What Is the Theme?

Authors have many different ways to begin their work. There is no right or wrong way; every writer must find the way that works best for him or her, and that way will probably vary from time to time.

A story or a novel may start with a “what if?” situation, an interesting character, a fascinating setting, an actual event either personal or from the news, or even a prompt in a writing group. It may also start with a writer’s desire to explore a particular theme. I’m quite sure that the current #metoo movement will have given rise to short stories or novels developed to explore the theme of how sexual abuse and exploitation of women affect women and society as a whole. Those stories and novels are not the first and certainly will not be the last constructed around that theme. Themes exploring matters of social justice and political unrest appear frequently, but whether the writer started with those themes and built the novel around them or the themes unfolded as the novel developed only the author knows.

I have never started a novel with a theme in mind. I tend to start either with a character or a situation from which I hope to tell a good story. Mistress of the Wind, the novel I’ve just reissued under my own imprint, started with the character of Kyla. Bringers of Magic, the next novel I’ll reissue also started with a character, that of Ed Robbins. I’ve sometimes started with an incident or news item. That was the case with The Twisted Towers. The idea came from a news story about a Japanese princess who lost her voice. I have written often about getting story ideas from dreams, and those usually start with a “what if?” exploration. What I have never done is begin a story with the set purpose of challenging readers to think about a particular theme. I admire writers who do this, but it simply doesn’t work for me. Actually, it generally isn’t until I complete the first draft of a novel that I know what the theme is. I start out simply to tell a story. ( One exception to this is my novel Seduction of the Scepter, which came from a dream, as I’ve explained elsewhere, but which I realized early on was a novel based on the theme that power corrupts.)

Normally after I complete the first draft of a novel, I set it aside for a while and work on something else. I return to it after several weeks (or months or, in a few cases, years) and look at it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. And it is then that I come to understand the underlying theme. I then begin working on the second draft with that theme in mind, strengthening it in places but avoiding making it over-obvious, respecting my reader’s intelligence and ability to grasp the theme without being hit over the head with it. Yes, sometimes I’ve been disappointed that a reader’s comment reveals that that particular reader didn’t get what I was trying to illustrate, but I hope that I still told a good and entertaining story.

In the case of the book I just reissued, Kyla, my protagonist, has the problem of knowing she’s been lied to, but she doesn’t know which conflicting statements are true and which are false—and her life may depend on distinguishing the truths from the falsehoods. She tries to judge by the actions of two particular individuals which one is being honest with her and which one is not. At times it seems that both are truthful and at other times that neither is. How can she know what to believe and, consequently, what course of action to take? The answer is that she cannot know; she has to take a leap of faith. That leap of faith leads her through the canyon of doubt and despair to the realization that human knowledge can never be absolute. There are always unanswered questions and there is always room for doubt. While one may search for the truth, indeed must search for it, absolute certainty lies beyond human reach. And that terrible truth is the theme of Mistress of the Wind. It is never stated in so many words. Themes generally are not. They are abstractions that must be understood through the experiences and actions of the characters and validated—or not—through one’s own life experiences.

As I said in beginning this blog, every author has his or her own way of writing. I’m not advocating any particular method of determining the theme of one’s work. I’m just describing what works for me. Nor am I saying that every work has to have a particular theme or that the reader must necessarily recognize the theme or even discern the same theme that the author sees in the work. Every reader brings her or his own experiences to a story and interprets the story in light of those experiences, so every reader may read into the story much more or much less than the author intended. The reader need not search for a particular theme or meaning to a story, and the author should not expect a reader’s interpretation of a story to coincide perfectly with his or her own. I offer my work to my readers in the hope of entertaining them. If I succeed that is all I can really ask.

Now I invite you to read Mistress of the Wind and see what you find in the story.

Mistress of the wind cover ebook

Available as a trade paperback or an e-book. Find the paperback here and the e-book here.

