Triumph and Taking Risks with Aubrey Gross

Welcome to Part Two of Calico In Conversation with Aubrey Gross. If you missed Part One: Hard to Swallow, feel free to click here to catch up!

Editor’s Note: this interview was originally conducted in March through August of 2016.

book signing

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I feel like over the years, genre fiction has gotten to be far more accepted by the mainstream, though sometimes you’ll still get a literary snob complaining about things like YA fiction or Game of Thrones. But thanks to the film and television industry, I feel like there’s a boom there that I hadn’t previously seen in my lifetime. EXCEPT: why is romance still the red-headed stepchild of the genre market?

I think it’s a combination of things. There’s the misconception that romance is “mommy porn” or “porn for desperate, single women,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Romance isn’t pornographic. Romance is about emotions, and a lot of people don’t “get” why anyone would want to read a book that’s primarily character-driven and chock full of all kinds of emotions (and, yes, often sex). My reason for reading romance is that it reaffirms my belief in love despite the odds, whether those odds be a psychotic killer on the loose, a mother determined to see her daughter married off to the duke rather than the earl, the complexity of a long-distance relationship, or a heroine who’s unable to trust after being left at the altar by her first love. Romance is about triumph and taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone and growing as a person — all in the name of love. A lot of critics say romance novels are unrealistic, to which I say: but are they really? In our relationships, we all have things we have to overcome in order to be happy. Distance. Past experiences. Wariness. Job dynamics. Our own internal fears. The list goes on and on.

And I’ll also be quite frank — I sometimes think part of the derisiveness is simple jealousy. In 2013, $1.08 billion in romance novels were sold according to BookStats. And according to Nielsen and BISAC, romance novels accounted for 13% of adult fiction novels sold (source: RWA). Because those numbers only reflect books with ISBNs, there are a lot of indie books NOT being reported on (the folks over at Author Earnings do an amazing job of explaining this). The July 2014 Author Earnings Report took a look at the genre breakdowns, and at the time 66% of romance novels in the Kindle Store were indie published (my guess is that it’s probably more than that now, just from anecdotal evidence). Basically, what it boils down to is that a lot of people read romance, which means more readers (and yes, more money) for romance authors as a whole. I might be off base with that one, but from personal experience and the experiences of other authors, I don’t think I’m too off the mark on that. 😉

I’ve often wondered, too, about the fact that romance tends to be the ONE genre that’s primarily driven by women, if there isn’t a little bit of institutionalized sexism happening here, intentional or not. And no, I’m not just blaming the men; women can and are just as bad when it comes to criticizing the genre, its tropes, and its readers. I admit to being guilty of it myself, once upon a time ago.

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This is NOT a Review: Claudia Gray’s BLOODLINE

Bloodline-coverThere’s a weird disconnect, reading this.

Don’t get me wrong: I was REALLY looking forward to it. So much so that when I finished reading my last book (Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories) the Saturday before Bloodline was released, I didn’t start anything new because I wanted to open the box on Tuesday and start reading immediately. I’d heard high praise for this book, and I really didn’t need convincing to give it a go, as I had adored Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars, and couldn’t wait to see some pieces of the story filled in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

So what’s the problem?

I’ve run into this with the comics, even before the Expanded Universe was relegated to the Legends line: the problem for me is that the stories about Han, Luke, and Leia that take place during the original trilogy and all those years after Return of the Jedi?

I’ve read them. It doesn’t matter that it’s no longer canon (or, lately, that it is): I have read so many takes on Han, Luke, and Leia and their lives and thoughts before, during, and after the original trilogy that it’s hard to read anything with fresh eyes. It’s even more disconcerting to now read about the official canon of Han and Leia’s marriage, when I’ve got the EU take firmly lodged in my brain (as well as the EU take on the New Republic, and Luke’s Jedi Academy, so on and so forth). It takes up a lot of real estate, and it’s not something that’s easy to wipe away.

1484724984.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Am I an EU purist? Oh hell no. I’d fallen out of love with the EU long before Disney bought Star Wars, because I got tired of Luke, Han, Leia, and their families never getting peace, of never having a happy ending. I got tired of what felt like soap opera-esque machinations that took place in order for there to be GREAT CONFLICT. I was, in fact, relieved when Disney said they would ignore the EU and make that a Legends canon and start afresh. Star Wars, as a franchise, needed that do-over, and I applauded the decision whole-heartedly.

