, because the tone is the same.
Which brings me back to tone. It's something I'm paying more and more attention to as an author, and something I'm striving to improve with. What are some of your favorite books because of tone?
My wife, son, and I joined my parents for a wonderful week-long Christmas vacation at Disney World. Our favorite park was Animal Kingdom, but each of the parks had its own magical moments, from a VIP Star Wars tour with stormtroopers to Gavin's infectious smile at the stage production of "Finding Nemo." A wonderful trip. Here are some of the photo highlights.
Six years ago today I took a trip to Tintagel. I've shared about the experience many times, which inspired The Scythe Wielder's Secret, and my subsequent writing career. To celebrate I'd like to share some photos, and a never-before-released video of the very moment that led to my writing career.
The peninsula Barras Nose, seen from Tintagel, Oct 8, 2011.
I was already in an inspiring environment, studying at Oxford. Every week, at least once a week I traveled somewhere I'd never been before. One of the most amazing experiences was a trip to Tintagel, Cornwall. I became stranded there, and the following morning, I struggled against fierce winds to the edge of Barras Nose, the peninsula pictured above. I stood on a cliff, at dawn, fighting fierce winds from every direction. It was the moment that The Scythe Wielder's Secret was born, as well as its main character who is completely alone, fighting opponents in every direction.
Tintagel was truly inspiring. Here is the original blog post, which has the full story, including getting stranding and discovering some of the origins of King Arthur. Yet, the entire four months I spent abroad were equally inspiring. This was less than a month after Rachel came to Rome and Oxford with me, and I'd realized that she was the "one". And even after my studies, I traveled a bit more in Europe, continuing to feel constantly inspired.
Radcliffe Camera, Oxford
As amazing as my experiences abroad were, I can't help feeling that I'm on the edge of something far great and far more exciting. I'm standing on the cliff, overlooking a world of possibilities I have dreamed of my entire writing life. And now, as I take that leap into the unknown, I can only hope that inspiration and wonder follow where I go...
I'm proud to participate in my THIRD YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team (the GOLD team)!But play fast: this contest only lasts 72 hours!
Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SEVEN teams, meaning seven contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the GOLD TEAM--but there six other teams and chances to win a whole different set of books! Succeed in this team, and you could win every book below, including my novel School of Deaths!
Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the GOLD team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).
Luke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can't break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn't be falling for.
Jeremy's been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something's missing. Jeremy's family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it's tied to Jeremy.
This might be the one curse Luke can't uncross. If true love's kiss fails, what's left for him and Jeremy?
Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, releases TODAY from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dog. Visit her on Goodreads. In fact maybe you should visit her repeatedly, say perhaps 28 times? (wink, wink). But wait- there's more- she's offering a special sneak peak into her novel with an EXCLUSIVE PLAYLIST!!
And don't forget to continue the Scavenger Hunt! The next author on the Gold Team is Abigail Johnson!
What did you think of the hunt? Does this sound like an exciting new novel? Leave a comment below and share!
Today, I'm thrilled to feature an interview with debut novelist and friend Missy De Graff, whose new novel The Rogue's Fate is coming soon!
If your life hung in the balance, would you choose to make your own destiny or leave your life to fate?
Lucinda Raven is being hunted by her ex-lover, a controlling rogue Alpha, who is determined to perform the sacred mating ritual that will bind them together forever. Knowing nothing will keep him from carrying out his ruthless plan, Lucinda is on the run and seeks refuge in the territory of an old friend.
Caidan Moone, cursed Alpha of the Blood Moone Pack, has a tortured history that haunts him daily. He sees the arrival of this beautiful and alluring nomad as a chance at redemption from his prior failures and invites her to stay, despite the danger it brings to the entire pack.
As Caidan and Lucinda grow closer, her two worlds collide and Lucinda must face the events of her dark past in order to save the future. Will Caidan be able to protect her without sacrificing his pack? Or will she end up bearing the mark of her psychotic ex?
CM: Tell us about your new release?
MDG: The Rogue’s Fate is my debut novel, scheduled to be released soon, possibly Fall 2017. It walks the line between an urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and it will appeal to the older YA and Adult crowd.
CM: What inspired this particular story?