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More About the Re-Issue of Mistress of the Wind

 

Whew! It’s hard to believe that the re-release of Mistress of the Wind, the first book of my Arucadi series of fantasy novels, is now less than three weeks away.  I’m excited to begin the reissuing of my Arucadi novels.

I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to Kyla Cren, the protagonist of Mistress of the Wind. Kyla is the windspeaker for the village of Waddams in Noster Valley, a secluded area of the large country of Arucadi.  What, you may ask, is a windspeaker?

A windspeaker is a woman who understands the speech of the wind, sings to the wind, and from it gathers news for her village, news of the weather, of events of which the wind takes note as it passes through the valley, of possible dangers to the village and its people. Unlike other people, a windspeaker sees the wind; its colors signifying its mood.

Kyla is only seventeen years of age, and has just recently been employed by the village of Waddams, where she’d grown up. Her father had been a scribe and her mother an herbalist before both parents fell victims to the dread mindstealers, creatures who steal their victims’ minds. Thus orphaned at age twelve, Kyla had been apprenticed to the windspeaker of a neighboring village but has returned to Waddams on completing her apprenticeship. She is an exceptionally skilled windspeaker, despite being undervalued by the village elders due to her young age.

Here is an excerpt that shows Kyla at work. The villagers are frightened when a sudden wind and rain storm threatens their crops and have sent Kyla to the hill where she does her wind speaking to learn the extent of the danger from the storm:

As she hurried toward the hill, Kyla noted that the wind’s color had softened—a good sign.  The wind was flinging leaves and debris into the air in a show of ferocity, but its violet hue signaled a mood more playful than malign. It seemed eager to boost her over rocks and shorten the long climb.  She had soon climbed high enough to see not only Waddams but also much of Noster Valley spread out below.

She observed the frightened villagers hurrying home early from their fields and herding cows into the barns.  The wind was creating a spectacle.  Pounding squalls tore at the trees, pushed the Damin River over its banks, and thrashed the tender stalks of grain.  No wonder people were so frightened.  Blind to the wind’s color, deaf to its voice, they were terrified of its destructive power.

She turned her back on them and sang, a wordless crooning that mimicked the whistle of the wind.  Her long hair streamed behind her; she felt it whipping and rippling like a banner.  The wind and rain plastered her clothes to her body.  “Take out your energy on me,” she cried out.  “Spare the poor village.”

The wind reddened.  It tore at her, bit at her face, tangled her hair, swirled around her body.  She stood firm with arms outspread, letting the wind pummel her.  Its power surged through her; its voice roared in her ears. Suddenly it lifted her, not just enough to put a cushion of air between her body and the ground, as it had often done in the past, but high, high above the hilltop.  As if she were a leaf, it carried her through and above the dark thunderclouds, where the sun shone and the air was dry and cold and thin.  Terrified at first, her fear changed to joy as the wind rocked and twisted her.

She laughed aloud. The wind caught away the sound of her laughter, spun her around, then softly, gently floated her down and eased her onto the grassy hilltop.  “That’s as wild a ride as I can stand,” she gasped, when she could speak.  “No wonder I was taught never to ride a storm wind.”

The storm was over: The rain had ended; the dark clouds were drifting away, carrying with them all sense of urgency.  The wind’s color softened to light rose.  Its soothing whispers lulled her into a dream-state, so that she forgot the need for haste.

Yes, that storm was over, but Kyla will soon be buffeted by storms of another kind, ones that will take her far from her small village and into dangers she never anticipated having to face.

Watch for the appearance of Mistress of the Wind in its lovely new cover. It should become available on January 15, 2019.

