Why I deleted my Kindle Vella story

I tried, I really did try.

Kindle Vella is an Amazon beta program in the US which allows authors to post serial stories in episodes. The mechanics of setting up a Vella story, posting episodes, and editing them is easy. There aren’t any deadlines, and there isn’t much of a risk since stories can be deleted and republished later as a book.

I was undecided about whether Vella and I were a good fit, but committed myself to giving it a try…

Until yesterday.

I sent Amazon an email, and they deleted the story for me.

Why did I give up?

Much of the decision whittled down to the old saying, “Writer, know thyself.”

I’m a writer who enjoys a challenge, but I should have taken a more realistic view of my writing process, something I’m happy with after more than a decade of producing books.

Which kind of writers might enjoy crafting Vella serials?

  • Writers who have experience writing serials. Teagan Genevienne and Kymber of Kymber Writes are talented writers who post serials on their blogs, and Teagan’s serial Dead of Winter is available on Amazon. They’re good at it, and by now, it’s clear they enjoy the process.

That’s not me. I’d never tried a serial before jumping into the deep end.

  • Writers who hit the publish button and move on. They don’t feel compelled to backtrack, rewrite, and edit posted episodes. The story moves forward without tweaking to avoid confusing its readers.

That definitely isn’t me! I backtrack, rewrite, and edit chapters constantly as a story evolves. 20% of my writing goes into the first drafts, 80% is massaging the thing into shape, including significant rewrites.

  • Writers who stick to schedules. Vella may not have deadlines for episodes, but readers are waiting. Building momentum and holding their attention is essential.

Not me either. My life just doesn’t work that way. Publishing an episode on a regular schedule is difficult. My self-imposed deadlines slipped and slipped, and the pressure started peeling away my enjoyment.

  • Writers who can tolerate lots of stress without having a meltdown. Unless a story is already written, producing a FINAL polished episode before the rest of the story is drafted is nerve-wracking!

Honestly, this was the straw that broke Vella’s back for me. My story started whining that it wanted to evolve. Then it began nagging, and I couldn’t deal with the tantrums. Too much drama. I could force myself to finish it, but then I’d have to rewrite it or it would never be happy.

I decided to stop, go back to paragraph one, and craft the story the way I always do, the way it wants to be written. The relief feels liberating.

Stay tuned for the Necromancer’s Daughter (take two), a regular old stand-alone book sometime in 2022.

5 Steps for Retelling a Fairy Tale

All images from Pixabay

NaNoWriMo, the November 50K word writing challenge, looms in the near distance. Barb over at Book Club Mom posted recently about fairy tale retellings and might give it a go.

She got me thinking about the genre. I’ve avoided it. Why would anyone read a book where they already know the whole story? Then I read Snow White and the Civil War by Cathleen Townsend and fell for her creative take (reviewed here).

In a way, most stories are “retellings.” There are only so many plots. I posted once about George Ponti’s 36 “dramatic situations” but I’ve seen plots distilled down to 3: Man versus Nature, Man versus Man, and Man versus Himself. Rather broad, I know, and not very useful, but there you have it.

So, I researched some of the specific factors that make fairy tale retellings fresh and interesting while honoring the bones of the original story. Here are five suggestions:

1 – Dig into the original story

There are sometimes a few original versions, and they can span centuries. Some are so dark they verge on horror, and sometimes two or more versions merged to become the story we know today. A thorough understanding of the original work(s) gives an author plot options as well as interesting details to play with.

Most of the original stories are in the public domain as their copyrights expired long ago. The Wikipedia overview is a good place to start, but read the originals to explore nuances and jot down some luscious details.

2 – Define the original story’s theme

Each fairy tale, like all good stories, has a timeless theme or two that resonates with readers. Fairy tale themes focus on universal human experiences and aspirations such as justice, sacrifice, self-discovery, love, forgiveness, and faith, and they’re felt deeply by the characters.

The core theme of the original work is the heart of the story you’re retelling, much of the rest is creative spin.

