Courting the Dragon Revision Update & Reflection

Posted on June 29th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Self-Publishing Woes, Writing

We are close to the end! So close, in fact, that I’ve already drafted the blog post to announce the release dates. I have only a very thin stack of papers left in my print-out of the Courting the Dragon’s second draft (because remember, I threw out like half the book several months ago). Once that is finished there’s a new epilogue I want to write and then it’ll be time for final polish.

Getting through this revision has been a real trip. I’ve been trying to reflect on why it was so much harder to get through this one than the last one. I think a few factors are at play:

  1. I wasn’t really trying to write a book for publication when I wrote Saving the Dragon. I was just having some fun with NaNoWriMo. There was no pressure to get the thing done.
  2. Courting the Dragon is a lot longer than Saving. You could make an argument that Saving is almost more of a novella than a novel and I would have a really hard time refuting your point. You cannot make the same claim about CtD. It is novel length. Not like George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan epic-tome-of-doom novel length, but still long enough to get past some publishing houses’ minimum submission requirements.
  3. I hated my villain and a lot of other parts of the first draft. That made it really hard to want to work on the book and prompted the great word count massacre earlier this year.
  4. I really want this one to be good. I want to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. I want a stronger story, better writing, more character development, etc, etc. I am also really concerned with consistency for the magic system and generally continuity. I painted myself into some weird corners with random little things in Saving. Book 3 is going to be really interesting depending on how I tie up so worldbuilding in CtD.

And of course there was all of the of big life stuff all right in the middle of writing and revising this book, but we don’t need to rehash those details again.

I will say that after the long, arduous journey of getting Courting the Dragon finished, I think I will be taking a short break from Penny and her dragon. I have several projects that are begging to be finished. The Foundling is probably the closest to completion, and I really feel like that should be my next focus. After that it is up in the air whether Penelope’s Dragon Book 3 will be next in line. Odds are probably good that it will be, but I think I will need to see how I feel after Foundling.

The last of the paper print out of Courting the Dragon

All that is left of draft 2 to edit/revise as of this posting

A messy stack of papers from the printout of Courting the Dragon

A monsterous, messing stack of *most* of the pages from draft 2 that have been revised to date.

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There is nothing new under the sun

Posted on June 25th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews, Writing

Note: I wrote this back in February but never posted it. I have left it unaltered, so in my time in the following it is still February. Better late than never.


I’ve been thinking about a complaint against one of my review videos that just came out. It wasn’t on one of my own posts or the video itself, so you probably won’t be able to find it. In any case, in the commenter’s mind, my review missed the mark because I hadn’t given enough attention to the originality of the book in question. The thing is, I’ve seen most of the elements used in that story somewhere before. Every book is going to recycle something. Usually many somethings. What makes a book shine, what makes it good, is when it reuses the expected in an unexpected way. 

Every book of any quality is a unique compilation of elements. But those elements, those same building blocks, have probably been used and reused a million times. If you don’t believe me, go watch or read my (very positive) review of That Time I Broke Time by Sarah Emily Lelonek where I lay out examples of other books with the same core premise. That premise is that the heroine discovers she isn’t who she thinks and has special powers. Usually, all hell breaks loose around the time of such discoveries.

So, let’s look at the book that’s actually in dispute, which is Franc Ingram’s Heirs of Eternity.

I’ve seen the whole re-incarnated until you get it right thing in Heirs of Eternity and Katherine Kerr’s Devverry books. At first blush, these books are nothing alike, but the core premise that these characters will keep coming back and play out the same drama as different people and only one of them knows it/really understands why is the same. The execution is completely and totally different, but they use the same building block.

Then there’s the main plot thread. It has a lot in common with classics like Lord of the Rings. That’s why I said in my review that it was a pretty standard high-adventure plot. I can sum it up in one sentence: the main character must go to a particular place to do this particular thing to stop this particular evil (usually at the risk of the world ending) and he/she collects some friends along the way.

If I dig deep enough in my stack, I can probably also find a few books where the gods or god-like creatures made an oopsie and set some terrible evil loose on the world in a manner not dissimilar from the Twelve when they created the Ultras.

This is not a bad thing. I repeat this is not a bad thing.

As I said with That Time I Broke Time, tropes and story arcs are reused because they’re good. They’re a formula that our brains recognize and appreciate.

My own books are full of tropes. I like to joke that when writing Saving the Dragon I wanted to see how many tropes I could squeeze into one book. Just touching on the obvious ones, I have the rebellious princess/noblewoman trope (see Disney’s Brave for another popular example) and the shapeshifting character trope. I could go for days with examples of dragon-shifters alone. A quick glance at a list of paranormal and/or romance novels and you’ll probably find a few pretty quick. Actually, someone just fairly recently published one with the exact same title as mine. Talk about unoriginal.

I can’t think of a book or movie off-hand that follows a similar arc to my first one, but I am sure one exists (if you know it, please tell me in the comments. I’m dying to read/watch it). My second book plays with the arranged marriage trope. My third planned book of the same series will follow a questing plot #NotASpoiler. I’ll bet when I say “questing plot” all sorts of stories come to your mind. And I’d like to think that I put my own personal spin on the tropes and character archetypes I’m using. I manage to make myself laugh, at any rate. Then again, what do I know? Maybe my stories are a colossal snoozefest and you all are too nice to tell me so.

