Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Interview with Aviva Rothschild, Part Two

Please click here for the first part of Aviva's interview about her Beatles novel With Strings Attached. If you'd like to purchase her book, you can order it here.

Q: What were your reasons for choosing self-publishing WSA, and with Lulu in particular?

A: The main reasons I self-published Strings were that:

1. I wanted complete control over the manuscript. Having been on the receiving end of some bad editorial judgment with my first book, I decided, “Never again.”

2. I didn't think a mainstream publisher would be interested in it. It's got a very niche-y audience, and most publishers aren't looking for such things.

3. Because of my book publishing background, I was better equipped to turn in a clean, properly formatted, well edited manuscript than 99.9% of self-publishers.

I chose Lulu because I'd sort of published a book (it was work by other people that I had edited) with them a couple of years before (long story, not a terribly pleasant one) and been pleased with the results. I knew they didn't cost anything, and that was probably the biggest draw. Also, I didn't have to stock up on copies, since Lulu is print-on-demand.

BTW, I also have a PDF version of the book available for much less money. I published that through I've only sold a few copies that way; most everyone I've talked to prefers to have an actual copy to read.

Q: Have your experiences with Lulu been positive or negative overall?

A: My experiences have been decidedly mixed for the following reasons:


1. Free! The only money I've had to put out to them was buying actual copies of the book.

2. The books look very professional. I really appreciate that. I've seen too many self-published books that look amateurish.

3. Print-on-demand means that I don't have to have a large supply of hard copies lying around, though I do have a few.


1. I was unable to qualify for an ISBN. Because Strings is very large and thick, the only really affordable option was to use their cheaper (but perfectly adequate) publisher-grade paper. However, doing so meant that they would NOT include a free ISBN with my book, or make it available to Amazon. And without an ISBN, it's very hard to get into bookstores, libraries, and so forth.

I spent a great deal of time trying to reformat the book so that it would qualify for the ISBN, but then it cost TWICE what the non-ISBN version cost. The non-ISBN version has a base cost of about $13, and with my royalty of $2.50, the book costs $15.50 plus $7 shipping. The ISBN version would cost $26.50 plus $7 shipping. I can't imagine anyone paying $33.50 for a paperback book, so I didn't even try to do the ISBN version.

I can get a single ISBN for the book on my own, but Lulu will still not make it available to online vendors other than themselves. I am quite annoyed by this problem.

2. Spotty author services. I haven't yet tried to contact anyone, but other people have complained bitterly that they open trouble tickets and have to wait weeks for help.

3. Their formatting instructions are not terribly clear. I can see how they would confuse people with little document design experience. Nor are they always easy to find on the site.

Because of the ISBN problem, I don't know if I would use them for another large, thick book. They're fine for books that aren't long.

As for, they seem good, but Lulu has been my focus, so I can't really comment on scribd.

Q: Are you working on any other projects at the moment?

A: Yes, I'm working on the sequel to Strings. I have almost seven chapters now. As I said above, I wish I could get myself to work on my non-Beatles projects, of which I have a number, but I'm not interested right now. I have a play, a couple of musicals, and a series of short stories that I hope to work on someday.

Q: What advice do you have for other writers?

A: Probably nothing you haven't already heard, but here it is: Read a lot, and widely, across genres. Read nonfiction. Try to identify what you like about particular authors and their styles and ideas. Write different kinds of things, fiction and nonfiction. If you're going to create characters, you first need to understand yourself and why you feel the way you do in different situations. Read some psychology books or take classes if you can. Once you know what drives yourself, you can start to understand what drives other people. Join writing groups for a venue for your writing, and be prepared to accept that people will criticize your work.

If you can find a non-writer who is well read and a good critic, cultivate that person's opinion. The reason I suggest this is that I find I have a tendency to mentally compete with other writers, but not with non-writers. My mentor when I was writing Strings as a thesis was a literature professor who specialized in utopias and dystopias. She wrote scholarly papers but not fiction. I never felt for a moment that she was a rival, which was a big relief after years of competitive writing classes.

A good trick to help yourself when you're rewriting is to read your material out loud. It's amazing what you can catch that way.

Another useful technique is to rewrite the story as a script, which can help you winnow out excess description and tighten up dialogue.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our audience?

