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WORDS FOR WRITERS – Fiction and Nonfiction

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Fiction and Nonfiction

My writing has been featured in the Bedside Press books “The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” and “The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux

I caught up with publisher Bedside Press to discuss storytelling and the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing. You can read the blog post here.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here. Or read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – Fiction and Nonfiction
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RELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song

RELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song

Strap on your goggles and buckle up your jetpack, THE SKYLARK’S SONG is finally here!

A Saskwyan flight mechanic with uncanny luck, seventeen-year-old Robin Arianhod grew up in the shadow of a decade-long war. But the skies are stalked by the Coyote—a ruthless Klonn pilot who picks off crippled airships and retreating soldiers. And as the only person to have survived an aerial dance with Saskwya’s greatest scourge, Robin has earned his attention.

As a Pilot, Robin is good. But the Coyote is better. When he shoots her down and takes her prisoner, Robin finds herself locked into a new kind of dance. The possibility of genuine affection from a man who should be her enemy has left her with a choice: accept the Coyote’s offer of freedom and romance in exchange for repairing a strange rocket pack that could spell Saskwya’s defeat, but become a traitor to her county. Or betray her own heart and escape. If she takes the rocket pack and flees, she could end the war from the inside.

All she has to do is fly.

Filled with intrigue, forbidden romance, and a touch of steampunk, The Skylark’s Song soars in this new duology from the award-winning author of The Accidental Turn Series.

Pick up your copy of The Skylark’s Song in eBook and Paperback today!

 

Happy author is happy! Photo by Adrienne Kress.

 

The Skylark’s journey from concept to published page has been a harrowing one. The third full novel I ever completed, and the first one I ever wrote specifically with the intention of showing to my agent for publication, this novel has left me crying on a street corner in New York City, laughing and dancing in a white wig at a steampunk festival, filled with me with hope for my career, and filled me with despair. There are about seventy labeled drafts of this book on my hard drive. In the time that I’ve been working on this novel, steampunk has seen a resurgence, and an ebbing away again. The novel inspired a beautiful song of the same name by french band Victor Sierra, which ended up coming out years before the novel. So, needless to say, this piece of work has been a real . . . piece of work.

Maybe I should have given up.

Maybe I should have trunked it and moved on to the next thing. (I half-did, many times). But then we wouldn’t be here, would we, in a time when discussions around religious freedom are so important in the real world, and the themes and aims of this novel have finally crystalized for me.

This novel was conceived at the first—and though we didn’t know it then, only—Canadian National Steampunk Exhibition, which was, to date, one of the most fun cons I’ve ever been to. Two wonderful things came out of that weekend for me. (Well, three, if you count Professor Elemental taking a nap on my shoulder in the Green Room, which was pretty cool, in and of itself).

First, I was put on a panel with Dr. Mike “The Steampunk Scholar” Perschon, where we sassed and snipped and laughed together as if we’d known each other for years, when we’d actually known each other mere moments. Mike’s friendship has lasted beyond that weekend, and I treasure it daily.

Secondly, I accepted a drunken dare.

The thing you have to understand about a bunch of theatre majors getting together to put on costumes and drink for a weekend is that, eventually, somebody’s gonna start making up stories. Or dare someone else to do it. And somebody is gonna be stupid enough to accept.

Steampunk costumes come in stereotypes, and what we had sitting in the circle that night was this: a biomechanical assassin, a devious airship piratess, an aviator in a white wig (me), and a wily spy-mistress-cum-madam and her secretly clever mountain of a bodyguard-slash-lover.

The first incarnation of The Skylark’s Song was born that night, as I pointed to each character in turn and declared how our backstories were connected, conjuring the Saskwyan-Klonnish war out of wine fumes.

Through edits and revisions, the biomechanical assassin eventually became an enemy aeroship ace. The piratess became a devious friend of the cause. And everyone swapped skin tones because, even if all of us were (mostly) white, there was no inherent reason why the protagonists of a book set in a pseudofantasy land had to be.

The Skylark’s Song was the first (and only) complete novel I presented to my first agent, and the one that taught me that there is such a thing as the right fit in this industry. It was the first novel I presented to my current agent, as well, but we put it to the side because by then, it had been so worked over that we had to take it back about twenty-five drafts and figure out where it had all gone wrong. In the meantime, I wrote The Untold Tale, which ended up ballooning (in a good way) into a series. And in that time, the Skylark circled in my brain, coasting on the updraft,  waiting her turn.

What followed after was five years of realigning, recasting, changing the motivations, the appearance, the beliefs, and the core traits of the characters. One character was removed entirely, only to return as the love interest when my first agent demanded that there be one—a love interest who has switched sides so many times that I don’t think even he remembers who he’s loyal to, and has switched names so often that I barely remember what it was to begin with.

But here it is.

Finally.

From drunken dare to the book you now hold, it’s been a heck of a journey.

And it’s only half done.

Art by Archia

JM FreyRELEASE DAY – The Skylark’s Song
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RELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection

RELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection

Something Magical happened today!

The forth and final book in The Accidental Turn series is now out in the world!