In any case, this is why I didn’t choose to focus on Heirs of Eternity’s originality. I thought there was something much more important to focus on, and that is what I think Franc does best: writing beautifully rendered characters. So, to the commenter who thought I  missed the mark, I say to you: I stand by my stance that the strength of Heirs of Eternity does not lie in the plot, the wide cast, or the worldbuilding, but rather in the exceptionalcharacter creation that Franc displayed in writing Oleana. WhoOleana is drove her on that go-to-this-place-to-do-this-thing-to-stop-this-evil-style journey. Her strength didn’t let her give up even when her weakness begged her to. Her inner turmoil was far more interesting and soul-rending than what was going on outside of her. She gave everything, all that she was, to see her mission through to the end. Thatwas the story. And I hope to see so much more of such talented character building from Franc in the next one.

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Saving the Dragon Audiobook Now On Sale

Posted on June 23rd 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Audiobook, News

Hello everyone! I have some exciting stuff to share with you. 

So, earlier this week, the audiobook for Saving the Dragon cleared the quality checks.

We’re just a wee bit behind schedule. Just a wee bit.

It turns out that “self-publishing” an audiobook is a very different experience from putting out a paperback or an eBook. For example, I didn’t realize is that it would immediately go on sale for Audible once it passed QA, so that was a little bit of a surprise. I was not as prepared as I probably should have been, which is why this video is coming out days after the actual release. With my eBook and paperback I had a lot more control.

All of that aside, I am very, very, very excited to say that Saving the Dragon it is now available for through Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.

The second thing I want to share with everyone is a little bit about ACX’s “bounty” program. It’s essentially a reward system to encourage rights holders and producers to go out and convince everybody and their brother to become AudibleListeners. So, how it works is this: for each of you who goes and signs up for Audible and buys Saving the Dragon first, Hilary and I will receive a $50 bonus. Not too shabby, right? But. But, but, but. We only get the bounty if you buy our book first and keep your subscription for 61 days. So, if you’ve been on the fence about getting Audible and you really want to support our efforts, now is the time folks, now is the time. I personally have an Audible subscription, and I love it. 

For those of you who already have Audible, I have some other good news. I am working on planning a giveaway so a lucky few of you can win an audio copy of Saving the Dragon and maybe a couple of other fun little things. I don’t have more details just yet. I’m trying to make sure I dot all the i’s and cross all of the t’s. But more details will be coming soon.

If any of your are Library Thing members, I have already posted a giveaway for Saving the Dragon there. If you love books and you’re not a member of Library Thing, you probably should be.

If you do get your hands on an audio copy of Saving the Dragon, I do hope you will consider leaving a review. Reviews are so important for authors and narrators. Not only is the feedback invaluable, but reviews also help us to sell our stories and get them to a wider audience. Your heartfelt review could be the difference between someone buying or not buying a book and missing out. 

On that note, I would also like to announce the return of “Hot Tea & Tall Tales” book reviews, starting next weekend. I have a backlog of reviews that are very overdue. I hope you will all join me on YouTube for that next Sunday. 

Last thing. I know if I don’t make mention of Courting the Dragon someone is sure to ask in the comments. It is still in heavy revisions. I thought I was going to be a lot closer to having the eBook out by now, but it things didn’t turn out that way. I know three years is a long wait (wow, it’s really been three years), but I will try to get a release date to you soon.

I think that’s everything! I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of the audiobook. Hilary put so much time and effort into the narration and the audio editing. Really, I could not have done this without her. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Happy Listening!

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End of March Update

Posted on March 24th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Audiobook, News, Self-Publishing Woes

The end of the 1st quarter is upon us, and I’ve been pretty quiet the last few weeks. March has been a crazy month!

Production for the audiobook edition of Saving the Dragon has been chugging along. Hilary has uploaded all of the chapters! We’re now in the process of listening and making any necessary revisions (hmm, that sounds familiar) which means a lot of it is back in the hands of your favorite procrastinator, yours truly.

Oh, meanwhile, Courting the Dragon is still in heavy revisions. I had hoped to have it out to beta readers by now, but that still seems like it is at least a week off. I’m still hopeful for a summer release and hope to make an official announcement of the date soon.

Hot Tea & Tall Tales is on a short hiatus while Bob and I figure out our filming situation. Filming in the living room in front of the fireplace just isn’t sustainable, so we’re trying to figure out a more permanent solution. We’re exploring the idea of turning our junk room (aka the spare bedroom) into a combination writing and filming space. I think the transformation could make for a great blog/vlog series, so let me know if you guys would be interested in that.

That’s it for this update. Ciao!

*** Edit: I can’t believe nobody pointed out that I put 3rd quarter instead of 1st!

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I Threw Away My Outline

Posted on February 5th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

I finally fixed Courting the Dragon’s plot problem.

I threw away the plot.