A: Don't give up! You never know when your circumstances change. If I could resurrect my novel after seven years when I thought it was dead in the water, who knows what might happen to you?

Thank you for stopping by, Aviva!

And thank you for having me!

An Interview with Yours Truly

I'll post the second half of Aviva's interview tonight. But for now, I can't resist linking to this interview I gave for the blog Uncertain Principles, a science blog devoted to "physics, politics, pop culture." Last week, the author asked for scientists working outside of academia to discuss their jobs. I volunteered to be interviewed, along with about 30 other people. You can read my interview here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Again, I'm making this brief:

Currently On: Chapter Ten, Page 108
Total Pages: 298
Total Words: 96,000

The important thing is that I finished Chapter Ten and finally got Paul to contact Sean! Now let's see if I can start easing into revising instead of completely rewriting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Interview with Aviva Rothschild, Part One

Aviva Rothschild is the author of With Strings Attached, one of the oldest known Beatles fanfics to appear on the Internet. Almost unique in the small universe of Beatlefic, Strings is an epic fantasy. It's spring 1980, and the four ex-Beatles awaken on another planet, terrified out of their minds, sixteen years younger, and utterly clueless as to why they're there. As they struggle to make sense of their predicament, they must contend with two very different (but equally unpleasant) cultures: Ketafa, a quasi-Victorian theocracy based on a fake religion, and Baravada, a dying magical anarchy whose inhabitants' fondest wish is to find monsters to kill. Overseeing all this are some rather fannish aliens, whose dialogue punctuates and clarifies much of what's going on, and who have their own little dramas. Ultimately, the four are spectacularly equipped to embark upon a quest that, if successful, will remove a curse that prevents the real gods from seeing Ketafa. Of course, complications ensue....

I first contacted Aviva after reading part of
Strings online several years ago. As I've mentioned before, this was my first exposure to Beatles fanfiction, and it ultimately led me to write the award-winning novella "Move Over Ms. L." and its sequel, which became the first draft of Across Two Universes. When Aviva published Strings earlier this year, I thought it would be interesting to share her story with my readers, as her writing path has been a long and winding one indeed.

Q: Please tell us about yourself.

A: Well, I'm a very unemployed 45-year-old woman who has, in her spotty career, been a book editor and indexer, a copyeditor, a regular writer, a writer of computer manuals, a book reviewer, a (very feeble) website designer, an eBay seller, and a soapmaker. I have three master's degrees: creative/professional writing, technical communication, and, most recently, library and information science. In 1995 I wrote the first formal bibliography of graphic novels, and I still get itty bitty royalty checks for it every year. These days I volunteer for the National Theatre Conservatory library in Denver. Oh, I'm also a hardcore musical theatre fan, with well over 1,100 musicals on CD, LP, and other media. And I have one of the larger private collections of graphic novels in the country.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for With Strings Attached?

A: The basic idea was a merger between sudden, deep love for the Beatles; a fascination with the then-new role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons; and rather befuddled observations that celebrities seemed to attract a lot of attention whether they deserved it or not. (The object of my scorn back then was Liz Taylor, who was a permanent fixture in the tabloids.) I wanted good celebrities (i.e., my favorites) to attract more attention than these other yutzes.

When I was creating some new characters for D&D, I thought I should make characters based on the Beatles. From there it was a small step to “I'll use the actual Beatles as my characters!” (Hey, I was 15 at the time [1980] and recovering from pneumonia/bronchitis to boot; it made sense back then.) The rationale was that alien fans decided to put them on another planet to see what would happen. I started telling myself stories about what they were doing, and I quickly decided to write a book.

Things changed drastically over the years, but the basic underlying premise remained pretty much the same.

Q: I know this novel took you twenty-nine years to finish and that there were long stretches of time when you didn’t work on it at all. What made you take a break from WSA, and what made you return to it?

A: Well, I was never a prolific writer; I enjoyed thinking about the story but not writing about it. So even when Strings was the main focus of my life, I didn't commit much of it to paper. I had to have a finished version in 1989, when I used it as my first master's thesis, so a chunk of it got done between 1986 and 1988, under pressure. I hated that version, though, and resolved to redo it after I graduated.

