Salt in the Water by S. Cushaway and J. Ray

Stacy Overby was kind enough to read an ARC copy of Salt in the Water and give an honest review – thanks so much, and glad you enjoyed the book!

S. Overby's This is Not Hitchhiker's Guide

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Salt in the Water (A Lesser Dark #1) in exchange for an honest review.

Sweet.  Now that the disclaimer part is over, on to business.  Salt in the Water by S. Cushaway and J. Ray is a science fiction novel set on a foreign planet.  People there come from multiple different races.  Add in the fact that this is a desert world, there is an all controlling syndicate, and alien technology is still an all-powerful looming presence, you get a recipe for a complex and engaging read.

My Likes:

First off, I have to start with the world building.  Cushaway and Ray did an amazing job of building their universe.  The technology, the different races, the politics.  All of it is planned out and give the story a feel that it is happening just around the corner from Earth.  I felt like this…

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Yeah, I’m not great at blogging.

 

forinstaI know. I’m supposed to update this thing regularly, but to be honest, between writing and (especially) preparing for my upcoming book release, Salt in the Water, I have not had time or energy to sit down and write a lengthy blog post lately.

Maybe soon. One day.

I’ve got ideas for topics- the continuation on making realistic characters (the second part of that whole topic would focus on how authors shouldn’t be afraid of writing “ugly” characters), how to get over the jitters when making sweeping revisions, some thoughts on my self-publishing journey, world-building and outlining, what I’ve been reading or have read in the past, etc.

ONE. DAY. I hope soon, once the book release push settles down- and let me tell you, I’ll be glad when this thing is out the door and I can take a (small) breather.

That said, I have some interviews and author spotlights lined up for the release of Salt in the Water. I also have an ARC campaign running until 10/13 (you can grab a copy here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/sGO1S), and then I’ll be setting up a special pre-order package on Amazon.

The first of my spotlights was hosted by Timothy Bateson, a sci-fi author and book blogger. And if you’re curious (c’mon, you know you are) you can check it out right here: https://timothybatesonauthor.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/author-spotlight-s-cushaway/

So a big “thank you” to Tim Bateson for hosting that 🙂 and! ONE DAY. Actual blog posts!

 

The Characters Under the Rug (Part I): The Fine Art of Creating Authentic Dialogue

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One of the biggest concerns and questions I’ve seen pop up in writing and critique groups is making each character’s voice distinct and authentic. Some people seem to have a knack for this, while other writers endure much weeping of tears and gnashing of teeth to craft punchy, memorable dialogue.

Realistic and engaging dialogue is one of my strengths as a writer. I know, it sounds like bragging, but hear me out – we all have strengths and weaknesses. My weakness? Action scenes. I have to work double hard and edit twice as much to make my action scenes flow well, and, given my genre – sci-fi western with a sprinkle of fantasy – I’ve got plenty of action scenes to lament over. But I can nail dialogue. I can make each character “sound” like a real person. And I’m going to try to give some tips to bright-eyed, new authors and grizzled veterans alike, snarky little upstart that I am, and I sincerely hope it eases the frustration many of my fellow authors wrestle with.

  • Do NOT(!!) Base Dialogue Off Movie Scenes or Actors.

I’ve seen the advice “Go listen to how they talk in a movie” as a fallback on how to construct memorable dialogue.

Unfortunately, this can work against an author more than for the author. If you’ve ever -really- listened to the dialogue scenes in a movie (there are exceptions) they rarely speak like “real” people. Each conversation is too conveniently set up, too perfectly timed to get a gaged reaction out of the audience watching (not reading! watching). In addition, movies and television shows rely heavily on other ambience to enhance dialogue a writer cannot conjure with words – lighting, background music and noise, camera angle, etcetera. In short, movie dialogue works for movies, but take away all of that special movie stuff? It usually sucks and is about as deep as a three-inch kiddie pool.

Instead, listen to real people. Watch documentaries (real people, not actors!) if you have no  people around that would match the style of dialogue in your story. Watch mannerisms, listen to tone and inflection as people speak, observe how their faces change. All those little quirks, when sprinkled in dialogue-heavy scenes, are going to serve you much better than stiff Hollywood writing meant only for a visual media with all its fancy trappings.

  • Read it Aloud. In Character

That’s right. Read your story to yourself aloud and do it in character. Make up a voice for each character – it doesn’t have to be extravagant or over the top or silly (though it may seem silly doing this the first few times). Picture each character as you read, what they’re doing, what the scene is, their mood, what the dialogue is supposed to accomplish. Before you know it, each character will begin to have a distinct “voice” in your head when you’re writing. You’ll -hear- it.  And we all know writers have plenty of voices floating around in our heads, right? Right. The more the merrier.

