Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Submission Requirements for Amazon's New Science Fiction - Fantasy Imprint 47North

I'm going to deviate a bit today from analyzing Harry Potter with some market info on Amazon's new 47North Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint.

Mongoliad from 47North
You may have already read about this new imprint and some of its launch authors and books, such as Dave Duncan, Stephan Leather, and Chris Roberson.  All 15 launch books will be available in print, e-book, and audio.  You can see more of the rollout at 47North's homepage.  You can also read the official press release and a nice summary at Mashable.

But one thing that seems to me to be lacking in all this excitement is specific details for how to query or submit to 47North.  All you get on their homepage is directions to send an inquiry to 47north-submissions@amazon.com.

As we've all got inquiring minds, I assumed some of you may want to know as well.  So, I inquired.  In response, here's what 47North said they'd like to see in submissions:

Proposals and manuscripts should only be submitted to one
imprint or editor at a time. We will communicate internally to make sure
your work finds its best home. For a full list of Amazon Publishing
imprints, visit: amazon.com/amazonpublishing
If you are represented by an agent, please have your agent
submit your proposal.
Submissions should include the following information:
  • Title and author in the subject line
  • Short synopsis of the book
  • Brief bio and bibliography of author
  • Full or partial manuscript (Word file, Times New Roman 12)
  • Comparable authors or titles
  • Any relevant marketing/PR strengths
So, for those of you with completed manuscripts, I hope some of you will submit and then come back and let us know what happens!  Good luck!


Finally, as my October workshop got postponed, I have more available time for edits and have decided to take on a couple more this month.  If you're in need of a professional edit before submitting to agents, editors, or publishing direct, check out my services!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Symbolism in Writing: Shell Cottage: A Respite from the Storm


I'm sorry to have missed so many days blogging. The kids had fall break and we took a short, but much needed, vacation to the beach. Since getting back, I've been dragging and slow to catch up.

I really needed this break. Life has been rather crazy lately, and to go from nonstop work to three days of walking on the beach was rejuvenating.

As I walked on the beach picking up shells, I understood why JK Rowling brought Harry to Shell Cottage in Deathly Hallows. Didn't you ever wonder while reading that scene why JKR chose to have Bill and Fleur start off married life in a cottage in the middle of nowhere? Wouldn't you have thought Fleur especially would have craved some city life or Bill to be near some family?

But I think JKR designed Shell Cottage for a couple of very specific purposes -- the role it serves in this point of the story and the symbolism it provides.

Since Paleolithic days, shells have been viewed as symbols of life. Some ancient peoples painted shells with red ochre, symbolizing blood, and buried them with their dead, presumably to help them live again. Coming forward to Greek times, the shell was a symbol of Aphrodite, goddess of love, new life, and the dawn, as she rose from the sea on a scallop shell. Finally, in medieval times, the shell came to be associated with the pilgrimage of Saint James, signifying pilgrims on a spiritual quest.

Love, pilgrims, dawn, life, and death. All are found in the scenes JK Rowling set at Shell Cottage.

Harry apparates at Shell Cottage holding onto Griphook and Dobby, with Bellatrix's silver knife protruding from Dobby's chest. The first thing Harry faces at Shell Cottage is the death of the house elf who just saved his life, the slaying of an innocent. Working through the night with his own muscle, not magic, Harry digs Dobby's grave, and with the rising of the sun, plants the beloved house elf in Bill and Fleur's garden.

This moment marks a key transition in Harry's journey. As Harry enters Shell Cottage for the first time, it is with a new strength and determination. His days of wandering through the wilderness are over and he's taking charge. This new Harry has learned to shut his mind to Voldemort, to not act and seek out an item of immense importance, to instead stay and wait, dig a grave and bury a loved one. He felt "as though he had been slapped awake again."

As Harry washes Dobby's blood and the mud from the garden off his hands, "Dawn was breaking over the horizon, shell pink and faintly gold." Indeed JKR repeats the golden image of the sun many times -- "flecked with gold in the sunrise" -- as Harry interviews first Griphook over Ollivander.  He acts to choose Horcruxes, not Hallows, to follow the path of eliminating evil rather than gaining power. The rising golden sun also marks the dawn of the final phase of Harry's alchemical journey as he is now fully mature, fully conscious and proceeding deliberately and decisively toward his chosen destination.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are indeed pilgrims on a quest, and for Harry, it is deeply spiritual. The "reddish mound of earth that covered Dobby lay ahead" in the spot where Harry reveals the truth of the Elder Wand to Ron and Hermione and his decision to not go after it. "He could not remember, ever before, choosing not to act." And even as he listens to Ron and Hermione once again play the opposing sides of his conscience, he knows he's made the right choice.

"Bill and Fleur's cottage stood alone on a cliff overlooking the sea, its walls embedded with shells and whitewashed." Harry spends much time alone at Shell Cottage, outside on this cliff overlooking the sea. It rejuvenates him, heals him from the endless wandering that has been his only reality for the last several months, and prepares him for the final journey of his quest which lies ahead.

It is no accident that Lupin arrives to announce the birth of Teddy at Shell Cottage. As a bookend to the scenes started with Dobby's death, Lupin's "tidings of new life were exhilarating." As Harry, Hermione and Ron leave at dawn to journey to Gringotts and begin the final quest to defeat Voldemort, "small green shoots were forcing their way up through the red earth of Dobby's grave." Life has sprouted from death. A new generation of wizards have already been born, and the love symbolized through Bill and Fleur's marriage and the peace of Shell Cottage has provided the Trio with the necessary strength and renewal to go forward.