Well, my writing speed didn't increase, so I hadn't gotten terribly far with the new version by 1993, when I took my first long hiatus from it. I can't really remember why, except that probably I was burned out on it. I didn't touch it again until 1997, when I started posting it online to see if anyone thought it was interesting. The response was good enough (I met Sandra that way!) that I began to work on it again, slowly rewriting the early chapters yet again. By 2000 I had my own website and domain name ( and was posting chapters there, as well as a lot of other stuff.

In 2002, however, my personal life imploded. I was laid off from the best job I'd ever had; my mother was sinking into Alzheimer's; and I was badly, badly depressed. I simply stopped writing at that point. In fact, I stopped viewing myself as a writer any longer. Almost the only writing I did between roughly July 2002 and December 2008 was descriptions for my eBay items and scripting for the Rocky Mountain PBS Auction. The very little bit of fiction I produced came painfully and infrequently; I sent out a total of one story for possible publication (it was rejected). As for Strings, well, I expected that I would never go back to it. I had lost interest in it and the Beatles.

So why did I go back to it? I still don't know. Maybe it was listening to the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil soundtrack a lot. Maybe it was my friends at the theatre pestering me to write. Maybe I had reached a point in my life where I had literally nothing else to do. I just know that one day I wanted to work on it again.

In early January 2009, I started to reread it. It was pretty good. I started to edit the early chapters—and suddenly I was hooked. I went crazy then. Years' worth of material came pouring out. I wrote 300 pages in 3 weeks. I spent almost the entire month of January holed up in my house. I skipped theatre, dinners, everything. My emotions went completely wonky (my poor father had to put up with me crying almost every night). It was simultaneously wonderful and horrible.

I'm still writing now, working on the sequel. However, this writing fever doesn't extend to any of my other projects. I wish it would. But I guess I should be glad it came back at all. Even with the mood swings. (At least they don't come as often!)

Come back on Thursday, July 23, to read Part Two of this interview and see the cover of Strings!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?

We just started another round of the Blog Chain, and I'm the second in line. Annie has this question for us:

Do you ever get inspired by a real-life event or news story and fear you're ripping off the story too much? Do you ever get inspired by a song or poem or line from a book and worry you're stealing that original person's idea? What if your research is overtaking your originality?

Given some of the prominent lawsuits involving plagiarism, I can see why Annie is concerned. After all, no one wants to be sentenced to wear 70's fashion the way George Harrison was after being found guilty of unconsciously "borrowing" from "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord." (Here he is in "This Song," which was written in response to the lawsuit.)

On a serious note, you can't copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. This means, for instance, that anyone can write about teenagers going to wizard school or falling in love with vampires, and Rowling and Meyer can't complain. However, if your characters are too similar to those in the Harry Potter or Twilight series, then that might be a problem. And if you lift lines from those books, expect to have one thrown at you. However, you can give an old story a new spin by telling it from a different character's perspective or using it in a new way. For instance, Wide Sargasso Sea tells the tale of Bertha, Mr. Rochester's mad wife in Jane Eyre. Jasper Fforde plays with the plot of Jane Eyre and many other famous books in his Thursday Next series. I've read several short stories that offer a new twist on classic fairy tales, and I own anthologies that feature SF/fantasy twists on Shakespeare or Sherlocke Holmes.

I've mentioned before on this blog that the Beatles have inspired my Season Lord and Paul Harrison books. In my Season Lord series, the Beatles inspired my quartet of young magical women, but Gwen, Jenna, Ysabel, and Kay have their own unique histories and attitudes. Things do become more tricky with my Paul Harrison stories. The prequel to Across Two Universes was called "Move Over Ms. L.," which is the title of a John Lennon solo song. I did quote some lines from the song in the early drafts, so if I'd ever gotten it published, I would have had to seek permission to use them, probably paying a hefty sum for the privilege. Ultimately, I chose to reword the lines to avoid that problem. I've also mentioned that the first drafts of ATU used real historical people (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Sean Lennon) as characters. Granted, they were in an alternate universe, so technically they weren't the same people in ours. I was worried about possible lawsuits, so I decided to change the names and some other identifying characteristics. (For instance, "Yoko" will now be Filipina instead of Japanese.) I think this change is for the better, as I have freedom to create my characters the way I want instead of being forced to use the real ones. Although I'm changing the details of John's death, I'm still using my research as a model for my fiction. Across Two Universes is a mix of several ideas, so even if quest stories, cloning, rock stars, and Hamlet aren't original, the combination is unique.