If you can find someone willing to read your work back to you, (in character is even better) do it. Sitting back and listening without having to focus on the written word itself is a great way to catch sticky parts of dialogue and narrative. If your reader stumbles or scratches their head at a particular line, it’s worth checking over. My long-suffering husband and co-author reads every word back to me in each draft (using character voices, the lovely man), and I cannot emphasis enough how much that helps make each character “feel” like a real person. It is absolutely essential, and I encourage every author to give it a shot.

  • Dialect and Accent

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, #7:  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Toss it. In fact, you can toss his whole list.

What?  Toss Elmore Leonard’s beloved list? Now them’s  fightin’ words!

I know, I know. I promise to blog on this subject one day, and why I feel so strongly about “rules” in writing, (beyond a very basic few). Back to the topic at hand.

If you want flat, boring, and entirely unbelievable dialogue, -never- include regional dialect. If you want a character to sound like they inhabit the world you’ve dropped them in, use it – but use it wisely. No one is saying you should write the phonetic accent of someone from a foreign country (“Ve haf vays auf makingk you talk…” would be a nightmare to slog through  – and yes, I’ve seen authors who have tried to do this with less-than-pretty results), but you should NOT be afraid to include speech mannerisms, slang and patois (that’s just a fancy word for dialect, folks) in dialogue. That includes improper grammar when necessary.

As an example, a line from one of my upcoming books, Salt in the Water, features several characters that speak with what I’ve dubbed an “Estarian drawl”. This  is how it “sounds”:

His hands slid over the wet tangle of his beard. “I should toss you down that damned well, but then the water’d be no good.”

And here is how it would “sound” using proper grammar and no regional dialect:

His hands slid over the wet tangle of his beard.”I should toss you down that damned well, but then the water would be no good.”

Just something small like a “water’d” changes the entire feel of the dialogue. Such quirks are a small weapon in our authorly arsenal, but powerful nonetheless Use them.

  • Lastly, READ. BOOKS.

Read a book that you love and pay particular attention to how the author handles the voice and dialogue beat of each character, including mannerisms, action tags and any dialect pertaining to each character’s culture or region.

Now, conversely, read a book you found boring. Chances are, at least one of the reasons you disliked the book was dull, samey-same dialogue for each character, making them all feel and sound too alike. Fantasy has this issue often, I’ve found, and it makes me wish more authors would stray from the grammar-perfect dialogue patterns of classic fantasy (which are still great stories, don’t get me wrong) and spice it up a bit. Not every fantasy saga has to sound like it’s come straight from a high court in Medieval England, after all. Be brave, my fellow writers, and strike a new path with small stones. You don’t have to get crazy with accents or speech patterns to make a character sound unique – little things will do the trick.

Hope all this helps! Go write some snappy characters!

Next week: The Characters Under the Rug (Part II): In the Land of the Blind, Write ’em Ugly.

 

 

 

Blink Those Stars From Your Eyes, O’ Budding Author – A Hard Lesson in Traditional Publishing

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I’d like to make this first blog post something uplifting and inspiring. I suppose, in some skewed way, it will be. But it won’t be a pep-talk about how you can write that novel in three months or less, or what “rules” to follow when constructing a plot with believable characters. I’m not going to fill this page with words of wisdom from other authors about how we all have to start somewhere, and rough drafts can always be revised into best-sellers.

I’ll save all those rainbows and butterflies for another time. This debut blog post is about something a little more practical, and I hope it serves as both a warning and a heads-up for budding authors about to decide between the path of self-publishing and traditional publishing.

So…Which is Best?

That all depends on what you want, and what you think your book is worth – and not just in the monetary sense.  Let me begin by stating I had a two books contracted by a small (I later found out the correct definition wasn’t even “small”, it was what is known – in the publishing world- as a micro-publisher – more on that in a bit) publishing company which was just getting off the ground. I was the fourth author signed to the company – my first manuscript was accepted summer (August, I believe) 2015. I submitted it on a whim, just to see what might happen, despite some author friends telling me I should wait and research that publisher’s reputation a bit more.

But I submitted anyway. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. I didn’t expect much to come of it, and so when I was offered a contract – you can bet I got stars in my eyes. Someone liked my work (the first 5000 words and the synopsis, anyway). I would get to see my book under a REAL publisher, in print form, and maybe! In a bookstore. And, like many new authors, I was stupid and signed the contract without sitting on it a few weeks and deciding what I really wanted out of publishing with a traditional company.

How Did It Work Out?

Not so hot, as you may have guessed. Why? I didn’t listen to the good advice of more experienced authors, both those who had self-published and those who had gone through reputable publishers. I was too overwhelmed by the thought of being a “real” author. My definition of that has changed drastically in the past 10 months, by the way – but at the time, and though I had originally planned on self-publishing, having a publisher champion my book made it seem like I could finally say to friends and family who had doubted I could ever write anything someone would want – “Look! I did it! I didn’t fall flat on my face after all!”.

