Ideas come from odd places. And the idea of having a shapeshifting hunchback as a main character was a doozy (that’s an official writing term, btw). I had been wanting to write a series inspired by the Victorian age and had been toying with a Sherlock Holmes-type character. Since I happened to be reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the same time, I thought, “Why not combine the two by turning the hunchback into a Victorian detective?” There was something fun and intriguing about mashing those stories together. And so Modo was born.
But, I soon realized that I had a big problem. If the hunchback was a detective then any time he walked into a room people would recognize him. Murderers and thieves would run away, never to be caught. So I had to find a way around this problem. Disguises would work, except it would be hard for him to disguise his body. So then the idea dropped into my head, “Why not give him the ability to shift his shape?”
This solved several problems at once. No one would recognize him because he could take any shape that he wanted. I decided that there would be time limits on how long he could be in that shape, thus creating more drama. I could explain it all as an evolutionary trait, a very Victorian idea. And, of course, there would be that Beauty and the Beast thing...except he would be able to become the beauty for a short time before returning to his hunchbacked state. This created one very important question for me to explore: would he someday be able to stay in a more pleasing shape or would he learn to accept who he was and not care about how the world saw him? It is the overarching question of the series.
This shapechanging ability meant that I could insert Modo into a variety of situations and his own friends and, more importantly, the reader wouldn’t recognize him until he was revealed. So it added an extra sense of intrigue. That was the fun part. The difficult part was always finding a new thing for him to do with these abilities. After all if he kept imitating the same people over and over again, that would become boring. I also soon realized that it would be best to turn him into a secret agent. There would be far more interesting situations for him to explore.
My research was mostly in my own head. But I was concerned about having a plausible scientific reason for his ability and so researched the variety of fish, chameleons, and insects that easily change their colour or even their shape to fool predators. It was a much longer list than I’d realized.
In the end it has been a grand adventure. I’m so thankful that the idea came to me out of the ether or out of the blue or from within the pages of Sherlock and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now that I think of it, ideas are the real shapechangers--always changing their shape until they take a form that an author can use to create a story.
This post was previously posted on http://mochalattereads.blogspot.com/
Over a year and a half ago I released my collection of short stories as an ebook under the title SHADES: Sixteen Startling Stories
Here's the original cover:
I designed the cover myself and thought it was serviceable, but not really eye catching. After all this time, I decided I'd revamp the book with a brand new look. Here's the cover by artist Carl Graves:
It's a far more powerful cover. The character on the front reminds me of the woman in the short story titled Fairytale. And, as you can see, I've changed the subtitle to: Tales of Fear and Wonder. I find that a more interesting subtitle.
So this is the official reboot of the book! Let's see if it grows new wings, or legs, or...whatever it is that books grow.
Here Ye! Here Ye! The United States of America (formally known as that place with all those colonies and such) has just opened its gates and its ports and its mailboxes to the fourth and final novel in The Hunchback Assignments series: The Island of Doom!*
Yes, that's my long winded way of saying that today is the official release day of the novel in America. Here's the cover:
Here's the official description: After previous assignments in London, the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Australian rain forest, this final adventure in the Hunchback Assignments series finds our hero, shape-shifting, masked spy Modo, on his most personal quest. Along with fellow spy Octavia Milkweed, they search for Modo's biological parents. But when the Clockwork Guild find Modo's parents first, Octavia and Modo chase them across Europe and North America to the Island of Doom. Joined by memorable characters from the first three books--some loveable, and some who are terrifying and evil--Modo and Octavia dash towards a thrilling conclusion.
Here are the accolades. Err, well accolade (this is the only review so far--ahem--of course the book is only a day old): "By turns touching and pulse-pounding, this conclusion will leave fans fully satisfied." Kirkus Reviews
And here's what all the books look like together. One big happy family!
It is so very odd to be done this series. What will I do with my time now? And all my steampunk outfits? I'll figure out something.
I'm very proud of how the whole story turned out. And--sniff--and now they're all grown up and out there in the world. Have fun with them America! Watch out for Hakkandottir!