Mistress of the wind cover ebook

Visit my web site and sign up for my newsletter for news and updates about the release of this and later volumes of the Arucadi series: www.erosesabin.com

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The Value of Critiquing Partners

Today I want to talk about the advantages of having a critiquing partner. When you are professionally published, you have an editor who reviews your content and tells you what works and what doesn’t and what should be removed or added. You also have a copy editor, who checks for spelling and punctuation errors, inconsistencies in spelling names of characters or places, and other such details. If you are an indie author, you have to find someone who can supply those services. You may hire an editor, or you may have a friend who can read with a critical eye and catch both content problems and errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Or you may even feel confident enough in your own ability as a writer to feel you can do without such outside services. However, no matter how skilled you are, you are unwise to be your own editor. It’s far too easy to overlook small things—a typo here, a missed punctuation mark there. You also run the risk of being so in love with your own work that you are blind to places where the narrative drags or where a paragraph that is clear to you will not be clear to a reader and needs a bit more explanation. I recommend hiring an editor, especially if you are a first-time author. But for indie authors who operate on a tight budget, have published previously, and simply don’t have the funds for an editor, there are other routes you can take. One is to find a competent critiquing partner.

A critiquing partner is another writer with whom you can exchange critiques, someone who will read and critique your material while you read and critique theirs and then exchange comments and suggestions. This can be highly beneficial to both partners. I am fortunate to have such a critiquing partner. She is Diane Sawyer (the mystery writer, not the TV personality). It isn’t necessary to partner with a writer in the same genre. I write fantasy novels, and Diane is not a fantasy reader. Though I do read mysteries, I don’t write them. We don’t find that a hindrance to being able to critique each other’s work. We both agree that our work is better as a result of the comments and concerns we express to each other. We agree that we must be brutally honest with one another, and if something doesn’t work or make sense or even is absolutely awful, we say so. Of course we also offer praise where praise is due, pointing out strengths as well as weaknesses, and highlighting passages that strike us as especially good. In essence, we function as editors for each other.

Here’s what Diane has to say about our partnership:

“Every writer needs an editor to fine-tune her work into an appealing story that captures the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go until the final page is turned. My own experience of working with an editor has been positive and helpful. E. Rose Sabin has been my editor for several years. Likewise, I have been her editor for that same time. I write mysteries and adventures; she writes fantasy and sci-fi. The different genres are not a problem. Good writing and a believable plot are the goals. We call ourselves writing partners and critiquing partners, because our work entails a mutual effort. Find that perfect fit so you, too, can help and be helped. Our editing isn’t just about adding commas, avoiding repetitions, or creating believable characters. Rose’s editing has helped me as an editor and a writer. As a result of our editorial collaboration, she gave up the bad habit of too many short paragraphs filled with short sentences. Her effect on me? I sped up the beginning of my stories and got the plot up and running more quickly. Don’t wait another day. Get a critiquing partner and improve the consistency of the characters plus the freshness and originality of the plot. Find an excellent editor. You’ll be glad you did.”

–Diane Sawyer, award-winning author of The Tell-Tale Treasure and her newest, just released, Trouble in Tikal, both published in Florida by Southern Yellow-Pine Publishing. Diane was also  published by Avalon Books, New York City and Thomas & Mercer ,the mystery division of Amazon Books, New York City: The titles are: The Montauk Mystery, The Montauk Steps, The Tomoka Mystery, The Cinderella Murders, The Treasures of Montauk Cove. With Rose’s editorial help, she will next create The Diamond Murders, set in St. Petersburg.

Diane’s newest book, Trouble in Tikal, can be found here.

trouble in tikal.jpg

And on a different topic, in my previous blog I wrote about my intention to reissue the books in my Arucadi series in chronological order rather than in the order in which they were originally published. The first book in that series is Mistress of the Wind. It will be launched January 15—just a little over a month away. Here’s a first look at the cover flat:

Mistress of the wind cover-resized

 

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Chronological Order Vs. Publication Order

SCHOOL comp

When I wrote A School for Sorcery, I did not envision it as being part of a series. By the time I finally got an agent for it and got it accepted for publication several years had passed since its completion, and I had worked on other projects, including beginning and then setting aside a novel that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

