The Power of Partnership: Guest Post by Emmie Mears

Greetings, dear readers! Today we have a guest post from the awesome Emmie Mears, whose debut novel, The Masked Songbird, will be released from Harlequin on July 1. Check out what she has to say, and then be sure to run on over to Amazon and pre-order your digital copy today! 

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)The Power of Partnership

Many parts of life require partnership. We all know the saying about how no one’s an island, yadda yadda, but when you’re in a creative profession, you can often feel like one. In my early days of writing, I wrote like an island. I didn’t seek out critique. I didn’t read craft books. I worked in an extreme version of “write what you know.”

It wasn’t until I started really reaching out to other writers that I was able to kick my writing into the next gear. My lovely host and bosom friend, Kristin, was one of those writers.

When I started querying my first novel, I had high hopes. I thought it was ready. I’d written two and a half books and had been over my first one about fifteen times in four years. I loved my characters and my story, and I was sure I was going to get an agent.

“If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a hot second.”

Those were the words I heard from a powerhouse agent at my first writing conference in New York. I was shocked, but not crushed. I got a few requests from other agents that day, all of which petered into rejections. A couple months later, a bestselling author contacted me and said she liked my blog so much that she wanted to read my fiction. I sent her the first couple chapters of this book, and crossed my fingers. When she called me to talk about it, I heard the best words I think I’d heard to that point in my career:

“I don’t think this is submission ready.”

Deep down, I’d known that I hadn’t really been editing it; I’d been tinkering. I’d been on my writing island for so long that I’d been writing around in circles without realizing it.

I put that book aside to think. Two months later, I started another book. I finished it six weeks later. That was two years ago. By then, I had a team of fantastic betas and Kristin for a critique partner. In two months, I had it polished up and ready to query.

Kristin graciously agreed to host me today. I couldn’t think of a better place to start this blog tour, because that little book I scribbled out in six weeks was THE MASKED SONGBIRD, which is coming out two weeks from today from Harlequin.

Without partners, I don’t think I would be here right now. Without the feedback of people (some of it hard to hear), my debut wouldn’t yet be happening.

We really aren’t islands; even in creative professions, we need the community of peers who can offer insight and encouragement. While people can go it alone sometimes, having partners who are with you on the same path can help you get to your destination faster.

You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears or come join her on Facebook!

IMG_7239Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

 

How Far Does Author Loyalty Carry Us?

Warning: this post will contain spoilers for no fewer than two book series and three TV series, and will make reference to sexual violence in fiction.

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Last week, George R. R. Martin released a new excerpt from The Winds of Winter, simultaneously breaking the internet and all of our minds. The excerpt called, simply, “Mercy,” contains sentences like: “Mercy, I’m Mercy, and tonight I’ll be raped and murdered,” and “It would be just like Mercy to sleep through her own rape.”

The language of rape continues through the chapter: Mercy, the main character, has to hurry or she’ll miss her own rape, and there are repeated allusions to sexual acts with the character who seems to be her boss.

There are two twists. One (and this may be the biggest) is that Mercy is in fact Arya, our child-heroine. An intrepid (okay, frustrated) reader  who is upset by the first paragraphs will scan to the end and see this fact, compounding the upset: not only is this character an unwilling prostitute, but she’s also one of the few non-sexualized female characters in the series. When I saw this, I was devastated, and almost didn’t read the whole chapter.

Of course, you could argue that the other twist is more important: Mercy is an actress, and the rape she’s referring to is on-stage.

When I realized this, and realized that Martin knew that he was deliberately using inflammatory language, teasing us with a fictional act he’s constantly criticized for, I felt hurt. Relieved, but hurt.

He was trolling us, you see. Upsetting us deliberately, and then he took it away. He’s aware of the criticisms about his books, the accusations of constant rape and sexual violence, and he used our sensitivity against us to achieve a shocking reveal.

WTF?

I was almost more upset by that use of a real problem with his work than I was by the apparent sexualization of Arya. I’ve been reading Martin’s books since I was 14, since before I even really fully understood just how violent against women the books are and just how twisted this world’s view of sex is. I’ve struggled with my love for the books, feeling like I shouldn’t be able to read them, like I shouldn’t love them, because I now recognize just how troubling Martin’s treatment of women (and sex generally — this isn’t just about women) is.

