04/29/13

Excerpt from Scourge: Nostrum

The first few paragraphs from Scourge: Nostrum. An appetizer, until the actual book comes out. Please let me know what you think!

   When I was a child, I watched a man burn at the stake for mixing tinctures to cure the Black Plague. He smiled just before the flames seared his flesh. An inexplicable, haunting smile that has bewildered me to this day.

The monks who burned him told the lingering crowd that prayer is the only true and righteous weapon against illness. That alchemy is a sin.
Some weeks later those same monks lowered a saint’s body into a vat of wine in the hopes of creating a cure for the same plague.
I am a simple knight. It is difficult for me to see the difference between a tincture and a corpse’s bath water. But after two days of prayer I understand that neither God nor the saints will heal the woman I love.  I must look to alchemy, even if it means burning in the very fires of Hell.

And if Hell is my fate, then I, too, will smile as the flames lick my flesh. For I will have saved the woman I adore, and earned eternal salvation in her eyes.

The first episode is a month or so away. I look forward to hearing from you on the Amazon Discussion Boards and here, on my blog.

 

04/28/13

Scourge: Nostrum
Available for Pre-Order

Just a quick note to let you know that the Scourge: Nostrum, book 2 of The Scourge, is now available for pre-order. It will start as a Kindle Serial, like the first book, so if you buy it, you are purchasing all eight episodes for just $1.99. Each episode will be auto-delivered to your kindle or other device as it comes out. Release date is early June!

No cover for Nostrum yet, but hopefully soon!

*** I now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday afternoon. ***

 

 

04/23/13

Marcus Trower – Award-winning Copy Editor Supreme!

Award-winning copy editor, and terrific human, Marcus Trower

The difference between publishing a book and publishing a book professionally is similar to the difference between making a film with your cell phone and making a film with a crew, director, good lighting, and high-quality film. I had the fortune of being published by 47North, a company that takes professionalism very seriously. The Scourge was a team effort, with three sets of editors looking it over, an experienced artist designing the cover and a team of marketing specialists helping to put the book in front of as many eyes as possible. If you are self-publishing, you may not have the option to enlist such a crew, but you really, really, really should invest in a copy editor. It can make your book stand out in a sea of sub-standard work. My copy editor, Marcus Trower was a godsend. He applied a coat of consistency to my work, and spotted scores of problems that I and all of my beta readers had missed. I spoke with Marcus recently about copy editing recently and he provided some gems. If you are a writer, or have any interest in the writing process, you should read what he had to say.

Hi Marcus. Thanks very much for agreeing to talk to me about editing. I know the typical way to start an interview is to ask about your background, but I’d like to start by asking you about what you do. With the self-publishing craze going full steam, there are a lot of writers asking if they need a copy editor. What are your thoughts on that question?
Thanks for asking me over to your blog, Roberto. I’m going to answer your question in a roundabout way, so bear with me. Twenty years ago I worked as a film journalist for Empire magazine in London—as you know, I’m British. Anyway, we reviewed films and interviewed film makers, as you would expect. Now, whenever we wrote about movies, we gave the directors of those films all the limelight. Most of the time we neglected to talk about all the other people involved in making the films—be they scriptwriters, set designers, grips, best boys, stunt men and women, or whatever. What we were pushing was the auteur theory of film making—the idea that a film represents the pure vision of one person, namely the director. The first time I visited a film set, I was amazed by how many people were involved in the production. I realized I’d swallowed the auteur theory whole, and seeing the reality of film making firsthand really opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of making movies.

What I’m coming round to saying is getting a book published, as distinct from writing a book, is also a collaborative process, and I think some writers who self-publish don’t really understand that fully, because they’ve never seen behind the scenes at a publishing house. As an author, your name may be the one on the book cover, but a lot of people are—or, at least, should be—involved in getting your book into print in the best possible shape. Editors are there to get the best out of you and your writing. Copy editors are part of a team of editors you need to have around you. We’re there to make sure your readers aren’t distracted, or worse, by poor spelling, typos, faulty grammar, bad stylistic choices, poor formatting, inconsistencies, and so on. Some copy editors—and I’m one of them—will also give feedback on storytelling elements, such as POV, characterization, and scene setting, if there are any issues to do with those.

I understand why some self-publishing authors say, “But I can’t afford to hire a team of editors.” I get that—I’m an author too, so I can see this picture from the writer’s perspective—but if you don’t at least employ a copy editor, you really are in serious danger of putting out a piece of substandard work.

If you publish work with a lot of mistakes and distractions in it, you lose your readers’ interest in your work and their faith in you—and you will lose readers, period, or perhaps not get them in the first place, since these days the Look Inside! feature on Amazon allows readers to try before they buy.

