This might just work

I reedited the first 5K+ of the ghostwriting novel I’m working on, in an attempt to get this project moving again.  But when I finished, and ended up exhausted from schlepping out garbage and recycling, I sat down to look over the novel I’d been working on for years now.  I finished it a year or so ago, and set it aside because I wanted to see it with fresh eyes when I did my final run through.

So far it’s made me cry.  This is a good thing.  Anyway, the opening chapter is short, and it sets things up, so I thought I’d share it just to see what y’all think.  It’s a time travel romance set in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Russian revolution, and in the mid 1990s here in the United States.

The house was dark and silent.

Everywhere Sasha looked, there were shapes like sleeping animals hunched in the darkness.  The room seemed familiar to her as if she had seen photos of it, old photos in sepia and shadow.  She looked up, above the fireplace, expecting to see a portrait there, but it was covered with a cloth, like a shroud.  Sasha tugged the cloth, it caught for a moment, then drifted down to pool on the floor like an exorcised ghost, to reveal a portrait of her great grandmother, a golden-haired beauty in a tobacco-colored velvet gown. Around her neck the famous Kharkov amber necklace.

Sasha knew where she was.  This was Kharkov House, her family’s home in Saint Petersburg, a home that had been lost during the Russian Revolution when her grandfather, Roman Kharkov, walked away from his title and his inheritance, and into a new life.  She had seen pictures of this room in an album of photos Roman had brought away with him.

There was a sudden, sharp sneeze, and Sasha jumped back from the fireplace in surprise.  “Who is it?”  An old woman poked her head into the parlor and gave a yip of distress, falling on her knees, crossing herself over and over.

“Oh Blessed Mother, Oh Holy Saints forgive me, forgive me!” the she moaned. “Forgive me Madame, I know I did wrong but I– I thought you wouldn’t need it anymore!”

Coughing nervously the whole time, she produced an object from inside her coat and held it out to Sasha, averting her eyes as if Sasha was too hideous to look at. Sasha took the thing – a necklace she guessed, from the feel of it – from the woman’s trembling hand. “Where did you get this?” she asked sternly.

“May the Holy Mother forgive me, I know I did wrong but it was so beautiful and you weren’t going to use it anymore! You’re dead! All the Blessed Martyrs forgive and protect me, but you are dead! I saw you die.”

Sasha realized that the woman had taken her for Natasha. “How dare you steal from the dead?”

The woman began to weep loudly, messily, rubbing her eyes and nose, and smearing her face with tears and mucous. “I am so sorry, Madame, so sorry. But I was bringing it back.  I swear to you I was.  It’s a thing of ill luck,” she insisted. “It cursed me for stealing.”

Sasha frowned. “You did a very wrong thing,” she said sternly, figuring that her best bet was to play along. “Had you kept it I would have haunted you all your days and brought evil luck to your children’s children unto the seventh, uh, generation. Now leave this house and don’t ever return!” And she raised her arms in a sort of Dracula-meets-Frankenstein’s-monster gesture, just to emphasize the threat. She only just managed to keep herself from adding, Booga-booga!

The old woman scrambled to her feet and ran from the house as fast as she could, leaving the door wide open to the chill air from the street.

Suddenly it wasn’t all that funny anymore. There was something sad about the house, an abandoned feeling that sucked the humor out of Sasha’s little joke. She walked slowly to the door and closed it behind the woman, turning the key in the lock. Then she raised her hand until it caught the moonlight that spilled into the house through beveled windowpanes.

The thing she held, the necklace, was a long golden chain from which dangled a pendant so familiar to her that it was like holding a piece of herself.  It was the Winter Rose, a red gemstone that had been dug out of the earth at her family’s home in Kharkov, centuries ago. She felt power surging through the stone as it began to glow in her hands.  She’d always been told there was magic in the Winter Rose, but she’d never believed it until this moment when the necklace shone with a pure, clear light. Instinctively she reached up to touch the one that always hung around her neck and gasped as she realized it was missing.

There was a noise behind her. Sasha turned to look, her eyes following the line of the stairwell to the top where a pale, fair-haired boy stood, clad in a nightshirt and holding a sword.

It was Roman.  His eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak.  And then everything went black.

Sasha woke, clutching the necklace.  It was as warm as a living thing in her hand.

You have to have ideas before you can have ideas

This is something I like to say when people ask me “Where do you get your ideas?”  It’s not only true, but it often gets a conversation started.  See, the thing is, having ideas is a habit you have to grow.  You may not think you have ideas for stories, but you do, all the time.  Either you don’t recognize them as ideas, or you shrug them off as not being worth pursuing, or you get just so far with them, and let them go.

  • You don’t recognize them as story ideas — Any time you think, “I wonder what would have happened if (blank).” that’s a story idea.  Trust me on this, it really is.  It may not be a good one, but your idle question holds the germ of a story.
  • You shrug them off — Stories don’t write themselves folks.  It’s all well and good to think “Eh, nothing much different would have happened if (blank).” but until you start to work with the idea, you won’t know for sure.  If you have an idea, work with it.  Write it down, make diagrams, ask yourself questions and do your damndest to answer them.
  • You only get so far and let go — Don’t be a defeatist  Seriously, if you’ve pursued it that far, keep at it.  “But it doesn’t seem to be working,” you say.  Or: “It turned out to be shitty so I gave up on it.”  Don’t be fucking lazy, sez I.  Hammer away at it, and if nothing at all comes of it, put it in a file and don’t look at it for six months or a year. You might be pleasantly surprised when you go back to it.  What’s changed?  The little writer in your brain has been working at it all along.  Surprise!  Or maybe you still think it’s crap, and that’s fine, but recognize the work you put into it and hang on to it.  These things can be cannibalized.