In the meantime, A School for Sorcery sold to Tor and did well, and though I felt that the story of its protagonist, Tria, was complete, there were other characters I wanted to do more with. At that time, it also occurred to me that the novel I had never finished could be turned into a prequel for A School for Sorcery, and that the novel I had in mind as a sequel to School could also complete the story in the prequel. So I finished the prequel, which became A Perilous Power, and which takes place around fifty years before A School for Sorcery. framedhcI then wrote When the Beast Ravens to complete the stories of both School and Power. Tor published A Perilous Power a year after School, and the following year published When the Beast Ravens. So the novels were neither written nor published in chronological order. A Perilous Power, Though only two characters in Power reappear in School, the prequel does explain why the school was established and tells the story of Lesley Simonton, the person for whom the school is named. School ends with the closing of one school year and When the Beast Ravens takes place the following school year and follows many of the characters from School. Beast RavensIt also bears a closer relationship to Power than School does. So the order of publication made perfect sense, as A Perilous Power both explained some things that I purposely left unclear in School and also set up some matters that would come to a conclusion in Beast.

But after those novels were completed, I still didn’t want to let two of the characters go, so I wrote a fourth book, titled Bryte’s Ascent. My Tor editor loved it. Unfortunately, the sales of A Perilous Power and of When the Beast Ravens had not met expectations, and Tor did not purchase the manuscript. Of course I was deeply disappointed by that, but I was by that time determined to turn the trilogy of books into a series.

I wrote a fantasy novel that I again did not originally envision as part of a series, but once again the ending of the novel did not complete the story. That novel was Mistress of the Wind, and as I worked on it, I realized that it could be a distant prequel to A School for Sorcery and the other two books. It easily became an Arucadi novel, explaining the source of magic in the land of Arucadi. It takes place at least 50 years prior to A Perilous Power. It called for a sequel, and was followed by Bringers of Magic, a story which takes place shortly after Mistress.   Those books were published by a small press and did reasonably well, but when I wrote a sequel to Bringers, for several reasons I decided to self-publish. The sequel is titled A Mix of Magics. So there were three Arucadi books published after the first three but recounting events that took place long before those three. I have written a book that will follow A Mix of Magics and establish a tenuous connection with A Perilous Power. Titled Deniably Dead, it is finished in first draft but will require considerable work before being ready for publication.

MistressWind-510MagicBringer-510revfront cover final

I had labeled those three books a series called Arucadi: The Beginning and planned to BrytesAscent_finalinclude the fourth book in that series. Then I planned a third set of books to be a series called Travels in Arucadi. Bryte’s Ascent would be the first of those. I am nearly finished a novel that will follow Bryte’s Ascent, titled Mother Lode.

I now have my rights back to the three books published by Tor and the two books published by the small press. I am planning to reissue all the published books and issue the ones I am currently finishing one at a time beginning in January of next year. Now, here’s my quandary: Do I publish them in chronological order or in the order of their original publication?

There are good arguments for both. When I read series books, I like to start with the book that chronologically begins the series. But of course not all series are written in chronological order. Many are not. Some series books can be picked up at any point. In other series the books were and are being published in chronological order and are better read in that order, but the author takes pains to fill in past details for readers who discover and start reading a later volume.

The books of my Arucadi series certainly have not been either written or originally published in chronological order. And as each book comes to a satisfactory conclusion—no cliffhanger endings—they can be read in any order. But would reading them in chronological order give a better experience of the entire world in which they are set and reveal more about the characters’ backgrounds? I believe that would be the case, but on the other hand, certain elements of mystery would be stripped from the later books because reading the earlier books would reveal what otherwise would arouse the reader’s curiosity and create greater intrigue. That would apply especially to two books of the series: A Perilous Power would be better read after A School for Sorcery and before When the Beast Ravens. I suppose I could reissue them in that order, but should I?

That’s a decision I can hold off from making for a while, but it is one I must make eventually. I’d love to hear from readers who have read the books in question, either in publication order or in chronological order, telling me what they would prefer.

