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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Magic, Muskets, Immortality and an Editor

Hello everyone!

Today's guest author is Chris Evans. I didn't discover him the way I usually discover authors, I just stumbled upon him, blind luck really.

Elves - Eye CandySometime in early November, I was standing in line at the library with a tall stack of books in my hand when I saw this eye catching blue colored book jacket with a sword on the cover prominently displayed on a rack near the checkout counter. I picked it up, read the blurb on the back, saw that the main character was an elf with the last name of Swift Dragon [okay, so I put up an image of Legolas], and I knew the book was for me and added it to my stack. I've never heard of the author before, but I didn't think anything of it, because there are a lot of authors out there to be discovered.

I usually hear about fantasy authors from a friend, family member, or the guys at the gaming stores, but I've never just "happened" upon them, so this was a momentous occasion. That wasn't the only thing that made it momentous. See, I didn't read too close when I grabbed the book. When I realized that it was about Iron Elves and they used muskets because he was a historian by day, albeit a truly clever idea, I didn't see it that way at the time and became rather leery about the book altogether.

I thought, what is this guy doing? Well, I wanted to know so bad that I kept reading and by the time Konowa Swift Dragon and his wild creature-pet Jir come on the scene, I was hooked! I was blown away by the detail and the world he created, so much so that I sought out his website and set off to learn more about him and this new trilogy that has captivated me.

Chris wrote what he knew and made it work. When we created Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem, I just knew that I was going to ask him to guest blog with us because I felt people should know about his books. While they are fantasy, there are also paranormal and romantic elements to this tale.

Elf Image - Visyna TekoyYes, there is a romantic aspect that exists between Konowa (an utter outcast living in the wilds) and Visyna Tekoy, a highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor. There is definitely a connection brewing between them, but their familial stations keep them apart as well as some of the choices that Konowa makes along the way.

Yes, at the end of the novel the relationship seems in tatters, yet there is a ray of hope. This is a relationship that will span at least through two novels, possibly three.

So, if the relationship doesn't really happen, why would I consider it romantic? Because, all the while I'm reading the passages with these two surrounded by war and death, I kept wanting the relationship to bloom and waiting for it to actually happen is excruciating and against the traditional "romance novel" idea of a romance, but quite in tune with a fantasy genre idea of romance.

Think about it, it's like watching a TV series where you can feel that sexual tension and you keep thinking, "Damn it, would you two kiss already!" That's the relationship of Konowa and Visyna in a "nut shell".

Okay, I've rattled on enough, so let's bring on the guest of honor, Chris Evans! Oh, did I mention that he's not only an author, but an editor too? And, he's going to have some hints for us, so stay tuned!!

Okay *drum roll please* Here's Chris Evans!

Chris Evans the GentMy name is Chris, and I lead a double life. By day I’m the editor of history, military history, current affairs and conflicts books for Stackpole Books. Being an editor means existing in a demi-deity/demi-dementia state, acting as gate-keeper and choosing whom to welcome into the realm of published author. It might seem that editors dash the hopes of many an aspiring author, but the unfortunate reality is that most writers present themselves already pre-dashed. This, however, doesn’t have to be the case. Before I was published, I was every bit the babe-in-the-woods myself, knowing little about how publishing worked and even less about how to crack the code. That leads to my other existence, author of the Iron Elves series, an epic fantasy of elves, dwarves, magic and muskets. Carrie’s graciously invited me to talk a bit about my new book, The Light of Burning Shadows, and share a few insights from inside the world of publishing, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Whenever I talk about writing I invariably start by talking about reading. It is simply the best fuel out there. Whether you’re an aspiring author or an aspiring human being, reading is good for you. If you’re reading Carrie’s blog then you already know this. Reading lubricates the brain and keeps it running and wet (which is good for a brain). TV, on the other hand, usually acts as an anesthetic.