P.S. Yes, the series is over. It's done. Sorry that it had to end. I won't be writing another one, alas...well, then again I did have this idea of putting Modo in the wild west and....hmmm
*Island of Doom should always be said in a loud voice so as to attract the most attention possible. And please carry the vowel sound in doom. Like this: "ISLAND OF DOOOOOOOOOOOOM!" Also, set off a few firecrackers and maybe a roman candle or a blunderbuss. That'll really add to the overall impression.
First, let me define gazillions. It is not as high as a bizillion. And yet not as low as umpteen. There, now that we have that out o' the way, here are my latest stupendously interesting eBook sales findings.
You may or may not remember that my last posting was at the one year mark where I was basking in the glow of selling 1785 books in a month. Here it that post: click these highlighted words and be amazed.
A lot has changed since those heady days. In fact sales have slowed to a factor of umpteen dozen.
Here are the books I have for sale (with clickable links because, well, we live in a highly clickable world):
Aren't they pretty? Don't they just say purchase me and save the universe? Anyway, things have gone downhill since my last update. This can be illustrated in a very fancy chart:
Okay, first thing to notice is that nearly 8000 books have sold since I started this experiment. That's a big Woo Hoo! Second thing to notice is that those little columns that represent monthly sales are getting smaller and smaller (that's a big sniff sniff). September of 2011 and January of 2012 are my two biggest sales months. The reason for that is I used the "free" method. That's where I'd give away a book for free on Kindle. Then when I switched it back to "paid" status it would rocket up the charts (DUST made up most of these sales...it's the blue colour in the columns). Alas, that "free" method is mostly dead. Due to several changes in Amazon's algorithms books don't tend to get the same bounce after being free. It may be helpful if you have a very specific genre novel that has the name Shades of Grey Throney Games, but otherwise the free method is not so helpful. Also it used to be if you sold a .99 cent book or a 9.99 cent book they "weighed" the same on the charts. But now the higher priced books get a higher placing on the charts. So it's not just numbers sold but it's the price of books that makes a difference in where you end up in the rankings. Why not price all my books at 9.99? Well, because then there aren't as many sales. I'm still trying to find that happy medium.
Hey speaking of sales, here's what they were for the last six months:
Wow, there is a downward trend. Part of that is timing. People buy more books in the Fall, not so many in the Spring and Summer. So I do expect sales to pick up starting this month. And generally I'm making about $200-300 a month from books that were out of print or weren't being sold in foreign markets. Since I make the majority of my income from my traditionally published books this eBook income is still a nice stipend to receive every month. And I don't seem to have to do that much more work to get that $. Someday I hope to do no work and receive trunkloads of money, but that's not happened to me yet.
So, there's my update. Live long and prosper, everyone. Or is it party hard and prosper? Hmmm.
P.S. I've also gone back into the vaults and released two of my unpublished novels. But since they were written for a "grown up" audience (swearing, sex, and well... gore) I decided to put them out under the name Stephen Shea. I published them totally to satisfy my own curiosity about how these novels would be received by an audience that didn't know me. I have touched them up a bit, but tried to keep them as true as possible to the writer I was back then.
Damage was written in my Stephen King phase. Much later I took the frame of the story and turned it into Draugr.
And The Not So Simple Life was written during my Tai Chi/Martial Arts/Comedy stage. Doesn't everyone have one of those stages?
Anyway, I have been having fun with the books. And I was particularly pleased that Not So Simple Life has received a few great reviews. From people I've never met before and they aren't even related to me!
So 4 AM this morning as I lay (dying? writhing?) in my bed at Emergency, I was passing a kidney stone and thinking: how will this experience help my writing? I was also wondering when the morphine would arrive, but that's not pertinent to this blog.