Annie said in her blog she was so worried about these questions that it inhibited her writing. My advice for her is to go ahead and give yourself the freedom to write without worrying if it's original. The more you write and hone your skills, the better you'll be at finding your own way of telling a story. Besides, stories may change so much from draft to draft that what started out as being about one thing may turn out to be something else instead.

That's all I have for now. Archy is up next, so head over to her blog for her unique ideas on this topic!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

I always sneak these in right under the wire, don't I? It's hard to get much done in the evening when your toddler doesn't go to bed until nine and you don't get to leave his room until after ten:

Currently On: Chapter 10, Page 105
Total Pages: Page 295
Total Words: 95,000

I finally got my characters off the train and into Chicago, so things are moving along! Of course, it would help if I had more time. Maybe I should start writing at 5:30 in the morning, since I'm up anyway. I mean, what else would I possibly want to do....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alex, Clover, and the Wall

Normally, if Alex wants to go to the park in the evening, we do so right after we get home. I get home at least an hour before Eugene does, so there's usually time to play a bit before I have to get dinner ready. Today, although Alex asked to go to the park, he also wanted apple juice. After I gave it to him, he wanted to watch an episode of The Wonder Pets! I thought he'd forgotten about the park, but he remembered--just as a friend called. I had to cut the call short and carry him to the park.

Once there, he went down the slide a couple of times and then on the swing. I tried urging him home (since I'd seen Eugene arrive), but as toddlers do, he became distracted. A huge patch of clover in blossom was next to the park, and he wanted to watch a bee visiting them. Luckily, he didn't try to touch the bee; I warned him it would be "owie." Alex kept calling the clover blossoms dandelions, even after I told him they were clover. He also wanted to pick some of them--or rather, have me pick them for him. I thought he might take them home, but he dropped them.

Alex then wandered over to the stone retaining wall separating the grass from the park. The drop to the park is a couple of feet. I've let him walk on the wall before when I could parallel him on the ground and hold him steady. Of course, that meant he wanted to do it now, when I wasn't in a good position to support him. I followed behind him as closely as I could, holding onto one arm and trying to get him on the other side. He was doing OK when he slipped. The good news is that he fell onto the grass next to the wall, so he didn't fall far. The not-so-good news is that he scraped his leg. It's not serious--it already looks better than it did earlier--but it upset him. I distracted him with a pine cone I found under a tree and finally carried him home for dinner.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Few Random Things

* I have magnetic clip-on shades for my glasses. They've been missing for several months, but today Eugene found them in, of all places, my laptop bag. The ironic thing about that is I had my eye exam today. My prescription didn't change, so I'm not getting new glasses, at least for now.

* My son got to make a stuffed animal today at daycare; they had a company called Noah's Ark come in. Alex made a cute white teddy bear with a brown nose. He also named it--"Raccoon."

* I ordered some extra balls --200 of them--for Alex's ball pit. They arrived today at work. One of my co-workers saw them and jokingly asked what kind of scientific equipment it was. I told him I was studying the kinetics of toddlers.

* Writing is going extremely slowly. I was hoping to write a bit after my eye exam, but traffic ate up my free time.

* Speaking of traffic, why would IDOT close the highway entrance I use and cut the detour down to one lane at the same time? I have enough trouble getting to work on time with Alex as it is.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Can You Feel It?

For this round, Christine picked the topic:

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? How to do [stet] know when you have enough emotional content? And how to [stet] you keep it authentic?

Annie posted before me, and Archy will follow.

Before I get started, here's my theme song for this topic:

I'm going to answer the questions out of order.

