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I’ve so often told this story that I sometimes think everyone must know it: the Children of the Desert series has its roots deeeeeeeply (and contradictorily, from a timeline standpoint) in a story I wrote over ten years ago and which is set several years after the ending of the CotD series. In that original story, which I called Kingdom of Salt (and that will very likely be the actual title, if I ever get it published), a redheaded mercenary nicknamed Tank quickly took center stage. He had a mysterious past, a complicated present, and a very uncertain future, and I absolutely adored him as a character.

That book wasn’t well written. Let me point that out right away. It was, at first draft, dreadful. Filled with cliches and poor grammar and trite plot devices. Tank was, on looking back, a wimpy pastiche of Kane, Fafhrd, and Conan. The manuscript was almost as bad on second, third, and tenth. Finally I showed it, trembling in fear, to a writing group I was leading at the time. Most of them smiled a bit uncertainly. Some liked it (or said they did). One lady, however, very LOUDLY denounced that redheaded mercenary as an unsympathetic and horrible character. “Look at all the bad stuff he does,” she said. “It’s disgusting. I hate him. I don’t want to read about this.”

I was taken aback. Under my own Rules of Order, I couldn’t argue with her perceptions; but, oh, how dearly I wanted to! So instead, I took myself back to my keyboard and started writing Tank’s backstory, so that readers would understand the context when they got to the moments when he did horrible things. Somewhere along the way, a young street thief scampered onto the page and demanded my attention; he was closely followed by a brooding nobleman and a tangle of political intrigue. Trusting that this would tie in to the Kingdom of Salt storyline somewhere, I went with it–and eventually wound up with Secrets of the Sands, in which Tank does not appear, but is referenced…not that I saw the reference at first draft, or even fifth. When I did finally realize what I’d written, I smacked myself on the forehead for being so dense and decided to run with it throughout all the following books.

In Guardians of the Desert, I was able to involve Tank more directly. In fact, the original draft of the second book carried his POV, along with that of Eredion, Alyea, Deiq, Idisio, and two other characters! My publisher wisely deemed that entirely too busy of a backdrop, so book two shifted to revolve around Alyea, Deiq, and Eredion. Idisio and Tank moved to the next block and took up residence in book three.

(Thus the long delay between books two and three. I was frantically reshuffling and rewriting to suit the change in POV braids.)

So in Bells of the Kingdom, at last, Tank gets to strut onstage. I’m tremendously excited about that, because he is one of my favorite characters. I have an entire novella (unpublishable, I fear) written about his backstory, and I have big plans for him in the next series (which will start out with, yes, a properly written version of Kingdom of Salt).

It’s been a long road, and a strange one, for both myself and Tank. My writing skills have grown tremendously, and his complexity has deepened almost as much. He’s no longer a wimp, and he’s definitely no longer a pastiche, but a person in his own right. I fear he’s still a character that readers will either love or loathe, but I’ve learned that such a division is not only okay, but to be courted–because good or bad, it’s a reaction. Any reaction other than indifference from a reader is always, always a good thing.

(And yes, the red hair is a nod of homage to Kane. Don’t like it? Too bad. We all must show our roots from time to time.)

For better or for worse, without Tank, I never would have published Secrets of the Sands. So hats off and a bow to that puzzled and wary young man, who doesn’t understand all this fuss in the least and would really rather be left alone to nurse his ale and live his life as he sees fit, thank you very much. He’s nothing all that special in his own eyes, after all…and he really wishes that the various great and powerful people of the world would just go away and leave him the hell alone.

*sinister authorial cackle from behind the scenes* Not bloody likely, my friend…not bloody likely at all. 🙂

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Every published writer has to do book signings. It’s the rule. We approach them with mixed anticipation and dread. Well-meaning friends, whether pros or people who once read an article by a pro, will offer advice ranging from “Go out there and accost every person who walks into the store” to “Bring food. People can’t resist food.” The truth is there’s no super-secret formula, and every author must develop her own style.

But every once in a while, a truly stellar set of reflections on book-signings turns up on the net. Here is the latest: “My First Bookstore Book Signing”, from the blog home of Mercury Retrograde author Leona Wisoker. If you are among those who approach the idea of a sit-and-sign with trepidation, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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Today, for your reading pleasure, some thoughts from Mercury Retrograde author Leona Wisoker, whose Secrets of the Sands comes out at the end of the month. This is Leona’s first trip through the wormhole of having a book published, and she kindly agreed to share some of the lessons learned:

As my first novel gets ready to go to press, I find myself more and more in the company of other professional writers, either in person or via blog, Facebook, and newsletters. It’s exhilarating to refer to myself as a professional writer, and more than a little unnerving. I bounce around and screech with joy over positive reviews, have an incredible sense of accomplishment, and of course I adore being able to hold the advance review copy of my first published novel in my hands.

But recently I came across a piece where an established writer talked about all the jobs and tasks she has completed in the past year. My first thought? Wow, she is busy. My second thought: I am soooo lazy. I can’t possibly call myself a professional writer; I haven’t even managed to sell any non fiction articles! And I don’t serve on any committees, or mentor writers, or. . . .

Then I started thinking about how easy it is to use a distorted measuring scale. Many of the writers I read about or speak to have many books out, often through and across multiple publishers, genres, and markets; they have won awards and have been at this way longer than I have. Bit silly to use someone like that as a measuring stick when you’re just starting out, isn’t it?

A quote from my favorite inspirational poem comes to mind:

“If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain & bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

That’s from the Desiderata, an awesome collection of advice that I think every writer should nail to their wall by their workspace. It tends to restore my perspective when I’m feeling particularly inadequate.

The most important quote in the whole thing, in my opinion, is:

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

Words to take to heart for all writers: we are notoriously hard on ourselves. So for anyone out there who fears they can’t possibly “make it” as a writer, don’t give up just yet; it took our idols some serious time and effort to get where they are now, no matter how easy it may look from the outside.

You’ll get there. Just take it one step at a time; but unlike climbing a ladder, looking up will only scare you. So don’t look up too often. Look down instead; that’s where you get the best – and least frightening – perspective on how well you’re doing.

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