Pitch Wars #PimpMyBio 2017

Hello, and welcome to my #PimpMyBio, let’s dive right in, shall we?

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Me, Tess, whose Bio is being Pimped

Were I to be bit by a radio-active spider or centipede or butterfly, these are my natural abilities that would most likely be enhanced:

  • Sense of Smell. Seriously, it’s a gift and a curse. My family’s favorite story to drag out at holidays is how two-year-old me could smell my one-year-old niece’s dirty diaper before anyone else. Apparently my exact words were to my brother were, “Scott, what’s that smell?” It’s a talent that, to my chagrin, has followed me into adulthood. So here I am, Diaper-Sniffer Extraordinaire. Catering to babies across the globe.

  • I can grow a great set of fingernails. No salon gels for me, thank you very much. I once had a kid ask to bite them to test if they were real. Sometimes I wonder where that kid ended up. Catwoman watch out, my claws they are a growin’.

  • Double jointed. In the event of my superhero origin story my creepy ability to dislocate most of my fingers and a couple of my toes would definitely serve me to take down a villain or two. Thought you’d cut off my thumb during your villainous monologue, Dr. Doom? Well joke’s on you, it just moved to the back of my hand and now it’s pushing your Big Red Button.

My Writing

But let’s be real. My main (only) marketable skill is writing. And geeking out about writing, but so far no one’s offered to pay me for that.

I’ve been writing regularly since I was twelve. The first story I can ever remember finishing was a birthday present for my dad about a little girl who finds a bear cub in the woods. Sweet, right? Yeah, sweet didn’t last long. A few months after that I’d turned to the more lurid worlds of fanfiction and roleplaying. As an adult, I studied film and screenwriting and wrote a few scripts I’m still quite proud of (see my Works).

I turned to novel writing mostly out of desperation. I needed to find the best way to tell my stories, to challenge myself and step outside the safety blanket of the film industry. For some reason I thought book-making would be that blanket. Guess what? It’s cold and scary under this blanket. But also more fun than I’ve ever had in my life. Come join me, maybe it’ll warm up.

Fun(?) Facts

  • I’ve lived in almost every region of the United States. I’ve hailed from Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Washington, and now Cornwall, UK.
  • I’m finishing a Masters in Professional Writing at Falmouth University in…TWELVE DAYS. What am I doing here working on this? I’ve got a thesis to finish!

  • Kay, I’m back.
  • I’ll be moving back State-side in…TWENTY-ONE DAYS. What am I doing here working on this? I’ve got packing to finish!

  • Kay, I’m back.
  • I have an amazing support system. See Exhibit A, me sharing my fears with my mother:

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  • I love dogs.

The Big Book

I finished THE NAMELESS two and a half years ago. And by ‘finished’ I mean I eked out a first draft. Since then it’s undergone countless revisions, most for the better (some for the worse). It’s been my baby, my worst enemy, my companion, and the nagging voice inside my head that I’d give anything to make shut up. But mostly it’s been my passion. I hope someday it will be someone else’s too.

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About The Big Book:

  • It’s Adult Science Fiction
  • It’s told in dual POV
  • One of the POVs is a badass lady
  • The other POV is a slightly less-badass fella
  • The supporting cast popped up out of the ground fully formed. Seriously, they were like adorable little orcs who told me exactly what to say.
  • There are poison bracelets that keep my badass lady chained to my slightly less-badass fella.
  • She runs away from him anyway.
  • It’s about the struggle between families you’re born to, and families you choose.
  • There’s a Space Farm.
  • With exploding crops.
  • Pretty much all Mumford & Sons songs are the soundtrack for this novel, but especially ‘The Cave’.
  • Check out the Pinterest Board

My Faves

Books: My first and true love is Harry Potter. These are the other contenders for my heart: The Mistborn Series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Wool, Pride & Prejudice, Brokeback Mountain, Hunger Games, Poldark, Outlander

TV Shows: This list is long and deep. In semi-particular order: Battlestar Galactica, Farscape The West Wing, Firefly, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones (don’t ask me to pick a side, it can’t be done), Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, The Handmaid’s Tale, The OA, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1, Fringe, Poldark, The Good Wife, Friends

Movies: Lord of the Rings, The King’s Speech, Star Trek, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Titanic, Anastasia, Swan Princess, Aladdin

Video Games: Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Sims

That’s all for now, happy Pitching!

Sci-Fi TV and Novels — Yin and Yang?

This post will be a break from our irregularly scheduled CV Series, for my attempt to analyze the relationship between science-fiction television and novels. Not necessarily how TV adapts novels, but how they influence one another in theme and popularity. Read on if you like pseudoscience.