The first thing I noticed is that extreme interior pain tends to reduce one's (let's say a character's) conversation skills to one word grunts. "Painkiller. Now. Please." Also, it is a cliche, but one cannot help appealing to higher powers: "Mother. Mother. Make it stop." (Many a dying soldier in World War One cried out for their mothers in the end). Another reaction, even if that character is not religious, is to still pray between clenched teeth: "Dear God, please make it stop." And finally, the third reaction is swearing. Which thankfully I (err, I mean the character) refrained from while the health personell were in the room.
The other thing I learned was that even in real life some symbols can hit you over the head. While alone in the room, staring up into the far too bright fluorescent light, a large fly began to buzz around me, sounding a lot like a B-52 bomber. It would land on my knee and stare, divebomb near my ears, or quietly tickle my arm. I couldn't help thinking that this fly was way to obvious as a symbolic piece of this all too real story. That fly = death. I did inform the fly that he had come far too soon and was being a little too obvious. He laughed. He knew he was safe. After all I couldn't get him with my IV hand. And various other medical cables meant that I couldn't move. I was happy when he finally left through the open door.
I also learned, thankfully, why Coleridge and other poets liked morphine so much. But I did not write Xanadu once I'd had my hit. Instead, I slept.
And there is a happy ending. The stone is passed. And I am home. Now to use all this new knowledge to my advantage.
P.S. AC/DC is also a relatively good painkiller. Place iPod earphones in ear. Crank up to 11.
P.P.S Stay hydrated folks. Please.
The U.S. version of Island of Doom has arrived! So like a proud papa I immediately took photos of the books. This what we authors do in our spare time. I was going to put little hats on them, but thought that would be demeaning. Plus, I couldn't find any steampunky enough.
Anyway, it's so wonderful to see the complete series side by side and pile atop each other. Don't they look snazzy? And they practically scream "adventure!" And the other great thing is that they--
--hey, how does that Ringwraithe end up in all my shots? Don't let it intimidate you. I can hear it saying, "Buy this book or to Mordor we will take you." Ha! You can't even capture a couple of hobbits, Wraithy. Get on your horse and ride back to your master.
Anyway, as I was saying before the Tolkienesque interruption, it's great to have the series all done and the books in my home. Hard to believe they're real. Island of Doom is already out in Canadian bookstores and will be released in the U.S. on September 11th!
P.S. And the book will be out on Sept. 1st in Australia and NZ.
Someday, I hope to make a long list of the books that changed me. And on that list, taking its turn at the top, would be The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay.
I remember it like it was yesterday, though the year was 1985. My graduation year. All the usual teenage things happened. The bad hair. The parties. The awkwardness.
The awesome heavy metal.
One of the highlights of that year shines through quite clearly: buying The Summer Tree at a bookstore in Swift Current. I was a constant loiterer in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section and the cover caught my eye. Then, when I picked up the book, the words caught my eye. I didn't know the writer. Had no idea he was Canadian or even that he had connections to Saskatchewan. No, I knew, almost instantly that he could write. "After the war was over, they bound him under the mountain." That's the first line. And who would be so powerful that he'd have to be bound under a mountain? I had to read on.
I won't go blow by blow through my reactions. I know I was a kid looking graduation in the eye and contemplating four years at university. This story that involved five university students visiting a fantastical realm rang perfectly true with me. I was also a kid with Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander running through my veins. Fionavar was the next step. The transition story. A series with depth and, somehow, it was more real than any other fantasy I'd yet read. Yes, Gandalf was amazing. So was Frodo (even if he did have hairy feet). But I could never BE one of them. But Dave Martyniuk or Kevin Laine or Paul Schafer. I could BE them. The three books in this series are burned into my memory. There are several scenes that burn bright all these years later (gee, I sound old when I say that--just imagine me with a cane and a derby hat). The story lifted my spirit, taught me about humanity. Surprised me. Also the books broke my heart, damn them. But a good book can break your heart and still get you to keep reading. To find hope again. And to believe in the power of story.
I haven't read the series for several years. Not because of a fear that somehow they won't measure up to the joy I felt when I was reading them as a youth. No, I keep waiting for that time when I can sit down and read them all in a row without interruption. In other words I want a deserted island and a comfy chair. Time to buck up and go back to them again.