JK Rowling deliberately chose Shell Cottage as the setting for two chapters which start with the death of an innocent and concludes with the birth of new life and hope. Within the respite and refreshment of its small confines, she has Harry accept the maturity and new resolve to face his final challenge. Setting, Transition, Symbol. When all put together with powerful if sublime symbols, it resonates deeper within the reader of the story's meaning.

Take a moment to think of your settings and your key moments of transition. Can you envision them more deeply, add more meaning, weave in universal symbols that will resonate with your reader? As writers we want to use every tool at our disposal to convey the full sense of our story to those who read it. Symbolism is a subtle but powerful tool for helping the reader to grasp more, to sense deeper, than the surface look and feel of the fast-paced storyline.

What symbols have you used in your story? Have you reflected on how they would change at moments of transition? Have you fully utilized your settings to convey your themes into more subtle territory?

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!) 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tricking out Your Characters, a la Fred, George, and Peeves

I've covered a few examples of archetypes on this blog, such as with Threshold Guardians and the Forbidden Door. Today, I'd like to look at an archetype that, in the write hands, can be one of the funnest to portray. Tricksters.

Tricksters are usually the center of fun, mischief, and mayhem in the story. They delight in upsetting the status quo or in “taking the mikey” out of other characters or the hero. They present the hero with a challenge unlike other characters as they question authority and promote chaos--encouraging the hero to question as well.

For tricksters in Harry Potter, we need look no further than Fred and George Weasley. They fit the Trickster description to a Wesley sweater embroidered T. Their spiritual counterpart is Peeves, which is why it was so delightful at the end of OotP, when Gred and Forge passed their mischievous torch to Peeves, and he seized it wholeheartedly.

   "If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley-- Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes," [Fred] said in a loud voice. "Our new premises!"
   "Special discounts to Hogwarts students who swear they're going to use our products to get rid of this old bat," added George, pointing at Professor Umbridge.
   "STOP THEM!" shrieked Umbridge.
   "Give her hell from us, Peeves."
   And Peeves, whom Harry had never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below and sped out of the open front doors into the glorious sunset.

Like many fans, I find Peeves and the twins’ antics totally amusing, and I fully understand why Dumbledore keeps Peeves about the place. In holding your reader's attention, it’s important to have someone kick things up a bit, to foster a constant element of surprise. Plus, there's the all-important trickster element of being able to say and do what no one else will:

“Oh potter, you rotter, oh what have you done,
You're killing off students, you think it's good fun.
  (Peeves, from Chamber of Secrets)

Without the Trickster upsetting the status quo, life would not only be duller, but the hero’s path more difficult. Tricksters provide aide for the Hero, if only indirectly. Not only can they poke the hero’s flaw (oh Potter you Rotter) quite painfully, but by showing clearly a different mindset, an opposing world view, an alternate way of being, they enable the hero to do the same. As Ginny says, when you’ve hung around Fred and George for a while, you start believing anything is possible.

JKR magnificently uses her Tricksters to not only upset the status quo, but to propel her hero onward in his quest. Without Fred and George, Harry would definitely not have discovered as many secrets about Hogwarts and his father.
   "This, Harry, is the secret of our success," said George, patting the parchment fondly.
   "It's a wrench, giving it to you," said Fred, "but we decided last night, your need's
greater than ours
."
   "Anyway, we know it by heart," said George. "We bequeath it to you. We don't really
need it anymore."
   "And what do I need with a bit of old parchment?" said Harry.
   "A bit of old parchment!" said Fred, closing his eyes with a grimace as though Harry
had mortally offended him. "Explain, George."
   "Well... when we were in our first year, Harry-young, carefree, and innocent -"
   Harry snorted. He doubted whether Fred and George had ever been innocent.
   "Well, more innocent than we are now-we got into a spot of bother with Filch."
   "We let off a Dungbomb in the corridor and it upset him for some reason -"
   "So he hauled us off to his office and started threatening us with the usual -"
   "--dentention--"
   "--disembowelment--"
   "--and we couldn't help noticing a drawer in one of his filing cabinets marked Confiscated and Highly Dangerous." ...
   "It's not as bad as it sounds, you know," said George. "We don't reckon Filch ever
found out how to work it.
He probably suspected what it was, though, or he wouldn't have
confiscated it."
   "And you know how to work it?"
   "Oh yes," said Fred, smirking. "This little beauty's taught us more than all the
teachers in this school
."
   "You're winding me up," said Harry, looking at the ragged old bit of parchment.
   "Oh, are we?" said George.
   He took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly, and said, "I solemnly swear that
I am up to no good
."

Seriously, who else besides Fed and George would ever think to use that particular sentence as a password? It is through that Marauder's Map that Harry discovers not only passages into and out of the school, but the secrets to his father's friends and the truth of his betrayer.  It is also through this map that ultimately Harry discovers the link between Draco and the Room of Requirement -- a link that allows the entry into Hogwarts of Death Eaters at the end of Half-Blood Prince, and parents and friends to fight against Voldemort at the end of Deathly Hallows.

When, at the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry and friends and the reader as well are suffering from the loss of Fred, Tonks, Lupin, and all the others, when our hearts are too heavy to end on a positive note, it is that trickster Peeves who says what no one else will and helps start the process of healing:

"We did it,we bashed them, wee Potter's the one.
And Voldy's gone moldy, so now let's have fun!"

Have you considered a trickster to help shake up your characters, to provide a different outlook on your world?  If so, how have you incorporated a trickster into your story?

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!) 

Peeves picture credit.

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