Yes, that meant saying good-bye to Mara Jade. To Jaina Solo. To other characters I’d known and loved. But it also meant saying good-bye to the machinations that kept them in turmoil, and I could live with that.

I loved The Force Awakens. Wait, let me clarify: I loved the film, but I hated the novelization with a passion.

And you know what?

I read Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath. Loved it. Read Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars. Absolutely freaking adored it.

You know what The Force Awakens, Aftermath, and Lost Stars have in common?

Those aren’t the stories of Han, Luke, and Leia. Yes, the original three play important roles in The Force Awakens, and that’s wonderful. But the two books? Those characters are ancillary, allowing brand new characters to step into the limelight and shine. The Star Wars universe is so very vast, and there are so many stories to tell within it. Those are the stories I haven’t been reading for twenty-plus years. Those are the stories that I find I’m craving now.

aftermath_new.6.red_That doesn’t mean I won’t read the books about Han, Luke, and Leia, even if Bloodline taught me that I miss having the map of the galaxy in the front of the books, with planet names I’ve grown to know and recognize. I miss knowing what the universe feels like on the page, miss having a specific timeline to refer back to (oh, sure we have the START of a timeline in the new books, but it’s not very specific, not like the old one was). I miss knowing exactly where Han, Luke, and Leia were in their lives, even if I disagreed with a particular author’s take on their characters.

I love learning what happened to make the universe into the place it is in The Force Awakens. And as long as the books are as well-written as Gray’s Bloodline, I’m going to keep reading to keep learning more.

But it’s going to be an adjustment. It’ll take time, and probably a lot more books before my brain stops comparing the now official canon to the old one.

As Yoda says, I must unlearn what I have learned.

A Few of My Favorite Things: Books 2015

I think there’s always a part of me that will miss having a book blog. After putting together December’s Culture Consumption, I started wondering… what WERE my favorite books of 2015? To figure that out, I pulled up my Library Thing account and started sorting by date finished, and then I started looking at the ratings. Anything four stars or higher got written down on the appropriate list: a full five stars are listed as favorites, and four and four-and-a-half stars were honorable mentions.

Why Library Thing instead of Goodreads? Because LT allows for half stars, which means when I’m rating on Goodreads, I might round up or down depending on how I want the rating to look on that site. LT is a more accurate reflection of my thoughts.

I also did not include a few of the fun, children’s type books on the list. I’m a sucker for Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader series, and Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat books are adorable. So they didn’t get counted.

Before I review my favorites and honorable mentions, I did want to make a few points:

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Culture Consumption: October 2015

Hello, November. I should celebrate the month, as it brings good food, the transition from fall to winter and an excuse to start digging sweaters out of my closet, but it’s also adding a lot of stress for my brain to marinate in, so boo! No, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year (last year gave me a week-long migraine for my trouble), so I guess I’ll have to spend the time reading. But first, let’s see how October turned out on the entertainment front.

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Force Friday

I’ve surprised myself.

When Disney first acquired Star Wars, when they announced the new trilogy, I was excited to the point of giddy. I was flabbergasted. Gobsmacked. Because I am, first and foremost, a Star Wars fangirl, and Star Wars will forever be my first fandom. Oh, I loved plenty of things before Star Wars: My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, MacGyver… but Star Wars was something different, something that continued, something I wouldn’t outgrow. To this day, watching the original trilogy is like snuggling up with a favorite blanket.

So it should come as no surprise that I’m taking December 18th off from work to see The Force Awakens. It should come as no surprise that I pre-ordered Chuck Wendig’s tie-in novel: Aftermath, which is part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I’d assumed that I would read this before the movie was released, and that was the plan.

aftermath_new.6.red_Until it wasn’t.

I’ve been talking with a few friends, and I’ve come away with the conclusion that actually, I’m not going to read Wendig’s novel, not yet. Oh, it’s here, don’t get me wrong: that sucker arrived on Force Friday, and after the package was opened I admit I petted the cover, just a little.

But I’ve learned something in the recent years, and that’s the joy of ignorance. It used to be, if there was a movie coming out based on a book I wanted to read, I’d read the BOOK before I saw the movie, assuming, of course, that the book would be better and I didn’t want to take any wind out of my sails by seeing the movie first.

