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I was feeling smug this morning about getting on the road by my target time (before 6am). I'd have lots of time in the coffee shop in Berkeley to compose this blog and maybe get some other things done as well before going to the office. And then I saw the big flashing freeway sign "West Hwy 24 accident all lanes blocked." They don't go to that extreme for a minor fender bender, so I quickly reviewed potential alternate routes and took off into the hills, detouring through Moraga, up Canyon Road, and winding through the east bay redwoods.

No teaser last week because it was a topsy turvy day: no morning coffee shop session because I took the train in to work so I could go straight to the airport (motel) from work to catch an early morning flight to Kalamazoo. Also because all my spare writing time was being spent polishing a 40-minute first draft of my paper down to a 20-minute presentation. As my regular readers may be aware, writing short is not one of my strong points! But now we're back to the weekly teasers!

When writing a series, there's always the tricky question of how to bring readers up to speed on the characters' back-stories without brining the narrative to a screeching halt for an info-dump. But when writing a book that's meant to be able to stand alone but exists within a series, the issue of back-story becomes even trickier. You need to provide readers enough information so they understand why these minor characters are wandering in and out of the book, but without setting up expectations that they will be important to this particular story.

The issue of character motivation weaves deeply through chapter 3 of Floodtide. Why did Dominique reach out to Jeanne to help Roz? Why did Jeanne agree to see what she could do? (These were covered in last week's teaser blog.) Why did Jeanne approach Margerit? (“Who did she know who kept a large enough staff that there would always be a place for one more? And who could not possibly object to the reason for the girl’s fall? The answer was obvious.” Mother of Souls ch. 12) Why did Margerit agree to give her a try?

Because Floodtide is written solely from Roz’s point of view, there are a lot of details that she (we) don’t have access to. Like why in the world Dominique would go out on a limb to try to get Roz another position in service? And how did she arrange for Margerit Sovitre, of all people, to consider her?

Fortunately, if one has read Mother of Souls, the answer to the second question is laid out there, although purely in passing.

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[from Mother of Souls]

For a reader, the backstory and characteristics of a character should appear to be “just how things are”. But from the writer’s side, it’s a careful process of designing that character’s history, abilities, and skills so that they have exactly what they need to fit into the role they’re required to play.

I had to fine-tune parts of Roz’s backstory carefully to give her enough experience with dressmaking to have developed an ambition to learn more, and enough sewing skills to make up for starting an apprenticeship at such an advanced age (all of sixteen!).

It isn't that I go into a writing project assuming that I know exactly what needs to go into the story and what would be superfluous, but it would be accurate to say that I don't go about writing entire chapters without a clear purpose to them. So when the editorial feedback (in this case, from my beta readers) comes back pointing out serious issues that can only be fixed by eliminating entire scenes, events, and characters, there's always a twinge involved.

Alpennia is all about challenging and subverting default paradigms and tropes, simply by its existence and by the people and stories it focuses on. But it can be tricky to have the characters themselves challenge those paradigms without falling into the trap of pausing for set-piece speeches. Consider, for example, the problem of both portraying and challenging the types of social prejudice endemic to early 19th century Europe without turning my characters into 21st century progressive activists.

For those who have been waiting for it, the ebook versions of Mother of Souls are now available through non-Bella distributors, including iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble among others. (I would remind readers that Bella gets a bigger cut when ebooks are bought directly, but of course the best place to buy a book is always the one where you actually buy it. So I will never quibble as long as you buy!) This seems an opportune time to remind readers that reviews on the major reader-review sites like Amazon and Goodreads really help with visibility.

I've started trying to get my habits aligned for the New Year, hopefully without any duels of honor out in the Plaiz by torchlight! I'm currently working on two (2) Alpennia short stories. One for submission to an anthology, telling a story from Jeanne's "wild era" that involves a lovely French opera singer who specializes in trouser roles and who just might be a spy...but for whom? The other is a "just for fun" character sketch about a character who won't appear in a book until Sisters in Spirit. It's something of a ghost story, so I may try to hold on to it until next October.

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