“People will point at you and laugh when you walk down the street…”

And what are the risks of putting out substandard work?
 People will point at you and laugh when you walk down the street. No, I’m only joking, though if you put out work that isn’t properly edited, it may actually feel like something like that is happening to you. A lot of the time, a copy editor deals with things that distract readers and undermine an author’s credibility—misspellings, bad grammar, incorrect formatting, overuse of italics, etc., etc. Copy editors want to facilitate the smooth, distraction-free delivery of an author’s story to his or her readers. If you publish work with a lot of mistakes and distractions in it, you lose your readers’ interest in your work and their faith in you—and you will lose readers, period, or perhaps not get them in the first place, since these days the Look Inside! feature on Amazon allows readers to try before they buy.

 

Okay, now let’s talk about your background. As you just said, you’re an ex-journalist, like me. Can you tell us about your past and about how you became a copy editor?
I started out as a journalist in 1990, and I worked on music magazines, film titles, and men’s magazines all through the early 1990s. Later, I went on to work for some of the UK’s national newspapers, such as the Times. During my years as a journalist, I was always both a writer and a copy editor—actually, subeditor is the label we use in the UK within journalism. I switched to copy-editing books relatively recently. As I said, I’m also an author. I had a nonfiction book, The Last Wrestlers: A Far-Flung Journey in Search of a Manly Art, published in 2007 by Ebury Press (Random House). I’m currently writing a crime novel set in Rio, where I used to live. The fact I’m an author helps a lot when I copy-edit. I’ve grappled with the craft, storytelling and style issues that I see other authors grappling with on the page.

What type of manuscripts do you normally edit? Where do you get the brunt of your work from?
I specialize in editing genre fiction. I edit fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime fiction, thrillers, and the odd work of literary fiction. My specialisms are crime fiction and thrillers. I work for four CreateSpace imprints—Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance, AmazonCrossing, and 47North—as well as with independent authors who either find me through my website and blog or through the Editorial Freelancers Association, of which I’m a member.

 Can you talk about the differences between editing a UK book and US book? Are there particular challenges to switching from one to the other?
There are significant differences between British and American style, punctuation and usage. At this point, I find it fairly easy to switch from one language environment to the other. I actually edit more books written by American authors than I do books written by Brits, and I’ve grown to really love American English style and punctuation.

I know from seeing your editing style in action that you do quite a bit. On my manuscript, you helped fact-check, you checked spelling and grammar, you asked thoughtful questions about style, you pointed out inconsistencies, and you commented when something just didn’t seem to work. Are there other things you look for in a manuscript? What do you think are the most important facets of your job when you review a story?
Right. My attitude is that absolutely everything is important, and there is nothing I will not poke at with a stick. Of course, like any good copy editor, I want to straighten out an author’s grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and make sure style guidelines are being followed, but I personally think it wouldn’t make sense to do those things and then ignore instances where, to give a couple of examples, the writer unwittingly slips from third-person POV to omniscient mode, or dialogue floats, because there are no dialogue beats and speaker tags. A lot of passages that contain issues which need to be addressed are written in perfect English, but those issues are still issues.

If you could grab the entire, collective body of writers by the shoulders, shake them and tell them one thing that really irritates you about our manuscripts, what would it be? What are some of the most common errors you see in manuscripts? What are some of the most subtle ones?
I do sort of do that, though not quite so aggressively. When I work with an author independently, I write him or her a manuscript report that talks in detail about any recurring issues that came up in the work. Basically, every writer has his or her blind spots. When editing a manuscript, I quickly get a handle on what those issues are. Which brings us to another good reason for authors to use editors. An editor should gently bring your attention to your foibles, and you can then work that feedback back into your writing and avoid making the same mistakes or bad choices in future. Common errors? There are lots of them. Here are a few random ones: tense shifting; using “it” without an antecedent; dangling participles; comma splices; using ellipses instead of em dashes to show interruptions in dialogue; POV shifting; confusing restrictive clauses with nonrestrictive clauses and mispunctuating them accordingly; and continuity errors.

I really don’t get irritated by errors, though. Actually, what I love about copy editing is having to think about so many different things at the same time. If manuscripts came to me without certain types of errors in them, I’d probably miss them.

My attitude is that absolutely everything is important, and there is nothing I will not poke at with a stick.

Can you give us an example of using “it” without an antecedent (I could probably pull out at least a dozen that you pointed out to me in The Scourge)?
Sure. This is a common issue. There are, in fact, a few grammatically correct ways in which “it” can be used without an antecedent. For instance, when we talk about the weather, we can write “It was raining.” Though that “it” doesn’t actually stand in for anything—in other words, it doesn’t have an antecedent—it’s being used correctly, and it’s classed as a dummy pronoun. The mistake writers sometimes make is they use “it” as a referential pronoun—i.e., one that has to be standing in for something—for something it either can’t do that for, or that isn’t actually there. For example, an author might write this:

 Jake laughed. It was something he liked to do.