I think the highest compliment I can pay these books and the author is this: I decided to only buy Guy Gavriel Kay's work in hardcover from that point on. He is one of the authors whose work deserved--no demanded to be read, preserved and treasured
I did get to meet Guy Kay years later at a festival in Moose Jaw. I nearly brought all of my copies of his books to be signed, but didn't want to appear too fanboyish. But I do cherish the first book in the series that he signed:
All of his novels sit on a shelf in my office as inspiration. As examples of what is possible with fantastical literature.
P.S. Being a hoarder, I now also have the books in softcover (and love the new covers--forgive me, I'm a book cover hoarder, too). These are the brand sparkling new covers from HarperCollins. Feast your eyes.
Why do I have a picture of me digging a hole in my backyard (it's for the fish pond, you DEXTER fans, it's for the fish pond)? Well, sometimes when I'm writing I feel like I'm stuck in a rut that's inside a deep hole. Or that I'm treading water without waterwings. I've found that all the other "demands" of being a writer (clever Facebook updates, amazingly insightful tweets, googling my own name) do tend to distract from my main goal of writing. So I wanted to change that. Or...to redirect my distraction.
Recently, I was re-reading Stephen King's On Writing and he mentioned that he works every day except for Christmas and his birthday. What a lazy bum! Just think about how much more he'd get done if he worked those extra days. His goal is to write 2000 words a day (thankfully, he didn't say whether or not they had to be clever, perfect words). 2000 words! I can do that easily. Just as soon as I get around to it. I have to put the finishing touches on a tweet. Oh, and check my Amazon rankings and...oh, wait...there I go again.
It suddenly occurred to me that I could do half the work of Stephen King in the same amount of time. So I set up a little goal for myself and made up my own rules. I must write 1000 words of new work every day. Yes, new is the important part. No matter what rewriting is needed, no matter whether I have a reading at a school, a deadline or a dentist appointment, the very first thing I must do is write 1000 new words. No tweets. No checking the hockey score on my virtual hockey team (Authored Destruction). Those words must be written. All of my rewriting, redrafting, pretending to plot, are all on hold until the new words are done. The reason I want to write new words is that I do believe those brand new, sparkly words and sentences that come flowing out of your mind in that first draft are as close to the subconscious as we get as writers. And I think it's important to be in touch with your subconscious first thing in the morning (right after waking). There is a caveat to the rule. I can stockpile words. So if I'm going on a holiday, I will actually take a holiday, as long as I've written my quota for the time that I'm away. But I'm gonna work on my birthday and Christmas (take that Mr. King).
Heck, I made a splendid chart to keep track of it all. And to motivate myself. As you can see I'm ten days into my schedule and I've written 11,000 new words. I'm 1000 words ahead! And I even took last Sunday off.
I have found that the buzz I get from creating that new storyline carries on to my rewriting that I do 2nd thing in the morning. It's like jumpstarting my mind. It crackles. It sparks. Then the creative engine roars into verbtacular life.
So if you see me tweeting early in the morning you have full writes...err...rights to say, "What's up, Dude? Didja get your 1000 new words done yet?" And, I encourage you to do 1000 new a day words, too. Just think about how much brighter the world will be...
At the end of the year I hope to have 365, 000 new words to play with, to bat around, juggle and rewrite and turn into something other people might want to read. Until then I'll keep on plugging (or treadmilldesking) away...
"Why didn't I win a box of priceless Slade books?"
I know. I know. It's a question millions of people are asking themselves right now. Along with questions like "Is Brad Pitt in love with me?" "Should I floss" and "Did dinosaurs walk the earth at the same time as humans?" (the answers in order are: Maybe--is your name Angelina?; Yes, and brush, please; No...unless you're living in a movie).