3 – What do you love about the original story?

Drill down into why you chose this story to retell and not a different one? What captured your imagination? What scenes were your favorites? Which characters moved you?

Knowing what makes the story compelling to you will help you decide what elements are critical to keep and expand upon, as well as what you can change to make the retelling unique.

4 – Study the genre

This is your research. If you want to retell Rapunzel, read what other authors have written and do so with an appraising eye. What worked for you and what didn’t? What were your favorite scenes? Most interesting characters? How closely did the plot follow the original and where did it deviate? Did you enjoy the twists?

Most importantly, look for missed opportunities. What would have made the story better for you? What did you want more of, less of?

Also, peek at the reviews of popular retellings. What did readers enjoy and dislike? Because readers are all different, look for areas of consistency across reviewers.

5 – Mix it up!

Telling the original story too closely is probably the most dangerous route since it risks boring the reader. Pull what you want from the original story and change the rest. Toy with the plot, and sabotage the readers’ expectations by incorporating twists.

Some ideas for mixing it up:

  • Switch genres – make it a cozy mystery or thriller
  • Employ a different time period – tell it in the 19th century or 500 years in the future
  • Use a different setting – place your story in Africa or the Far East or on a space station.
  • Swap genders – Samuel White is a man rescued by seven women.
  • Swap roles – Cinderella is devious and one of her step-sisters is the kind one.
  • Tell the story from a different point of view. What was Rumpelstiltskin’s perspective on the whole straw into gold situation?
  • Mix two fairy tales into one – Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel?

Most of all, let your imagination run wild!

Happy Writing!

The Necromancer’s Daughter, and initial thoughts about Vella

I decided to give Vella a try.

In a nutshell, Amazon’s latest program (beta in the US for now) allows authors to publish new stories in serial episodes that readers can access though tokens. (The first three episodes of every serial are free — no fiddling with the tokens required). Readers can “thumbs up” episodes they enjoy and thereby push them up in visibility.

For authors who have published their episodic writing on programs like Wattpad, this is a great way to leverage their fanbase and earn revenue. Over a thousand fantasy stories showed up on Vella on the first day, and one had over a thousand “thumbs up.”

It wasn’t mine. Lol.

The Necromancer’s Daughter Blurb

The mechanics of setting up a Vella story, posting episodes, and editing them is easy… because there aren’t a lot of options. I don’t mind that, though some authors seem to want more formatting flexibility.

The cost per episode to the reader (after the first free ones) is pennies, and as far as I can tell, the author’s accumulated revenue after 80k words, is about the same as a kindle sale.

I’m undecided about whether Vella and I are a good fit, but I’m committed. Writing and publishing in episodes is nerve-wracking and instantly gratifying for those adrenaline junkies who enjoy hitting the Publish button with every “chapter.”

And when the serial story is finished, authors can always delete it and republish it as a book. In that regard, no effort is wasted. And who knows, we might pick up a few new readers along the way.

If you have the time and want to see what this is all about… (Update 9/17/21. I deleted the story! For reasons my check out my post: Why I deleted my Vella story. )

You can also check out the Serial-Pro Teagan Geneviene’s story: Pride and Flowers, Prejudice and Dirigibles.

Have you considered Vella as an author or reader? Any first impressions?

If you have a Vella story in the works, feel free to share the link.

The Sea Witch’s Bargain

Something short today! Yay!

This poem is in response to Colleen Chesebro’s #Tanka Tuesday challenge. It needed to include synonyms for Eager & Hope provided by Sally Cronin. It’s a syllabic poem called a Double Ennead consisting of 3 stanzas with syllables 6/5/11/6/5.

My goal was to capture the theme of my current WIP: The Ferryman and the Sea Witch.

