It is sometimes said that every person has at least one book in them, but only some people’s books have enough sexuality, intrigue, magic and redemption to keep you hungering for more.
Last week, we interviewed Sharon T. Rose about aliens, world-building, and umbrella branding.
This week it’s the turn of one of the (dare I say it?) household webserial authors out there: MeiLin Miranda, whose epic tale An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom is not only terribly good fun to read, but was what got me seriously thinking about posting my own serial in the first place.
But enough about me. It’s time for our drink and chat with the guest author.
AMH: For those who haven’t read An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom yet (gasp!) – how would you convince them to read it?
MLM: Oh boy, right now, I don’t know if I would! I’m wrestling with a major rewrite that I hope will launch at the beginning of next year. I thought I’d be done by now, but that was before I re-read all three novels and realized that there were so many inconsistencies that needed cleaning up–I couldn’t just do a line edit and put it back out there. In the meantime, though, if you want a grasp of what I’m aiming for, by all means, read! :)
How I’d convince people to read: It’s got sex, it’s got intrigues, it’s got mysteries, it’s got a subtle but coherent magical framework. (Or it will. o_O) The sex gets the most attention, but it also seems to be what gets people thinking the most.
At its base–and I don’t know if this would convince people to read it–it’s a story that deals with the nature and uses of power of all kinds, including magical, sexual and political, and how those forms of power intersect and interact. It started out as what I thought was “just” erotica, and I use the word “just” advisedly, because good erotica is powerful stuff on more than just a sexual level. But the more I wrote, the more serious I became about that underlying theme.
AMH: You’re actually on hiatus now as you’re editing Book 1, soon to be released in print and e-book forms. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process? Have you hired outside help?
MLM: Yes, I hired Annetta Ribken as my editor, with the financial backing of my generous and amazing readers. Netta is fantastic, and I recommend her highly. I met her on Twitter; she was helping another writer friend with his serial, and he hooked us up. She’s been the perfect editor for the book. I strongly recommend that people at least consider getting an editor, unless you’re writing serial-style and intend to keep it that way–no looking back.
My editing process: The first thing I did was outline all three books. That’s where the flaws really showed up. I tore apart all three and began moving events and characters around in a more logical fashion. I decided which events had to be in book one, outlined them, and am now writing from the outline. That doesn’t mean the writing’s been cooperative! New scenes, subplots and characters have forced their way in, old ones have bowed out. The general story arc is still there, but I’m hoping it has more narrative cohesion now. I know there will be some disappointed fans of the original; things aren’t quite as sunny as they were before, and the hero isn’t quite as winsome as he was. But that’s reality. He’s still sympathetic, I hope, but he’s more like a real teenager and less like an idealized one.
When I finish what I hope is a chapter, I send it off to a select group of folks who’ve read the original. They give me feedback. I have two readers who haven’t read the original also reading it separately; their insight is usually really different from the “oldsters.” I’m waiting to finish the whole shebang before I send it back to Netta.
This has been the hardest and most painful writing I’ve ever done. Painful to me, I should say, not that I’m increasing the pain in the story!
AMH: What’s truly fascinating is that Intimate History is your first (and only?) piece of original fiction. You’re a professional non-fiction writer – when did you think to try your hand at fiction?
MLM: Oh, I’ve *tried* writing fiction my whole life, or did up until my early 20s. It was *so bad*, and I wasn’t in a mental/emotional place where I could stick with it for any length of time without some measure of success. I never finished anything longer than a page or two, and it was all wretched. I made a fool of myself at a writing workshop about 25 years ago, and that was that. I stuck with something that came easy to me, and that was nonfiction.
A switch went off in my head in late 2007; that switch, we later determined, was the latest manic episode of my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder. (I have mild bipolar II, which means I’m nuts, but relatively speaking not really all THAT nuts, and I take medication now that mostly evens me out.) Anyway, I started writing Dr Who fanfiction in a daze; I couldn’t stop writing. When I woke up, I’d written nearly 40,000 words, and fashioned them into a novella. I’m still fairly proud of it, as fanfiction goes.
What got me writing original stuff was a Neil Gaiman quote that apparently has tipped more people than me into writing: “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” I thought, wow, that’s it? I daydream all the time! I’ve had daydreams I’ve been working on for years! That’s where stories come from? wow! I mean, it’s so simple that I had two conflicting thoughts: why didn’t I think of that myself; and that couldn’t possibly be it, could it? I decided it could possibly be it, and started writing down one of my longest-running daydreams in early 2008. That was the beginning of the History.
AMH: It may seem simple, but it still takes a lot of work to transform those ideas into a story. Speaking of, Jan Oda asks: “What is the craziest thing you’ve researched online since starting your serial?”
MLM: Omigod. Craziest? I have RANSACKED Wikipedia on so many subjects I don’t know if I can come up with a “craziest.” Obscure, definitely.