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? I actually took an e-mail course on Empowering Characters' Emotions several years ago through the Romance Writers of America. Unfortunately, I don't think they offer the Killer Instinct classes anymore. We covered too much material for me to summarize it effectively, but I can offer a few tips (and examples from my own work). One of my techniques is to consider physical responses to emotion as a sixth sense, one focusing on the body. This means I sprinkle in physical responses to emotion as I would any other piece of description. Here's an example from my short story "A Reptile at the Reunion"; I wrote this paragraph as a writing exercise for my course:

Anger seeped like acid into my stomach, then erupted, burning my face and pooling in my palms. Even the hair on my forearms felt repulsed by it. My jaws ached like overstretched rubber bands as I clamped them shut.

(The examples were supposed to be over-the-top, but I don't think it's too much.)

Emotions also affect characters' perceptions, so I have them color how the character views a setting. Here's an example from my current novel, Across Two Universes. The main character, Paul, is at his mother's funeral:

Paul’s inner strength melted when he reached the funeral home’s entrance. He sagged against the black iron railing. Below him, fresh green grass and yellow flowers taunted him with their exuberance. How could anything be normal or joyful again?

How do you keep it authentic? Here, I do what most writers do: draw on my own experiences and my observations of other people. Even if I haven't experienced exactly what my character is going through, I can project how I might feel onto him or her. I have to have some empathy for his or her situation; after all, as Robert Frost said, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." (I like this quote so much I've used it in another Blog Chain post.) I also try to make sure the emotions flow naturally in the scene and that they are appropriate responses to stimuli. (I learned this from Jack Bickman's Scene and Structure.) Sometimes this may require rearranging scene elements.

How do you know when you have enough emotional content? When my readers react the way I want them to react. I'm too wrapped up in the story to judge it effectively, but if I can make a reader feel my character's pain, then I've done my job.

Feel free to follow the other links in the chain to learn how other writers handle emotion. Tune in later this month for another Blog Chain topic!

Alex's Third Fourth

This weekend, Alex got to celebrate his third Fourth of July. In recent years, it's become a tradition of ours to spend the Fourth watching fireworks at a friend's house. Alex has been there every year since he was born, but this is the first time he showed interest in fireworks.

Our weekend started on Friday, since I was off from work, daycare was closed, and Eugene only worked a half day. I wanted to take Alex to the library to play in the morning, but it was closed. Instead, we bought Alex some summer-weight pajamas, browsed at a pet shop, and had lunch at a nearby restaurant. (Alex had to get a balloon, of course.) Alex fell asleep on the way home but woke up when I tried to take him out of the car. We hoped to take him to a local festival in the afternoon, but the carnival didn't open until the evening. By then, Alex had a late nap, which made it tough to put him to bed. It didn't help that our neighbors kept shooting off fireworks. The noise startled Alex, but once we showed him what fireworks were, he was entranced and kept asking for them. Still, it took me two hours and four attempts to put him in the crib before he was finally sound asleep.

Saturday was unusually cold and rainy for the Fourth--we couldn't spend it in the park. Instead, we had lunch with Eugene's mother and brothers. I took my laptop along to entertain Alex with videos. He got a decent nap on the way home, allowing me to write, but then Eugene had a headache and needed to sleep it off. (I had a headache too, but I don't nap very well, and Alex wanted to play with me, so there's no rest for the mother.) We wound up getting to our friend's house around seven, later than we normally do. There was still plenty of time to eat (Alex ate a cupcake first and went for the burgers later) and play. Alex particularly enjoyed a playhouse (he laughed whenever I climbed in and out of the windows), a toy riding pony that made sounds, and a slide. We pointed out the early fireworks to him, and he kept running down to the edge of the lawn to get closer. He was pretty good during the show itself, though he did go up to Eugene a couple of times as he was taking pictures. We finally left around ten, well past his bedtime. We changed him before leaving, so he fell asleep in the car and stayed asleep when I put him to bed. Unfortunately, he woke up at 5:30 crying, so everyone had to get up too. At least he's taking a good nap now. Hopefully we can take him to the park or enjoy the last of the weekend in some other way.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Here's a quick update:

Currently On: Page 100, Chapter 10
Total Pages: 289
Total Words: 93,000

After going around and around with a scene, I finally figured out what to do with it and finished a chapter. Yay! I think I even know what I want to do next. I deleted a scene I no longer needed, but at least it's progress. Now if only I could sleep past five in the morning, I might have enough energy to do something.

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