The same thing happened in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when main character Claire is raped (in a fair amount of realistic detail). I’d come to terms with the rape of Brianna, Claire’s daughter, but when it happened to Claire I was stunned. And hurt. And I felt almost as brutalized as our protagonist.

Why did this have to happen? In what way did Claire’s rape further her character development? We’ve been in Claire’s head for something like 20 years. I read Outlander when I was in SIXTH GRADE. What if I had read these later books then, and seen the two female main characters dealing with this problem? Would it have normalized sexual violence for me?

I realize that neither of these series are really intended for 12- and 14-year-olds, but adults become immune to the things they see in fiction as well. And it’s worse in some ways, because we have the capability of drawing our own lines and seeing where society has failed to draw lines for us. When we continue to read these books, to purchase them and enjoy them in spite of the sexual violence, are we becoming part of the problem?

When I watch a TV show, I will turn it off if there is any sort of sexual violence in the first few episodes. The new season of American Horror Story? Gone. Never finished. The Americans? Dead to me. But Buffy? Or Battlestar Galactica? I kept watching, because the sexual violence didn’t happen until I was already in love with the characters and invested in their stories, which in some ways makes it so much worse.

So how far does our loyalty take us? Should I give up on books I’ve been reading for most of my life? Should I wave away fictional characters I love, because their creators crossed a line? I really don’t know.

I do know that someday, when I’m published, I don’t want to put my readers in this position. I don’t want to create a dilemma for a woman who grew up on my books or normalize rape for a preteen girl. I may have undeserved loyalty for certain authors and series, but I also have loyalty to myself, my someday-readers, my characters, and, above all, my principles.

So I ask you: How far is too far? How do you react when sexual violence bubbles up in your favorite series? What’s the right answer here?

A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.

 

Friends and Heroes

I have been gently mocked—and more harshly mocked by some—for my abiding love of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. But for better or worse, our heroes are our heroes, and we cannot shake their influence or absolve our love for them.

I picked up A Game of Thrones in (approximately) 1999. I’m guessing, here, because I really don’t recall. I was with my parents at a Barnes and Noble in Waco, Texas, visiting my older brother at Baylor University. I think it must have been 1999 because it was an early visit to Waco and because A Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and my copy is a first edition. (And now signed!)

Actually, I picked up A Clash of Kings first, because of its attractive cover. The golden cover, the woman in red, the description of the book itself pulled me in. I mean, look at it. It’s pretty.

But because I’m an OCD soul, I had to go for the first book first. I picked up A Game of Thrones, despite its less attractive cover (I own the infamous Harlequin Jon Snow version, which is, these days, hard to find: see image above), and took it home with me.

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. It was boring. I fell asleep on our couch reading it. But after a few false starts, I was intrigued. And when (SPOILER ALERT – have you been living under a rock??) Ned Stark died, I was hooked. HOOKED. Here was a writer who could create a nuanced, sympathetic, enjoyable character, and kill him off without compunction. Here was a writer I needed to know.

So I read the gorgeous A Clash of Kings, and received my copy of A Storm of Swords for Christmas the next year. I read it, enjoyed it, was shocked by it, then patiently settled in to read the next installment. How little I knew.

Fast forward eight years to a small apartment in Hayward, California. I decided the story bouncing around in my head during my commute from Hayward to Berkeley for my reporting job deserved some more attention. I said to my (now) husband that I wanted to focus on fiction, and I did just that. I began my first (trunk) novel, a huge epic about a pair of thieves who get embroiled in a political conspiracy to return magic and science to their stagnated nation. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning rereading Martin’s books, learning about point of view and narration from his chapters.

Fast forward another three years to 2011. I met the wonderful Emmie Mears through WordPress and a shared experience of familial tragedy. We discovered a mutual love of Buffy and all things fantastic, and suddenly we were fast friends who had never met in person.

Now, in 2013, I had the great privilege of flying out to Maryland and meeting Emmie in real life.

e and k

Bosom friends meet at last.

Aww.

In case you haven’t noticed ’round these parts, Emmie has been a huge part of my life in the last two years. We’ve commiserated, celebrated, even long-distance watched movies together. Though it started as an Anne of Green Gables joke, she IS a bosom friend, and one I’m so very grateful to have in my life. My sanity would have suffered much more in the last 18-months without her supportive, bosom-friendy presence.

So what does my abiding love for Emmie have to do with my abiding love for GRRM?