Authors and readers alike have long pondered where ideas come from. The answer is an enigma, not easily explained by any confluence of data. That, of course, doesn’t stop us from trying. One element that all artists can agree on is the value and influence of works that came before. No artist can create a masterpiece without first studying the masters. In today’s world, globalization doesn’t just effect market economies, it broadens our access to new cultures, and thus new art. One medium in particular has capitalized on this era of internet-fueled instant gratification, and that’s television.

We’re living in a golden era of television where creatives aren’t as beholden to network executives and Nielsen ratings as they once were. Film is caught in the stranglehold of tentpole pictures and remakes, leaving only one place for original stories to land—straight to our laptops, phones and home theaters. But at the root of any television series is a script, a story. And how do you write scripts without first reading them? How do you read scripts without first reading books? This has led to an interesting symbiosis between adapted material and original storytelling in no genre more than science fiction. In a chicken or the egg-like dilemma a rash of new science fiction television has emerged, both borrowing from and lending to the masters that came before—novels. So which came first? To answer that, I will attempt to do what all artists abhor and apply numbers to the current trends of the science fiction genre and determine what patterns, if any, exist between the stories of the page and the screen.

For almost as long as cameras have been rolling, novels have been adapted into films. The current generation of sci-fi television is no exception. The Expanse, Westworld, The Walking Dead, and The Man in the High Castle all find their origins on the page. Part of this tendency to remold previous stories comes from good business. Established works have an established audience. They’ve already proven they can captivate. It makes investors a little more confident about pouring millions of dollars into an imaginative enterprise (pun intended). And there’s no doubt that sales on both sides of the equation increase whenever a new Star Trek or Star Wars film graces the screen. But now that television is catching up with novels in terms of relative quantity, how sales and adaptations are effected becomes the less interesting question. More interesting, and more relevant, is the question of influence. Are trends emerging in novels as a response to what’s happening on screen? Or is novel still the source from which to mine all original stories?

After scouring “Best of Science Fiction” lists for the past five years and documenting reoccurring themes, my attempts to tie novel trends to television themes came up muddled. Adding to this confusion is the fact that both books and television are a long time in production. So to determine if novel trends have an influence on current television, one has to go back at least three years. And to determine if current television will have an impact on novels one would need a crystal ball. Though it can be safely assumed from the precedents set by previous smash hit adaptation TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Outlander that any such success will only fuel novel sales in their respective subgenres. Just as sales in space opera novels soared after the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Anders, Wired]. When I asked renowned literary agent Ian Drury whether he sees sci-fi television influencing literature, he said, “Vice versa, I’d say. In that so much of the TV is book-based.” A survey of booksellers at Truro Waterstones yielded a similar result. When asking if customers ever inquire after book recommendations that are similar to television shows, the answer was a resounding, “No.” But I wonder if these responses are cases of invisible marketing at work.

Amongst literary circles online, television shows are continually used to frame and describe the latest novels. Revision by Andrea Phillips was described by Barnes and Noble as a, “…romantic comedy crossed with Black Mirror, and begging to be made into a movie someday,” and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, “this addictive, expansive, character-based tale reads like a Netflix binge of your new favorite space opera series.” It has even become the habit of querying writers to use television as one half of their comp-title equation. At the very least, television has become the lens through which we analyze other media.

Looking at the numbers from the opposite perspective, however, offered up an enlightening picture. After dividing the top sci-fi novels of each year into the subgenres of Space Opera, Alternate/Virtual Reality, Clones, Dystopian, and Time Travel, several patterns began to emerge. For instance from 2013 to 2014 there was a particular influx of (as I like to call them) “identity novels,” or stories that make us question who we are as human beings. This topic was frequently examined through specific sci-fi mechanisms such as being reborn as a clone [vN by Madeline Ashby], living in a video game reality [You by Austin Grossman], and the dilemmas of memory from an adult who was experimented on as a child [We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler]. These are just a few examples of the reoccurring themes that appeared in science fiction novels for those two years. And these examples can be almost directly correlated to current science fiction television. Life as a clone: Orphan Black. Life in a video game reality: Westworld. Dilemmas of memory: The OA. The timing coincides so precisely with the typical television production schedule that it can’t be dismissed. Readerships and writers were particularly consumed with questions of identity during those two years, and now television audiences have been brought into the discussion. While books published in 2016 and 2017 have journeyed away from these topics, I wonder if their reemergence in television will prompt another wave of identity stories hitting shelves in a few years.