That line sort of reads okay, but since “it” is a pronoun, it usually has to stand in for a noun (it can also stand in for a phrase). In this case, “it” doesn’t have an antecedent. It can’t stand in for “laughed,” since that’s a verb form. The example I’ve given here is quite a mild case of the problem, and some people might find these two lines acceptable. I regularly see far worse cases than this one, though, and even in an instance like this, the writing loses cohesion.

The publishing landscape has changed quite a bit in the last few years. How has that affected you and copy editing as a whole?
The self-publishing boom is bringing copy editors into direct contact with authors much more. I really like the direct contact, and I’m used to it, since that’s the way things operate within journalism. On magazines and newspapers, editors sit across the desk from writers. I think that’s healthy.

Not exactly a rough place to call home..

You have a unique lifestyle. You’ve mentioned throwing buckets of water on dogs at the crack of dawn and hens walking into your home. Can you tell us a little about where you have lived and how you got to where you are now?
Right. I’ve lived abroad quite a lot—in Sydney, Rio De Janeiro, Barcelona, and Granada. Currently, I live on a windswept and ruggedly beautiful island in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia. It’s called Gozo, and strictly speaking it’s part of Malta, though Gozitans treat the Maltese like foreigners. It’s a small island with a small population, and the people here are incredibly friendly. For instance, my neighbor is always coming round to give us lemons, oranges, pomegranates, cauliflowers, and beans—whatever fruit and veg she’s harvested from her land, basically—or to give us a pot with dinner in it.

I may be exaggerating the extent of Marcus’s problems here.

I better explain my dog-drenching activities. We look after some feral cats, and they’ve become part of our family. There’s this nice guy living nearby who has rescued a lot of abandoned dogs. Unfortunately, he doesn’t train them or keep them on leashes. We know the dogs have killed at least one cat. He takes the dogs out every morning at five thirty, and they used to come marauding down our alley, looking for our cats. So, to protect our cats, I got up every morning at five fifteen, went to the roof and dropped a bucket of water on the leaders of the pack as they ran down the alley. Actually, most of the time the water fell in front of them, and they then spun on their heels and ran away. The tactic has worked, because the dogs don’t come down our alley anymore—and I can sleep in.

It’s a very rustic island, and there’s a small farm on the corner of our alley. Every now and then a hen escapes and seeks asylum in our house—we leave the front door open most of the time. I’m afraid we don’t grant them asylum, though. We would miss the hens’ eggs. The hens scare the cats, too.

What advice would you give to aspiring editors out there? How can someone become an editor?
Obviously you need to study the art of copy editing, and you need to develop a great understanding of grammar, punctuation, and style. Beyond those things, if you want to copy-edit fiction, I suggest you take classes in writing fiction, too. The knowledge you develop will help you no end and should set you apart from copy editors who haven’t studied fiction writing. The more you understand the craft of fiction, the more sophisticated your edits and comments on manuscripts will be, and the more you’ll be able to establish a good rapport with fiction writers.

If an author wanted to contact you or find out about your rates and services, what is the best way to do that?
My website, which is at marcustrowereditor.com, has all that information. If a writer is serious about hiring a copy editor, I’m also happy to give a free demo by working on a few pages of their novel, without any obligation. Writers should shop around for an editor. It’s important to find someone you have real rapport with. You can only discover whether a particular copy editor is right for you by seeing his or her work in action, which is one reason that I, like many copy editors, offer a free demo. A lot of first-time authors don’t really know what working with a copy editor entails, so having a few pages copy-edited is also a good way for them to get an introduction to how the process works.

Even if authors aren’t looking for a copy editor, by the way, they may want to drop by my website to read my blog, Be Your Own Copy Editor, in which I give self-editing advice tackling issues I frequently see in manuscripts. I talk exclusively about topics that relate specifically to genre fiction, and I like to zero in on subjects that don’t get much—if any—attention elsewhere.

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About Marcus, in his own words:
I’m a copy editor, author and ex-journalist. I specialize in editing genre fiction, particularly crime fiction and thrillers, for both UK and US publishers and authors. I live on Gozo, a rugged island in the Med near Sicily. My village is the kind of place where old geezers get around on lawnmowers, and every now and then a hen walks through the front door.

 

Please have a look at Marcus’s blog. It is not only interesting, but a must read for all writers and editors.

04/2/13

Guest Post: Adam Haviaras on Historical Fantasy

Adam Haviaras is *the man* when it comes to history. A medieval history scholar with a background in archaeology and creative writing. Adam writes historical fantasy. Awesome historical fantasy. Well researched, well written and highly entertaining. He’s been kind enough to honor my blog with a guest post. If you like history, please have a look at his site — it’s a fascinating collection of history and writing. And pick up one of his books. You won’t regret it.

