TEAM GUEST BLOG NUMBER TWENTY FIVE – Fiona Pickles

There’s no such thing as a bad review

Since we published our first four books in May 2010 (yes, it was that long ago!) we’ve submitted to and been reviewed by roughly fifty different websites – not counting Amazon, Goodreads, AllRomance, Manic Readers etc. – many of which which exist solely for the purpose of reviewing independently-produced GLBT fiction.

Or perhaps I should say existed, because at the time of writing only fifteen of them are still functioning – which probably isn’t surprising, considering that there’s a huge amount of effort (and no money) involved in running a review website. We suspect that most of them are co-ordinated either by single individuals or very small groups, and the chances are that it takes up pretty much whatever leisure time they have left in between paid employment, college, family, home, pets and other commitments – and sometimes when dealing with major health difficulties into the bargain.

There is pressure on them to maintain a schedule, to recruit reviewers and assign books, to make sure the report is received on time and to publish it on the site. What’s more they must make a conscious investment into maintaining the quality of their output, or both readers and publishers may end up losing confidence and being reluctant to trust their word about anything. They do this voluntarily, because they love our genre, and they get hardly any thanks for it. It’s little wonder some of them eventually seem to disintegrate under the strain!

The more we think about what’s involved in running a review website, the more impressed we here at Manifold Press are that anybody ever does it at all. True, they get to read new books which otherwise they might not have encountered; that’s the up-side. The down-side, though, is that … well, some of the books may be less than absolutely perfect, and from time to time the author can take offence at being told as much. (There is no better example of an author reacting adversely to criticism than this: The Greek Seaman.) As a reviewer, you are always aware that something like this may happen to you – and that can be totally intimidating.

From the author’s and publisher’s side, however, if the book is good enough to impress an impartial reviewer who has enough followers to make a difference, then the word can start to spread and there can be an immediate reflection in the sales figures. This matters a lot to those of us who have hardly anything to spend on marketing, advertising or promotion; we rely on the electronic equivalent of ‘word of mouth’ and on readers trusting reviewers to deliver an honest opinion. That, in turn, means our books have to be good enough to impress … and even if we didn’t already have reason to be committed to producing quality, that would be enough to sway the decision.

We value all the reviews we get, the bad as well as the good, because there is almost always something to learn from them – as was the case when one pointed out an unsuspected technical issue in one of our books; it enabled us to fix it before too many copies had been sold. (Interestingly, no customer mentioned it – was it just in the review copy? We never found out, but we changed it anyway!)

So we’d like to take this opportunity of thanking everyone who runs a review website, because we have a good idea how tough it can be – anyone who has ever been asked the question “Does my bum look big in this?” recognises the awkwardness of having to be both honest and polite; ‘the fifteen’, however – the websites still functioning which receive our quarterly offers of books to review – contrive to manage it somehow, and they have our undying gratitude. We literally couldn’t make it without them, and we felt it was probably about time we actually said as much.

TEAM GUEST BLOG NUMBER TWENTY THREE – Fiona Pickles

Why straight isn’t always great: non-linear narratives

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

This is hackneyed advice for authors, which falls into the same category as ‘write what you know’ but is just as flawed. Obviously it’s simplest if a novel, short story or piece of non-fiction writing has a linear structure – A leads to B and C follows, all in a nice straight line – but a more adventurous approach to story-telling can be to start in the middle with an arresting scene, flash back to explain how things got that way, and then carry on to develop the narrative to its natural conclusion.

There are a number of excellent examples of non-linear narratives in books, TV and films. The West Wing, for one, did it a lot, setting up situations which seemed to come out of left field – one scenario that springs immediately to mind involved a nervous young intern, in the rain, delivering the Vice President’s resignation – and then flashing back a few days to explain how and why this happened. Putting a juicy lump of bait at the start of a story is a great way of hooking your audience and reeling them in; they know where you’re going to take them, of course, but they have no idea how you’re going to get them there. As a bonus this can sidestep the slow build-up many authors favour but which some readers find tedious – and should obviate the writer’s worst enemy, the ‘info dump’ in which too many facts are conveyed too quickly and indigestibly.