The reality is neither publishing nor television exists in a vacuum. It’s possible the reason the identity stories are coming to television is because they’re easier and cheaper to make, as they’re often set in recognizable worlds and easily filmable locations. The big-budget space operas, of which science fiction novel readers will never tire, are saved primarily for the safe bets—Star Trek and Star Wars, hence the new Star Trek: Discovery series coming this fall. But as more and more science fiction shows hit the airwaves, and with the continued success of streaming sites, the hunger for new stories is out there. This demand was particularly illustrated by Netflix’s presence at the 2017 London Book Fair. The Bookseller wrote, “Hannah Griffiths, head of literary acquisitions at production company All3Media, said the ‘exponential growth’ in hours of airtime, owing to the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, marked an ‘optimistic moment’ for the trade. She added: ‘It’s like if five major dedicated book chains opened up in Britain tomorrow, each needing to fill the shelves… and with loads of money to spend on stock.’”

So do novel themes influence what’s explored in television? Or does television influence what’s popular in novels? As with most things, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No one summed it up quite as well as science fiction author Ed McDonald, “I think that all art influences all other art. Artists create within the zeitgeist, no matter the medium they produce it in. We probably don’t even know our influences. When we have an original idea, it didn’t manifest at random, something caused it.” Whether science fiction novels and science fiction television are influencing each other is not in doubt, the greater revelation is that television has finally crossed that illusive border from entertainment into art.


Thanks to author Ed McDonald @EdMcDonaldTFK and Literary Agent Ian Drury @litagentdrury for their comments. Follow them on Twitter!

 

CV Series: Structure through Character

The previous blog posts make it look as if I’d figured out every detail of my world before I even touched on character. That’s wrong. Character was one of those domino offshoots that happened right at the beginning. It weaved in and out of Worldbuilding and Magic, but it was the spine from which I created Story.

To take a hard deviation from the analysis of fantasy writers, the novel that most influenced and inspired my structure for Castle Valley was Anna Karenina. Despite its intimidating page count, there is nary a scene in Anna Karenina that does not drive the plot forward. Tolstoy has no strict guide by which he alternates perspectives every other chapter, or that each character gets an equal percentage of page time. Despite this meandering journey through different character’s heads, the reader never doubts they’re being carried forward by a deft hand. But the structure that builds the story is almost invisible. So how does Tolstoy manage this effortless pace?

Through character. This novel is about characters. Therefore it only makes sense that the plot is driven by characters. Everything they do, every decision they make, every conflict they encounter is born out of their fundamental selves. This forward motion is only enhanced by the fact that part of “self” is always changing. The characters are rooted in certain fundamental notions: Anna loves Vronsky, Karenin doesn’t want a divorce, Levin wants a family. That isn’t to say the characters never try to combat or reject their fundamental selves. But they are often trying to find their true, best state of being in spite of outward and inward pressures. This kind of character arc has a place in any genre.

So how do I tell a story about three estranged sisters working towards a common goal at cross purposes? I do what they tell me.

In a period of mild crisis about whether my idea was “enough,” I spent a lot of time trying to impose different structures: The Hero’s Journey, Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, Freytag’s Pyramid, etc. These structures absolutely have their place in certain stories. They even have a place in mine. But, as cheesy as it sounds, I can’t discover what the characters are going to do before I’ve written them. I understand their arc. I think I understand them. But for me, plotting out every scene in exacting detail before I’ve even opened up the Word document, has only ever killed spontaneity. If you’re not surprised by your story, no one else will be either.

Story structure is ingrained in our psyche whether we realize it or not. Often, after I’ve done a bit of free writing, I’ll find that whatever I’ve just done naturally inhabits those essential structures. Instinct has always been a better friend to my writing than over-analysing. I know some major plot points. I know as much about my characters as I possibly can before I start actually writing. So I’m going to take the leap…and find out what happens.

This post will be a work in progress, as I figure out whether or not I was full of it.

BONUS PICS: Character Moodboards

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Alayne

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Emlyn

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Hayes

CV Series: A Little Bit of Magic

If I thought the science of fantasy, or even worse, the science of science fiction was hard, nothing compares to the science of magic. Because, yes, magic is a science. It is the science through which your characters understand their world. Through which you either engage a reader or engage their disbelief. Basically, it has to make sense.

This fact had already been engrained in me from a childhood (and let’s not lie, adulthood too) obsessed with all things Harry Potter. If you can say nothing else about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you have to admit, her magic works. But she’s not particularly verbose in explaining her methods. So, after reading and falling in love with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I immediately went a-googling and found the invaluable tool that is SANDERSON’S LAWS. Read and commit to memory.

The three guideposts by which I built my magic were Source, Symmetry, and Limitation.

Source:

What did I know I needed? I needed to have magic that could turn half a country into a desert wasteland. Sanderson’s Laws teach us that all magic has to come from somewhere. It needs a source. So what if the land was the source? What if the life energy of plants, animals, maybe even people, fueled magic? What if someone used so much magic that they zapped a quarter of a continent of all its resources? That kind of magic would be unspeakably dangerous. It would have to be defeated. It would have to be outlawed. A few centuries later is where our story begins.