Well, come Capclave and our time together, we encountered guest of honor, George R. R. Martin himself. Emmie sat beside me in the front row while he did his first reading and I blushed every time he looked toward us.

Then, at nearly one a.m. after a Scotch-tasting party, when I gushingly said I wanted to tell him that I used to stay up late rereading A Game of Thrones to learn about perspective and how much that helped me, Emmie said four simple words:

“You should tell him.”

So I did. I fanned out so hard. I told him how he was a huge influence on me, how his writing gave me the courage and the inspiration to try writing a ridiculously huge novel with multiple point of view characters. And then, because there was an awkward pause, I said it must have helped, since I now have an agent.

And because he’s awesome and kind enough to hang out with his fans, George R. R. Martin asked about my agent. And our writing. And our process. And told us about his own childhood.

We got to take a photo with him, too.

Photo does not include mental squeeing.

Photo does not include mental squeeing. Also, yes, I am this short.

Lifetime achievement: unlocked.

Since this photo, people have teased me. Said I should have it framed and hung in my bedroom. Above my desk. Treasure it forever.

And you know what? I’m totally going to do it. These two writers have influenced me more than I can say. I would be honored to hang them above my workspace.

Friends and heroes. What’s the difference?

Why Write: YA with Steph Sessa

Today Steph Sessa is here to talk about YA and why teen stories have such a profound effect on people of all ages. Enjoy!

Hello, Steph, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Hi! Thanks for having me! I’m a Philadelphia-based writer with obsessions in linguistics, music and ultimate frisbee. When not writing, I work part-time as a linguistic researcher and go to grad school for education. I write primarily YA, particularly speculative fiction, though recently I’ve been dabbling in NA contemporary.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I think I’m one of the few people who loved high school. Like absolutely loved it. Yes, at times it was tough. But the experiences I had there are some I’ll never forget. It’s the time when everything matters and there’s so many emotions and you feel everything. All the emotions are amplified and part of the reason to read is to feel, so YA was just the obvious choice for me.

You also describe some of your work as speculative fiction — what exactly does that mean?

Speculative fiction is just a broad term for the fantastical genres, so fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, horror, scifi, dystopian etc.

What types of stories does young adult make possible? How about speculative fiction?

So many! YA is the time for self-discovery and new relationships (whether it’s boyfriends or just new friendships). It’s about finding out who you are and how to navigate relationships with other people. Speculative fiction allows the reader to get lost in a different world and to take a break from reality for a second. Readers can discover new worlds and situations that they can’t get in their every day lives. It’s an escape.

Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Why do you think so many adults love to read YA fiction?

With YA it’s all about the feeling. As I said above, emotions are amplified so everything is terrible or amazing. Insecurities come out in the characters and all readers can relate, because everyone is insecure about something. I think adults like YA because it reminds us of a time in our lives when everything mattered, but we weren’t bogged down with car payments or rent or other boring things like that. It’s about relationships, which really are the most important things in life, and I think young adults and regular adults like to see that.

How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Everything has to be intensified. Since teenagers tend to have shorter attention spans (as do I!) things have to get going right from the beginning. Tension in the first page, first paragraph, first line. Hooking the reader early on is incredibly important because they might not give the book a chance otherwise. So the plot has start early on or the characters have to be interesting enough for the readers to want to spend 250+ pages with them. The characters have to change from the beginning to the end more prominently, because YA is about growth.

How does YA affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? And speculative fiction?

The problems aren’t going to be the same things I face on a day to day basis. For YA, they’re going to be problems that sixteen-year-olds usually have, so a fight with a friend, boyfriend, parent. They’re inter-personal problems. But including speculative fiction means including scenarios that you might not see everyday because of the setting. So maybe there are different species living in that world that’s hostile, or there’s a dystopian government that affects every aspect of life. So it’s the relationship problems plus a big picture problem.

How do you think your genre affects your audience?

My audience is going to be the people who read to feel and read to get lost in a world. Speculative fiction tends to have a lot of world building which can be a lot to take in sometimes. But it also has the chance to enhance the story significantly. It’s growth and emotions of the main character, with a fantastical plot.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

I read almost exclusively YA, and usually it’s either fantasy or light scifi. I do like contemporary YA as well.

Where can readers track you down?

https://twitter.com/stephsessa
http://stephsessa.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by, Steph!