business resource: the freelancer’s survival guide

I usually wake up on Thursdays with an extra spring to get me out of bed (and, boy, do I need all the help I can get!). Not only is Thursday past the halfway point of the school school (one day away from Weekend Eve) but it’s also the day that Kris Rusch updates her weekly writing/business column.

If you don’t yet subscribe to it, you should! Rusch draws on years of experience as a publisher, editor, and full-time fiction writer to talk about industry-wide changes and how to navigate them.

Rusch is also the author of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, which is available free on her site as a series of blog posts as well. I’m on my third (fourth?) re-read of the book. Rusch wrote this book for all freelancers, not just writers, and the topics she covers are applicable to anyone working for themselves (or thinking about it). They include planning, discipline, money management, negotiating, advertising, and more. There’s so much information in here that I would be hard-pressed to write a thorough review of the book without going on for pages and pages.

Instead, I’ll focus on those areas that have jumped out at me on my current re-read.

I went back to the Guide because I was having serious discipline issues. At the beginning of April, just as I was congratulating myself for having avoided all the sicknesses that plagued the rest of my family this winter, I came down with the Sinus Infection From He** and lost a week to it. Then I lost several days because I’d gone into “I’m Sick” mode and my body had gotten used to being lazy and my mind had gotten used to letting it slack off. After that, I was faced with incredible resistance to finishing Ironhand, the sequel to Mourning Cloak, because it was just a hard project.

So I lost about half of April. I knew I needed a kick in the pants, because if I don’t write, I don’t sell. If I don’t sell, I don’t earn money, and if I don’t earn money, then I go back to writing for myself–which means I end up with lots of unfinished novels and short stories while I chase one shiny idea after another.

I went to the Guide for help and found that Rusch takes very serious steps to deal with leaks–those time sinks that we want to cling to and should be utterly ruthless about dealing with.  I needed to hear that she’s learned (through bitter experience) to never begin a book until after her day’s writing is done, that she keeps the Internet and games off her work computer, and that no fiction but her own is allowed in her home office.

My big leak is the Internet. If I’m not careful, it can take over my writing time, my prayer time,  and my housework time.

(Never school time, though. I’m very disciplined about my children’s schooling, probably because I was very disciplined as a student, too. Unfortunately for me, all being good at school is good for is… being good at school.)

This is why I’m downloading the Freedom app to try out.

Right now, I’m working my way through the money management section of the Guide, which is a real eye-opener. My most important takeaway from this section? Pay yourself.

Most freelancers are focused on making their business pay for themselves, ie: their income from the business covers their business expenses. Most of us, however, don’t include paying for our own time in the equation. We get our business to the point where it pays for itself–but not for our own personal bills. Not rent, not groceries, not clothes, not utilities.

Many of us have spouses who pay for all of that.

I’m still at the point where I’d consider it a milestone for my writing business to pay for itself, without including my salary. Last year, I ran at a loss. This year, I’m ahead, but I’ve kept my expenses low. For instance, I haven’t commissioned any covers yet (my biggest expense), but they’ll be coming. I also get a lot of unpaid help–for instance, my husband does my e-formatting and print layout. The business should be paying him for his time, too, but I can’t really afford his hourly rate (he’s an experienced programmer, and luckily for us his day job *can* afford him *grin*).

I got into writing because I’ve always been a story-spinner. Even if I stopped writing, I’d keep making up stories in my head, because there’s no OFF switch for it in my brain. I keep writing because selling stories and sharing them with readers is a great motivator for me. Treating writing as a business keeps me focused on increasing my productivity and improving my craft. This is one of the reasons why a book like the Guide is more inspiring to me than a feel-good, Cinderella tale of making it big. The Guide gives me practical steps and realistic expectations, things I can apply in my own writing and business.

Read the whole thing. You can peruse the blog posts, buy the entire Guide or only the sections you’re interested in. I highly recommend this as a great starter book for any freelancer–whether you’re a writer, a house-cleaner, or consultant.

 

first quarter reads

2013 has gotten off to a great start, reading-wise. Here’s a sampling of some of the books that have kept me up late into the night, turning pages.

An Urban Fantasy of a Different Kind

The Rook by Daniel O’ Malley

The Rook

Dear You, the body you are wearing used to be mine.

Who can resist an opening like that? Mwfanwy Thomas finds herself in a London park, surrounded by bodies wearing white gloves, and no memories. Following a paper trail left behind by her meticulous former self, Mwfanwy finds herself in a super-secret organization staffed by people of extraordinary abilities–and a deadly conspiracy behind it all…

Fairy Tale Retelling

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long Long Sleep

A SF retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda wakes up after 62 years in a stasis tube to find that her parents and young love are dead and that the world has fallen into and pulled itself out of the Dark Times. Rosalinda is a fragile young woman, making sense of her past and putting together a future for herself. This poignant story does not offer easy answers for heartache.

I-Really-Should-Read-Something-By-China-Mievelle

Railsea by China Mievelle

Railsea

And I finally did!

This Moby Dick-inspired yarn is set in a fabulously original world. It slogged in the middle, but the ending and the payoff were soooo worth it.

Middle Grade With Whimsy

Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly By Night

Beautifully-written, with compelling characters and fantastic setting. Reminded me a lot of the Joan Aikin books I read as a kid.

Shakespeare With a Twist

Prospero’s Daughter and sequels by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero Lost

What if the events in Shakespeare’s The Tempest were only the beginning? What if Prospero didn’t renounce his magic? What if he and his children (yes, plural) had lived into the modern era, shielding humanity from the caprice of elemental spirits? This is the premise of Lamplighter’s ambitious trilogy, which combines Shakespeare, pagan and Catholic mythology, and historical detail in a unique way.

Oldie Comfort Reads

Death in Cyprus and other mysteries by M. M. Kaye

Death in Kenya

I had a hankering for these atmospheric mysteries set in various British colonies and ex-colonies. I wish Kaye had written more of them!

Indie Reads

Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon

Wearing the Cape

I felt like a superhero story and this hit the spot. A lot of fun characters with a great deal of potential and well-thought-out world.

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Terms of Enlistment

A fun military SF. There’s not much of a plot, really, until the final third or so of the book, but if you like a story about how warfare would look like in the space-faring age, this is a book for you.

***

Do you have books to recommend? Share them in the comments!

2012: a year of reading

2012 was an odd reading year for me. I went through a dry spell in the middle, and thought that I wouldn’t even hit my annual goal of 75 books (I made it to 77).

Without further ado, here are my notable reading experiences of 2012.

Blog-to-Books

Freelancer's Survival Guide

I never thought I’d read a single blog-to-book, but this year I read four, including The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated by Catherine Ryan Howard and The Freelancer’s Survival Guide byKristine Kathryn Rusch. Which just goes to show: never say never.

Short Fiction

Black Juice

I read several anthologies, both single author and not. My comfort reads this spring (right after our move) were six volumes of L. M. Montgomery’s short stories. I finally tried out Margo Lanagan’s work by reading her collection, Black Juice, and yes,”Singing My Sister Down” is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read.

Best YA Fantasy

Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

One of the most well-done treatments of human-dragon relationships I’ve ever read.

Best Book I Didn’t Expect to Like

Girl in the Arena

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

This book is more about family dynamics and social commentary than action-adventure. A surprisingly moving read.

Best Worldbuilding-YA

Dark Life

Dark Life by Kat Falls

Two words: Undersea. Colonies.

Best Worldbuilding-Adult

The Serpent Sea

The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

This, and the third book of the Raksura trilogy, The Siren Depths, are just awesome. I love the depth of Wells’ world, with its mysterious flying islands, several sentient races, giant trees, and–especially–the Raksura themselves who are both so alien and so sympathetic.

Best Book That I Did Not Finish

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island  by Margo Lanagan

Beautifully written, but so emotionally wrenching that I had to put it down.

Book That Filled the Georgette Heyer Void in My Life

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book is a romp, featuring a marriage of convenience, eccentric family members, a search for treasure and a cute romance. Different from the books starring Miles Vorkosigan, but in the best way possible.

What were your favorite reads of 2012?

Related Post: 7 Favorite Books of 2012 (as of 9/24/12)

a belated merry christmas!

Hope you all had a lovely holiday! I didn’t intend to be late with a Christmas greeting post, but one does not think about blogging while catching up with family, eating awesome food, and–most importantly of all–playing Angry Birds Star Wars.

Angry-Birds-Star-Wars

All the cool kids are playing this

On the way back home yesterday (long road trip, complete with cold rain, traffic jams, and boys gone wild in the backseat), I was thrilled to see these lovely reviews of Rainbird at Shelfspace Needed and Willing to See Less, both of which went immediately into my I-Don’t-Suck file.

Also, don’t forget that Rainbird is on sale till the end of January!

Rainbird Winter Sale

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Now back to work for me. Current projects include a novella set in Blackburn, the setting of Out of Shape, featuring Thad’s secretary Amanda; a short story set in Highwind, the world of Mourning Cloak; and a Secret Project that I’m not going to talk about yet *hugs it close*.  I also need to finish planning the next term of homeschool, and get my blogging schedule back in order. The time away was great, because I am excited to do ALL these things.

I love this time between Christmas and New Year’s. I love the quiet, the introspection, the comfort of the old, the excitement of the new.

What are your plans for the rest of 2012?

dragons I have known

When I first started writing fantasy, I swore that I would never ever include something so cliched, so stale, so overdone, as a dragon.

Riiight.

Whether I wanted them or not, dragons crept or stormed into my fiction anyway.

The sleeping dragon whose awakening would restart an ancient war. The cultured dragon who likes books and foreign travel. The continent-sized space dragon whose skeleton is home to humans and humanoid species.

And these are all in some way influenced by the dragons I have known, and fall in one of the categories below:

Force of Nature/Actively Evil

The dragons of Western literature dragons are seen as forces of nature–like a destructive storm–or actively evil. These are the dragons that Beowulf and St. George battle. These are the dragons from the movie Reign of Fire. The ones that are intelligent as well as malevolent are the most compelling and frightening of all–from Smaug in The Hobbit to the transformed Maleficent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

Loyal Companions

Two words: Pernese dragons.

Admit it, you were thinking about Pernese dragons too when you saw the “Loyal Companions” heading

These telepathic dragons are genetically engineered to bond with human riders and fight Thread. They are sentient, but they are also totally, irrevocably loyal to and protective of their riders. These dragons fulfill a powerful human fantasy to command the utter devotion of such fearsome beasts.

They’re also from my grown-up perspective, a little boring. (I wonder what would happen if a genetic mutant in that sort of world didn’t bond with a human, didn’t die from lack of such bond, and grew up wondering what made humans so special that dragons had to obey them?).

Cute and Cuddly

These abound in children’s books, from the little kitten-sized dragon in There’s No Such Thing As a Dragon to the three, darling troublemakers in Good Night, Good Knight.

See, dragons just want to be cuddled and petted. Hmm, also sounds like Pernese fire lizards.

Very cute story. And look at those adorable little dragonlings!

Just Like Us

They may have sharp teeth and be overfond of princesses and sparkly stuff, but they are like us. They talk, they give dinner parties, they form governments. They argue and form alliances. Some of them are inquisitive and question everything. Others would rather read poetry than fight. They are easy to identify with.

Who are your favorite dragons? Any dragon categories I might’ve missed?

linky-links

My guest post, Balancing Act: On Raising Both a Family and a Writing Career, is up on FableCroft Publishing’s blog. Come share your tips on fitting your writing into your family life!

Also, I’m working with Kellie of ReaWrite Reviews to get some more publicity for Rainbird. If you’re interested in receiving a review copy, please fill out this form.

I’m seeing a lot of recipes from my fellow WANA bloggers in my RSS feed. Like for instance, these salmon, lime and mint patties (gluten-free) and this yummy pecan-topped dessert (not gluten-free and probably not the most health-conscious *grin*).

I’m most of the way to my 1500-word goal for today. How are the rest of you NaNo and NaNo-lite peeps doing?

5 favorite lesser known fairy tales

Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Snow White. Beauty and the Beast. These popular fairy tales (along with a few more I haven’t mentioned) have been illustrated, retold, fractured, and adapted countless times, and they are still going strong. They’re only a small handful of the great number of fairy tales available to us, though. Today I want to highlight five of my favorite lesser-known fairy tales.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

via SurLaLune Fairy Tales

This is the most popular of the lesser-known fairy tales on this list. It’s enjoying a resurgence in YA fantasy fiction, with such offerings as Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George and Entwined by Heather Dixon.

I loved the imagery of this tale–the tattered shoes, the princesses in their ball finery, the magic staircase and the invisibility cloak,  the groves of silver, gold, and diamond leaves, the well-lit castle in the center of the lake. That, and I’m a sucker for the kind man of humble origins solving the mystery and winning the princess.

Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins


I didn’t discover this until a few years ago when I got the Lauren Mills’ picture book retelling out of the library for my children. I instantly adored the wild-haired feisty Tatterhood with her red cloak and her white goat and her big wooden spoon for whacking hobgoblins with. I loved her fierce bond of loyalty to her sister, her courage, her adventurous spirit. And when she does finally settle down to become more of a conventional fairy tale princess, it’s with a twinkle in her eye and on her own terms.

King Thrushbeard

I hesitate to add this one, though I loved it as a child. A haughty princess taunts and rejects all her noble suitors. After dismissing the last one, mockingly calling him “Thrushbeard”, her father loses patience with her and declares he will marry her to the next man to come to his gates. The weeping princess thus finds herself wed to a beggar, who insists she earn her keep. Long story short, the beggar is really King Thrushbeard and the princesses, humbled and kinder, takes her place as his queen at the end.

I like fish-out-of-water stories, and lesson-learned tales, but I don’t like the Taming of the Shrew method of a husband schooling his wayward wife. I include this tale–but with reservations. That, and because I think it would be fun to break some time!

Snow White and Rose Red

I  enjoyed the rural setting and loved the non-romantic relationships in this one–the love between mother and daughters, the sisterly bond between Snow White and Rose Red, and the friendship between the bear and the girls. I also found it highly amusing that the girls’ every encounter with the ill-natured dwarf led to the latter losing a piece of his beard as a result of their help!

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush

This is the version I read to my children, though I grew up with a different one, whose illustrations I still remember vividly. Liang, a poor Chinese boy, is gifted with a magic paintbrush that makes pictures come to life. When the greedy emperor discovers this, he hunts Liang down and Liang uses his wits to put an end to the man and escape with his paintbrush.

What are your favorite lesser-known fairy tales?

repost: fairytale picture books

This is Repost Week: the picture book edition. While I’m packing several boxes of my children’s books, enjoy reading about some of the fantastic fairy tale picture books out there!

More on fairy tales here and here.

 

Miss M’s absolutely favorite princess may be Snow White, but her absolutely favorite fairy tale book is Barbara McClintock’s Cinderella (a bargain for a dollar at a used store; little did I know how much she would love it). Filled with delicate illustrations and replete with details, this gentler Cinderella story ends with her family being sorry for how they treated her and her forgiving them all (and also finding suitable noblemen for her stepsisters to wed). Thanks to this book the phrase, “ran like a startled deer” entered Miss M’s vocabulary.

Jan Brett’s Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the eyes, featuring exotic animals as the Beast’s bespelled servants. Miss M and I have spent a long time poring over the pages; there is so much to discover in the pictures themselves. Luscious and courtly.

We recently discovered Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrated retellings of Snow White and The Sleeping Beauty. These are darker, featuring medieval costumes and architecture in a palette of earth colors. Be warned that the text of Snow White references cannibalism (the Queen eats what she believes are Snow White’s liver and heart) and death by unusual punishment (being forced to dance in red-hot shoes), both of which I smoothly edited out. The Sleeping Beauty also has one rather grim double-spread of illustrations depicting skeletons and corpses of young men pierced by thorns (I hurried past that one because it bothered me).  From an adult perspective, these illustrations feel truer to the original stories, evoking dark magics, wild forests and stone castles. The princesses also come across as more real than your usual sanctified versions; Snow White is childlike in her fear, innocence and exuberance and Briar Rose is downright mischievous and outgoing.

Miss M. also enjoyed Paul Zelinsky’s Rapunzel, which sets the story in sun-drenched Renaissance Italy. I love the architectural details of this one.

Moving on from traditional princesses (who are a tad too passive and victimized for my tastes), we have another one of Miss M. favorites: The Paper Bag Princess. After her castle is smashed and her princessy clothes burned by a dragon, Princess Elizabeth dons a paper bag and sets off after him to rescue her fiance, the proper Prince Ronald. The puffed-up-with-pride dragon is no match for the clever princess.

In Snow Princess by Susan Paradis, a young girl playing in the snow imagines she is a royal princess awaiting the return of her father, the king. Beautiful beautiful pictures of ice castles, a court of animals, and the girl’s princess alter ego watching for her father on a magnificent white horse and leading him home on a dragon. Just lovely.

Any other fairy tale picture books that you’ve enjoyed?

respost: a life of literary allusions

Welcome to Repost Week: the picture book edition. While my life currently resembles a scene from Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going To Move, I’m treating you to some oldies but goodies. I wrote this when oldest child was about four–he’s seven now–and sharing books with my children has only gotten better!

 

One of the exciting things about being a parent is introducing books to my little ones. They go from interacting with the physical books–chewing them, pulling them off shelves, stuffing them in various holes, crevices and nooks, turning pages and pointing to pictures–to interacting with the story itself. This is the fun stage my oldest son is at; he enacts the stories (though the enthusiastic chopping down of Truffula trees with an axe made out of Tinkertoys is not, perhaps the take-home message of The Lorax), talks about them and brings them into his real life.

The other day, while we were out on a family walk, the Firstborn started to make grimacing faces. “Look, Mommy! I smile at the good and frown at the bad*!” I cracked up and after that we were off and running, with the literary allusions flying fast and thick between us, calling the full moon a bowl of milk** and me teasing him that I would turn into a pumpkin at eight. (He insisted I would be a hen instead, then got upset when I made clucking noises, and turned me back into Mommy.)

I love how kids get into stories. I love that, after reading One Morning in Maine, the Firstborn took his sister to dig clams in our yard (good luck, kids!). I love that he’s memorized whole books; the other day he sidled up to me and told me that he’d be my best friend and give me five bucks if I let him drive the bus***. Oh, and he bet my mom would let him. I love how kids just dive into the material; playacting, drawing, building, asking questions, reinterpreting, weaving these stories into the fabric of their lives.

And I love how shared reading experiences bring us together as a family. That we can use these books as springboards for games, shared activities, crafts, silly inside jokes, serious conversations.

Here’s to many more years of sharing stories.

* Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

** Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

*** Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

What are some of your favorite quotable books (picture books or otherwise)? Which quotes have become part of your family’s culture?

review: The Way of Kings

This week I’m doing something a little different. I’ve invited my husband, David, to write a joint review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings with me, so you get a bit of a different perspective. 

Rabia: I hadn’t intended to read The Way of Kings–at least not yet. For one thing, it’s the first book of a projected 10 (ten!)-book series. Book 2 has not been written and won’t be out until 2013 at the earliest. I’m a late adopter when it comes to series, because a) I am impatient and b) I forget things. Since I don’t want to end up like GRRM’s teeth-gnashing fans, I stay away from series that aren’t complete, or close to complete. Secondly, The Way of Kings is HUGE. It has a prelude, a prologue, several interludes with characters you see only once, and over a thousand pages. Forget the whole series–just reading book one is a big commitment.

So why’d I read it? Because my husband did, loved it, and told me I should read it (which is not something he does lightly). And it’s also written by Brandon Sanderson, author of the wonderful Mistborn trilogy. I know this guy can write a good story. I also know he doesn’t want to leave his readers hanging, so I’m willing to follow along for the decade or so(!) he needs to write this series.

David: I have to start with a confession. I’ve actually never read this book (cue gasps of shock and confusion). On the other hand, I’ve listened to it four or five times now. (Had you going for a moment, didn’t I?) My lovely wife got me the audiobook for Christmas, and I do a lot of driving, which gives me plenty of time to listen. Of course, The Way of Kings is a large book; it takes up 36 CD’s–almost 80% the size of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (46, for those playing at home). They used two narrators, and generally used them well. The only problem is that the narrators apparently didn’t consult with each other on how to pronounce High Prince Sadeus’s name; since he’s a fairly important character, this was rather jarring.

One of Sanderson’s greatest strengths as a story teller is the amount of effort he puts into the world building, and this really shows in The Way of Kings. A minor example: most of the world is battered periodically by high storms, and the plants and animals have evolved to deal with this–except for the plants in Shinovar, which is protected geographically. So, for instance, the plants in most of the world retract when someone draws near, so they’re constantly walking on rock; the grass in Shinovar, however, stays in place, and the Shin people feel that it is profane to walk on rock–which puts them at odds with pretty much everyone else. Small details like that abound, bringing the world to life. Of course, since this is the first book in a series, not all of the details are explained–but they’re there (unlike some series where details appear only in later books, making it clear when the author thought of them!).

Rabia: I’m glad David brought up the worldbuilding, because it’s the reason why–for such a big book–not much happens in The Way of Kings. The world is a character in and of itself, and Sanderson reveals it layer by layer.  Because it is so alien, he needs to take a lot of time to show it to us. He does it skilfully, weaving it into the action, and by the end I felt both immersed in Roshar and knowing that there are great swathes of it still unrevealed.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of three POV characters: Shallan who embarks on a dangerous deception in order to restore her family fortune; Kaladin, a surgeon-turned-spearman-turned-slave who fights to save the men under his command; and Dalinar, a high-caste warrior and brother to the late king, struggling to unify his people. Of the three, I found Kaladin’s journey to be the most compelling. Sanderson pays a lot of attention to the internal as well as external struggles of his protagonists, which affects the pacing as well.

David: I have to disagree with Rabia’s statement that “not much happens”. The three main characters don’t do much travelling–Shallan spends almost the entire book in the city of Kharbranth, while Kaladin and Dalinar’s stories are mostly on the Shattered Plains–but physical location is pretty much the only thing stable for all three of them. This is a fairly strong contrast to the Lord of the Rings, where there’s a lot of physical movement, but the characters change slowly, if at all (think about it: does Aragorn undergo much of an arc? He’s a great warrior and leader throughout the trilogy; all that really changes is that he gets more people following him). I won’t go into details–for those, you really ought to read it yourself!–but none of the three main characters end the book with the same worldview as they start with.

I would like to note one other detail: as much as I like the story, the actual book is a work of art in its own right. The maps, the artwork throughout, every detail has clearly been carefully crafted to make reading this a truly unique experience. I hope (and assume) that they’ll continue this throughout the series, and I look forward to owning them all. These books are what traditional publishers need to produce if they want to give readers reason to buy the original, rather than (or in addition to) the e-book or audiobook formats.

Rabia: Since I always have to have the last word (sound familiar, David? ;)), I want to point out that the ending of The Way of Kings absolutely delivers–and then some. There are several like-a-punch-in-the-guts revelations, questions answered, and more questions raised. Sanderson manages the difficult task of wrapping up this book satisfactorily while setting the stage–and raising the stakes–for the sequel.

If you like epic fantasy, you should definitely try this book. In hardback, since having the map is really useful for keeping track of everything!