What happened, instead, was a certain sense of boredom while watching the movie (or television show, as adaptations to television are QUITE popular these days). Sure, it’s fun to see how everything is adapted to the screen, but it’s not the same.

Now, I know Aftermath is not being adapted to the big screen. But I realized I just don’t want any insider knowledge. I’ll take what the posters give me, what pictures give me, but that’s it. I want to experience the movie as fresh as possible, and then, when the movie is over, I want to go home and consume all the stuff I’ve put on hold because I want the movie to tell the story on its own terms, and that’s how I want to follow it. I can fill in the blanks later.

So Force Friday came and went for me. Wendig’s book arrived, but that’s it. I expected more fanfare out of the day, more websites showing galleries of toys and the like, but I suppose I just wasn’t looking in the right places. And even if were, it’s hard to get excited over merchandise. After all, I haven’t seen the movie yet. I don’t know who my new favorite characters will be, which will heavily influence what I want to buy.

Except for BB-8. Have you all SEEN Sphero’s replica? Holy shit, I want this so bad I might fight a small child to get one. You can check out the full review here at Gizmodo, but if you just want the rundown, here’s the video:

And no, I don’t intend to terrorize my cat with this. Why do you ask?

Getting Into the Write Frame of Mind

Because last week wasn’t a set of four 10-hour days capped with a Writing Workday, it didn’t really occur to me until now that a progress report is due. I will say that anyone who’s wanting to follow 2015 progress can simply use the Progress Report tag to get the most recent report, or if you just want to hear whatever my rambling thoughts are on writing, especially if I change THE OFFICIAL PLAN, you can use the Writing tag to get the most up-to-date posts on that subject too.

So, for those of you keep track of my progress based on the Official Plan page, I completed items #1 and #2 on time. I’m now in #3:

Use notes and questions to determine what changes need to be made to the current draft of Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Ultimate goal: reduce word count from 132,000 to around 115,000 words, if possible. Consider:

  • Does it need a total rewrite?
  • Does it need a partial rewrite?
  • A very surgical rewrite?
  • Or just a super-hard final polish?

Deadline: tentatively, Sunday, April 5th. Deadline dependent on what kind of rewrite/polish the draft really needs.

In looking at my goals from this point on, it’s occurred to me that I’ve gotten a little vague. How long am I taking to decide what this book needs? How long am I allowing for writing/rewrite? I can’t determine the latter until I determine the former, and the latter will then determine when I can start item #4.

So the question is this: how am I going to accomplish item #3?

If you’re reading this via email digest or on the main page, I’m putting a cut here, because I have a lot to talk about. If you’re interested, onward! Continue reading

Writing Work Day #1

So I promised weekly progress reports, so here we go: this week’s goal was to do the following:

Read Codename: Telepathic Soulmates. Take notes on world-building, write down any questions that aren’t answered, figure out what, if any, questions should be addressed in a sequel. Deadline: Sunday, February 15th.

Consider it read. Not only did I finish reading today, but I dug out my most recent crits from various people and reimmersed myself with the feedback I’ve received in the past so that I could hopefully focus in on what needs to be fixed before I start agent-shopping.

I have a confession to make: I have no clue.

Let me be real, for a moment: I can write a discovery draft. I can take that discovery draft, figure out what the REAL story is, and then do a kick-ass rewrite. I can do a hard polish when it comes to line-edits. But what comes in between? Figuring out how to surgically revise a piece so scenes are tighter, stronger, move along better, reinforce themes and character development and all that? I don’t know how to do that part yet. And it’s one of the reasons why I’ve put Codename: Telepathic Soulmates on the back burner for so long.

Because one minute, all I think I need is a super hard polish: tighten up the book sentence-by-sentence, and then send it out. Other times I think it just needs a partial revision. Other times, I get overwhelmed and I’m convinced I need a rewrite.

And I’m not kidding about the minute-by-minute stuff. After reading one person’s feedback, I’m like, “Oh yeah, it needs THIS.” And after reading another person’s feedback, I’m convinced, “Oh no, it needs THIS.”

It’s so overwhelming. And it doesn’t help when I get wildly different responses to what works and what doesn’t.

