Author chat, Round Three: books we love & cons & fans (#SFWApro)

ML Brennan had a really cool idea to have an online author chat and I was lucky enough to get invited to the party! She talks about the author chats in round one on her blog. Essentially, for those of you who are just tuning in, there are four authors involved with these little chats and we each came up with two questions for each round. We answer the questions in a group email, then each of us will post a chat to one of our blogs.

So if you're here now, you're reading Author Chat, Round Three. The fun part of this is that you don't have to read the chats in order, and you can bounce around at your leisure.

Author Chat, Round One: Unicorns, Highlanders, and the Characters We Kill is with ML Brennan.

Author Chat, Round Two: Worldbuilding and Things We Put in Our Books Just Because They’re Cool is at Django Wexler's blog.

Author Chat, Round Four: ALL THE LIES! is over at Leigh Bardugo's blog.

Check them all out when you can.

And now ... Author Chat, Round Three:

Tell us about one novel that you wish you had written.

Teresa: All the good ones. No, really, I do have several novels that I wish I'd written, but for the sake of discussion here I'll narrow it down to just two:

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip. I just love the entire story of a prince who is so sad that he is willing to give his heart to a witch. His wife and son have died and he believes that he will never love again. He no longer needs a heart. There is a princess who is forced to marry the prince. Yet she stands up and says that she will not marry a prince without a heart, so she sets out to restore the prince to his heart. Of course, this is McKillip, so there is a wizard and a witch and a haunted forest. I think this is one of my favorite McKillip stories. The beauty of the tale lies in its simplicity and McKillip’s elegant prose. It’s just perfect.

The other story I wish I’d written isn't a novel, but a short story "Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur De Feu" by Tanith Lee. I read this story and immediately wished I'd written it. It's about a woman who falls in love with a vampire, but nothing is quite as it seems. Lee's prose is absolutely lyrical and the ending is so very sweet. If I ever taught a class on how to write a perfect story, this would be mandatory reading.

Leigh: Lawd, I never know what to make of this question, but I'm going with Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. It's one of the most perfectly plotted books I've read, and it also strikes this tone of possibility that I haven't encountered many other places. It's an intimate story, but it has grand scale. It's historical fiction, but there's an element of magical realism. It's whimsical and improbable, but grounded in something sinister, and heartbreaking, and absurdist. After I read it, I started trying to write a literary novel set in early 1900s Los Angeles. I never got past chapter two. At the same time, I'd hate to have written Carter because then I'd be deprived of the pleasure of simply reading it.

ML: This is a really interesting question, because I think how we respond says something about our own writing styles, or what we see ourselves as potentially capable of. For example, I’m a huge fan of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and its utterly dreamy, beautifully rendered prose, but every time I read it I’m impressed again at her tight cross-cutting between the times, and the way Morgenstern was able to really build up the mystery of certain events that are eluded to as in the past (or sometimes the future), before later pacing out the scene. But I’m a pretty methodical A to B plotter (at least at this point in my writing career), and while I admire that book greatly, I’m just not sure that that style of writing is in my wheelhouse. That leads to me admiring it, but not being jealous of it. I think the “I wish I’d written that” emerges from that little itching of where admiration meets jealousy.

So with that rather long-winded caveat – Wrapt In Crystal by Sharon Shinn. On the surface it’s a sci-fi mystery, but it has so many layers pondering that nature of religion, of guilt, of survival, and how people interact with each other. It’s not a book that would make my Top 50 books of all time, but it’s a book that every time I go back and re-read it, I feel like I learn something new from it.

Django: When I was in college, I wrote (or started writing) a novel about gods in the modern day. It was something about the old god-archetypes had been forgotten and neglected, and the new god-archetypes had been created by TV, movies, and popular culture.  It wasn’t very good, and I eventually gave up on it in frustration. Some years later, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and I had this moment of, “Oh, that’s what I was trying to do! I’m glad someone who could actually do it gave it a shot!”

The novel that I wish I had the skill to write is probably Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, not coincidentally one of my all-time favorites. It’s not a perfect book – it wanders, plot-wise, and the ending is a bit anti-climactic – but there’s so much wonderful prose in there that every time I read I find myself constantly wanting to bookmark bits to show other people how amazingly clever they are. So maybe not that specific book, but I would love to write something that gives the reader that feeling.