It could also be argued that a non-linear story doesn’t give up its secrets all at once, as anyone who has ever read a detective story with half-a-dozen perfectly plausible scenarios for the crime will agree – Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers, for example. A non-linear narrative can be read and re-read, and will yield some interesting new snippet of information every time, whereas sometimes a single reading of a plain linear narrative is really all it can stand.

It’s exciting to see an author experimenting with narrative structure, bouncing between time-lines and keeping the reader on their toes. Done well, it can be an unpredictable and challenging roller-coaster ride. However it does require massive self-control and solid planning in order to give the story strong internal consistency – spreadsheets and Post-It notes can come in very handy at this stage!

We’re often told that ‘keeping it simple’ is the way to go, and that we shouldn’t over-complicate things. While that’s good advice in some circumstances, it doesn’t always work for fiction; I wouldn’t advocate complicating a story without good reason, but I do also think that there can be an argument for embracing complexity, being experimental, throwing a simple linear time-line out of the window and seeing what evolves instead. After all, while in some cases straight can indeed be great, bendy can also be trendy!

Manifold Press Twitter Q&A – transcript

The following transcript of our two hour Q&A session on Twitter, which took place yesterday, was kindly prepared by Julie Bozza – who we can’t just thank enough!

Manifold Press Twitter Q+A on 4 May 2013

Manifold Press held its first Twitter Q+A on 4 May – on a Saturday evening for the UK and the Saturday morning for the west coast of the US. It was very lively, and I’m sure we’ll be doing it again!

The date was chosen to coincide with the release of two new titles on 1 May: Always With Us by Morgan Cheshire, and The Apothecary’s Garden by Julie Bozza.

Manifold Press participants were authors Julie Bozza @juliebozza, Jane Elliot @IMJaneElliot, Adam Fitzroy @AdamFitzroy and the Press itself @ManifoldPressUK.

We are very grateful to @AtlantaHiker, @charliecochrane, @SRinglever, @stellaemrys and especially @ShellPeart for asking some great questions!

The following is a ‘transcript’ of the Q+A, wrangled into some kind of order, with some of the Twitter!speak translated into English, with added punctuation. We hope you enjoy it all as much as we did!

The anticipation builds…

Jane Elliot @IMJaneElliot: 10 minutes to the #ManifoldPress Q&A with me, @juliebozza and @AdamFitzroy! My first twitter Q&A — I’m aflutter with nerves 🙂
Jonah McD @Atlantahiker: Hey @IMJaneElliot! Looking forward to your Q&A!
Jane: Thank you! (Also glad to see you here 🙂
Adam Fitzroy @AdamFitzroy: I’m here, poised over my keyboard …
Julie Bozza @juliebozza: I’m present but not necessarily accounted for ! 😀
Manifold Press @ManifoldPressUK: The #ManifoldPress Q&A begins right…about…NOW!

And they’re off!

Jane: I actually have a question for the other authors: how do you write? Short intense bursts (like me) or a little bit every day?
Adam: A little (sometimes a lot) every day, usually starting at about 6.30 a.m.; sometimes I can write later in the day, but rarely!
Jane: I used to be that way (except in the evening). Now I have kicks where I write 18 hours a day and then nothing for days!
Julie: I think my best work comes in short intense bursts – but Real Life demands mean I mostly settle for a bit every day.
Jane: I should probably try to write every day. Short bursts are great — except when you haven’t written anything in months!
Julie: At the risk of being inappropriate: ‘Short intense bursts’ or a slow hand…? Very apt question for the genre! 😉
Adam: Tsk tsk, and there was me trying to be all sensible…
Jane: *pbbblt* It’s good there’s at least one mature person in this chat 🙂
Julie: Sorr-rry. Note to all our readers: I’m the inappropriate Aussie in this group!
Jane: Well, I’m the one blowing raspberries on the internet, so “inappropriate” might be a relative term 🙂 … Though, now that I think about it, I should totally get the title for “most inappropriate book” 🙂 #MontanaRed
Julie: Sounds like a challenge I’m willing to take on! (Though to be honest I have little hope of winning…)
Adam: Jane, I’d like to know why you think it’s ‘inappropriate’???
Jane: Kink, baby. It’s all about the kink 🙂
Adam: But given the genre that we’re writing in, it doesn’t seem all that inappropriate to me…

Jane receives a proper question!

