Tag Archives: Tristan and Isolde

Yseult cover update: We’re just about there!

I got a new version of the “winning” cover for Yseult back from the artist today, Derek Murphy of Creativindie Covers:

Yseult Cover

This is probably very close to final, if I can’t think of anything that still needs to be done. 🙂 I like the sword being more central in this version, and the wall keeps her from looking like a mermaid, I think. I had a bit of a weakness for the warrior chick, but those who already read the book and voted were strongly in favor of this cover. I’m pretty happy with it now. What about you? If it were a physical book, would you pick it up in the store?

Interestingly enough, here’s the quote prefacing the chapter I’m presently editing:

Love left me like a coal upon the floor,
Like a half-burned sod that is never put out.
Worse than the cough, worse than the fever itself,
Worse than any curse at all under the sun,
Worse than the great poverty
Is the devil that is called “Love” by the people.
And if I were in my young youth again
I would not take, or give, or ask for a kiss.

“He Cries out Against Love,” translated from the Irish by Lady Gregory

Seems to me it fits very well with the cover. 🙂

Things are moving forward, and I’m excited. Maybe I really will still get this novel up before the end of the year!

Yseult: Covers and Edits

I’m afraid I’m not going to get Yseult up by Christmas after all, too much Christmas-like stuff going on for me to spend as much time on e-book creation as I’d intended. Besides, even though this book has been through so many hands, has been critiqued and edited and translated, I’m still finding a lot more minor typos and little things to change than I had expected. I’m about halfway through the 750 page manuscript now after a week of work, but I also already have all my Christmas presents bought and most of them wrapped. I’ve changed my goal for getting the book up to before New Year’s Day.

I’ve hired an artist for the cover, Derek Murphy of Creativindie Covers, and I’ve gotten permission from him to post some of his initial designs to get some feedback. Please tell me what you think!

Yseult Cover 4

Yseult Cover 3

Yseult Cover 2

Yseult Cover 1

Do any of these covers grab you? Why or why not? What suggestions do you have to make them better?

Thoughts on Rereading a Tale of High Passion

Ah, my heart! my heart! It is weary without her.
I would that I were as the winds which play about her!
For here I waste and I sicken, and nought is fair
To mine eyes: nor night with stars in her clouded hair,
Nor all the whitening ways of the stormy seas,
Nor the leafy twilight trembling under the trees:
But mine hands crave for her touch, mine eyes for her sight,
My mouth for her mouth, mine eyes for her foot-falls light,
And my soul would drink of her soul through every sense,
Thirsting for her, as earth, in the heat intense,
For the soft song and the gentle dropping of rain.
But I sit here as a smouldering fire of pain,
Lonely, here! And the wind in the forest grieves,
And I hear my sorrow sobbing among the leaves.

Frederic Manning, “Tristram”

That’s the quote prefacing the current chapter of Yseult that I’m editing, and I think in many ways it sums up why I have a penchant for love stories that end tragically. I mean, when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like the longing of star-crossed lovers, the intensity, the exponential emotional arithmetics. Of course, no one actually wants to live like that long term, which is why stories such as Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet have to end tragically. If the lovers somehow managed to trick fate and come up with a happy ending despite all odds, then they would have to deal with such mundane things as taking out the garbage, or less mundane conflicts like seven year itches or how to deal with all the forces they tricked in the first place. Either way, it would be a distraction from high passion. Constant high passion can only exist in an artificial situation that prevents the onset of habit, whether that habit turns into comfortable companionship or boredom. That is one of the themes of Yseult, one of the reasons I wrote the novel in the first place, to examine high passion and why it fascinates me so much (and not only me).

But despite my weakness for tragic love stories, in writing Yseult I wanted to make the cost of high passion one of my themes, wanted to provide an alternative. One of the subplots concerns a love that grows slowly and cautiously, without the drama of a love story that will be told over and over again for more than a thousand years.

I submit: quiet love is the kind of love most of us strive for, even while we are fascinated by crash-and-burn stories a la Tristan and Isolde, yearning for such overwhelming passion.