MDG: I was going through a hard time when I first started writing this story. My mother had just passed away after a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Writing was my way of coping. I’ve always loved fantasy and paranormal creatures, so it was only natural that’s what I would write about. And I needed a strong female lead to help me through the hard times, so I made one. I threw all sort of emotional obstacles at her and she survived-so I knew I would too.
CM: How long have you been working on this and what did it take to get published?
MDG: I first started working on this story in 2014. It was just for fun and as a coping mechanism. But then, it took on a life of its own and grew into so much more. I took a break from writing in 2015 but got back to finishing this piece in 2016 and then went through the revision, editing, and querying process. It has been a long journey to get here, but I’m thrilled to be at the end stage.
CM: How'd you pick your MC's name?
MDG: I try to pick my character names for specific reasons, such as the meaning of the name. Lucinda, the main character, her name means Light. And Caiden, the male lead, his name means Battle. In picking Lucinda’s name, I also wanted a name that had multiple nicknames. Lucinda has two nicknames in the book-Lux and Cinda-each one represents a different period of her life.
CM: Tell us about your main character.
MDG: Lucinda Mae Ravin is a rogue wolf shifter, meaning she wanders alone with no pack allegiance. She is strong-willed, resilient, and compassionate. Life has thrown so much at her, and she may stumble, but she doesn’t falter. Her life motto is: I bend with the hurricane when the wind blows. I stand as solid as a brick wall when the waves come crashing down. I am strong.
CM: Is this your first work?
MDG: Yes, this is my debut novel. It isn’t the first story I’ve written, or idea had, but it is the first novel I’ve completed through the entire process of outlining, drafting, revising, editing, querying, and now publishing.
CM: What's next for you?
MDG: I’m currently in the first round of revisions for The Alpha’s Secret, which is the second book in The Raven Chronicles. And then I’ll dive straight into drafting the third book, The Witch’s Betrayal.
CM: If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be?
MDG: Oh wow, that’s a tough one! Just one song? Let’s see...Taking Chances by Celine Dion.
CM: Anything else you want to add?
MDG: Chris, thank you so much for having me here today, it’s been fun!
Today, as the country looks up to the sky to witness one of nature's wonders, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the very human issues of the past week. A number of people I know on social media have taken to posting things about Charlottesville and elsewhere with the message of "it's time to move on" or "just let it go."
I know this is a conversation that's difficult. I know many people like to pretend it's not about them, or it doesn't affect them. As I see it, there are two types of racism in this world. One is the active racism of people who honestly believe what they say. They think they're better than others because of the color of their skin, forgetting that the color of their blood- of all human blood- is the same red. This type of racism is not new and is not in the hearts of the majority of people, but it is suddenly louder in the US. It's been given a new voice, and a new sense of acceptance by the current Administration.
The second type of racism, however, is far more insidious. This is the racism found when people see or hear things and ignore it. It is a racism of complicity. Seeing statues erected to honor white superiority and asking to preserve them. Seeing voter laws changed to disenfranchise minorities and saying nothing to your leaders. Or seeing Nazi rallies and not condemning hate for what it is. Boston was a powerful example of what happens when people come out in support of tolerance and love. Hate is a powerful emotion, but so is love.
There are no easy solutions. I don't think showing up to shout down racists will work in the long run. I don't think protests and counter protests are the only answer, because it does continue the "us vs them" mentality adopted by the racist communities. I think back to my years teaching theatre. One of the things I love, especially about the arts, is the environment we fostered. Kids come to theatre often feeling outcast already. People of every race, socioeconomic background, and sexual preference. These kids worked together on shows, on plays, on building things together. They saw themselves as teammates, as friends. This is one possible long-term solution to combating racism. I wish we could go into communities where people are isolated and encourage them to work together with people of color. Send the racists into service through groups like the Peace Corps or USAID and have them help people in Africa, Asia, and other countries where perhaps these people start to realize they can fit in with others in a positive way. After all, racism is built on fear and ignorance, and both are combated through education and experience.
Every year, arts in education are being cut. When I left teaching, I'd already been asked to continue an afterschool theatre program with no pay for any of my extra time, despite it being more time and harder than my regular teaching job. The department was also told to go without funding entirely. Community service, while encouraged in some schools, is often a lip service term given to kids who'll find time to help a teacher decorate their classroom, instead of going somewhere and doing something that engages with a broader community. These are issues you can talk with your elected school board officials about. These are issues that have long-term consequences.