A Darkness Forged in FireIf you’re new to the world of the Iron Elves I suppose proper introductions are in order. The series launched last year with A Darkness Forged in Fire. The world is one where magic and muskets coexist, so a time period roughly similar to the late 1700s/early 1800s. It chronicles the adventures of the Iron Elves, a regiment of soldiers cursed with immortality as they seek to overthrow the elf witch, the Shadow Monarch, and preserve the empire they are bound to serve. It’s certainly in the vein of traditional fantasy – something I’m not at all ashamed to say – but there are a few twists. Much of my inspiration is derived from areas that aren’t mined all that often in fantasy, coming from the works of authors and historians like Rudyard Kipling, Bernard Cornwell, Richard Holmes, Len Deighton, Michael Shaara, George MacDonald Fraser, Terry Copp, Barbara Tuchman, and T.E. Lawrence among others.

The Light of Burning ShadowsThe Light of Burning Shadows picks up with the Iron Elves regiment continuing their fight against the, ever bolder, incursions of the Shadow Monarch. The regiment’s task is complicated by the growing restlessness among the colonies and protectorates of the Calahrian Empire. The native peoples see the impending war and the return of stars thought to contain magical powers as a chance to be rid of the Empire once and for all. With all out war looming and rebellion imminent, the regiment stumbles upon an ancient power that may hold the key to freeing the Iron Elves from the blood oath that binds them in service to the Empire and the Shadow Monarch in life and even death. In addition to propelling the story along, The Light of Burning Shadows has given me a chance to explore more of the effects of battle on characters like Major Swift Dragon, Private Alwyn Renwar, Visyna Tekoy, Rallie Synjyn, and Sergeant Yimt Arkhorn, and we see some very different responses. This was important to me as I work with many veterans and hear firsthand what it’s like to be in battle, from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iron Elves series is allowing me to explore some of this within a fantasy context, and it’s my hope that in addition to telling an entertaining story, The Light of Burning Shadows does justice to the plight of the regular soldier.

Excerpt to The Light of Burning Shadows
Learn more about Chris and the inspiration behind his books

So now that you know a little bit about the Iron Elves, you might be thinking “Hey, I’ve got a story myself that I’d like to get published. What do I do?” Hmm, almost sounds like the beginning of an infomercial, doesn’t it? The good news is there’s no need to send money, but you will have to spend a lot of time and energy. Oh, and did I mention reading? The mantra is simply “read, read, read”…then repeat. And read outside of your comfort zone from time to time. Think of it like trying a new food. You never know what you might discover, and like.

Omaha BeachFine, you already know all of that, but what you’re really after are some of the inside secrets. How do you get inside? The short answer is, and you know this too, there is no quick and easy plan…well, unless you land a crippled airplane on the Hudson River or start dating either Jon or Kate. For the rest of us, it’s a long, long road. I became an author by first becoming an editor nine years ago. I was offered the chance to work for Random House in New York editing military history and science fiction and jumped at the opportunity. It let me learn the business from the inside. Basically, I spent several years of apprenticeship as an editor while using my free time – when I could make some – to improve my skills as a writer. So when I say long road, I really mean it.

Ok, becoming an editor might not be for everyone, so what else? I mentioned reading, right? Well, don’t just read for enjoyment. Read like you’re back in school and study what you read as well. I’m not suggesting you suck the fun out of reading, but if you’re going to be a writer you need to understand the mechanics of what good authors do. How does Stephen King scare the beejeebers out of me every time I read one of his books? How does Terry Pratchett make me laugh so hard I pull muscles? Think of a book as an engine. Take it apart and see what makes it work, or doesn’t, as the case may be.