I don’t know if I got the balance right in Yseult, but at least I have had several readers who understood what I was trying to achieve with the secondary love story. The contrast is integral to my retelling of the ancient tale, older than Lancelot and Guinevere, Romeo and Juliet. It’s the reason I couldn’t change the outcome and give the story a happy ending, like First Knight did for Lancelot and Guinevere. As fascinating as we find high passion, it is at odds with comfort, and it demands a very high price in nerves and pain. I admit, part of me was a little tempted to give Yseult and Drystan a happy ending, but only a little bit. I was half in love with Drystan myself. In a lot of ways he’s closer to me than Yseult — I even gave him my birthday. But for me, a happy ending would have been a cop out. And the fact that it would have been a betrayal of the many versions of the tale that came before me is only part of it. I’m sure I don’t understand all of my motives in telling the story the way I did, and those I do understand are definitely contradictory, but perhaps they come down to this: addictive love is exhilarating, but long term, it’s exhausting and nerve-wracking and it can’t last. High passion might be able to mutate into something more comfortable, but that is not the story that has been told over and over again for centuries.

I’m not as far in re-reading and doing additional editing on Yseult as I wanted to be, but I’m also still waiting for the first suggestions from the cover artist. Maybe we’re both being waylaid by Christmas — which is not necessarily such a bad thing, after all. Christmas is fun, especially when it involves children and grandchildren. Which have little to do with grand passion but a lot to do with living an exceedingly content life.

I wish all who read this a very happy holiday season, largely devoid of high passion — except, of course, for the most pleasant kind.

Determining my Target Audience (John Locke and the Rest of Us, Part 2)

You can read my initial thoughts on John Locke’s e-marketing ideas here. In this post, I’m going to attempt to define a target audience in the way Locke suggests in his book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in in 5 Months!

I don’t write in any one, single genre, even though most of my work falls under the general genre umbrella of “sff” — science fiction and fantasy. But among my published works there’s space opera, near future, magic realism, epic fantasy, dragons, witches, and Mars. So it would be pretty hard to define a target audience for my fiction as a whole — it would probably end up so general as to be useless.

Instead, I’m going to try to figure out the target audience for Yseult and maybe eventually I can do something with that.

Ysuelt is a Big Fat Fantasy of almost 200,000 words. The German translation came in at about 700 pages. While Yseult is a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend, it is not as medieval in feel as a lot of Arthurian novels. By that I mean that it isn’t set in an era of jousting and tournaments and chivalry. Yseult is set in fifth century Ireland and Britain, a brutal, transitional age. I did a lot of research on Sub-Roman and Post-Roman Britain, as well as early Christian Ireland, trying to create a gritty, historical atmosphere, despite the fantasy elements. At the same time, I read lots of medieval Arthurian works, in particular Welsh. I liked the old Welsh names best, and used quite a few rather than the more familiar French versions, e.g. Bedwyr instead of Bedivere, Cai instead of Kay, Myrddin instead of Merlin. For the same reason, I didn’t include Lancelot (an invention of medieval French writers). While the main plot line is the tragic love story of Yseult and Drystan, I didn’t skimp on the larger political picture, the war of the British kingdoms against the encroaching Saxons, and there are a number of detailed battle scenes.

Next step: what kind of readers would like to read a book like that?

First off, my ideal readers like both fantasy and historical detail. They get a kick out of learning something new, even when they’re reading fiction. At the same time, they want to be entertained; they like grand passion and epic conflicts. They probably have a weakness for tragedy, as long as the ending is satisfying. A familiarity with Arthurian legends is a plus, combined with an openness to seeing old stories told in new ways. They like a good battle scene as much as a good sex scene. They don’t mind their heroes getting dirty, and they don’t like it when magic solves too many problems. They’re fans of High Mud Fantasy.

Ok, that wasn’t quite as hard as I expected. But even if I have a better image now of my ideal readers, the next step according to John Locke is writing blog posts aimed at precisely those readers, posts that will draw them to my page and make them click on the links to where they can buy my books (see the images to the right *g*). Those targeted blog entries are the real challenge. How am I supposed to come up with posts that will attract thousands of readers of High Mud Fantasy and inspire them to buy my stuff?

Locke emphasizes how long he needs to compose those critical posts, but at the same time, he makes it sound so easy. You figure out what your ideal readers will be attracted to, and *whamo* they’re there and buying your books! You do, however, have to use Twitter to promote your blog until your posts go viral. Repeatedly:

When I’ve posted a new blog, I write a couple of tweets to my 20,000 followers and hope some will vist my blog and re-tweet the link. I also send group tweets to Twitter pals, maybe four to six pals per message, and maybe six to ten tweets altogether …. I tweet to different friends each time so I’m not hassling the same people every month. When they re-tweet my news, I let a few hours go by, or maybe a day, and then re-tweet their “re-tweets,” spreading the message out so I’m hitting different times of the day and night. This keeps the buzz going.