Jonah McD: What has the reaction been to your wholesome, fairly monogamous characters in your End Of the Trail books?
Jane: Overall good, though a few folks have complained about a lack of action in the original and too much action in the sequel 🙂

Shell leads off with a doozy!

Michelle Peart @ShellPeart: What do you think makes good writing?
Jane: You don’t pull any punches! For me it mostly boils down to authentic characters and real emotional impact. Those are my kinks 🙂
Julie: Hello, Shell! ♥ Great question! I aim for engaging characters, interesting setting, decent plot, and accuracy + clarity in my prose. … How would you answer your own question, Shell? Then I’ll try to do more of that. 🙂
Shell: Good clear descriptions, likeable characters, decent pace and unique angle…!!?
Julie: Sounds good to me! I think I heard you’re doing some writing yourself…? Tell us a little about that?
Shell: Eeeeek! *flounders* Well I’m doing a basics writing course but I did get 93/100 for my first module!! *faints*
Julie: Well done you! Sounds like you know what you’re doing!
Adam: What makes a good writer? Patience and persistence, IMHO. (Or ‘Never give up, never surrender!’)

Another from Jane for her fellow authors…

Jane: Of all of the books and characters you’ve written, which are your favorites?
Adam: I still have huge affection for ‘Stage Whispers’, although I don’t necessarily think it’s my best book.
Julie: Albert (the first character of mine to come alive), Nicholas+Dave (they belong together), and Hilary (I just love him).

And one from the Press, with Charlie weighing in!

Manifold Press: I have a question for our authors: where do you get your plots?
Jane: From my dirty, dirty imagination 🙂 … More seriously, I usually start with a character / trope / relationship that interests me and go from there.
Adam: In all sorts of odd places – from history, and from the depths of a murky imagination. … Jane, yes, it’s the same with me; I like an unusual relationship dynamic – bold guy/shy guy for example.
Julie: I start with an idea or spark, find the characters, then look for a plot. So it grows out of different things.
Charlie Cochrane ‏@charliecochrane: Adam – football + WW1 – where did that idea arise?
Adam: A trip to the WWI battlefields a few years ago and speculating about fellow travellers. … Also, people don’t really change, do they? Hopes, dreams, fears are all pretty constant.
Charlie: Yep, I believe that things don’t change. Like WWI soldiers slagging off the Daily Mail – even then!
Adam: It’s always the food, or the boots, or the beds, or the rain … or the bosses of course!
Charlie: Yep. Have you read The Final Whistle? Brilliant non-fiction about WWI.
Adam: No, not seen that one. Is it about ‘The Christmas Truce’?
Charlie: No, it’s about some of the rugby players who died in the conflict. Very interesting.

Shell has another one…

Shell: Where is your favourite place for thinking?
Jane: When I’m walking (good) and when I’m in bed, trying to sleep and failing (bad) 🙂
Julie: There’s thinking…? 😉 The demands of life mean this can be quite random. I guess mostly in my study, though…
Adam: In my study, sitting at my desk. My brain doesn’t work as well anywhere else.

Adam chips in with one for Jane and Julie

Adam: So how much, if at all, do you brainstorm with other people during the writing process?
Jane: If I could find someone, I’d brainstorm every time — I love discussing ideas! … Unfortunately, I’ve struggled to find a brainstorming partner, so usually I develop ideas solo.
Adam: I have a couple of really reliable people, thank goodness, and they’ll tell me if I’m going wrong…
Julie: I’m an independent sod when writing, so not much. But I ask my husband, sister or fellow #ManifoldPress authors when I need to.
Adam: I lean on Morgan Cheshire a lot, of course, and she leans right back; it’s very reassuring to be ‘companions in adversity’…
Julie: I love your writing, and Morgan’s too, so this is obviously a great working partnership!
Adam: Or a folie a deux!