The Sea Witch’s Bargain

Beware a dark bargain
A craft of desire
Conspired with the merrow’s silver-tailed witch
Her golden-tongued harpoon
Bristles with veiled barbs

She feasts on treasure-dreams
Conjured from sea beds
Her oaths, leviathans steeped in deception
Plunged in mountainous waves
She drowns the reckless

Or forsake her plunder
Mortal in the brine
A quiet heart surrenders to airlessness
Clasping pearls of courage
Deep in love redeemed

Talin, a Changeling

Liars and Thieves, the 1st book in the Unraveling the Veil series, is in the final stages of… everything. Lol.

I introduced two of my main characters: Naj’ar, a goblin here, and Alue, an elf here.

To finish off the trio, here’s a peek at Talin, my changeling. He starts this snippet as a jackal. I hope you enjoy!

Talin sat on the smooth stone and scratched. Other than the vermin infesting his coat, the afternoon had progressed with minimal effort. He’d shift into his familiar self and bathe, then seek a meal of roots or greens. Something edible that didn’t include voles and other Borderland rodents. He could do without ingesting any more hair, bones, and all the other peripheral disgustingness that accompanied the gobbling down of wild meat.

He raised his nose, nostrils twitching at a new scent. The scruff on his neck and shoulders bristled.

A cat. A wild one.

Changelings didn’t stalk changelings, and something big and stealthy lurked in the jungle. He leapt from the sunlight, slipped through a natural trellis of twisted vines, and spent hours evading the panther that had sniffed him out. Exasperation surrendered into a growing sense of urgency. Head down, ears alert, he bounded over a stream and between the stilts that supported the railway spur in its treacherous descent. Already too long in jackal form, he was overdue to shift. And shifting presented some serious drawbacks.

Nose to the ground, he found the path he sought, and by twilight reached one of the tree-stands that peppered the Reaches. The ladder would present a challenge, but if he could manage it, the stand would likely save his life.

He circled the base of the tree, seeking a cache of buried crystals, and found none. Another obstacle. With a huff, he scanned the shadowed growth and tasted the air for unwelcome predators. Langur monkeys crept along the upper branches, and a shy loris blinked at him with pooled eyes, but no cats prowled the area. Poisonous snakes slithering in the trees would be the greatest threat, but there wasn’t much he could do about them. He sat on his haunches and closed his eyes.

He called up his human pattern. A cold shiver accompanied the brutal constellation of pain that sparked deep in his bones. The transformation would require only minutes, but after so long in a borrowed form, it would feel like hours.

The skeletal changes came first. He sank to his knees as his oblong skull crushed inward at the muzzle and bulged in the cranium. His neck compressed. Shoulder blades and ribcage shrank while hip bones expanded and rearranged their connections to fibulae and spine. His tail withered into a pointed coccyx deep within his flesh.

The air around him froze as he drew mass from the trees and ground to accommodate his larger size. A ring of frost crept outward from his contorting feet. Arm and leg bones elongated, and he gritted his teeth as the bones in his front paws shattered, seven pieces reforming into the twenty-seven of his human hand. He curled into a ball, breathless, as his elbows, knees, all his joints and cartilage switched to accommodate altered movement. The intensity of his pain weakened as his skeleton took its final shape and the rest of his internal mechanisms rippled into alignment.

His skin shifted last. Hair altered its texture, fine on his bronze limbs, scratchy on his jaw. Long and dark on his head.

As the ache inside him faded and his sweat cooled, the air returned to its familiar sticky humidity. His heart rate slowed. Strength spent, he could barely move, unconsciousness luring him into a dreamless sleep. Naked, he rolled to his hands and knees and rung by rung, hoisted himself up the ladder.

“Death would be easier than this.” He chuckled like a tipsy drunk. At the top, he collapsed, his legs still propped on the ladder.

Good enough, he surrendered to sleep.

Coming Soon!

Alue, an Elf

The first book of my Unraveling the Veil trilogy is with beta readers. Woot woot. So, if all goes well, I’m on target for… um… August?  Gulp. That date makes my stomach hurt.

I introduced Naj’ar, my goblin, with a little snippet – Here.

Well, here’s a little peek at Alue, my elf.