From John Locke, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in in 5 Months!

Well, aside from the fact that he leaves out the instructions on how to get 20,000 followers in the first place, if I can ever come up with a post that will bring my ideal writers flocking to my blog, I’ll be sure to write it. But promote it regularly on Twitter? Don’t people get irritated with tweets like that?

There are a lot of good observations in this book, however, probably first and foremost being that too many writers blog about writing. Which means the only readers they are attracting are other writers, not the folks who might eventually buy their books. Definitely something to think about there. I don’t have to worry about all this marketing too much yet, though. The first thing is to make a cover for Yseult and get the novel up on Amazon and Smashwords. Then I can start testing sales strategies.

Otherwise, I’m still doing pretty well on my goals. I added 700 words to a story that was requested for a rewrite, and progress on the medieval level of Fragments of Legend is steady. Since I set many of my goals up as weekly goals, I’ll post a summary at the end of the week.

John Locke and the Rest of Us: Defining a Target Audience and Getting Them to Come to You, Part I

While we were cruising the fjords of Norway, one of the books I read on my Kindle was John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Since one of my current goals is to get my novel Yseult up as an ebook before Christmas, I figure I can use all the advice I can get. At least I know that Yseult can cut it as a novel — it’s been through the editorial process and has sold over 10,000 copies in German translation. (I don’t have any numbers for the Italian and Dutch.) For Yseult, I don’t have to worry about things like hiring an editor for the monster historical fantasy and wondering if I will ever earn out the expenses.

What I do have to worry about is figuring out how to get Yseult to the audiences who would be interested in reading it. Which is what Locke’s book is all about. The problem is, he’s writing a book for authors writing a series character who can put out short novels similar in tone and plot on a regular basis (that’s where the million comes in — lots of publications selling to a regular fan base). Ok, so that doesn’t apply to Yseult, since it’s a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Isolde, but one that starts with the story of the female character rather than the male. But as most people know, the story ends tragically — no series there. It’s a Big Fat Fantasy of almost 200,000 words, and I have to admit, I really don’t want to give it away for 99 cents.

So is there anything I can learn from Locke?

He says the first thing a writer has to do to is define her target audience and then write posts that will draw potential readers to her blog — and the links to her ebooks on her sidebar. The mistake of most authors is that they write their blogs for other writers. Fair enough, guilty as charged. I have the sidebar with links to my books, but my posts are mostly about writing.

Then let’s tackle the next step, defining my target audience. As far as Yseult is concerned, I have a bit of an advantage here, since I have lots of reader feedback to help me try to figure it out. I know who my ideal reader is — her name is Valentina Coluccelli, and she wrote a review of Yseult when it came out in Italian. I hate reading reviews, but with this one, every step of the way, I was thinking – omigod, she got it! she knew exactly what I wanted to do, why I fiddled with the sources here and chose that version there! Finally, someone understands me! She even got some of the details that I thought of Easter eggs. 🙂

But how do I extrapolate from my ideal reader Valentina to define my target audience? That’s a tough one, and I fear it means I am destined not to sell a million ebooks in five months, sigh. My audience for Yseult is very specific, and while I have a follow-up novel also set in Sub-Roman Britain, the other novels I want to bring out as ebooks are all over the place as far as genre and target readers are concerned. About the only thing they have in common is that they share a certain feminist sensibility in the subject matter in that they touch on ways women have been disadvantaged over the centuries or (for my SF) try to illuminate “common sense” ways of thinking are biased against women.

And here I am, in the middle of the night, with way more words than I intended and no conclusion. So I think for the first time in my blog career, I’m going to have to make this a two-parter.

Otherwise on the writing front I’ve been fairly successful in repressing my frittering gene and have reached my word count goals. Haven’t started tackling any of the other goals yet, however. But at least I’m thinking about my target audience. 🙂

Northern Lights and New Goals

We got back from our cruise along the Norwegian fjords with the Hurtigruten late Saturday night. While it was a bit on the cold side up there in the Arctic Circle, it was stunningly beautiful trip, made even better by the fact that we saw the northern lights.

This wasn’t just luck, although of course that too played a role. But before I booked, I did a little research into when the northern lights are visible and was very happy to learn that winter is not a prerequisite. Night and clears skies (luck) are. Chances are better when there’s little moonlight. So I checked up on the phases on the moon for September / October. We didn’t want to go when it started to get too cold or the days too short — we wanted to see the fjords too, after all. Then I chose a date where we would be on the ship only during the darkest half of the month.

