Member Spotlight: M. C. A. Hogarth

1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?

mcah cover alyshaMy most recent book just went up in May! Either Side of the Strand is the first book in a series I’ve been planning for a long time about the career of Fleet captain Alysha Forrest, who has previously appeared in short fiction for years now (one of those stories, “In the Line of Duty,” won an Ursa Major, even). I’m very excited to get Alysha’s first full-length novel out there. It’s a space adventure, and my homage to Star Trek: The Original Series, with its slightly campy but high-minded stories. Also it’s got space octopuses in it, and all the characters are female, so it’s sort of like a pajama party with military uniforms and aliens.

2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?

For the most part, I’m a pantser. I know the beginning. I know the ending (hazily). I know one or two scenes in the middle. All the rest of it is gelatinous, and I write to find out what’s next. I like that; it keeps me interested! When I write serials, I am often as curious as my readers about what’s about to happen! I post an installment, and everyone comments, “Wow, I wonder–” And I am sitting there at the keyboard, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I do too!” *laugh*

Sometimes, though, my subconscious coughs up 3-4 scenes in a row, and then I obediently jot down a quick flowchart-like thing. This almost inevitably happens in the car. It usually looks something like this:

mcah jottednotes

(Notes are from forthcoming epic fantasy trilogy. Post it is tracking daily word count changes.) I don’t recommend this style of note-taking, no matter how long the lights take to change. Also, please don’t try to analyze my handwriting based on my car scribble. >.>

3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?

A long time ago, Watts Martin — who is one of fandom’s best writers, I think — said that most of my work revolves around epiphany. He said this to me, mind you, when I was all of 18 or 19 years old? That was… ah, longer ago than I like to think of, but I still think he’s right. No matter what I’m writing, there’s a psychological aspect to everything: people coming to better understandings of themselves, or learning that one thing that galvanizes them to make life changes or momentous choices. It doesn’t matter to me whether that choice is small in the great scheme of things–like Vasiht’h’s choice of major in college in Mindtouch — or enormous, like Asrial’s decision to help stop the literal Apocalypse in A Rosary of Stones and Thorns. What matters to me is how people grow, and how they come to that place where they are vulnerable to life, and feel safe enough in that vulnerability, to be open to change.

4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?

All of them? I give them all a little, vital piece of me, and let them grow around that piece the way a pearl begins with a grain of sand — and a lot of irritation.

It seems to work that way in real life too. The good and polished parts are born from a tiny seed and a lot of discomfort.

5. Which authors or books have most influenced your work?

I’ve had so many influences it’s hard to list them all. But among specifically furry sources, Steve Gallacci’s Albedo and Vicky Wyman’s Xanadu made a big impression.

6. What’s the last book you read that you really loved?

I haven’t been reading as much new work as I wish! But I picked up Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, and my daughter and I greatly enjoyed that. (I would recommend it for children above 10, probably — the sentences can get a little complex for younger kids.) We loved the message that it’s good to be kind to people, and that kindness is rewarded. I also got to read A Shard of Sun, the latest installment in Jess Owen’s epic Summer King Chronicles, and I kind of want a Kjorn plush of my very own.

7. Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?mcah selfie-for-fwg-spotlight

I don’t actually have a lot of free time, since I work two jobs and have a young child! But I read a lot, and do some painting to relax, and when I have free time I try to do things that are beneficial to my health, like sit in a dry sauna, or go to Church, or take a walk. If I ever arrange my schedule properly, I’d also like to return to fencing, which was my favorite sport.

Also, I like sleep. Sleeping is a fine use of my free time.

8. Advice for other writers?

I think writers need different advice for every stage they pass through, so it’s hard for me to know what to say. When I was a new writer, I needed to hear ‘you’re good, but you need to work hard and write a lot and practice, practice, practice!’ When I was a slightly older writer, I needed to hear ‘you need to read broadly, think critically about your work, and pare down your stories to the bare minimum you need to get your idea across, and you have to work hard and meet your quotas!’ A few years later, I needed to hear, ‘you need to let your stories breathe; there’s nothing wrong with using style as a tool to achieve your ends; and yes, different kinds of stories need different narrative strategies and styles. And you need to practice and write a lot and work, work, work!’

These days, I need to hear, ‘slow down’ and ‘live your life, because your life is what gives your art the authenticity of your experiences.’ And ‘you don’t need to sacrifice your health to meet your deadlines; your readers don’t want your next book more than they want you to de-stress from a toxic level of industry.’

These are all good bits of advice. I received them from others, and for the most part, they came at the right time. It’s matching the advice to the right stage of a writer’s development that’s the sticky bit.

9. Where can readers find your work?

My work’s available where most books are found: Amazon, B&N, the e-book retailers like Kobo and Apple’s iBookstore, and you can get it in most formats (e-book, print, and audio). I believe FurPlanet and Sofawolf are also carrying some of my work to cons in the form of anthologies. I have a nice guide on “where to start” for people who want to figure out how to tackle my catalog, which is over 20 books strong if you count only the novel-length works, and 40+ if you want all of it. You can find that here: http://mcahogarth.org/where-do-i-start/

10. What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom?

Oh, it would be hard to pick a single thing. I “grew up” in the fandom, having discovered it when I was very young, and it’s always been there in the background for me. There’s a familiarity there that’s comforting. But I think if I had to go with a single thing, it would be that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There’s a playfulness in furry fandom that I don’t often see in other places. It’s good to have fun, now and then…!