In the meantime, no, do not "let it go" and just try to forget what's going on around you. Speak up for what you believe in. Call out your leaders if they're not representing your values. And take the time to look at the world. This is a problem that's not going away anytime soon, and that needs to be talked about and addressed every day.
Give our children a better world than the one we live in.
I have been writing for a long time. Heck, I've wanted to be a writer since middle school. I've been writing ever since.
The very first book I wrote took ten years. It's a mess. You've never heard of it. It's shelved on a floppy disk (remember those?) among other places, but was never revisited.
Then, during my time in Oxford, I was inspired to write School of Deaths. It took me a year to write, and then I began trying for agents. In publishing, if you want your book published with the big publishers, distributed widely, and making money, you need an agent. The "Big Five" publishers (all subdivisions of just five companies) only take manuscripts from agents, and even then it's not always a guarantee of publication, much less success. Yet agents are the first gatekeepers in the business.
Getting an agent involves writing a query letter. This is a single page long- a blurb about your book, a paragraph about similar books in the marketplace, and a paragraph about you. It's an email you send out and know you'll probably never hear back from. Some agents ask for just this, some for your first five pages. Most agents receive hundreds of email queries a DAY. Of those they receive, they might request pages from 5%, and of those pages, maybe request a full manuscript from an even smaller number. And it's not just based on the quality of your writing. It's based on a lot of subjective factors, like the agent's preferences, if they think they can sell it, does it conflict with other clients they have, and so on. In short, getting an agent is very, very difficult. It feels a bit like falling through mid-air, and trying to catch (and hold onto) a single raindrop.
After a year of querying, and 130 rejections, I gave up trying to find an agent for School of Deaths. Instead I began querying small presses. 30 queries of publishers later, MuseItUp said yes.
Small press is a form of traditional publishing in between the big guys and self publishing. In a way, it's sort of like the minor league baseball league. Minor leaguers are pros, and paid to play ball, and some are amazing, but you've never heard of them. They're all hoping to make it into the majors, but to do so they need that scout. With writing, you need an agent.
After Scythe Wielder's Secret I wrote a sci fi thriller and re-entered the querying phase. Months passed. Nada. I've since decided to rework the project.
Then, I had an idea for a book. A series. The ideas kept coming and coming. It was without a doubt the best thing I'd written. I decided, yet again, to plunge back into querying. Querying is a SLOW process, I'll add. Some agents have an AVERAGE response time of 115 days. That's just to hear back, even if it's a no. And if they request pages or your full manuscript, you have to wait months upon months.
I began querying in January. I queried and queried. I became active in the Manuscript Academy, which gave me a lot of opportunities to work with pros. I had skype sessions with agents and not only pitched my book, but got help rewriting my query. I was in a workshop to help revamp my first page, and ended up a part of a writing community that's still wonderfully supportive today. And I worked with editors from St Martins and Tor (two imprints of the "Big 5" publishers) to rewrite the beginning completely. On the advice of an agent, I began "requerying" - contacting agents who said no months ago or who never responded. I was hopeful, but still not sure. I was ready to enter PitchWars when everything took off.
First I got an offer from an agent. I then had to let my outstanding (hadn't heard from them yet) requeries know. Within hours, I had six more full requests. I eventually got a second offer and it came down to an insane day of phone conversations, nerves, and difficult decisions. After talking to the two agents, however, I knew the original offer was the agent I wanted to stick with.
This is only one stage in a longer journey. However, this is a huge step for me and my career as an author.
Well, looks like it's another #Pimpmybio time, since I'll be trying PitchWars 2017. I'll talk a little about my newest project and myself. If you're curious about Pitch Wars go here, and be sure to look at other hopeful mentee’s blogs here. The "Pimp My Bio" idea helps prospective mentors meet their mentees with some gifs. So, without further ado, let's dive in...
I am a fantasy author. My YA Fantasy trilogy The Scythe Wielder's Secret was pubbed by a small press a few years ago, and is a story about overcoming sexism, set in a war between Deaths (Grim Reapers) and Dragons. Did I mention that I love dragons!
A LOT has changed since my entry last year...
For starters, I'm now a full-time author, and a full-time stay-at-home dad for my son, who's now one. My son is the best kid ever- and guess what he's already addicted to (for real)... BOOKS!