 

Reasons to Love Historical Fantasy
By Adam Alexander Haviaras

We all have a favourite genre of fiction, something that just feels like home. For some it’s detective stories. Other people might prefer romance novels. I remember working at a major bookstore in Toronto  and having some of my usual customers come in to buy $250 worth of romance novels they had already read because they wanted mint condition volumes as keepsakes. Very loyal indeed, to the genre and the author.

I love historical fiction, historical fantasy in particular. I write it, I read it and if I could, I would probably live it! Well, the fun parts anyway.

There are many reasons why I’m devoted to historical fantasy. Here are my top 5:

One: Each new iteration of a story or tradition keeps history and legend alive and breathing. The Arthurian cycle and the Trojan War are good examples of this. Every successive generation needs a new, revived version of a story and as a result, it persists.

Two: You can bring to life and come face to face with beasts or other beings that have always been considered mythological. Pit your heroes against, or team them up with, a chimera, a hydra, a minotaur, elves, fairies and of course dragons! Love the dragons.

Or how about the Undead? Zombies are great adversaries for protagonists to face off against. In IMMORTUI, the first novella in my Carpathian Interlude series, I wrote about a Roman legion of the Emperor Augustus battling zombies beyond Rome’s Danube frontier. Of course I’ve tried to ensure that my history and setting are accurate but the fantastical elements allowed me to get really creative within an historical context.

Three: historical fantasy can open the gates to an interest in history, especially at a younger age. We all know that young men are a tougher demographic to crack when it comes to reading books and going to a library. Like an historical movie, a good work of historical fantasy will certainly peak interest and could lead someone to read other books on the period or subject. I’ve always been an advocate for the study of history for broadening our understanding of so many aspects of the world we live in.

Four: Historical Fantasy is free from the constraints of academia. Sadly, many scholars frown upon historical fiction, especially historical fantasy. I agree that it’s possible for an author to take too many liberties when it comes to the history – when they do so, it should be revealed in the Author’s Note of the book. Gross inaccuracies are jarring and ruin the story. However, if the historic and legendary aspects of a book are well-researched, if they are well-pieced together, the story can still teach readers about history in a more interesting, accessible way. I’m a firm believer that every high school and university history class should have some historical fiction/fantasy on the reading list. I think it would be brilliant!

And Five

Historical fantasy makes ancient religious practices and beliefs easier for modern readers to accept and understand. This is important as this allows for the more ‘esoteric’ elements of historical fantasy. Things that were common and every day in the ancient world now seem fantastical or unbelievable to a modern audience. Who are we to judge the ancients whose religions lasted far longer than many ‘modern’ belief systems have existed to date? The ancients believed that the gods played a role in every aspect of their lives and this can make for some great storytelling. You can get closer to the gods, so to speak, and get right into their loves and hates, their compassion and jealousy, everything that made them, well, almost human.

This is something I explore in the first two books of the Eagles and Dragons series, Children of Apollo and the forthcoming sequel, Killing the Hydra. I’ve found in a lot of historical fiction that ancient religious belief and ritual (pre-Christian) is often shied away from, dismissed as quaint. It is not taken seriously. But why would I avoid something that would have been such an integral part of my characters’ daily lives, a force behind their thoughts and motives?

For me, the inclusion of religious beliefs, polytheistic or monotheistic, in fiction only makes the tale more fascinating and has the potential to add much greater depth to the story’s characters.

Historical fantasy allows for this and much, much more.

So, those are my top 5 reasons to love historical fantasy, or at least give it a try. I’m sure many of you who love the genre could come up with your own reasons. Let’s hear them! Or perhaps you have some historical fantasy recommendations for the rest of us?

Some great examples of historical fantasy that I have enjoyed reading are Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, Glyn Iliffe’s Adventures of Odysseus series, Gene Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist, the late David Gemmell’s Troy series, Steven Pressfield’s Last of the Amazons, Alice Borchardt’s Legends of the Wolves series and, of course Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.

There is also a recent release that takes place in medieval England but instead of the bubonic plague it has zombies. It’s called The Scourge, that’s it! I think you must know the author if you are reading this. If you haven’t read it, do so. It’s awesome!

With hope, there will be many more such stories so that there is no end to this fantastic genre of historical fiction.

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Adam Alexander Haviaras is a writer and historian who has studied ancient and medieval history, archaeology, and creative writing at the University of Toronto, Canada and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of the Eagles and Dragons historical fantasy series set in the Roman Empire as well as the Carpathian Interlude series of novellas. He currently resides in Toronto with his wife and children.

Visit his blog at www.writingthepastblog.blogspot.com to read about ancient and medieval history and historical fiction.
Or, visit the Eagles and Dragons Facebook page for interesting information about the ancient world.
You can also ‘Follow’ Adam on Twitter @AdamHaviaras

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