 

Check out M. C. A. Hogarth’s member bio here!

Guest post: “Thief of Song Blurb, and Blurbs in General” by M. C. A. Hogarth

Thief of Song Blurb, and Blurbs in General

by M. C. A. Hogarth

 

Thief of Songs blurbHere’s the blurb for Thief of Songs! Someone on Twitter asked me if I had any tips for blurb-writing, and this seems a good time to talk about that. Particularly since, unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy blurb-writing. (Yes, I know. I am crazy.) The most memorable advice I ever received on this topic was from agent Don Maass, who gave a short lecture on “the elevator pitch” while promoting his book Writing the Breakout Novel. I don’t remember the book, but I do remember the pointers about pitching. Pitching, he said, is about “capturing interest, not telling the story.” It should include the three essential components: character, setting, and conflict. And it should answer the question: “Why should I care? What’s the emotional appeal?”

So the heart of blurbing, for me, is identifying the central conflict, the character most affected by it, and then ending with a leading question/statement that invites the reader to find out more.

In Thief’s case, the conflict in the story is Amet’s problems with the lowlands. He is the character most affected by that conflict. And the leading question is whether he’ll be willing to set those problems aside to love a lowlander. Easy peasy! But the art of blurbing is making those answers as succinct as possible, while also as exciting and mysterious as possible. Think of movie trailers: they give you only enough set-up to understand why you should care about the outcome, and then tease you by not revealing the ending!

Here’s the fun part of it for me, then: I want the whole thing to fit in 3-5 sentences. Fewer is best!

So, some more examples for deconstruction. Here’s Mindtouch‘s:

Mindtouch blurb
Setting: The entire first sentence gives this context.
Character Most Affected: Jahir (who shows up in sentence #2).
Description of Conflict: the second part of the second sentence (“unprepared for… etc.”)
Leading question: “Will the two, etc etc.”
Sentence count: 3

Here was a rough one for me, the Black Blossom blurb:

Black Blossom blurb
Conflict: First sentence!
Character Most Affected (or at least, most prevalent because Narration): “the gentle Calligrapher, etc…”
Setting: The third sentence.
Leading question: The last two sentences.
Sentence count: 4

Now, here’s an interesting exercise. When the sequel to Flight of the Godkin Griffin came out, both Sofawolf (the print publisher) and I wrote blurbs for it without consulting one another. It was a difficult exercise because we’re introducing the final book in a series, which means we have to allude, at least a little, to the first. And we handled it in very different ways! Here’s Sofawolf’s blurb:

Sent to oversee the most recent territorial acquisition in the Godson’s empire, Mistress Commander Angharad finds herself in an unexpected position. Rather than smoothly assuming control from the outgoing governor, she finds herself in opposition to violent factions of the occupying forces, the corrupt governor she is replacing, and unexpectedly even the Godson himself.

No doubt her unplanned adoption as the champion of the conquered province of Shraeven and the chosen vessel of its many native Gods has something to do with her sudden fall from favor.

Certain that Shraeven holds the final key to the empire’s goal of breeding a God of their own, the Godson himself arrives to regain control of the province. Angharad knows that a lasting peace will only come from a diplomatic solution, but with the Godson’s behavior becoming increasingly erratic, she is no longer sure he is capable of reason.

The Godson’s Triumph is the conclusion of the fantasy military adventure started in Flight of the Godkin Griffin, and takes Angharad to the brink of war with her own country on her way to truly understanding the Gods and the empire’s dedication to emulating them.

Meanwhile, here’s the one I wrote:

Mistress Commander Angharad Godkin hates politics… so of course, her ruler the Godson sent her to replace the Governor of barely tamed Shraeven province. She hates religion, so naturally, the native gods began to plague her the moment she arrived. And since she hates both, the gods started playing politics—and the politicians began playing at godhood. In Flight of the Godkin Griffin, Angharad, a creaky old veteran of the Godkindred Kingdom’s many wars of conquest, was dragged out of retirement only to discover her newest assignment—to rule a province in peace—might finally be the death of her. She certainly wasn’t expecting to face off against her own monarch in a battle that will decide not just her own fate, and not just the fate of Shraeven Province… but of the world itself.

The Godson’s Triumph returns us to the world of Angharad Godkin and her comrades and concludes their epic journey. But who will be left standing when the fires burn out?

The last piece of advice Maass gave was to “use one of the following words in your last sentence: love, heart, dream, journey, fortune, destiny.” I don’t follow the letter of this law, but you can see clearly what he’s aiming for with it: you should be pitching a hero’s journey to the reader, a story that really grips your heart. It has, as modern audiences can now say, ALL THE FEELS. If it doesn’t have all the feels, why bother? And if your overall blurb doesn’t operate on that level, it’s not going to connect to as many people as you hope.

So, in short:
1. Keep it short.
2. Keep it punchy—now is not the time to downplay the conflict.
3. Identify the most important conflict and the character grappling with it and put them on center-stage.
4. Give enough setting information that the conflict makes sense/feels urgent.
5. End with a question/invitation to find out more.

I am not the best blurb-writer in the world, but I think I do passably at it, and I enjoy doing it. If you have questions, leave ’em here and we can continue deconstructing the process. Or if you have examples of great blurbs you like, bring them here!

This post first appeared at M. C. A. Hogarth’s blog. The original post can be found here.