Happy book birthday to THE ACCIDENTAL COLLECTION

Forsyth Turn had no desire to be a hero, but that’s what he became. Bevel Dom has spent his whole life telling stories, never realizing that he was part of one of the most popular ones of all time. Kintyre Turn never thought he could be more than just a wandering hero with a sword, but he has reinvented himself as a compassionate Lord and a kind father. And Lucy Piper never believed that magic, adventure, or The Tales of Kintyre Turn ever really existed; but they do, and they have helped shape her life in ways she never expected.

Here now, for the first time in one collection, are all of additional stories set in the world of The Accidental Turn series – the shorts Home, Happiness, and Health, the novellas Ghosts and Arrivals, the prequel comic Ivy, and the exclusive new novella Magic, and short Pride.

As well, you’ll find all of the nursery rhymes and songs from the series, and the sheet music for Forsyth’s lullabye to Alis, For Calling Children In From Play, composed by the extremely talented Brigit O’Regan. And, er, performed by yours truly. Head here to check out the song on YouTube.

If you don’t have your copy of “The Untold Tale”, book one of the series, yet, you can also pop over to Voracious Readers Only, sign up for their newsletter and select “Fantasy” to get one.

Also, you can read my intro from and farewell to the collection right now over on my literary agency’s blog, Fuse News.

And of course, you can pick up your copy of The Accidental Collection in eBook today! (Paperback will be available at the end of the week!)


Art by Kelley Fesmire / Anotherwellkeptsecret

I’m sad to be saying goodbye to the world of Hain, and all of the lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of creating and getting to know in the last six years. What started as a vague idea and a monologue (see Pip’s Rant in chapter 11 of The Untold Tale), became a stand-alone novel. When Reuts Publications signed the book, it was with a request for a trilogy, and somehow opening the floodgates to the rest of this world and it’s characters created not just two more books, but a half dozen more stories.

And there are easily a dozen more that could be told in this world.

But (for now) I’m satisfied. This has been a wonderful adventure, completing my first series, and getting to dig my imagination into all sorts of different pies. But this also feels like a good stopping point.
I have enjoyed writing as Forsyth and Bevel immensely, had fun with Elgar though he was absolutely the most difficult voice to nail down, and getting to tell Pip’s tale has been an absolute privilege. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on Mary Sues and fan fiction, which I presented and made publicly available in 2009. Here we are nearly a full decade later, and I feel like the end of this series is that research come full circle.

As ever, thank you for being my Readers, for peering through the Veil of the Skies with me, and for trusting me to lead you through to the ending.

And hey, if you feel the need to write fanfic, cosplay, or create fan art or vids based on this series? Go for it. And let me know where I can find it when it’s done.

I think Forsyth would find it very appropriate.

JM FreyRELEASE DAY – The Accidental Collection
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: When Does Style Get in the Way of Story?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: When Does Style Get in the Way of Story?

The one and only creative writing class I took was in third year of my undergrad studies. I was taking play/screenwriting from the Drama department at the same time, but I wanted a rounder view of storytelling to accompany learning how to construct a script. I signed up for a short story writing course – where, let’s be honest, I handed in a lot of thinly-disguised fanfic – and looked forward to finding the deep, intellectual, creative camaraderie that one sees in films about groups of writers.

There were eleven of us, and I remember four other people from the class distinctly. Two, because they were fanficcers like me (and friends to this day), who also like me learned some things from the class but mostly had been taught all the basics of storytelling and grammar from the online fanfic community.

There was an older woman who really should have been in a memoire writing class over a short story class. I always got partnered with her because I seemed to be the only one who bothered to take the time to explain to her that just because “that’s how it happened in real life” doesn’t mean that’s exactly how it should happen on the page, especially when you only have 5 000 words and no space to waste them.

And then there was him.

You know who I mean.

That Guy.

The self-important, ego-centric, hipster (though we didn’t have that word yet) cis straight white guy who idolizes Hemingway and reads Mein Kampf in public as a deliberate act of protest and discusses Hitler’s wordcrafting as if his politics were never the problem, and doesn’t believe that Writing is a skill you have to practice and improve upon. Someone who doesn’t use an editor because “every word out of my pen is perfect the moment I set it down” and who thinks the publishing industry is just a sad money-grab for hack writers getting suckered by greedy agents, but still not-so-secretly desperately wants to be an Oprah Selection, a New York Times best seller, and Nobel Prize winner.

At the end of the semester, we had to write a short story using some set of elements, which we would all then spend the last few classes critiquing for one another. I left That Guy’s for last because I know I would enjoy it least.

When I finally got to it – printed out, typeset in courier new and bound with a brass brat –  looked like this:

Onceuponatimetherewasacircusclownwho jumped all day upand down ona trampolinemadeoutof thehair of a beautifulgray mare whoneverletanyone brusherhairbuttheclownHelloOldGirlthe clownsaidto heronedayas he pushedbacktehdustyredflap of the circustentinwhichthe oldgraymarelikedto spendhertimebetween herperformances

But it looked like that for five goddamn pages.

When it came time to discuss That Guy’s story, everyone looked around the table, not wanting to go first. Someone said something about the metaphor of the clown, someone else said something tentatively about the color of the prose, and then everyone looked at me.

