Defining the Love Triangle

I’ve found it interesting that in the last few months, I’ve gotten two emails about the not-yet-released Earth & Sky inquiring whether the trilogy will have a love triangle, because the reader doesn’t like them and wants to be prepared. Interesting for a couple reasons:

1. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten asked this question (across the last three and a half years, no one has ever inquired about the Fallen World trilogy on this issue). Which makes me wonder if there’s a growing aversion to love triangles, which obviously become pretty common in YA–especially in trilogies and series, and especially in speculative fiction (paranormal, dystopian, etc.)?

2. It’s made me realize that I’m not entirely sure how to answer the question. Because I’ve become aware that different people define “love triangle” in different ways. I always thought of a love triangle as being where the main character (or, I suppose, any character) is torn between two people who are both interested in him/her, attracted to both and either struggling to decide who s/he wants to be with or struggling with temptation while committed to one. But reading comments from others on books I’ve read, I’ve seen other sorts of romantic situations called “triangles”: when two characters are vying for another’s romantic attention (regardless of that one character’s feelings for either), for example.

So what I’ve been answering, when asked, is that it depends. Certainly the romantic subplots in the Earth & Sky trilogy are less love triangle-like than in the Fallen World trilogy (which I would consider to have only a pretty mild form of triangle as it is). There is no angsting at all about romantic feelings for more than one guy at the same time. But across the trilogy Skylar does become romantically involved with more than one guy at different times. So maybe it could read that way?

Indulge my curiosity, blog readers: What do you consider a love triangle? A character deciding between two romantic options? A character troubled by conflicting romantic feelings? A character who has two different partners? Do only the feelings of the main character count, or do you still see it as a triangle if two people are competing for his/her attentions at the same time even if s/he is only interested in one of them? What about if the main character has feelings for two people, but only one of them reciprocates, so the other isn’t really an option?

I’d love to see the variety of answers this question gets. There obviously is no right one, only different perspectives! :)

How Earth & Sky began

Unlike the Fallen World trilogy, Earth & Sky wasn’t propelled into being by a specific event like a dream. It was more a jumble of inspirations and interests that ended up stitching together into a full concept. But I can trace the path of that stitching reasonably well.

In 2011, in between working on drafts of The Lives We Lost while waiting for The Way We Fall‘s release, I was naturally poking around at new story ideas, because I pretty much always want to be writing. I had an urge to pursue a project that was more intensely science fiction than the Fallen World trilogy. At that point, YA SF was almost entirely post-apocalyptic and dystopian, and while I enjoyed that, I grew up on Star Trek (The Next Generation, primarily) and the Star Wars universe and novels like Dune. I wanted space ships and aliens and adventures beyond Earth! I had a few premises I’d been noodling around with, but nothing that gave me the right spark yet.

At some point in there, I happened across an illustrated story called Hero in a comic book store. Seeing as it was by one of my favorite artists, Yoshitaka Amano, I naturally had to buy it.

The story is haunting and fantastically surreal, like much of Amano’s art, but one particular section stood out to me. After the hero, appropriately named Hero, has had a frightening supernatural experience in a night club, he notices something strange in a smaller way on his walk home and the next morning:

The night sky was clear, no moon, but something about the ambient light had bothered him. The streetlights in this part of town had converted over to sodium arc years ago. He was sure of it. He remembered an article about the announced conversion, remembered his sadness that modern lamps would be phasing out the old ones, casting their eerie glow all over the city, an orange that was somehow harsh instead of warm. Yet here, the ovals of light flooding the sidewalk were soft yellow. The concrete posts and wrought iron cages were the old-fashioned kind you only saw in Central Park and old movies. Okay, he thought, maybe they missed this street and I never noticed. The city missed a street, and for five friggin’ years I never noticed.

The rest of the walk that night was uneventful, until he approached the intersection where he lived. He had noticed something then, but he was too tired (or perhaps suffering just a wee touch of the denial, he thought) to really understand what he saw at the time. A problem he’d been struggling with all last night and this morning.

As he walked in broad daylight toward the same intersection, the detail fell into place, revealing itself with such blazing clarity that he stopped walking and stood gaping upward.