Shell cuts right to the chase…

Shell: Julie – erm – Do you find you have to be in a ‘certain’ mood to write ‘certain’ scenes?
Jane: Cutting in, but — usually writing ‘certain’ scenes will put me in a ‘certain’ mood rather than vice versa 🙂
Julie: LOL! Not necessarily… though I might end up that way afterwards! 😉 … Seriously, there’s hopefully other things going on re the characters and the story, so the focus isn’t always on the choreography…

And here’s the big one!

Shell: So… this old cookie… What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Julie: A writer writes. Learn by doing. Never give up. Listen to feedback; be true to your vision. Find your voice. … P.S. That might be the best stab at wisdom I’ve ever made! And on Twitter, too. 🙂 Thank you for asking. ♥

Jane gets practical

Jane: When does the next round of books go up on Amazon?
Manifold Press: Very soon, we hope! They’re currently under review.

Shell gets creative

Shell: If you met your favourite author what question would you ask him/her?
Jane: Robin McKinley: “Why is there no sequel to Sunshine?!”
Julie: ‘Would you marry me?’ (Only he’d say no, of course, because he loved Fanny Brawne so much…)
Shell: 🙂
Jane: Alternatively: “Miss Austen, what do you think about the popularity of Fanny/Henry fanfic?” … For clarification, what Austen would think of folks who ship Fanny and Henry.
Julie: I’d love to talk to Jane Austen about how she invented the modern (non-Gothic) novel. Where’d that come from…?

Shell asks another big one…

Shell: How do you beat writers block? Sorry I’m completely bombarding you!!
Julie: And we love you for it! ♥ I imagine our commissioning editor has her eye on you now! 😀 … If the writer’s block is due to a lack of confidence, then I grit my teeth + somehow keep going. … However, it can indicate you need to do extra research, thought, planning. Or you’ve gone wrong somehow. Listen to the characters!

We hear from the lovely Stella!

Stella @stellaemrys: What is your ultimate writerly dream? 🙂
Julie: Hey there, Stella! ♥ I’d love to see a film made of one of my novels – especially if I had a say in casting. 🙂 … However, that’s about as unlikely as winning the Booker Prize! (Which has been my dream in the past.)
Jane: To make enough in royalties to live on (or at least work part time 🙂
Adam: Same as Julie’s – a movie; got the director and most of the cast picked out!
Stella: Well, Julie, you never know! Which of your novels would you choose and whom would you cast?
Julie: I’d be torn between my Keats novel, Butterfly Hunter, and The Apothecary’s Garden. I’m wary about talking about who I’d cast … because I like readers to imagine the faces rather than be told. (However, Ben Whishaw makes a fine Keats!)
Stella: I’d love to see any of those on film 🙂 And that’s a very good point! …’The truth of the imagination…’
Julie: A good Keats quote can justify anything! 🙂 I know you know my dream cast. 😉

Another doozy from Shell


Shell
: What inspires/motivates you to write?
Julie: I’m happiest when I’m writing so I can’t not do it. Not any more! Also, it’s the way I think or work through things.
Adam: Me too. Writing is so much easier than ‘not writing’ …
Jane: The more accurate question is what *doesn’t* inspire me — I have more story ideas than I know what to do with.
Shell: Weirdly for a beginner… I have found that I am happy when I’m writing!! BTW Writerly dream… Easy Peasy… to be published!
Julie: That’s great! That’s the way it should be. Occasionally soul-wrenching. Mostly happy! LOL!
Jane: Best Life Motto Ever: @juliebozza “That’s the way it should be. Occasionally soul-wrenching. Mostly happy! LOL!”
Julie: Hee! Glad that nailed it for you! 🙂

Jane chips in with a doozy of her own!