And although I am using the original covers to illustrate this blog, the reissued books (including those I self-published) will all have lovely new covers done by an artist whose work I like very much and who works with me closely to assure that the cover art accurately portrays the spirit of the book and fits the time period in which the book takes place, as clothing styles change and technology advances as the series moves forward in time. In a later blog I will reveal the new cover of Mistress of the Wind, which will be the first reissued book.

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A Requiem for Newspapers

I hope the title I’ve put on this blog is premature at worst and nonsense at best. I very much fear it is not.

I am a lifelong newspaper reader. Reading the daily paper while I eat my breakfast is a vital part of my daily routine. I admit to being a Luddite in that respect. My news intake comes from my excellent daily paper, not from television, radio, or the internet. By personal preference I don’t have television reception. I do listen to the radio, primarily when I’m in my car. I love listening to NPR and getting their take on the news. However, I don’t listen much at home because during the day I’m busy at my computer, and radio is a distraction. I read while I’m eating a meal, and when I’m through working for the day, I relax with a good book. As for getting news on the internet, while I do occasionally, it is not my preferred method of catching up on the day’s events. It seems too scattershot, rather like a Jackson Pollack painting, spatters here and there. No, for me my newspaper is my window to the world. I’m sharing this bit of my lifestyle not particularly to recommend it. What works well for me won’t necessarily work for everyone. I’m sharing it to explain my deep concern for the health of newspapers locally and across the nation.

Tampa Bay Times

My own local newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, is an excellent paper, winner of many awards for the quality of its reporting, and noted for the way its reportage casts light on problems such as the dumping of sewage into our bay, the poor job that schools serving our African-American neighborhoods are doing, the abuses suffered by prisoners in our privately operated prison system, the failure to protect children in our foster care system. These and other well documented and meticulously researched in-depth exposés have proven efficacious in pressuring out governing officials to take corrective measures. The newspaper provides us with a reliable measure of our community health.

Now, however, it is the newspaper that is ailing. The tariff President Trump imposed on newsprint from Canada has put newspapers across the nation on forced diets, raising the expense of producing the paper to the point of having to lay off reporters and other staff and reducing the number of pages they can afford to publish. With great alarm I see my wonderful Tampa Bay Times thinning as features are dropped and articles shortened, and I know this is happening not just locally but across the country.

Can it be accidental that a president who rails against “fake news” and calls the media “the enemy of the people” has instituted a measure that causes harm and in some cases sounds a death knell to newspapers that so often are the first to reveal behind-the-scenes machinations? Newspapers that courageously place their reporters in harm’s way to reveal facts some would prefer to remain hidden?

If newspapers fail, will their final act be to write the obituary of truth?

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About My Book Launch and the Weirdness of Facebook

ebook cover

I will be launching my new book, The Twisted Towers, tomorrow–Thursday, June 28, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. It will be an online book launch, held on a special Event page on Facebook. You can find it by going to Facebook and putting into Facebook’s Search bar The Twisted Towers Book Launch Party!

Or, if you don’t generally use Facebook and don’t have a Facebook account you can go to Google and put into the Google search bar: Facebook twisted towers book launch and that will take you to it even if you aren’t  signed in to Facebook.

Now, here’s where Facebook weirdness comes in. When I go to Facebook and put into its search bar what I just put in my instructions in the first paragraph above, I don’t get sent to my launch party event page. I get sent to someone else’s. For the longest time I could only get to my launch party page in a very round-about way–by going to my author page, clicking on events and then seeing it listed under that topic and clicking on it there. Or even by clicking on the title The Twisted Towers Book Launch Party! in some one else’s post. So very naturally, I thought anyone would have that same problem with finding the page for the party.

No. It turns out that I alone have that difficulty. Why? Because when I put The Twisted Towers Book Launch Party! (Yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title), Facebook thinks that because that is my own page and I should know where it is, I must mean someone else’s launch party, so that is where it sends me–to a book launch party being put on by people I’ve never heard of.

But if you, dear reader, put the party title into Facebook’s search bar, you will be sent directly to the correct page. Now I ask you–How was I supposed to know this, and does this make any sense? And FB isn’t consistent. I can put my author page, E. Rose Sabin’s Books, into Facebook’s search bar and it takes me directly to my author page. It doesn’t send me to someone else’s. So why does it do that with an Event page?