He asks a woman who’s bumped into him to read him the street name, and she informs him that the sign says “Hudson Street”. “Not Houston?” “Hudson.” The problem:

“Thank you,” he said, giving her a little wave, then returning his stare to the sign. It spelled Hudson, plain as day. The trouble was, for the last three years, he had lived near the corner of Houston and Columbus, not Hudson. There was no such street in Soho. Never had been. It had been Houston since the city dedicated Penn Street Station.

And even worse, when he asks others the same question…

No one else realized the street name was wrong. Hero could understand people outside of the neighborhood not knowing or caring what the street was named. But the locals didn’t know the difference.

He checks other intersections, and confirms that the signs say Hudson all over. He also starts to notice other little details, like a newspaper that he is sure used to be called Weekly World News and now bears the title Weekly World View. Unsurprisingly, he begins to wonder whether this is the first symptom of some sort of mental illness–until he encounters one of the supernatural figures from the previous night and things become a little clearer.

That situation hit me emotionally, in a way that I’ve learned means, There’s a story you’d want to explore here. The idea of finding the world changed in tiny ways, and not being able to confirm whether you were crazy or everyone else just hadn’t noticed somehow… So scary, so awful, and so many questions raised. I wondered if I could capture that feeling in something of my own, and what form it would take for me.

For a while I had a contemporary fantasy idea that I thought it might work into, but I couldn’t quite figure out the characters or the plot. Then I came across a mention somewhere online (can’t tell you where; from what I’ve seen, this is not an uncommon idea) about a story about people being put in an alien zoo. The two ideas ended up colliding within that urge to write science fiction. What if aliens weren’t kidnapping Earthlings to observe elsewhere but rather studying all of us here on Earth — by using time manipulating technology to change events in history and experiment with different possible outcomes? What if my main character was someone who (for reasons you’ll discover when you read the book) is sensitive to those shifts in time, and can feel when something in her life has been rewritten? But of course, she wouldn’t know why she has that feeling or what it means, and no one else around her would notice.

So scary, so awful, so many questions raised. :)

From there I simply had to answer those questions, and the story that became Earth & Sky started to write itself.

(Interesting fact: When looking through Hero to find that excerpt, I noticed there’s a reference to someone named Skyler–not a character who appears in the actual story, I don’t think, but still makes me wonder if that name got stuck to that idea in that back of my mind and influenced my choice of Skylar for my protagonist.)

Making a book trailer

It’s been five years (wow, five! It doesn’t feel like that long) since I made my first book trailer, for Give Up the Ghost. So it seems like a good time to make an updated post about how an author might go about making their own trailer, for those of you so inclined. I’ve picked up some new techniques over the years that went into creating the trailer for Earth & Sky (if you want to check out the actual book early, by the way, the book trailer giveaway is still on!):

Concept and script

Obviously it’s a good to have some idea what you’re trying to accomplish before getting into any project, but I think it’s especially important with a trailer, because you’re trying to get maximum impact out of a very short span of time.

The first question I ask myself is, what is the one key feeling from the story that I want people to come away with? For The Way We Fall, it was the sense of catastrophe made personal — that this could happen to you. For Earth & Sky, it was the frightening realization that outside forces could alter the past to set your life on a totally different course, for better or for worse.

Then I have to figure out how to convey that idea as quickly and clearly as possible. (I try to keep the story content of a trailer to about 30 seconds — Earth & Sky‘s is 40 seconds long, but most of the last ten seconds are simply displaying the cover and release info.) I wanted to get across that people from another planet had been studying Earth and manipulating its history, that they weren’t concerned about whether we were hurt by their experiments, and to illustrate the impact this might have on one person’s life. As with everything else I write, I started by jotting down various ideas for content and phrasing, then narrowed that down to the first draft of a script, and revised it after feedback.

For example, in the early version of the script, the first line in the trailer was, “For centuries they’ve been watching us.” A couple of people noted that this could make the visitors sound like benevolent observers rather than uncaring experimenters. Rather than add extra lines trying to clarify this, I changed that line to, “For centuries they’ve been studying us like lab rats.” Only a smidgeon longer, but it manages to capture two of my three main points in one sentence fragment.

To sum up:

1. Pick one key idea or emotion from your story that you want to communicate to the viewer (preferably one that you think will be particularly engaging and/or attention-catching.)
2. Brainstorm ways to express that idea or emotion with as much brevity as possible, adjusting as you get feedback.

