Vi caught a glimpse of her reflection in the next shop window. The pale figure before her had lived longer than the shadow-self she’d watched a few days prior, the sun and inner turmoil both doing their parts to etch lines on her face when she wasn’t looking. She hadn’t experienced any more flashes of memory since that night with the book. But she wheeled away from her reflection, suddenly felt self-conscious about how she’d changed, and how she still seemed to be changing.
Army of brass is the Collaborative Writing Challenge’s seventh novel. For the past few projects, they have also included short stories in the same genre as the project.
The deadline for submissions is just two days away! Get your stories, 2500-3500 words, submitted by Aug. 31 to make sure you are considered for the contest. First and second place winners have their stories showcased on the CWC website. First place also has their story edited and published in the pages of Army of Brass this fall.
Visit the CWC website for the guidelines, and GOOD LUCK!
I once heard the title, Save the Cat!, bandied about at a writing symposium, and once or twice in various writing groups on Facebook. I had never given screenwriting much thought, but the general wisdom said this book transcended movies and had a lot to teach writers about commercial fiction. It slipped my mind until I got some feedback about a problem with pacing in No Rest for the Wicked. The editor recommended I read Blake Snyder’s book to help me iron out the problems.
Intrigued, this time I picked it up immediately. And I didn’t put it down until I’d read it cover to cover.
What Does “Commercial Fiction” Mean?
There are LOTS of genres. Some of them correspond to age groups, some of them correspond to themes, and some of the correspond to the amount of violence and sex involved. The term “commercial fiction” isn’t so much a genre as it is an umbrella term that covers popular reading material. Even though scholars rarely give speculative fiction and romance writers enough credit. They aren’t creating “literary” fiction, so the academics aren’t interested even though some of the most innovative and imaginative stories come from these traditions.
During a meet and greet with Steampunk author Gail Carriger during Steampunk World’s Fair this year, she spoke for a while about this term. She proudly wears the moniker of “commercial fiction writer” because to her, this simply means her goal is to write things that the general public want to read. And this is a very worthy goal.
So, I put aside any fear that I might be “selling out” somehow, and decided to open myself up to Snyder’s advice.
Formulaic? Or a “Recipe for Success?”
It’s a fact: humans love stories. Sharing information and tales of our day out on the hunt or gathering the food to get through the dry season meant survival in our early history. And we are still captivating by a good story today.
But just because we love stories, doesn’t mean we will love all stories equally. As anyone who has ever botched the punchline of a joke will confirm, it’s all about how you tell it. There are so many elements of timing, repetition, building tension, delivering on promises, and any number of other tools in a writer’s toolbox that can make or break a book.
And as unpoetic as it is to say, if people don’t like one book you write, why would they decide to try the next one? They don’t even need to be able to say why they didn’t like your book. That’s not the burden of the reader; that’s something only the author can tease out.
I am sure for many, Snyder’s approach seems far too cookie cutter. He tells you, sometimes down to the page, when certain beats and reversals should occur. It’s important to remember though that he isn’t saying that you can’t write a story that follows a different path, only that this sort of pattern and trajectory has proven itself to grip readers and leave them wanting more at the end of the day.
One of the most astonishing things to me about comparing my outline of my piece to Snyder’s recommendations is how often what I had already written aligned with what he said. This seemed to strengthen the idea that there was something innately motivating about the structure I was naturally following. And the places where my betas and potential editors had found problems were ALWAYS the places where things didn’t match up.
Looking over the recommended structure also showed me that No Rest for the Wicked as a novella wasn’t really the complete story I thought it was. When I started to toy with the idea of making it a novel instead, I found that things fell neatly into place. The order of my chapters didn’t change, but I did find places where I needed to expand on the action in order to deliver a big enough pay off to leave the reader satisfied.
No that I have finished this latest iteration of No Rest for the Wicked, I started work on the next Mistress of None book. I haven’t decided on a title yet, but the pre-writing is being aided in no small part by Mr. Snyder’s sound advice.
I decided to write a series of posts about my experience using his methods from the start of a project, and hopefully help other people escape any of the hidden traps I come upon. So, check back soon for more on my writing journey using Save the Cat! as my guide.
“I’m going back to New Orleans,” she interrupted, her words clipped.
“No, you’re not,” Peter vowed. “I’m not going to let your greed—”
Vi shook her head and took a step toward him. “It’s not about the money.”