Jane: What are your thoughts on fanfiction?
Adam: The best of it is very good indeed, better than pro fiction. The worst? Yuk. … Or do you mean fan fiction of our own stuff? Because that would just be awesome.
Jane: I didn’t think of that, but that would absolutely KICK ASS 🙂
Adam: Except that being fan authors they’d break up all the pairs and slash people with the ‘wrong’ partners…
Jane: That would be the best part for me — I love reading non-canon pairings 🙂
Julie: Love it. Fandom is where I learned to write; I still write fan fiction. I will be overjoyed if/when there’s fan fic of my work!
Jane: Same here — there’s nothing more valuable for a beginning author than a ready audience.
Adam: I never quite understand some pro authors being so anti fanfic; it always seems so petty to me.
Jane: I think a lot of it depends on whether they ever wrote fanfic themselves. It seems to be getting more accepted.
Adam: Yes, thank goodness – and writing itself is less of an ivory-tower thing than it used to be.

Another good one from Shell!

Shell: What is your favourite thing you’ve written?
Jane: To date: Devil in Dead Horse. I always like my newer books more than my backlist.
Julie: I think Butterfly Hunter, though I’m very proud of The Apothecary’s Garden. Different answers on different days!
Adam: It’s like loving all your children equally but in different ways – according to personality etc.
Julie: Ah! Yes, Adam’s nailed that one…. Also, having just launched The Apothecary’s Garden, it’s riding high for me at the mo.
Shell: Is there going to be a Butterfly Hunter sequel? Hope so!
Julie: Yes, I’m about halfway through a first draft of the sequel. The pressure’s on, as it’s been my most successful title!
Shell: Don’t feel the pressure, just be yourself and it will happen as it’s supposed to 🙂
Julie: Ah, thank you! That’s truly excellent advice. ♥

Adam weighs in…

Adam: Can you work on more than one story at a time? I find I’m collecting ideas for about a dozen.
Jane: I can, but common themes tend to appear in both books — I notice them, if no one else does.
Julie: I do best if the actual writing is one story at a time. Though there’s usually other ideas which I mull or plan or make notes for at the same time.

A question for Jane!


Sonja Ringlever ‏@SRinglever
: Why do you write Westerns?
Jane: Isolation, survival of the fittest, and a ridiculously high male to female ratio 🙂

Shell keeps asking the big ones!

Shell: Do you think your love for writing will be with you until you shed this mortal coil?
Jane: For me, yes! I know some writers quit, but I can’t imagine it.
Julie: Yes, I do. Especially as I feel I was a late starter. Took me ages to find any confidence at all! What about you?
Shell: I’m an extremely late starter! Typical. But I’d like to think so!
Julie: ‘It’s never too late to be the person you might have been.’ George Eliot. (I found it on a Fat Face clothing tag!)
Shell: Thank you! That’s going to be my new mantra!!

The Press gets serious

Manifold Press: A question to the fans: what are we doing that you like? Any suggestions you have for improvement?
Adam: Argh, opening up a can ‘o worms there, Press!
Jane: I really like Manifold Press’s covers and how easy you all are to work with 🙂
Adam: I love the covers too; it always amazes me when people don’t.
Julie: (At the risk of seeming immodest) I love that you insist on quality, are prepared to subvert the genre, and do great covers.

We start winding up!

Shell: Well I’m all questioned out! It’s been fun and informative! x
Jane: Thank you so much for participating! You’ve been fantastic and I’ve loved your questions!
Julie: Hon, you’ve been totally awesome! Thank you so much for your interest!
Manifold Press: That’s the end of the #ManifoldPress Twitter Q&A! Don’t forget, you can post questions through May 5 at the Manifold Press Goodreads Q&A.
Jane: Thanks for a great Q&A everyone! Feel free to post additional questions (though my response time won’t be quite as fast 🙂
Julie: Thanks, everyone – and a special shout-out to Shell and Stella! ♥♥♥
Adam: Yes, thank you everyone – fun but exhausting; must do this again some time.
Manifold Press: Let’s cap the day with a special offer: #Ravages by R.A. Padmos @RAPadmos is now 50% off! This offer coincides with the week leading up to the F.A. Cup Final in England. Find it here on Amazon US – and in all other Amazon marketplaces.

Thank you to everybody who joined in; we hope to see you all again next time!