You see a theme here?  Having ideas is easy.  Recognizing them and doing the work is the hard part.  You’re going to have shitty ideas, but even those can ultimately yield some good things that can be used in other stories.

You have to have ideas before you can have ideas.  You see?  You have to work at making all this habitual.  I now have more ideas than I know what to do with.  Some of them include:

  • A gay love triangle set after WWI that begins with a mystery that comes out of the Russian Revolution, and ends in the aftermath of WWII.
  • A ghost story about Anastasia and Anna Anderson.
  • A huge, honking universe filled with magic and dragons, fairytales, parallel dimensions, and demon detectives.  There are a bunch of stories in this universe.
  • The story of a castrato who isn’t really a castrato. (Part of the magic universe above)
  • A time-travel romance set in Russia on the verge of revolution (This one is actually finished, but needs a lot of editing.)
  • My Scrooge stories which still need something more, but I can’t quite figure out what.
  • A bunch of other romances (eyeroll, don’t ask)
  • A novel about female friends.
  • A big old vampire universe that may never get written, but which is being cannibalized for the magic universe.
  • A serial killer thriller
  • The rewrite of White Rabbit
  • A novel about people becoming immortal and the research into why this has happened.

And there was another one I had in my head just as I began this list and, something I thought of this morning, and now it’s gone.  You see how fast this stuff comes and goes?  It’s crazy-making, and that means you have to be alert, you have to write things down, and you have to go after ideas with both hands and a net.  Eventually they’ll be everywhere and you really can pick and choose the ones you need to pursue.

  • Wait, I just remembered!  I want to write something about the events around the writing of Frankenstein.  I know it’s been done, but I want to do it.  I think I have something to say, or will have when I start poking at it.  I knew it was something historical.

The other thing I would tell you is this:

Read

I cannot stress this enough.  Read everything including newspapers, and magazines, and labels, and birthday cards.  If you want to write, words are your medium, and all the world is in them.

This post is like the writers’ version of just do it.  But it isn’t just a habit, it’s a discipline, so yeah,

Just. Do. It.

3-Year-old reenacted the Shia LaBeouf's Just Do It Speech - Imgur.gif

And that’s about it.  I have to go write now.

 

Um… huh?

I’ve pretty much stopped looking at my royalty statements since they’re depressing.  The last one I looked at was something like ninety-three cents.  Woo hoo, partay!  Yeah, not so much.  At that rate it’d take me something like three or four months to buy a simple cup of coffee.  I don’t even look for my stuff on pirate sites anymore because what’s the point?  If people are gonna steal my work instead of pay for it, what’s my recourse?  And clearly nobody wanted to buy it, so I doubt the pirate sites are getting much traffic on my account.

51hmfqEdD1L[1]So when my last statement came in from Dreamspinner Press it was not something I paid much attention to, guessing that it’d be something like fifty cents, and almost sure sign that when the terms of the contracts were up, they’d be cutting me loose.  Ask not for whom the bell tolls, your royalty statement lays all that out in detail.

But today I got a notice that they’d sent me a payment.  It was actually more than ninety-three cents.  A lot more.  My first reaction?  Someone made a mistake.  I finally opened the statement and it turns out that my work suddenly, and for reasons I don’t truly understand, began to sell after all this time.  Could it be the blogging?  The social media presence?  What am I doing right?  OMG, am I famous?

Uh, no.  Pleasantly surprised?  Yes, absolutely.

vampyres-revenge[1]Call Me But Love seems to be the clear winner this quarter.  I applaud that choice, it’s one of my better works.  But The Vampyre’s Revenge, which I enjoyed the hell out of writing, seems not to have breathed its last, and I’m kind of glad.  I always liked Frank.  I was happy to give him a chance to be who he really was.

After my contracts ran out on a bunch of other items I listed them through Kindle Direct Publishing over on Amazon.com, and while the response was not terribly exciting, I pretty much knew that I couldn’t blame anyone but myself because in spite of 51WtLcoTAXL[1]spiffy new covers, I wasn’t doing much to support their release.  One of the hardest things for me to do is promote myself, and that’s why ghostwriting is a good gig for me.  I never have to promote anything, I just write. That’s what writers want to do.  Just. Write.51ecoRBYrpL[1].jpg

I always meant to do more with the out-of-contract stuff.  I have the rights to Suffer the Little Children, and a sequel to it that only needs a good edit to get it into fighting shape, but I never did anything with those or any of the other titles which reverted to me.  This is what severe depression does to people.  They stop caring.

But that weirdly unexpected royalty payment did me a world of good, and while I know my energy levels won’t carry me through a whole lot more effort to get new titles into the KDP program, they have moved me to do one thing.  I have no control over the pricing of the titles under contract to Dreamspinner, the ones that are currently self-published, I can put on sale.  So starting August 2nd and running through the 9th, both Waiting for the Moon and Devil in the Details will be $0.99.  (I’d have made them free, but couldn’t figure out how to do that without having to pay for it, which I can’t afford.)  When the promotion is over I’m dropping the price to $1.99 for both stories.

I would love to promise (to myself as well as anyone who is interested) that I’m going to get on the stick and get my other out-of-contract books back on the market.  We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.

Wish me luck, willya?

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