Blood StripesThe really tough thing you have to do is to ask yourself what you want. Sounds simple, but it requires asking yourself tough questions. In my case, I know I want to be a successful writer, and so for me that means accepting the fact that I’m part of the entertainment industry. I freely admit that and am entirely okay with the concept that I write for my enjoyment, that of my fans, AND that I get paid to do it. It’s that last part that can get some people worked up. It leads to the false and rather pointless dichotomy of the “artist” versus the “hack”. The true auteur versus the commercial…hack. I saw the same bifurcation in academia, the scholar versus the “popular” historian, and it’s all a bit beside the point. I enjoy the high and the low, the humorous and the serious, the urbane and the broad equally, and for entirely different reasons. I don’t want to eat steak every day, or hamburger, nor do I just want to read only the most literate or only, the most bawdy. I like variety, and I suspect most readers are the same. I suppose all this boils down to one simple axiom - know yourself and what you want (and want to achieve,) and then be ok with it. When you can do that, you’ll be much happier, and closer to realizing your dream.

Band of SistersI know, I know, but what about the secrets? There has to be more than reading and writing, right? Ok, I’ll lift the curtain a bit and let you see inside. First, every agent and editor has a complete name. There is no one working in the publishing industry named Sir, Madam, To, Whom, It, May, or Concern. If you can’t find their name, you aren’t going to be taken seriously.

Finish what you start. No one is looking for a half-written manuscript. If you want to be treated as a professional then be one. Editors can spot authors who aren’t really ready from a mile away, and that’s a surefire way to get a rejection letter. The temptation to rush something out there is hard to resist, but you need to if you’re going to make the best first impression you can. There are so many great resources out there to help that there’s no reason you can’t be polished and prepared if you’re willing to make the effort. And when you do finish your manuscript, celebrate your accomplishment by starting a new novel. Oh, and don’t constantly revise and rewrite the same novel year after year. My first completed novel remains unpublished, but what I learned while writing it proved to be the stepping stone to the Iron Elves series which launched my career.

The Girls Came Marching HomeDon’t tell an editor or agent you’re better than King, Evanovich, Tolkien, or Brown. You may very well be, but let them discover that. Instead, tell them with specificity how an aspect of your writing is like one of these giants, and then tell them how it’s also different. You still get to name drop, but you don’t sound like you’re blowing your own horn, even though you are.

Know the difference between patience and patients, and then practice the former while doing your best not to become one of the latter…in an institution for aspiring writers who call, email, and write the editor or agent every day until the editor or agent finally rejects the manuscript just to gain some peace of mind. Publishing is slooooooooow. Glacial even, unless, as I mentioned before, you happen to land airplanes on water or date reality show stars.

Finally, enjoy what you do. Publishing is not easy (despite what the commercials for copy printers might suggest). If you love to write, need to write, and can’t imagine your life without writing, then you’ve already won.

Other Places to Find Chris:
Chris Evans the BlurHis Website

His Blog [This may take some time to load. I noticed issues when trying to load it today, but they worked just fine yesterday, so please be patient and try again later if you wish to check out his blog - thanks!]

5 Moonbeams (comments):

Paula R said...

Good morning Carrie, this is an awesome blog topic for today and sooo apropos...

Hi Chris, it is nice to meet you. The "inside" information you gave was very informative, I took notes...I have some WIPs now, so I understand what you are saying about write, write, write...Right now, I am reading, one of my favorite pastimes, as much as I can to learn more...just finished Stephen King's "On Writing" and I also read "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes...both were very informative as well...they don't really talk much about getting into the publishing side though.

I love the premise of your series, and I am definitely going to pick it was very nice of you to drop by and share with us today...once again, thank you.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Sheila Deeth said...

This was great. Thank you so much for such practical and straightforward advice. The elves sound wonderful too.

Carrie said...

Paula and Shela - thanks for stopping in and "chatting" with us. It's much appreciated!


Paula R said...

No problem always have some interesting blog topics...I am glad I got the chance to drop in today...

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Carrie said...

It's good to know I have at least one blog fan!

(okay, I there may be others, but I don't presume to know what people are thinking....)

But I am truly glad you enjoy my blog topics!