***

The Devil’s Owl occupied a basement in the Ten’s Thrift District known for its tanneries and crude smelting operations, poisonous reek and lung-killing smoke. She paused in the gloom at the top of the littered stairs leading down below the street. The night had cooled. Stars pricked holes in the obsidian sky, and crickets chirped in a forsaken lot of tumbled walls.

The canteen’s whispered reputation suggested it was a place frequented by goblin smugglers, collared changelings, and elves with nothing to lose. It was a place to purchase stolen crystals.

She chewed on a lip and weighed the risks of entering. Even more so, her chances of getting out. She’d dressed in dark gray dahn, a long black shirt, and open vest, her hair tightly braided and tucked into a scarf. A light smudge of kohl hollowed her cheeks, lending her the starved appearance of an addict, and she’d drawn dull bruises around her eyes.

Teeth gritted, she adjusted the knife at her hip and descended the steps. A rap on the weathered door cracked it open, and a goblin’s charcoal face filled the slit. A lemon-yellow eye appraised her.

“I need to make a purchase,” she said.

“What of?”

“None of your business.”

“We haven’t seen you here before.”

“Because I’ve never been here. I usually don’t patronize dumps.” The goblin reached through the gap. She jerked back, and his sharp claws missed her scarf. “And if you touch me, I’ll cut off your fingers.”

The goblin bared a row of serrated teeth, returning the threat.

“Let her in, Tak,” someone said from the murky cave within. Tak stepped aside, and the dim room beckoned. The dank and ripe stink of unwashed bodies and spilled keva wrinkled her nose, and she sucked in a breath through her mouth.

“You coming in?” The goblin grabbed her arm and yanked her inside, closing the door behind her. She twisted out of his grip with an agility that caught him off guard, her knife tip pointed up under his scarred chin. He loomed over her, one long ear swept back and twitching, the other missing. Muscles bunched in his shoulders.

She growled into his surprised face, “I wasn’t kidding about the fingers.”

“Fast for an addict.”

“Who said I was an addict?” She lowered her knife and her voice. “I’m looking for crystals.”

The goblin’s nocturnal eyes reflected the muted light. He pointed with his chin to a corner. “Over there.” He bent down, his long nose almost pressed to her ear. “You’re not fooling anyone, elf. Get what you need and get out.”

Alue stepped back, nodded, and headed for the threesome. A bearded changeling with a collar delivered mugs of keva to his companions—a pale goblin and dark-haired elf. They leaned over their table while a glowing sphere twirled on the elf’s fingertips. He was photokinetic, like her, but with a trickster’s talent, and handsome compared to the other lowlifes that drank and gambled in the canteen’s alcoves. He rolled the sphere over the back of his hand, into his palm, back up to his fingertips, never losing contact. The movement seemed effortless, without thought, his attention focused on his companions and their conversation. She strolled up to the table and plucked the light from its perch. The orb remained bright in her palm.

The elf’s companions stiffened, but he cupped a hand and formed another sphere that popped to his fingertips. “Beware who you rob.”

Naj’ar, a Goblin.

I took a last-minute break to finish the 5th draft of my trilogy: Unraveling the Veil. Phew. Done. Now I can celebrate start my next draft. Yay! Ugh!

This project has been in the works for 2 years, and I plan to start publishing in May August if all goes well.

I thought I’d share a slightly-condensed intro to my WIP’s main characters, starting with Naj’ar, a goblin. I hope you enjoy the read.

 

Bats squeaked in the blackness, and an enduring cold leached from the walls. Neither troubled Naj’ar. His kind were accustomed to the leather-winged company, and his muscled frame, though half-elven, tolerated the chill almost as well as the purebloods. A shaggy fur draped his shoulders as he navigated the tunnelways beneath the mountain.

Ragged veins of quartz glimmered in the rock’s wet crevices, their latent power spiraling as if they’d captured wisps of cloud. Their faint glow cast angular shadows. Yet, the reflective surfaces of his eyes granted him the vision to lope through the crude passageways with sure feet.