Imagery

One of the biggest jumps I’ve made since working on Ghost‘s trailer is the switch to video. A great book trailer can be made using still photos, but I find video footage makes the trailer feel more active and thus more compelling. The downside is that stock video is more expensive than stock photography, but to me it was worth it to get the look I wanted. To reduce the cost, pick imagery that you can repeat throughout the trailer using different parts of the same clip, instead of using additional clips — as I did with the beginning and end of the Earth & Sky trailer.

Deciding on the imagery was a process that happened simultaneously with the final stages of scripting — mainly because, since I was using stock video footage, I was somewhat limited in what I could convey based on what video was available. Depending on your concept, this might not be as much of an issue. The biggest difficulty with Earth & Sky was that I needed clips featuring the same people doing different but related things to show to possible versions of reality. My original idea for the second of those sequences, for example, was to have the former friends to have become outright bullies, but I couldn’t find a clip showing a teen being bullied with a clip that matched well enough of the same or at least similar looking teens happily hanging out.

While looking for the most fitting clips, don’t be afraid to check a bunch of different sites — there’s some overlap but the major stock photography sites all have some unique footage too — and to experiment with different search terms, to give you the widest range of options to consider. Also remember that most sites allow you to download a free watermarked file that you can play around with before you decide if it fits well enough that you want to pay for it.

There are of course alternatives to using stock footage, though they require a different set of resources or skills. If you have experience with filming or have friends who do, you can record your own footage to fit your story exactly, as in Adrienne Kress’s trailer for The Friday Society. Or, if you’re artistically inclined in other ways, you can animate a trailer like Maggie Stiefvater’s for Shiver. I stick with stock footage mainly because my talents do not lie in those areas. :)

To sum up:

1. If using stock video, confirm you can find clips that match your script or adjust your script to fit.
2. Use sections from the same clip where you can to reduce the cost.
3. Be flexible in where and how you search for clips to find the best possible matches.

Audio

Anyone who’s watched much TV or film knows that music can make a huge emotional impact on the viewer. So picking the right music will allow you to more easily capture the idea or emotion you want to convey in your trailer.

Along with the mood of the music, you should keep in mind the pacing and beats you want to hit. Visualize your ideal trailer — do you want the music to escalate at certain points, or at a certain frequency? You’ll want to listen for this when choosing your song. For example, I knew I wanted a rising sense of urgency and a striking end to the music rather the melody simply petering out.

I still use Shockwave-Sound for trailer music. Its in-depth search function makes it easy to narrow down the type of music you want, and you can download full length versions of most tracks with an audio watermark, so you can try them with your visuals before you pick which one to buy.

The other big change from my previous trailers is that I used a voice-over rather than text in Earth & Sky‘s. I wanted the viewer to be able to focus on the images without having to read words over them at the same time. First I practiced without recording, following along with the edited video and music. Then I recorded the lines with a basic USB microphone and my laptop, going into the quietest room in my house to reduce background noise. It took several attempts for me to get the pacing and the intonation right. Experimenting with putting the emphasis on different words helped a lot.

I could have simply used my own vocal track, but my agent suggested it might be even better with a teen voice-over to fit the novel’s protagonist. I mentioned I was looking for a teen who’d be willing to give it a shot on Facebook and had several people express interest in helping out. So if you want to do a voice-over and don’t like the sound of your own voice, go ahead and reach out! Having already done the lines myself was still a great tool for showing how I wanted the script to sound.

To sum up:

1. Figure out what mood and what type of pacing and beats you want to hear in the music before you search for the right track.
2. Download a few possible samples to try them with your visuals and see which one fits best.
3. If doing a voice-over, experiment with pacing and emphasis to help you find the ideal delivery.

Editing

I now use Adobe Premiere for my video editing, and I find it’s pretty intuitive. It isn’t software everyone has available to them, I realize (I have Creative Cloud because I also design my own website and print materials like bookmarks). I’ve worked a little in iMovie and it seems comparable; I also edited the original version of The Way We Fall‘s trailer in Premiere Elements, which is the budget option from Adobe. It had all the functions I needed at the time, but I did find that the Mac version crashed regularly (not sure if the Windows version does too, or if this may be corrected now, as that was in 2011), so YMMV.

Whatever software you use, the internet is your friend. Especially Youtube. There are about a gazillion tutorials you can access for free, many of them very detailed and easy to follow. I watched one basics tutorial on setting up a project before I started, and searched for tutorials on more specific techniques, like how to balance vocals with music and how to create a flashing visual effect, as I went.