And let’s be fair – writing is often a lonely, doubtful profession. Many authors struggle to find support from those closest to them. I have my co-author and husband at my side, but I think that’s a rarity. Most of the writers I know have very few people at their backs, encouraging them. And that could be why so many new authors sign with publishers that aren’t going to be doing them any real favors – the sense of accomplishment is too great. The sense of achievement, of proving that you -are- worth something is intoxicating.

But, y’know. There’s that hangover period.  And mine hit like a sledgehammer about 6 months after signing my contract. I found out the company had no actual revenue to put into promoting the books it had published. No business loan or grant, no income from other books already released, (their first came out a few months after I had signed) and no way of paying its handful of employees – all of which were working off royalties. Royalties that, mind you, barely existed, since there was only a handful of poorly selling books out at the time.

Fast-forward to this spring. I began to sorely wish I had not signed my book rights -let alone the rights to my second manuscript – to a company that left me more worried than excited about publishing. In fact, I felt more depressed about being published than ecstatic – a thing no author should EVER feel. I wish I had researched more carefully, gotten a lawyer to scan over that contract and asked the hard questions, such as “If she’s signing over first rights and 90% of royalties, exactly what is she going to get in return that she couldn’t do for herself?”. I wish I had checked sites like the Absolute Write Water Cooler and Preditors and Editors.  But the stars in my eyes had blinded me to all those “should haves”, and I was new and innocent to the publishing journey. I’m still new, but I’m no longer innocent.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. After my release dates were pushed back several times and my spirits sank to rock bottom about the whole ordeal, my rights (along with several other authors) were given back and my  two contracts terminated. This turn of events – something that might have devastated me to think about 10 months ago- came with a huge sigh of relief. I was free. I was excited again. And I was never, ever going to hand over my hard work to a publisher I didn’t feel confident in or hadn’t researched thoroughly.

I learned my lesson, and am grateful for the experience so I know what NOT to do in the future.

So…I Shouldn’t Sign a Contract With A Publisher?

Recently, Alan Moore (co-creator of the Watchmen and several other famous graphic novels) was quoted as saying: “Publishing today is a complete mess. I know brilliant authors who can’t get their books published,” Moore says, explaining that many publishing houses are afraid of taking risks on fiction. Moore’s solution? “Publish yourself. Don’t rely upon other people.”

I’m not saying you should never, ever sign with a traditional publisher. While I’ve learned to be quite leery of small publishers (and large), I still believe there ARE good, solid and reputable publishers of all sizes out there. However, there is a reason many authors, debut and famous, are now looking more seriously at self-publishing. It’s hard work, yes, and it will be -you- doing the majority of that work (unless you hire professionals to help you, and that can be an option if you have the money to spare – many of us do not), but if a publisher offers you nothing more than you couldn’t already do yourself (and sometimes -less- than what you could do yourself) but wants the lion’s share of royalties for it?

Turn and run.

If that publisher doesn’t have several, decently-selling books and a good reputation in the publishing world and on various “background check” websites designed for authors to avoid getting scammed?

Turn and run.

If the publisher cannot offer a very concise, clear and proven schedule, budget and road map as to what their marketing plan and release dates might be?

Turn and run.

If the number of authors or staff terminated is greater than the number of books being released?

Turn and run.

And, lastly, if you find yourself in the situation I had been caught in – becoming less excited about publishing with a company you have signed for, watching their books flat-line, watching release dates get shuffled multiple times and hiring their own authors as “editors” because there are no funds to hire experienced editors?

Get your rights back, turn and run. Don’t waffle about it like I did, hanging on a thread that maybe you’re misjudging the situation. Your gut feeling is, almost without a doubt, the right one.

Conclusion:

My story may have ended on a positive note, but it could just as well been a disaster – my book could have been published with no marketing and sank to the slush pile. I could have had a book cover I was so displeased with (I had to do my own cover art, despite asking to outsource it with funds from my own pocket – I have some artistic skill, but quickly discovered I have no talent for cover design), the mere sight of it made me not want to even own a copy of my own book. I could have had a book with my name on it so riddled with errors – it may have doomed my career forever.

Do not do what I did. Don’t risk it. If you can’t find a publisher you are 100% confident in, who offers fair compensation and a proven marketing strategy, a solid roster of books, stellar cover art and experienced editors – do it yourself. You may have to pay out of pocket, yes, but you’ll have full control over everything – from choosing an editor to selecting cover art you feel will help sell your book.

But whatever publishing journey you choose, NEVER sign anything until you get the stars out of your eyes. All that silvery success you find yourself bathed in might turn out to be a whole lot of mud if you aren’t very careful.