The ground shook, and he paused, a hand reaching into the void for balance. Curved fingernails scraped a wall. Grains of igneous rock sifted from the ceiling. The tunnels to the peaks meandered in a labyrinth of forks, crumbling stairways, and long sloped passages, familiar to him though he’d never labored in the upper mines. His interest lay in the Veil and the hidden world that lay beyond.

Na’jar, a goblin

A pragmatic people, goblins rarely indulged in fantasy. But legends hinted of a hallowed land, the birthplace of the First where only the brave and just found welcome. Others speculated that behind the shimmering wall lay the answers to the secrets of eternity. Its allure tugged at his curiosity, a barbed thorn hooked in his mind, impossible to pry loose.

His feet slid, and his fingernails dug into the ice varnishing the slanted floor. Ice within the mountain? He frowned, gray skin prickling. The air froze on the walls in a glassy rime. The crust of frost thickened. Clouds formed with each breath, and for the first time, the frigid chill seeped into his bones. He sniffed the downy scents of snow and earth mingled with something new—the electric tang of power.

Bent in a crouch, he pressed forward. At the end of a winding incline, beyond the frame of winter’s brambles, a sinister light forced his yellow eyes to narrow. The snow-laced peaks sawed at the sky. And behind them, the Veil beckoned.

He toiled uphill. Bare feet crunched through frozen drifts. A white wind howled from the heights, and the curtain shimmered through gaps in the storm-bourn snow, a sheet of silver light, shuddering and bulging. Lightning crackled and ribboned through a lace of arteries and veins as if it were a monstrous creature hovering at the edge of the world.

Ears swept back, hands and feet numb, Naj bent against the blow. He trudged upward, determined to reach the ridge. Ice caked his face, sparkled on his lashes. The air hissed with electricity. The distinctive odor of ozone, both clean and burned, wrinkled his nose.

The Veil splintered. A blast of power flung him backward.

He tumbled down the steep slope, hurled into a black and white slide of rock and snow, past the tunnelway’s entrance. With a breathless gasp, he clambered to his feet and climbed for the mountain’s shelter. A second explosion slammed him to his back. Colossal shards of light shot outward, streaking through the storm. He covered his face with an arm. The snow and stone lost its grip on the mountainside, burying him alive. He clawed and kicked free of his icy tomb and scrambled over the sliding terrain.

Then the wind died. Snow and rock rumbled to stillness. The Veil began to weave itself together, threads swiftly stitching across the ether, reconnecting and patching the jagged wounds. The blizzard transformed into rain, slackened to a lazy drizzle, then evaporated before it mottled the ground. Sunshine lanced through gashes in a rapidly mutating sky. Snow vanished in a hot fog and then the fog too burned away.

The Veil thinned and solidified, releasing the energetic mass that had fortified it against the storm. Naj hastened for the tunnel entrance, his soles pained by the hot stones. Tufts of grass, moments before buried in ice, began to smolder. He dove into the warming passageway, rolled to his feet, and dashed into the blackness.

***

Thanks for reading!

Storm #Writephoto

Storm – copyright Sue Vincent

The First of Chaos strode into the Borderland, summoning the rains with his raised palms. Would their thunderous return drown the land and all those toiling in its dust? He harbored little doubt of that outcome. Would they quench the thirst of a parched and dying land to foster new life? Of that end, he was curious. Chaos wasn’t devoid of hope, but it was always unpredictable.

He turned to the peaks, the land of goblins and raptors, of hooved climbers and burrowing rodents. Towers crumbled. Ridges eroded, swept down by torrential rains. Giant trees toppled like kindling, hillsides laid low by mud-clotted waves, pummeled by sand and stone.

The storm crushed all in its path. Caverns collapsed. Tunnels flattened and filled. Goblins died. Changelings died. Elves died. The noble and treacherous, the innocent and immoral, the young and old. By chance alone, others would survive. They fled down the mountainside on his mighty heels.