My strategy with this particular trailer for Earth & Sky was:

1. Get all my video clips in approximate order.
2. Run them while talking through my script to adjust them to approximately the right length.
3. Try out the music samples I’d downloaded and pick the one I wanted to use.
4. Adjust the length and placement of the clips to fit the beats in the music.
5. Record the voice-over and edit it in with the rest of the video.
6. Add transitions and video and audio effects.

You may find a different process works better for you — perhaps you might want to start with the music and place the clips following that, for example — but I do think it’s best to save the smaller details like transitions and effects for the end, because otherwise you can end up doing work that you have to scrap and do over again because you realize you need a clip to be a half second longer or you’re changing a line in the voice over.

Once you have your trailer approximately in order, it’s a good idea to share it with a few trusted people who can give you feedback, as with your script. I adjusted some of the voice-over pacing and changed one of my video clips after hearing what people thought.

To sum up:

1. Use free tutorials to get comfortable with your chosen editing software and pick up needed techniques.
2. Get the most important pieces (video footage, music, vocals) in place before worrying about details like special effects.
3. Get feedback and adjust the trailer as necessary before sharing widely.

And then you have a trailer ready to share with the world!

I hope that’s been helpful. Feel free to share your own trailer-making tips! And I’d love to hear what some of your favorite book trailers are.

Earth & Sky trailer reveal + giveaway!

I’m excited to be sharing with you today the official book trailer for Earth & Sky! Drum roll please…

Let me know what you think! And if you like, you can enter to win one of three pretty awesome prize packs simply by sharing the trailer. (Why three? Because that’s a very important number to Skylar. You’ll find out why when you read the book.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Grand prize:
A Kindle Paperwhite preloaded with Earth & Sky, with a custom Earth & Sky cover


as well as…
A signed hardcover or paperback of Earth & Sky (your choice)
A star candy pack of Win’s favorite Earth flavors
Earth & Sky bookmark, magnet, and sticker
$25 Amazon gift card

Runner-up prizes:
A signed hardcover or paperback of Earth & Sky (your choice)
A star candy pack of Win’s favorite Earth flavors
Earth & Sky bookmark, magnet, and sticker
$10 Amazon gift card

The giveaway is open until Sept 22, to readers around the world.

History of a SF fan: Star Wars

With Earth & Sky coming out in less than two months now (eeee!), I thought it’d be fun to talk a little about the origins of my interest in science fiction and the works that most captured my imagination over the years.

It seems inevitable that I would have become a SF fan — both of my parents are avid SF enthusiasts themselves, and so they put on SF movies and TV shows and handed off their collections of SF novels to me as I was growing up. As with many SF fans, the very first world I remember getting wrapped up in was the Star Wars universe. Though… not in quite the usually talked about way.

I was only two years old when the final film in the first Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi, came out in theaters. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the first of the films I watched after it was out on video. But the first I remember watching (over and over and over again) were the made-for-TV Ewok movies.

My parents taped The Ewok Adventure and The Battle for Endor off the TV when they aired, and I can’t say how many times I watched them (my parents would probably say, too many!). No doubt those movies appealed to me particularly because they were aimed at kids, with a little girl as the main protagonist. Hard to define them as strictly SF, given that they included a fair bit of sorcery and the supernatural (enchanted lakes! ladies who change into birds!), but I loved the idea of this quirky, fuzzy alien species and the bits of unfamiliar technology I did get to see.

I did, of course, watch the entire trilogy somewhere in there — although I think kid-me preferred Jedi because of those Ewoks. And also because I found the end of this battle in The Empire Strikes Back

…so upsetting that I avoided rewatching that movie when I was little, and it was only when I finally rewatched all of them together in my early twenties that I discovered the movie doesn’t end with the traumatic moment I recalled so vividly, but actually with that injury of Luke’s satisfactorily dealt with. Apparently I was so upset by it when I first saw that sequence that I blocked out the somewhat more upbeat resolution. :P

Anyone else have Ewok nostalgia?

A book shout-out: A Corner of White

Today’s shout-out goes to Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Corner of White:

I’d enjoyed the previous books by Moriarty that I’d read, and had picked up the ebook for A Corner of White when it first came out after hearing good things, but (due to massive ebook backlog) only just got around to reading it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

Why should you read it? For the well-balanced blend of quirky realism and quirky fantasy, for the emotional depth that rings through the quirkiness, and for the seemingly unconnected plot details that come together cleverly in an expertly crafted conclusion.