And we were rewarded.

I think writing goals are a little like that. You figure out what you want and what you can do and you plan accordingly. Luck plays a role too in meeting goals — you can’t plan for sicknesses or family crises or added, unexpected dayjob stress, just as you can’t plan for the sun acting up enough to produce stunning, dancing lights in the night sky. What you can do is take the information at your disposal and plan accordingly.

Unfortunately, I am not as reliable in my word counts as the phases of the moon, but what I do know is that I can produce 500 words a day pretty reliably, unless I get derailed by a major money-making dayjob project where time spent on job = that much more cash. Since I want to push myself a bit, and since I got a good chunk of writing done on the cruise (4500 words, mostly in the last four – five days), I want to aim a bit higher. At the same time, I have a number of writing goals that don’t involve word count, so I can’t aim too high — otherwise I won’t have time to tackle those other projects.

So here are my new goals for the rest of the year:

– Write 5000 words a week
– Get three short stories revised and out on the market
– Update my web page
– Put two new collections of previously published stories up on Smashwords and Amazon
– Get my novel Yseult up on Smashwords and Amazon before Christmas

It’s a lot, but if I can get better organized and cut out a lot of the “frittering” I do online, it’s not too terribly unrealistic, I hope. We’ll see. My goals might soon need some revision. 🙂

When reality is creepier than fiction

The other day, a friend of mine tweeted me about the sneakered feet that have been washing up for years in and around Vancouver, BC. Her comment was that it “creepily reminded” her of my story, “The Old Man and the Sneakers” (Farthing April 2006). I have to admit, the similarity had never occurred to me — my sneakers didn’t have any feet in them, after all — but once she mentioned it, I realized she had a point.

The funny thing is, the inspiration for that story was also a true incident, not the least bit gruesome, which you can read about here. The short version: a container ship lost a couple of containers of tennies during a storm, and after a while they started washing up on the shores of Oregon and Washington, my old home turf. This struck me as a wonderful starting point for a humorous story, which is what I used it for. Here a brief excerpt:

It began the summer the Nikes washed up on the beach by the dozen—but never by the pair. The old man knew it was a sign. Young people descended on the sleepy town on the Oregon coast to collect sneakers, descended on the towns to the north and the south, beachcombing for sandy, wet tennies as if the shoes were the rarest of treasures. They held trading parties in the Safeway parking lot, big public gatherings characterized by laughter and loud music.
That was when the dancing began.
It was all wrong. They danced in the parking lot, wearing mismatched Nikes and cutoffs, an intimate dance, hip and hop and hot, rubbing their body parts against each other, in public.
The old man watched, and his face grew red and his chest grew tight.

Now if the shoes had feet in them, I’m sure I would have written a very different story.

My progress on new fiction in the last week has been minimal, and I need to get back to a daily word count. But I’ve done a lot of editing on two different projects, both Chameleon in a Mirror and Yseult, as well as some brainstorming and organizational work on another novel, Fragments of Legend. Mostly however, I’ve been doing translating, the work that puts food on the table. We have a big project right now that needs to be done before we go on vacation — less than two weeks now. Nothing like a little pressure to make you work harder!

A New Look and Some New Projects

Did a lot of work on redesigning my blog in the last couple of days. Chose a new theme, and added a bunch of links to my publications and anthologies containing my stories. Still need to do a lot more, but at least it’s a start. What do folks think – was it worth the work?

I also finished the hard copy revisions for Chameleon in a Mirror, my Aphra Behn time travel novel. I was hoping to hire a freelance editor of my acquaintance, but she’s booked solid through December. I wanted to get the ebook put together before Christmas, though. Does anyone have any suggestions?

This week, I finally started critiquing again on Codex. I got really bad about that while I was working on Shadow of Stone, so I’m pleased that I’m finally getting back into a critique group. A couple of the collabs I’ve done recently have been through Codex as well; I neglected that great community far too long, and it feels good to be back.

The next project I want to tackle is finishing my Callisto story. After that, I’m a little unsure what to do next. Should I go ahead with the Aphra Behn novel? Or should I work on Yseult instead, my retelling of the Tristan and Isolde tale? Since that has been published in translation in German, Dutch, and Italian, I know there’s a potential audience, and the original manuscript has gone through the editing process. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated!