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Category Archives: fantasy

The 1st Page Critique Offer

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slademail

Let me read your writing!
The first page of your writing project is the most important. It’s where you hook the readers. This is the same truth whether it’s a short story, novel, or non-fiction piece. So I’m offering to do a critique of the first page of your piece of writing for anyone who’s a subscriber to my newsletter. The actual offer will be in my next newsletter (to come out on June 16th) and will be available until June 30th, 2015.

Hmmm. The word critique bothers me. It implies criticism. Instead I should call it here-are-my-humble-suggestions-take-them-or-leave them. I’ve been doing this sort of work for over twenty years. In fact I just finished spending nine months as a writer in residence. The most important part of my job was to go over the writing of other writers, mark the work up line by line, then have a one on one discussion (we talked out heads off).  I read everything from memoirs, to poetry, to fantastical fiction. Oh, and one engineering paper.

So this is my way of offering a similar virtual experience to you. You can even submit the 1st page on behalf of someone else (a student, your offspring, an elf…even literary pets). Just sign up by visiting the link here: My Newsletter Signup Page

The newsletter itself is monthly-ish and has lots of goodies for fans, readers, teachers and other humans. And there’s often a prize and competitions. I have so much fun putting the newsletters together–it’s the perfect way to procrastinate.

So, please hop on board. And if there’s anyone else you think might enjoy this offer (and the newsletter) just click and share on the links below.

Keep on rocking!

Art

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Whoa! Two Years of Selling Ebooks!

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What? Where did those two years go? Back in February 5th of 2011 I launched my novel DUST as an ebook (for sale in the US and UK, because those are the countries where I owned the rights myself).

Those were heady days! But I’ve blogged about them on previous occasions, so I won’t retread that ground. Just start reading from the  beginning or skip ahead to the amazing 1 1/2 year report.

Well not much has changed in the last six months. Overall I’ve sold 8406 copies of my ebooks. Last year that grossed me  around $6000. That’s like sixty iPods! I could wear them as an iPod suit. Anyway, I expect my ebook income to drop this year. Why? Because as I’ve noted before there has been a downward trend in my sales since my last report. Here’s an amazing graphic to show that…

Hey, that number in the bottom keeps going down each month. 249 copies seven months ago. 53 copies sold last month. I do think there is much more competition out there now and that there was a big blitz on sales while everyone and their pet got an eReader then filled it up. And the drop in sales is also because of the algorithmic changes Amazon made to how they weight the price of books on the sales chart (if you sell a 9.99 book, it’ll jump higher up the sales chart than a .99 cent book). It became harder for my books to climb the charts and get noticed by buyers.

Yet, I’m happy with the sales.  It’s still passive income for me that will go on as long as there are eReaders in the world. I really don’t do much extra work to earn that income. And I’m very much a less work for more money kind of guy!
 Art
As a public service I’ll attach these clickable links to my books, including the two “grown up” books I’ve published under the name Stephen Shea. If a book isn’t available in your area as an ebook, it’s because I’m still negotiating the erights for that book. So sorry for any confusion.

The Fionavar Tapestry By Guy Gavriel Kay

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Original Cover of Summer Tree

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.

Art

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.





Dust wins the Governor General’s Award (Ten years ago, that is)

Recently, I was going through a few old VHS tapes and I—what why are you interrupting me? Oh, what's VHS you ask? It's the video recording format that conquered Beta—what's Beta you ask…ah, just Google it. Anyway, I discovered a dusty tape of the award ceremony for the Governor General's awards in 2001. My novel Dust won the award for Children's Literature that year and that meant a trip to Rideau Hall in Ottawa to see the Governor General and attend an extremely fancy ceremony (Oh, and pick up a cheque for $15,000.00). Money, free food and a mini-holiday! It's every author's dream. Here's the video:

Oh, wait! I wish I was at that ceremony! Actually, the Governor General's ceremony is the closest I'll ever come to getting a medal from Princess Leia. Here is the actual video. The two hour ceremony has been edited down to 5 minutes (in other words I cut everyone else's presentation out).

This is still the highlight of my career. Ten years later I'm surprised that all of this happened and that Dust received so much attention. When I finished writing the book I remember wondering who would want to read a slow-building, dark fantasy? 

Ten years! I'm a little grayer and waiting for that wisdom that is supposed to come with age.

Art

Dark Endeavours: Interview with Kenneth Oppel

Ladies, non-ladies, gents and non-gents, 
Herewith is my interview with Kenneth Oppel. It previously appeared on the brilliant Cynsations blog.
Kenneth Oppel's first novel Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure was published when he was seventeen and he hasn't slowed down one iota since. He is the author of the Silverwing series (which has sold over a million copies), the Airborn series (winner of the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book award), and the highly acclaimed Half Brother. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
A: Congrats on the release of This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. The idea of doing a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is very inspired and I'm certain there are many authors shouting, "why didn't I think of that?" Has anyone accused you of stealing their idea?
K: Amazingly, no, especially since there have been plenty of other classics rebooted with young heroes lately. You yourself may be familiar with the fabulous Hunchback series; there’s also young Sherlock Homes, young James Bond, among others. But Frankenstein was still unclaimed! I was making a presentation to a group of booksellers in the US a few months ago, and someone in the audience asked me if I was planning on ripping off any other literary classics. She didn’t actually say “ripping off” but you get the idea. I said I didn’t have any immediate plans, but asked if she had any suggestions. “Moby Dick,” she said, “focusing on Captain Ahab.” It’s not a bad idea. But I don’t think I’ll take the bait.
A: Hmm. Steampunked Moby Dick! Just let me write that down…anyway, back to the interview. Can you pinpoint when you first had that aha moment?
K: I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’d just re-read it a couple of years ago, and the mentions of his childhood were brief but evocative. There were mentions of seeking out the Elixir of Life, raising ghosts and demons – you know, pretty typical teenaged stuff, right up there with rep soccer and hot yoga. But I saw these things as the seeds of possible gothic adventure stories. I spent a lot of time wondering about what might happen on such adventures, and what would motivate them in a powerful way. I sat on the idea for quite a while, almost a full year, before I shared it with my agent and approached publishers, because I wanted to make sure the idea was well formed; I really didn’t want it to be seen as a gratuitous attempt to cash in on the Frankenstein myth.
A: Did you channel Mary Shelley while you were writing? By that I mean did you want to imitate the style of the original book? Shelley's Frankenstein is a rather slow and dreamy novel at times, yet you manage to keep that dreaminess but also the plot moves along at a good clip. 
K: I’m a pretty good mimic, so yes, I did try to capture the linguistic flavour of the original, but without making it inaccessible to contemporary readers. I quite enjoy the richness of period fiction, so the language in Dark Endeavor might be a little more formal, but I made sure it’s effortless to read. I read all my books aloud during the writing/editing process, and if the prose sounds too constipated, or unnatural, or the pace is slack, I know about it, and change it. The book combines gothic adventure and horror and romance, and I wanted it to belt along. I’m not sure I could write a book that didn’t have a fairly powerful plot as its internal combustion engine.
A: How much leeway did you give yourself to play around with the backstory from the original novel?
K: Well, once I invented a twin brother for Victor, I was making a pretty clean break from the world of the original. I like to think of it as an alternative backstory to the Frankenstein myth. A search for the elixir of life is a great idea for an adventure, but I thought it would be even more powerful, and personal, if Victor needed the elixir to heal someone he loved. It could’ve been any family member, but I decided a brother – a twin! – would have the richest emotional possibilities. As for the cast of characters, I made the love interest, Elizabeth Lavenza a distant relation (as opposed to first cousin). Their best friend Henry Clerval was transformed into a slightly comic Woody Allen-like character who’s riddled with phobias and fears, making him the least likely person to enjoy a Frankenstein-style banquet of horror. Victor’s parents I actually based on Mary Shelley’s real parents, the radical writers William Godwin and Mary Wollestonecraft, so my Frankenstein household is very liberal for its time. Mrs. Frankenstein writes pamphlets on the rights and education of women; Mr Frankenstein is a fair magistrate who insists on his own family making the servants their Sunday dinner as a gesture of egalitarianism (a concept that was sweeping through Europe in the late 1700’s). And my Victor himself certainly shares traits of both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron (as did Mary Shelley’s Victor)..So I tried to work in lots of insider Frankenstein information.
A: Giving Victor Frankenstein a twin certainly upped the "interest" factor of the novel. The fact is, I liked "steady" Konrad more than the "impetuous" Victor, the narrator of the story. And yet, I was somehow cheering for Victor, too. Was that your intention?
K: Anti-heroes can be incredibly charismatic and exciting. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call Victor an anti-hero. He has some dislikeable traits, but he’s never truly wicked (not in this first book anyway). You cheer for Victor, I think, because he has so much life and drive and passion in him; and you never forget he loves his brother, even though he’s ragingly jealous of him, and wants to steal his girlfriend. So yes, I wanted Victor to be complicated – but that makes him a much more interesting character I think.
A: It must have been rather exciting to have the book optioned before it was published. What was the process for that?
K: It was very exciting. My literary agent Steven Malk thought the book had strong movie potential, and showed the manuscript to an amazing pair of agents in Hollywood, Nick Harris and Josie Freedman at ICM, who specialise in book-to-film rights. They really liked it, and sent it out to a dozen top producers and within a couple days we had three offers from major studios. This doesn’t happen often. I know. I used to write screenplays, and I’ve had many books and scripts optioned over the years and usually you’re lucky if you get one offer amidst the tsunami of “passes”. Our decision was pretty easy: we sold the rights to producer Karen Rosenfelt and Summit Entertainment, the producer and studio who made Twilight movies.
A: The book ties up the ending nicely, yet there is still room for a sequel. What's next for Victor? 
K: At the end of Book One, Victor promises himself he’ll unlock every secret law of the earth to achieve his goals – let’s just say he honours his promise.
A: You've gone from the rich "bat" fantasy world of the Silverwing series, to the post-Victorian atmosphere of the Airborn series, to the modern reality of Half Brother. And now Frankenstein. Where will you be taking us next?
K: Straight to hell, in the second instalment of the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. It’s called Such Wicked Intent, and should be published August 2012. After that, who knows. I’ve got a couple of ideas I’m very excited about and now that I’ve just finished revisions on Such Wicked Intent, I have the wonderful luxury of daydreaming them into existence.
Thanks for the interview, Ken.
I hereby request readers to visit his website at http://www.kennethoppel.ca/
Art

A Decade of Dust

I apologize for the maudlin post but Dust has been out for ten years now. I launched the book on September 21st, 2001 in Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum: 1910 Boomtown. It was the first time I’d launched in such a big and perfectly-themed venue (I wish I could find the pics but they are in storage somewhere). Here’s a pic of the museum interior.

I honestly had no idea how successful the book would become and am still surprised by its reception. It went on to win several awards including:

*The 2001 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature
*The 2001 Saskatchewan Book Award for Children’s Literature
*The 2002 Mr. Christie’s Book Award (this came with $ and cookies. Mmm)
*Nominated for a 2004 Edgar Award.

Here I am with Adrienne Clarkson, once the Governor General of Canada. She’s presenting me with a leather-bound copy of DUST.

There are a few things you may not know about the novel. Here’s the first draft of the Canadian cover:

And here’s the original American cover:

The American version is about 5 pages longer. Because it came out in 2003 I was able to have one more crack at the book and I fine tuned it a bit more and added a few smaller scenes, including one at the end that helped explain the townspeople’s reaction to their “forgetfulness” about their children disappearing. It’s a particularly poignant scene.

There have now been 13 movie companies that have shown interest in the rights, including 4 major Hollywood studios. So far no one has come up with the money to make the movie (or pay off my mortgage).

Work on a graphic novel was started with Christopher Steininger but, as of yet, it has not been picked up by a publisher.

The book continues to be popular in Canada and I’ve received hundreds of emails and letters about it. It eventually went out of print in the U.S. and was never sold to any other countries.

With the advent of ebooks I was able to re-release the book in the US as an ebook (and in the U.K., too).

So it is good to have the book come back to life. It was briefly the #12 bestselling horror novel on Amazon U.S. and the #2 bestselling horror novel on Amazon UK. If only it would stay in those positions I could finance my own movie! : ) It has been rather fun for me to see the book gain a new readership.

So there you have it. A decade of Dust. Happy birthday! Here’s to another ten years….

Art