How do you maintain your audience/reader connection between novels? With Blog posts? Short stories? What is your favorite way to interact with fans?

Teresa: I love cons, but due to my inability to hear, cons can be more stressful than helpful for me sometimes. Also, cons are expensive. Very expensive. So I've been sticking to the local scene these last two years.

Twitter is my favorite way to interact. Blog posts can take more time than I like sometimes, because I want the post to be entertaining and factual. Writing whatever comes straight out of my head is never good. It's very easy to forget that when I'm online, people can't hear the tone of my voice or see if I'm smiling, and my writing style can be somewhat sharp from time to time. When in doubt about my own tone, I usually don't air the post. I can't tell you how many opinion pieces I've written only to delete them.

So I've shifted course a little this year and put my writing focus on short stories. I've really enjoyed writing them and have even sold a couple. I enjoy the short stories, because I can experiment with different characters and techniques without the time investment of a novel.

Leigh: I used to be a really sporadic blogger. It just doesn't come naturally to me and I had to drop out of a group blog that I loved because I would get so stressed out over posting. Then I discovered tumblr (cue trumpets) and everything changed. I think I'm at ease there because I don't just have to be an author, I can also be a fan. I can get excited or irate over the things I love. I can wax shamelessly about my favorite ships and shows. 

As far as connecting with readers between books, I honestly feel like it's the readers themselves who do the heavy lifting—through fanart and graphics, fanmixes, fic. I love seeing it and reblogging it. I do my best to answer asks as frequently as I can. I try to keep up with my twitter feed. But it's the readers who are really generating content and connection. They're the ones who speak up when someone says, "Should I give this book a try?" They're the ones who bring the characters to life beyond the pages of the series. And I happen to have lucked into a particularly generous and talented group of readers. 

The best thing is when I'm on tour and I get to meet people I know from twitter and tumblr. It makes me feel like I have friends in every city, and as a secretly shy person, that's really comforting.

ML: I feel like everything that’s happened since May, which was when Generation V (cheap plug! everyone drink!) debuted, has been a crash course into how to build a readership in the first place. I’m kind of in a bit of a head-scratching phase right now, because everything was so focused on the first book, but Iron Night comes out next month and it feels like a completely different setup. Can I get an extension on this question until next August? I feel like I’ll have a better answer then. :)

I find blogging to be a special kind of painful. It can be really useful, but at the same time I always feel weirdly resentful when I post a 500-word blog post – it’s like, that could’ve been 500 words in a book! Which is funny, because I love reading other people’s blogs, and I see a lot of people who are extremely good in that format. I think I just don’t quite have the right skillset. Cons, however, I love (though Teresa is right – expensive! plus there are only a few a year within easy traveling distance), but I have actually had the most fun with Twitter. I feel like it’s really easy for someone who has just picked up one of the books to tweet at me, and a conversation can start. Plus comments can go back and forth at a pace that is much more like a regular conversation, which can be lost on other platforms or email. The only challenge has been learning how to hone down my responses to 150 characters. So many of my best jokes are wordy!

Django: I’m sort of in the same position that ML is, since my first book came out this year. My first con as an author was San Diego Comic-Con, a week after the release – talk about in at the deep end. I did a few more over the summer, at that was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure it was terribly useful in connecting with readers.  (It was great in terms of connecting and making friends with other authors and industry people though!)

I used to do a fair bit of blogging, but it dried up when I acquired a public persona, because it was mostly on politics and other contentious subjects. I just recently started writing a column on “anime for SFF fans” over at SF Signal, and also doing some podcasts there, which has been a lot of fun. Project like this Q&A are helpful too!

My next experiment is an urban fantasy novella I’m going to release for Kindle, hopefully sometime this month. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, so we’ll see if people dig it!

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If you enjoyed reading our conversation, you can check out more about each author right here:

Leigh Bardugo: The bestselling Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm can be bought now. The conclusion of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising will be published June 3, 2014. Learn more at http://www.leighbardugo.com.

M. L. Brennan: Generation V is in stores now, and its sequel Iron Night will be published January 7, 2014. Learn more by clicking any above links.

Django Wexler: The Thousand Names is in stores now. The second in The Shadow Campaign series, The Shadow Throne will be published July 1, 2014, and Wexler’s middle-grade fantasyThe Forbidden Library will be published April 15, 2014. Learn more at http://djangowexler.com/.

And, of course, you always know where to find me.