“—or your pride get you into trouble. Not again. Look where it’s gotten you just today!” He indicated the poker game with a broad sweep of his arms.
Her voice was quiet, but her eyes spoke volumes. “That’s not why I have to go.” She paused to take a deep breath, then the words tumbled out. “I have to make this all right, Peter. With you, with these things I can do.”
“You of all people know you don’t have to do anything. Everything’s a choice.”
“I may not have always welcomed my abilities, so I won’t claim to be an expert,” she replied. “But, I don’t believe you will be able to rest until you get to the bottom of who killed you and why. And frankly, neither will I. Who’s in a better position than me to find out for both of us?”
“You’re just saying all of this because you’re losing,” he accused, crossing his arms and turning away from her earnest face. “You want me to help you win a pile of money off these guys. This has nothing to do with me.” The fog inside his body began to swirl in agitation, but his voice was soft. “It never has.”
The allegation stung, but it wasn’t more than she deserved.
In addition to doing discussion and Q&A style panels, the authors at Detroit’s second annual MCSC will be on site to help con-goers come up with a killer backstory for their Steampunk creations.
“Want a real, live author to check out your costume and give it a backstory? Want to know what your clothes and gear say to a practiced creative’s eye? Let some of our authors build a character and steampunk backstory for you based on your original con-costume!”
I can’t wait you there July 12-14 in Detroit! Get tickets now
“Someone was looking for you.”
“Thank you ever so much!” she called after him, employing her best damsel voice. As soon as he turned the corner, her impatient glower returned and she leaned against the counter. Her stomach rumbled loudly and grew even more anxious. Bonnie would be coming back to the saloon any minute, and Vi wanted to make sure she beat the other woman back. Not that she needed to keep a trip to retrieve the post a secret, but old habits told her not to leave anyone in her apartment unattended for too long, and Peter’s strange behavior only served to strengthen the conviction.
“Never fear!” the clerk called. “Your friend Annabelle won’t have cause for any complaints.” He swept back into the room clutching a plain, tawny envelope in his wizened fingers.
“Really?” She couldn’t keep the incredulity out her voice as she straightened and stared dumbfounded at what he held in his hand. “Annabelle Sinclair” had been the last name on the list, the one she’d included even though she’d only ever used it for one job—the biggest one, and the last.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied and slid two letters through the slot. Vi snatched up the envelopes and checked the undisturbed seals. The smaller envelope bore Peter’s name as the sender, but the larger one came from an address she didn’t recognize. She caught a glimpse of the official-looking emblem in the glob of red wax as she turned it over.
“That little one came in with the load a day before yesterday. I filed it myself,” he continued. “The other one’s been here a while, maybe a few weeks? Got a batch going out tomorrow morning if your friend needs to send an answer. Otherwise, it’ll be a few more days before we collect enough for a run.”
“Day before yesterday, you say?” she asked distractedly. That would put the letter’s arrival around the same time Tobias died, and she still didn’t know the full story of the connection between Peter and the ghost. Time to ask good old Toby a few more questions.
The old man cleared his throat. “Pardon me, ma’am. But you don’t own a big, black horse, do you?”
She gave a murmur in the affirmative but couldn’t tear her eyes from the envelope from Peter in her hand. It felt oddly heavy and her searching fingertips found a strange lump as she ran them along the bottom.
“Someone was looking for you.”
Read the next teaser
Why Join a Network?
One of the glorious things about Steampunk is that it’s powered by passion. Independent writers, artists, and makers put their blood, sweat, and steam into creating this most glorious of fandoms. The only downside of Steampunk’s DIY roots is that is can be tough for these entrepreneurs to reach their target audience when they are operating on a small scale.
The goal of the Network of Indie Steampunks is to bring people together to pool our resources, extend our reach, and support each other’s creative efforts. Members of NOIS will have opportunities to connect with each other online and at events, to swap reviews and beta-reading, capitalize on our collective expertise, and to participate in group marketing efforts online and at conventions. NOIS has negotiated group rates on a variety of services which will allow members of the Network to exceed our individual efforts on behalf of us all.
In addition, some membership levels include distribution of printed books and other merchandise online and at Steampunk conventions. Renting a booth, buying tickets, getting there- this can all add up pretty fast. Instead, you can join NOIS and we spread the expense out to allow more people a chance to get their work discovered by Steampunk fans.