Since it is impossible to find a Facebook technician to ask (does Facebook even have technicians?), I’ll never know the answer to these questions. Ah, well. Life does have its little mysteries. This, I guess, will forever remain one of them.

Anyway, do attend the party if you possibly can. And if you can’t make it at the appointed time of 7 pm-8:30 pm EDT, the postings will all remain on the page after the event, and you can visit at your leisure and see what I, my guest authors, and the attendees have posted.

The book is now available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats.

 

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Book Launch Soon to Come

My newest novel, The Twisted Towers, an epic fantasy, will be launching soon. ebook cover

I’m planning an online launch party, and all my blog followers are invited. I want to welcome those of you who have signed up recently to follow this blog. I’ll be writing about a lot of things–raising monarch butterflies, the dogs in my life, the writing process, the revision process, novels I’ve read recently, grammar and how to get it right, and many other things.

This blog has the specific purpose of telling you about the upcoming online launch party. The date is June 28, and the party is scheduled for 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.  I’ll hold it on my Facebook author page, E. Rose Sabin’s Books. If you can’t spare the entire hour and a half, drop by for a few minutes at least during that time period and help me celebrate the debut of my newest book. (It will be number 17, but who’s counting?)

During that time period I’ll be answering questions about the book and anything else you want to know. You don’t have to send me questions in advance, but I hope at least some of you will. I very much want to have at least some questions to start off with, and then take others as the time moves on.

But I won’t just be answering questions and talking about my book. There will be videos, opportunities to win prizes, and general merriment. Sorry, no actual refreshments, but possibly virtual ones. I’ve invited five author friends to share a bit about their books and answer your questions to them. A couple of those authors always have marvelous recipes to share. Those are Carol J. Perry, author of the very successful paranormal Witch City Mystery Series, and Diane Sawyer, author of mysteries and her most recent a prize-winning thriller, The Tell-Tale Treasure. Diane may also have something to say about her next book, Trouble in Tikal, and her travels in Guatemala, where she gathered the material for that book. Incidentally, Diane and I are critiquing partners, so she gets to read my books before most anyone else, and I get to read hers, and the help we give each other makes us both better writers, though I should clarify that Diane was a successful author before I met her and well before we became critiquing partners.

Another attendee will be Nathan Van Coops, author of the excellent In Times Like These time travel series. He’s a real whiz when it comes to promotion, and I can’t emphasize enough how much help he’s been to me along that line. Everything I’ve learned about promotion I’ve learned from Nathan. He’ll be launching the latest book in his time travel series in his online launch party on July 3. I’m sure he’ll have something to say about that.

Another guest is the multi-talented Tenea Johnson, a poet, novelist, and musician, who does marvelous performances that combine dramatic readings from her novels,  short stories, and poems, often set to music she composes, plays and sings. If we’re lucky maybe we can get a short audio or video clip from one of those performances, though I can’t promise that at this point.

The remaining guest is Monique Desir, daughter of West Indian parents but born and reared here in Florida, who may share her unfortunate publication experience of her very fine vampire novel, Forbidden, which she intends to be the first volume of a series, and what she’s doing to overcome a temporary setback in her career. She’s working on a Young Adult novel that weaves together Haitian lore and the very real tale of a young teenager coping with a dying parent to produce an intriguing fantasy tale.

I’m just as excited about hosting these wonderful guest authors as I am about the advent of my own novel. I’ll be posting some brief excerpts from the novel just to give you a taste of what it’s about in a future blog.  For now, I want to urge you again to visit my web site, erosesabin.com, and sign up for my newsletter.

And above all, please put the launch date of Thursday, June 28. And send questions for me and/or for my guests to rose@erosesabin.com. I’ll try to answer every one of those for me–if not during the launch party, then in a later blog. I’m sure my guests will do the same.

 

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