Alright, the main plot points are still the same. The blurb that’s already posted on this website is still wholly and perfectly valid. But I threw out that stupid outline that’s been suffocating me from day one.

Didn’t I just say that outlining is important for sequels like two or three blog posts ago? Yes, yes I did. And I stick by that statement. But that only works if you wrote a good outline in the first place. I’m here to tell you, this one was garbage.

If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably aware that I took a machete to my more-than-half-finished draft a while back and I’ve been building it back up. Most of what I axed at the time was related the to the villain I hated oh-so-much and the utterly failed attempt at using him as a pseudo love interest. That didn’t work out for all kinds of reasons, primarily because Penelope wasn’t having it (I don’t blame her) and I just couldn’t make the guy likable.

But that still left me with a heap of things I didn’t like, and a whole big section that feels like a Regency Romance novel that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. It isn’t anything against the genre. I’ve read quite a few that I enjoy (a bunch of things by Johanna Lindsey come to mind). The problem is that writing in that way made my female characters feel very vapid to me, and it’s really the antithesis of the personas I built for Penny and Tiffany in Saving the Dragon. I have no idea how other authors manage to write strong female characters in such a setting. More power to them, honestly. If you have any tips to leave in the comments I’m all ears.

So, for the time being, that section I’m unhappy with is still technically part of the draft. I expect it to bleed red in the first round of hard revisions. Like, big red X’s and all new scenes scribbled on the back and in the margins. There’s a plot point in there I somehow need to keep, and I have a few ideas about how to do it dancing in my head. BUT. That is a problem for future me. I’ve promised myself no more big cuts before the last line of the first(ish) draft has been written.

So, what did I do about the plot?

I went back to who my characters are. 

Penelope isn’t someone who waits around for someone else to come up with a solution. To quote her in one of her new scenes: “Have you ever known me to sit in a tower and wait for rescue?” And yet, I had her doing exactly that for a substantial part of the very early draft. Some of the things I had her doing were so appalling out of character that it made it impossible to do anything with her.

Don’t even get me started on what Salarath was up to. Let me just say, sulking is not a good look on him.

Getting reacquainted with my heroes put a few things in sharp perspective for me, and made doing a few more surgical removals (prior to the no-more-big-cuts-vow) a simple matter. I graphed on some new scenes to replace what I’d sliced away, and suddenly some things fell into place nicely, because Penny and her dragon were acting like themselves again. Whew.

From that point, I decided to take a road somewhere between the complete and utter pantsing that I did for Saving and the tightly constrained outline I initially did for Courting. My characters were at point A, but I knew they needed to get to B, C, and D before I could even think about writing the finale. So, I noted B, C, and D, and then just let the characters take me to them.

Do I have a few crap transition scenes that are totally going under the knife in first revisions later this month? Abso-frickin’-lutely.

Am I a thousand times happier than I was with this draft a month ago? You have no idea.

When I finished my first round of big tear-outs, I’d taken the draft down from over 50k to ~43k words. I’m now coming up on 70k again (probably more by the time this post actually goes live). At this rate, Courting may very well end up being almost twice as long as its predecessor. I ain’t mad about that. I don’t think everyone who has been looking forward to this book will be either.

I think it may be time to accept that I’m not a traditional outliner. I do need to take notes like nobody’s business because I will forget the neat little plot twists I had in store. Or I’ll forget some detail about my magic system I had intended to work in. Or whatever. I had all kinds of things planned for book three, but I didn’t write them down, so now I’m having to try and remember what they were. I’ve now started my notes file for book three now precisely because of this. But it’s just that, notes. It seems that a more free-form approach of just random bullet points in a Google doc works best for me.

The truth is, with only one completed long-form work under my belt, I’m still learning what exactly my process is. But I think that the moral of this story is you are NOT married to an outline (unless of course, you signed a contract stating that you are and you owe it to some big publishing house, then I’m both sorry for you and extremely jealous). If your outline isn’t working for you, throw it away. Start over. Get back in touch with who your characters are and the story they are trying to tell. Then write a new outline if you’re someone who needs the structure. Or don’t if you’re really a total pantser. But don’t stick with an outline you’ve come hate.


General Progress Update

I’m now very confident about getting the first(ish) draft of Courting finished this month. I had hoped to be done around the last weekend of January, but doing the editing on my first video book review turned out to be waaaay more time consuming than I anticipated, partly because I was trying to learn new software. To complicate things further, I’m now dealing with some hand and wrist issues that I’m hoping aren’t a big red flag for worse things yet to come. So that is slowing down my progress a bit from the rapid movement I was making before. Still, being well into revisions by the middle of February remains realistic, despite my hand and wrist pain. Fortunately, I revise on a printed draft, so that will give my left hand a nice break.

With that confidence about finishing the draft, I am now also ready to say that I am targeting a summer 2018 release for Courting the Dragon. I do have an exact date in mind, but I’m not quite ready to share it since these pain issues are cropping up and *cramping* my style (get it? get it?). As I get into revisions and get the second(ish) draft out to beta readers it will become more obvious whether or not that date is feasible. Start looking for an official launch announcement around March.

 

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