Symmetry:

For character and plot reasons, I also knew I wanted my magical characters to be able to engage in a kind of telepathy. I already had magic sourced from life energy. What if I had magic sourced from mind energy? From willpower? Two types of magic.

One which has the power for great external destruction and has been banned for centuries. And another which has the power for great internal destruction and is the weapon of the sitting government. Energi and Influi.

Limitation:

At this point I knew that Energi magic was sourced from life. But I didn’t know what could actually be done with it. What gain would make the cost of that magic worth it?

This was my first attempt at the things Energi magic could do:

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My mistake was starting wide. Not placing limitations. Which, as Sanderson tells us, are essential for any kind of interesting storytelling. Magic (and characters) without limitations cannot fail, and therefore, are boring.

Influi magic naturally lent itself to limitations. Telepathy, influence, exchange of willpower. So if Influi magic was the purview of the mind, shouldn’t Energi be the purview of the body?

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At the basest level a magic system should make your reader wish for magic. To imagine how they would wield it, where they would fit in your world. And the only way they’re going to do that, is if they believe it.

BONUS FACT: There’s a misconception that Influi Magic is the art of the mind, soul, and heart; but really it is only the purview of the mind. The soul and heart cannot be controlled by anything other than human self, human nature. CHARACTER.

 

Is Patreon a good source of income for writers?

My good friend R. L. Tierney had some wonderful insights about Paetron. Beneficial to all new writers!

R L Tierney

What is Patreon?

Patreon is an internet-based crowdfunding platform that allows creators to build a subscription service for their content. Created in 2013, by Jack Conte and Sam Yam, the platform is particularly popular among artists showcasing their work digitally (e.g. through YouTube). Many of these artists survive off ad-based revenue and Patreon was built to eliminate this reliance, allowing creators to gather sponsorship direct from fans (rather than clicks-per-ad) so they can focus back on their work.

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CV Series: Worldbuilding

The idea for Castle Valley came in two halves. The part that came first, as it often does for me, was the world. I was on my way back from Lake Powell, eyes slightly glazed from three days drinking on a houseboat for my brother’s 50th birthday, when I came through a valley. On one side—the rock and sand and desert you’d expect for the middle of Utah. On the other—a sea of green. Lush and bright and thriving. The only division between them a two-lane stretch of highway. Thus the notion of a world in which one half had been magically drained of all life, and how and why a wall came to separate them.

The idea for the world was the easy part. Making it feasible was a little harder.

First step? Research. The earliest research a writer ever does is reading. Reading and studying. Particularly the masters of fantasy worldbuilding. Two that were especially helpful and generous about their methods were George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson.

Martin exemplified culture—how landscape trickle down to effect every element of storytelling. The characters, the language, the food, the customs, the history. Particularly the history. Martin understands every element of his world. He has centuries of backstory that, while never info dumped, add a depth and believability to his world that he would never be able to accomplish otherwise. In order to build my world, I would have to understand the people who lived, died, fought, and worked there. I’d need what any good fantasy writer needs—a family tree.

Castle Valley Family Trees

Castle Valley Family Tree

Then came the documentaries. Planet Earth, Human Planet, Frozen Planet, Life. Basically anything that involved that little spinning globe on which we all reside. I took extensive notes on any and all practical or descriptive details that might eventually be relevant to my story.

After that, lots of googling and harassing my scientific friends (thanks R. L. Tierney) on geography. Environmental science (yes, science) became the bedrock (lol) on which I built my world. Was it even possible for a civilization to survive without rainfall? Without plants? How would my miles-long man-made canal-wall (wow, that’s a lot of dashes) function in relation to natural rivers? Where would borders of neighboring nations form? I’d need the second thing any good fantasy writer needs—a map.

This is the ‘after’ picture of my world:

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And this is the before:

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That’s right, I used the highly scientific method of throwing a bunch of noodles on a piece of paper and drawing continents around them. No, those aren’t noodles. I was at work (I’m a great employee, ask anyone) and didn’t have noodles at my disposal. What exactly they are I couldn’t tell you. But the grease spots they left on the paper did form the foundation for several lakes.

So what comes after all this very serious science? Why, MAGIC, of course.

 

Bonus Pics:

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Castle Interior Layout

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Castle Exterior Layout

 

The Making of a Fantasy: Castle Valley Series

Writing is a series of dominos. A series of dominos that branch in a million different directions. My process starts with the fall of the idea. What follows, as I try to create my world and my story, often leads me in unexpected directions. Eventually, (though don’t ask me how) the dominos connect and, hopefully, form art. This is the structure I will try to impose on this blog series about the making of my in-progress YA Fantasy, Castle Valley. There may be some overlap and winding digressions, but I hope you, like me, will be able to step back when all the dominos have fallen and see the pattern.