It was awful, their eyes said. You do it.

(I had, at that point, garnered a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a Stone Cold Bitch when people were Trying To Be Clever in class. At that point I was writing, reading, and critiquing for two creative writing courses, as well as somehow writing a play for the theatre department and maintaining a mildly successful fanfiction series on Fanfiction.net, and providing Beta Reads for other folks in the fanfic community, keeping up with homework for three other courses, and working part-time at McD’s and another job postering for the Centre for the Arts. I think this was also the Year of LARP. I had No Time For Shenanigans.)

I hesitated, and then I finally said, “To be frank, I never read the damn thing.”  There were gasps around the table, and the professor murmured something about it being part of the course. I held up the page – more black than white – and said, “It’s unreadable. It might be a great story, but I will never know because he has intentionally made it a frustrating, difficult experience. I got eye strain trying to figure out the sentences and fatigue from the mental work of understanding. I was so caught up in translating the text that I missed what the story is completely.”

There was some bluff and bluster about the story maybe just being too clever for me from That Guy, and the professor smirked and then looked away quickly.

And I said: “Listen, you ever wanna make money on this? You never will. Not if you pull stupid stunts like this. It feels like you’re condescending to your audience, you’re trying to trick them, and it’s too hard to read. Nobody will pay for you to laugh at them.”

“But the story is good!” someone else in the class protested. (I was perhaps being a bit too harsh, and I think they were trying to soften the blow.)

“I never found a story,” I replied. “The text wouldn’t let me into it. I was locked out by the style. I’m sure there’s a story on the other side of this brick wall of words, but I couldn’t get access to it. And if it’s that hard for me, and I am paying for the privilege of being in this class and reading these stories, imagine how much less inclined a paying audience will be to spend the time to understand it.”

The Guy huffed and crossed his arms and slumped and said, “So, I should dumb down my work?”

And I said, “No, you should work on your work. Standardized punctuation and grammar exist for a reason. They exist so the words don’t get in the way of the story you’re trying to tell. Not knowing the rules and not even trying to learn them is not the same as making a deliberate stylistic choice to break them.” (I might have had a chip on my shoulder from earlier in the semester when I had to teach the fool what a bloody hard return was actually for in dialogue.)

That Guy starting pouting and everyone looked to the Professor. He shrugged and said: “She’s not wrong.”

I don’t know what mark he got on the story, but I do know that he was made to rewrite and hand it in again.

So what does this anecdote illustrate? Why did I bring this up?

Because when I think back to that story, when I think back to what happened, I still get angry and frustrated. I feel like a child trying to express the way-to-big-emotions that are filling up my still-so-tiny body and just crying and screaming because that’s my only tool of communication. I hate the story, and I hate that writer, and I hate the fact that he was trying to trick me in some way and it was all just so weakly obvious and condescending.

Now do I really hate his story? No, I never read it so I don’t actually have an opinion of it. Do I really hate That Guy? No, of course not. Do I really think that he was trying to deliberately trick me? No.

But it feels like it.

I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember his story. I don’t even really remember what he looked like. But I remember how he made me feel.

And for readers, how a book makes them feel is so much more a part of the experience of reading than the wordcrafting. People talk about how stories make them feel all the time – in reviews, in blurbs, to friends and neighbors. Writing sells because of how it makes people feel.

But a story can’t make anyone feel anything if they can’t figure out how to read it.

Now, I’m not advocating for ‘lowest possible denominator dumb it down’ writing. I’m advocating for clear, easily understandable communication.

“Style” is word choice, and imagery choice, and how long your sentences are and where you break up paragraphs. It’s about how you write out dialogue and accents, and what parts of the story you choose to tell, and whose POV you tell it from. It’s about how you play with the musicality of the rhythm of the words. Its about which rules you decide to break, and how, and how consistently you do so in order to convey something extra and beyond in the prose. (Breaking a rule should always be a consistently-applied deliberate choice that adds something to the reader’s understanding of the story, rather than taking away).

I’m not saying don’t have style.

I’m saying that the moment style gets in the way of story, then it’s gone too far.

Style should always add, and not detract.

Think of a story like a set of stairs. Style should be the escalator going up, helping readers get to the destination smoothly. It shouldn’t be an escalator going down, so your reader has to huff and puff and fight against it to get to the end of the book.

When figuring out a style for your tale, build an uppy escalator. Not a downy one.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: When Does Style Get in the Way of Story?
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I Stole A Time Lord and Ran Away

I Stole A Time Lord and Ran Away

I wrote an article about the #Steampunk #TARDISGown for the #SiliconWebCostumersGuild newsletter “The Virtual Costumer” for this month!

Click here to read the full article.

This is a members-only newsletter until the Patreon readers have got their advanced copies, but as a special treat editor Philip Gust has agreed that the public can get a crack at my pages. I had a lovely time meeting the Gusts at  #ConVolution2017 in San Jose this past October, and I encourage every #cosplayer I know to check out the magazine.

Happy Reading!

JM FreyI Stole A Time Lord and Ran Away
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