Last month, in my clever newsletter, I had a contest that said: "Win a bunch o' books. To win just reply to this email with a creative answer to this question: "A+Y= X""
Of course, you have to subscribe to the newsletter to win! Maybe that's why you didn't win. Rectify that by clicking the amazing link below. The newsletter comes out 4 times a year and there's always a prize. Plus, your IQ will go up. Free IQ!
Here are a few of the entries:
"Arthur + YA = Xcellent"
"Art + Youth = Xcited teens."
And the winner, by both volume and creativity, was:
" A + Y = X. Hmmm! Reeks of algebraic equation. Shudder! Please Art, you are appealing to one whose mathematical career ended with an ignominious exam result of 19%. And it's Saturday! I could wait, I suppose. Wait until my brain wakes up. The problem is my mathematical brain never woke up. So I'm doomed, utterly doomed. The storeroom stash will never be mine.
Deep breath, courage, Clo. Must carpe the diem, no matter what the cost in the mathematical or even grammatical failure department. Hmmmm and other sounds indicating heavy thinking and the occasional slurp of lemon and ginger tea.
A must equal Art (please note the upper case A. This Art is also very creative but is not, in and of himself, an artistic endeavour, at least I don't think he is, and never in a grammatically incorrect sentence, of that I am certain).
But I digress. If A equals Art, Y must equal You. Is it therefore possible that X equals the massive storeroom stash? Alright! I've cracked it. Art + You = storeroom stash or should I say Storeroom Stash, considering the importance of said stash? Wait up, here's a dilemma. If Y equals You, then You isn't Me. That means Me, Myself and I will not win the Storeroom Stash because collectively we don't equal You.
Hmmm (= more thinking and slurping) And eventually a lightbulb, not a Kodak, a lightbulb moment occurs.
You must equal someone you gift the stash er Stash to. If that is indeed the case then I have the solution.
My #2 son turns 17 on 27th April. The very day that Art of the uppercase A announces his winner.
It just so happens that #2 son is almost as much of an Art (o.t.u.A.) fan as his poor demented mother. It also happens that his p.d.m. is off to an auction today and will probably blow his birthday present money on a Victorian commode or an overstuffed chaise longue. Even if his p.d.m. is somewhat abstemious in her auctioneerial dealings, a Stockroom Stash of Slade would make the most stupendous birthday present.
So to conclude yes, finally. Arthur, wake up, I'm concluding. Slurp tea in the hopes of attaining clarity.
Clearing of throat.
I conclude that Art + #2 son = Storeroom Stash of Slade. There! Sound the trumpets. Alarums and excursions throughout.
PS Was there a word limit on this contest?"
Whoa! Congrats to Clo who received a box of signed books, a few comics (which I wrote, not random comics), and audiobooks.
You could be a winner, too! Oh gosh, you're already a winner. You could be more of a winner...
Look at all the books waiting to live in someone else's house...
AH, more questions that authors get...with perfectly rational answers.
Q: Is it okay if I come to your house and watch you write?
A: Is it okay if I give the FBI your address? By the way I've moved to
Antarctica. Turn left when you see the marching penguins and you'll be
there. Don't worry about dressing warm.
Q: Are you sensitive to bad reviews?
A: No. No. No. No. No. NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
A: Oh, you're a writer? What do you do as a job?
Q: Writing is easy and doesn't take much time and is really more of a
hobby, so I spend the rest of my hours as a serial killer. What's your
Q: What is the most fun about being a writer?
A: I get to wear pajamas all day.
A: My only boss is my muse.
A: Playing jokes on people by naming characters after them. Like my
friend Cheryl who complained that I never named any characters after
her. So I invented Cheryl the Sasquatch for one of my books (true
Q: What is the worst thing about being a writer?
A: I wear pajamas all day. Even to readings.
A: My only boss is my muse but she's seven feet tall and smokes cigars
and demands 20,000 words a week and bacon. How much bacon is there in
A: A real Sasquatch showed up one day. Her name was
Cheryl. She was not happy that I turned her into a comical character.
She was very good at MMSA (Mixed Martial Sasquatch Arts). I was not.