*looks through research pile*
Reading animal entrails; cave cities; Indian famines during the Raj; the English-Portugese alliance; the speed of ships in the age of sail and the age of steam; the history of railroads; endless Roman incidents, battles and rulers; women and the Napoleonic Code; dozens of dialects; indigenous Polynesian navigation techniques; etymology of the names of cities and regions, that’s something I research all the time for ideas on naming places in the History–oh! here in my notes. Craziest thing I’ve researched: Handkäse mit musik, a kind of cheese. Don’t ask. (Especially don’t ask because I don’t really remember why I researched handkäse!)
ANYway, I donated a chunk of change to the Wikipedia foundation because I felt too guilty not to, since I use it so much. It’s an endless source of inspiration. Hit the “random” button and be prepared to take notes.
AMH: And why did you pick the online serial format?
MLM: I originally envisioned the History as a serial, but it’s become clear to me it should be in novel format. I have more than a couple of ideas for actual serials, though, so don’t count me out on that score; I can write soapy, and that’s what a good serial should be–open-ended and full of drama, hijinks and derring-do, never looking back to revise previous chapters. The History is full of drama, hijinks and derring-do, but it’s not open-ended; its story line is not sustainable as a serial.
AMH: Did you never intend to follow the traditional publishing route?
MLM: I didn’t think it was open to me. I misunderstood the current market in terms of sex in books (I’m fond of saying I changed my mind when I picked up a Laurell K. Hamilton book at the supermarket and nearly dropped the eggs). I didn’t think my work was very good, and, once I’d put some of it up, “everyone” told me I could never sell it now and that I should drop it and work on something else if I wanted to be published. Well, I don’t want to work on something else. (Actually, I *am* sorta working on a couple of somethings else, but you know what I mean.) Combine all that well-meaning advice with the horrid troubles many of my friends with book deals have undergone and I just thought, well, fine. I’ll do it this way.
And frankly, I don’t have time to query a hundred agents to find one who believes in me and the project, then wait for that agent to query a hundred publishers, then wait for the publisher to get their asses in gear and get the book out (all the while giving me almost zero marketing support and paying me 5% royalty on sales minus the nickel and diming they do to make sure you never earn out your advance). I don’t have time, not because I’m impatient, but because I’ve already died once, in 2006. I mean that literally–after-death experience, shocked back to life, and the whole 9 yards. It was part of the impetus to finally get writing. I don’t know how long I’ve got. No one does, really. My health is good now, though I still have limitations and occasional bouts of PTSD, but I don’t know when or if I’ll take a bad turn.
So, to paraphrase Robert Heinlein, I listened closely to the experts; they told me how and why I could never do this; and then I went out and started doing it anyway.
I’m not doing badly financially. I don’t make a full-time living, but few authors with book deals do either. (I have the luxury of both ad revenue from my existing nonfiction work and enough of an income from my husband’s work that I can write full-time and still eat.) I don’t think publishers and agents are evil. But I do think they have to concentrate on big sellers; those of us in niche markets are not really of interest to them. We don’t make them enough money. They need the next blockbuster, and I understand that; publishing is in peril, and it hasn’t figured out how to make the transition into the new age. They need easy money. I don’t know how I can help them do that, either–I have no answers for that.
The least common denominator focus of the publishing world leaves huge opportunities for filling the “long tail,” for those of us who write genre especially. Under-served and completely UNserved markets exist for our work, and now like never before we have ways of reaching them that bypass traditional publishing. The main piece of unsolicited advice I have for those who would do this is to approach it professionally. Meet your update schedule. Make it modest if you have to, but meet it. If real life gets in the way, give your readers plenty of notice that you’re going to be late or skip; they’ll understand, as long as you keep things transparent and keep them in the loop. Hire a real live artist to do your work. Put up a real live website with everything for your work under one roof–blog, forum and serial. Monetize your site, and I’m not talking Google Ads. If you take it to print, get a real live book block designer, and get your real live artist to do you a decent cover. It costs money. Ask your readers for financial help. I did, and to my surprise they gave it to me, for which I will be grateful until the end of my life.
AMH: Other than writing, you’re active in the webfiction community as a programmer. For example, you set up Digital Novelists. Why did you start it, and what do you hope to achieve?
MLM: I wanted web fiction writers to have a one-stop solution. DN doesn’t cost me much to run, especially when the ads are doing okay (right now, advertising is down everywhere, so not so much, but I’m still okay). Partly it was out of altruism, partly it was out of selfishness; it drives me crazy to have to keep track of two, three or even more websites to follow one story or writer! If I have a goal for DN, it’s to raise the visibility of the entire medium, which helps me as well as everyone else, frankly. :)
AMH: And what is DN’s unique selling point? What do you offer than no one else does?
MLM: Me. :)
No, seriously. I do what the people needing hosting do–I’m a web-based author like they are. I understand the issues facing web authors. I have a particular set of skills, and I know how to apply them to what we do. I’m easy to reach, and I at least try to be responsive. If people need features I don’t have, I do my best to get them. And if there are security issues and updates to be made, I do them.
AMH: Great; that’s it from me! Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
MLM: Spread the word about web literature. There are so many great writers out there. One of the best ways to support them is to tell others about them. Throw a buck or two at them now and again, but throw readers at them as often as possible.
Thanks for having me on the blog!
And if you have any questions of your own for MeiLin, leave them in a comment below.
See you next week!