Bookmarks have arrived!

My Earth & Sky bookmarks have arrived! Behold the loveliness:

(The back, if you’re curious, has a brief excerpt from the book.)

I will be giving these out to readers at all events and signings I attend. I’m also happen to send some to any librarians, booksellers, bloggers, or other bookish folk who would like to hand them out to their patrons/customers/readers/etc. If you’d like to get your hands on some, please drop me a line!

On childhood, opportunities, and finding your way

At a family get-together the other day, I was talking with my brother about dancing (he teaches ballroom for a living) and asked him if he was doing competitions at all.

“No,” he said. “I’d be out of my league — most of those people have been dancing since they were, like, three.”*

(Brother started when he was, if I remember correctly, in his late teens.)

The conversation got me thinking about the sorts of pursuits where starting young is a huge advantage, sometimes even essential to being successful past a certain level. Most athletic activities seem to require that you train your muscles early on for you to be able to perform at the top of your game as an adult. From what I’ve seen this is true to an extent for some creative pursuits as well — music, especially, maybe because of the amount of physical coordination involved in playing most instruments? And I’d imagine with most careers and hobbies, getting an early start on building your knowledge and skill set helps at least a little.

Now that I have a little guy in my life, this is a topic that feels much closer to home. I want the kiddo to have every possible opportunity to follow his dreams. But what if he doesn’t figure out what those dreams are until it’s too late for him to have a good chance of reaching them? How can I help him find his way? On the other hand, how can I make sure I get in his way by pushing too much?

Finding my way and being pushed were never really issues for me growing up. I’ve loved making up stories as far back as I can remember, and my parents just let me at it. Storytelling is, conveniently, an activity that requires no special instruction and no materials at all to practice–the books I read were my teachers, and even with pen and paper, and later a computer, available to me, I spent many hours simply daydreaming plots and characters–so I didn’t really need any assistance from my parents, although it certainly didn’t hurt that they were avid readers themselves and so read to me often, took me on regular library trips, and that sort of thing.

But what if you have a kid who doesn’t quickly gravitate toward specific interests? How many three-year-olds, for example, really know they love dancing and are eager to go to classes and take instruction their whole early childhood? I’ve heard a lot of stories from people who recall getting bored with learning an instrument or practicing a sport or whathaveyou when they were little, but appreciate that their parents insisted they continue through that boredom and not give up, because they did come to love it again and would hate to have lost that skill. I’ve also heard plenty of stories of people resenting their parents pushing them in a particular direction, who felt stressed and un-listened to, or for whom the pressure to not just have fun with an activity but to excel at it drained all the enjoyment they once had.

How do you tell when it’s in your kids’ best interests to push, and when it’s better to pull back?

I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts–either your memories of what worked for you (or didn’t) when you were a kid, or your experiences as a parent yourself, or both!

*Dialogue an approximation; I did not write this down in the moment to get an exact quote. ;)

A couple of updates

There are a couple of new developments around here I’d like to direct your attention to.

First, my book blogger/reviewer info page has been updated to reflect the latest information re: Earth & Sky. If you’re wanting to get involved with the book’s release one way or another, that’s the best starting place before you contact me.

Second, now that all three of the books in the Fallen World trilogy are out in the world, the Fallen World Street Team is no longer active. But I am continuing a Fallen World trilogy news mailing list, for those who want to be keep in the loop directly about any new developments… and I can tell you that there is one new development I will be announcing in the hopefully not too distant future. :) You can sign up for that mailing list using the form below.



A book shout-out: Cuckoo Song

It always makes me sad when I read a book that is really lovely, and notice that not many people seem to be talking about it. So I’m going to try and be both a better blogger and a better book-supporter, and give a shout-out whenever one of those books comes along.

Today I want to encourage you to check out Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge:

I’d been meaning to read something by Hardinge for quite a while–I have her Fly By Night in my massive ebook backlog. When a trusted friend highly recced Cuckoo Song, the description caught my interest immediately, and I dove right in.

So glad I did!

Why should you read it? For the beautiful writing, the unique world-building that’s so well-integrated into the real world setting, and for the complexity and depth to all the characters and their changing relationships in the midst of this suspenseful adventure.

Any books you’d like to give a shout-out to this week? :)