He strolled the perimeter of Ka Radiff, a once-thriving center of commerce, an open and welcoming city. Now, a crater, a receptacle of his brown deluge and a raft of bloated bodies. To the west, ash and dust shrouded the land in a ghoulish film the color of old bones. Soot joined with the billowing smoke of the forests where the inferno raged, consuming all in its path—human, plant, and animal, the common and plain, the rare and beautiful. Gone, gone, gone. A waste. He would wander in that direction eventually. But first, he’d satisfy his curiosity.

There was a war on.

***

A cheery snippet for Valentine’s Day from my WIP ( book 3: Lords of Chaos), slightly modified.

In response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt. Thanks, Sue!

And Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

pixabay

 

Filling Magical Plotholes

Elanalue Windthorn (Alue). An elf and one of the three protagonists.

I’m about 40 pages from completing my 2nd draft of a new trilogy… Unraveling the Veil. It’s been a bumpier ride than usual, my laptop jouncing on my knees as the story’s wheels plunge into plotholes on the long and winding road to publishing.

A few of them required me to rock the old tale back and forth while gunning the engine. A couple of times, I had to back up and try again, turning in a slightly different direction to get around a sinkhole. I’ve been known to add an extra gallon of coffee to the tank in order to jack up the imagination and fill in a whopping crater.

Magic is a big part of the problem.

Fantasy authors can easily find themselves mired by their magic. To be honest, I’ve struggled through a lot of “oh, shit” moments where I’ve put a character in a treacherous situation, and then realized (on the second draft) that they can easily escape. Yes, you guessed it, by using the powers I granted them.

A shapeshifter who can turn into a beetle can escape most confined spaces. Uh oh.

A shapeshifter who can transform into a bird can just fly away from a dangerous situation. Darn!

A pyrokinetic elf doesn’t have to worry much about being stuck in an ice storm. Duh.

A goblin who can rearrange earthen matter should be impossible to keep locked up in a stone cell. Gah! Rats!

The list goes on and on.

My characters aren’t all-powerful, but they have talents. And their abilities change over time, so I have to keep track of where they are in their magical evolutions.

The point is, writing, rewriting, and editing fantasy requires a unique analysis of every action scene. We, the creators and purveyors of magic, have to question our logic in order to keep the story plausible. Can my characters use their magical abilities to get out of this terrible situation?

If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to put on the brakes and check the old map. Then fix the road or plot a detour. The journey must go on.

WIP working cover

Writing “The End”

Pixabay image

I imagine all artists – writers, painters, composers – come to a place in their work when they (in one form or another) jot down those two words: “The End.”

Naturally, the end of a first draft isn’t the END. There are months of rewrites and edits ahead. The collection of words I’ve tallied up on my laptop is still a work-in-progress.

But the story is done. The plot has wrapped up. The characters have completed their arcs and in some cases have died. Even my happy endings don’t come without pain, suffering, and loss. They are always bittersweet.

When I write “The End,” it’s emotional. As I scribble this post, days after penning that last line, my eyes gloss with feeling. And there’s no single reason.

“The End” comes with a sigh of relief and a wish to tell someone the powerful news. It’s a milestone. More than a year’s creative work coming to its conclusion.

But, for me, there’s also an odd sense of grief. I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m restless. My sense of time shifts; my focus suddenly flutters away. I can’t sit, can’t move on. The story that consumed my thoughts and hours is over. The pressure to write, to capture my characters’ thoughts and hearts and sacrifices before they slip away, dissipates. I know the story now from the beginning to the end. The characters I have lived with and come to love have nothing more to say to me. They journey into their futures without me. Inside my head, I’m… alone.

Writing is, for many, an emotional undertaking. I’ve felt this way with every first draft.

I finished my first draft on November 18th with an additional 26,722 words. My NaNoWriMo challenge is done. I’m grieving.

And prepping for the less intense application of my craft.

Do you have any emotional reaction to writing “The End?” I’d love to hear your thoughts.