There are a certain set of things I know I must do: I know I need to sit down and consider the use of profanity in my world (sue me, when this was written, I was deeply proud of using profanity whenever, wherever I could). I also know the beginning must, somehow, be tightened. All of my readers admit to being overwhelmed with (albeit necessary) info at the start, which made it harder to keep reading, but once everything came together, they couldn’t put the book down. Sure, some people liked certain scenes more than others, and I have to be aware of who the critique was coming from (a target audience member or someone who’d only read the book just because I was the one who wrote it), but everyone had their own great points to make.

It’s a lot to take in. And I’m trying to look at this book not as the start of a series, which it IS, but rather as a stand-alone. Reason being is that I do know how the business works: if Codename: Telepathic Soulmates doesn’t do well when published, that’s it. I’ll be moving on to a new, unrelated project. So then the question becomes: how to I get this book into the kind of shape that leaves readers wanting more, but in a positive way, not in a maddening way?

The world-building is the book’s greatest strength, but with that strength comes a learning curve, and how to help readers master that without giving them a info-dumpy tutorial is the challenge. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been tempted to split this book in two, even though as it stands, it won’t split easily (if it could, I would already be published — I was offered a contract a few years ago, but it ended up not working out due to word count and we TRIED to figure out a way to split it easily) and would require some serious examination in order to tell not just one strong story, but two. But then I run into the stand-alone issue: if the first doesn’t sell, the second doesn’t have much of a shot, and as it stands, some of the strongest material happens in the final act of the current draft.

So it’s decision time. I need to be able to separate legitimate concerns from what Chuck Wendig calls pre-rejection (which is what I feel I’ve been doing for years now). I need to be careful not to let big, re-write ideas take over. I need to really think hard about the draft as is, not the way I’d write it if I were starting from scratch. The hard part is this: I’m not the same person now that I was when I wrote and revised this back in my Seton Hill days.

It’s a scary thing. But here’s hoping by the end of the weekend (which will be Monday for me, since that’s a federal holiday), I’ll have made a decision.

In other news, I suspect getting up early enough to have a full  writing work day is going to be a challenge, if this morning was any indication. I was pretty zonked when my husband woke me up, and I probably wouldn’t have woken up early if I hadn’t asked him to wake me. Then, after working all day (which, for today, was reading and taking notes), I ended up taking a quick 15 minute nap because I was so sleepy. Afterwards, I drowned a 5-hour Energy.

But I do declare the first, official Writing Work Day to be a success. The next one won’t happen until Friday, March 6th, so technically, I should give myself until then to figure out exactly what kind of polish/revision I’m looking at.

For now, I’m going to enjoy Valentine’s Day Eve with my husband, which means curling up to watch either a movie or marathoning some television shows. Isn’t love grand?

Look Ma, No Cavities!

So today was my first dentist appointment of the year, and fortunately, it was nothing exciting. It’s not often you hear, “I don’t want to see you again,” and that be a good thing, but I’ll take it. I never developed any cavities until I was 19, when I got a spur of them, and then again when in 2008, when I got another spurt. I’m always glad to leave the dentist’s without a follow-up appointment for dental work of any kind.

Today was another full day, and I hate how late I’m getting to the laptop to settle down and write. I’m hoping the rest of this week will be better, but it’s easy to recognize how easy it would be to look at the late time and decide to go to bed instead of write. Not that I’m staying awake for hours and hours churning out the next Great American Novel, but I am toiling, and writing and blogging are always easy things to put off when it gets too late in the day.

Fortunately, I’m resisting the temptation.

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Currently Writing: Codename: Magic Twins
Last night’s word count: 887 words
Total word count: 4,722 words
Honestly, better production last night than I thought there would be, considering I got such a late start. I can’t say the wordage itself is anything awesome — in fact the words left rather lumpy when they left my fingertips, but writing is writing, and that is good.

Currently Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance
Not enough time to read the past few days, but I did manage to sneak a chapter while at the dentist’s office!

Next up: nothing? I hope? Wednesday looks like a normal day: no appointments, no errands, and no epic things to sit down and watch. We’ll probably watch Monday night’s Sleepy Hollow and then curl up with our various evening activities. I’ll let my hubby kill dragons, while I go to work in the Word Mines, as Chuck Wendig would call them.