The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne

the title "the murano glass slipper" against a blue watercolour background


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First peek – The Murano Glass Slipper

Today I’m excited to share one of my favourite scenes from The Murano Glass Slipper: A Cinderella retelling, the sequel to to The Rose and the Mask and my permanent answer to the question “what are you doing tonight?” Of course, it hasn’t passed the eagle eyes of my lovely editor yet, but I hope you enjoy it 🙂

the title "the murano glass slipper" against a blue watercolour background

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A Self-Publishing To Do List

adventuresinselfpublishing

Here it is: the list of things I’m doing, book-wise! I’m sharing it partly because I know some of you are curious about all the Very Important Tasks I’ve been muttering about, and partly for anyone else considering self-publishing. But please, note that I mean everything I say in this and future posts about it in a “this is what I’m doing, follow along to see if it works!” sort of way, not a “do this, it’s a good idea” sort of way.

Bold headings are things I’m planning to do individual posts about later. I’ll come back and add links!

Oh, and one last thing: this list sort of starts at the “I have a finished, polished manuscript” stage. See the rest of this blog for the roundabout, tear-soaked route I took to get there.

Okay, let’s do this!

Professional Editing

Plenty of self-published authors skip this step, which is either a pragmatic allocation of resources or the beginning of a literary apocalypse, depending on whom you ask. I’ve seen knock-down, drag-out fights about it in indie author communities. (Then again, some of those communities would have a knock-down, drag-out fight over, like, Coke vs Pepsi, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)

The issue is that editing is expensive, by most people’s standards (as it should be, when you’re paying for hours of someone’s skilled work), and it’s very, very possible for a self-published book to sell only a handful of copies, meaning that you never make the investment back. On the other hand, a professionally-presented book stands a better chance of attracting readers, and getting good reviews that attract other readers. Like a lot of things on this list, it’s a gamble. [Update: here is a post about that.]

Originally, I wasn’t intending to get The Rose and the Mask professionally edited. Given my fiscal situation (which might conservatively be described as “LOLarious”), I just didn’t think it was a sensible use of money. In the end, what changed my mind was looking back at the amount of work I’d put into it. I spent years of my life drafting and re-drafting this book and agonising over the tiniest of details (again, see the rest of this blog). After all that, the idea of readers dismissing it as slapdash because of whatever typos and plot inconsistencies I was inevitably missing was just too horrifying.

As it turned out, hiring an editor was the right choice for me—and an amazing experience. Yes, my editor caught a bunch of mistakes and inconsistencies that I’m glad will never reach paying readers, but I also learned a lot from the experience that I can use to write an even better book next time, right out of the gate.

Choosing Sales Channels

This is where it all starts to become a lot less writery and a lot more businessy. (Those are technical terms, keep up.) You’re choosing where you want your book to be available. The obvious answer is “EVERYWHERE!!!” but there’s a little more nuance to it than that.

With ebooks, the primary sales channels are Amazon (Kindle), Google Play (for Android Devices), Apple iBooks (for iPhones etc) Barnes and Noble (for Nook devices) and Kobo (for Kobo devices). Unless my extensive forum- and blog-lurking has led me astray, most self-published authors make the vast majority of their sales on Amazon.

Amazon have been at the forefront of the self-publishing movement for some time now, basically leaving all the other retailers scrambling to keep up with what they offer. For example, they are (as far as I know) the only retailer that incentivises authors to publish with them exclusively. By enrolling an ebook in their “KDP Select” program, authors agree not to make it available anywhere else (on a 90-day rolling contract) in return for certain privileges. The most notable of these is that the book will be included in Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read them for free – but the author gets paid depending on the number of pages read. It’s also rumoured that Select books get preferential treatment in terms of visibility on the site, but (again, as far as I know) that hasn’t been proven.

Essentially, then, your choice is mostly whether to enrol in Select or to use Amazon plus all the other channels (which indie authors tend to refer to as “going wide”).

If you want to make a physical, paper copy of your book available, there are choices to make there, too. Although, in my opinion, the stakes are less “where will I make more money?” and more “where will I find less stress?” Most self-publishers sell only a very tiny number of paperbacks, even the ones that are doing well in ebook. That’s basically a price thing: self-published books are usually sold on a “print on demand” basis. That means that—instead of a large number of copies being ordered at a bulk discount and stored somewhere until they’re sold—individual copies of your book will be printed to fulfil individual orders. But printing books one at a time is expensive, and that’s reflected in the retail cost of a self-published paperback, which, in turn, is reflected in the sales figures.

Offering a paperback for sale, therefore, is mostly a vanity exercise. It has a couple of practical upsides—for instance, Amazon will show the Kindle price as a “saving” on the paperback price—but those are only maybe worth the investment of time (and money, if you use any professional design or formatting services). But a lot of writers (including me!) want to see and touch a physical copy of their book, so that it feels real. And, if that’s why you’re doing it, you can probably take your businessy hat off for this one.

There are really only two main players for print-on-demand: Amazon (again) with their CreateSpace, and IngramSpark. Honestly, I can’t see much of a difference between them, so you’re in the wrong place for a detailed comparison. Since I plan to enrol The Rose and the Mask in KDP Select, I’m also going to use CreateSpace, thus centring everything on Amazon for the time being.

Formatting

While I actually think Amazon (primarily) have made self-publishing remarkably straightforward, there is, regrettably, slightly more to it than just uploading your manuscript straight to your Kindle Direct Publishing account. Your book needs special formatting—and it’s different for ebook and paperback versions.

Ebooks—and I’m thinking mostly of Kindle books, because I’m most familiar with them, but I think it’s the same for the other formats—actually don’t want much formatting at all. You can’t choose the fonts, you can’t number the pages (because ebooks don’t have pages) and so on. What you actually want is a complete absence of formatting—save for bold, italics and underlines, if you use them. And that’s actually a lot harder than you’d think, especially if you use Microsoft Word. Word is so clever that it often cycles right around to stupid, and what looks to you like plain, unformatted text is actually all kinds of complicated under the hood, and somehow contrives to look spectacularly crap on a Kindle.

Paperback formatting, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The print-on-demand printer will print your book exactly as you provide it to them, which means you have to perfect every detail yourself. That means styling the fonts, making sure the words don’t break up across lines in a way you don’t like, that there are no pages with just one word on them, that the page numbers start and finish where they’re supposed to, that the table of contents has all the right page numbers on it, that the margins are the right size and none of the text disappears into the binding… Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag.

Formatting is another thing that you can (and many authors do) pay a professional to do for you. Having read the above, you might think it’s worth it. Personally, I feel like I should be able to do it myself, so I’m going to—no matter how many inventive new expletives I come up with in the process.

Cover design

My guess would be that this is the thing self-published authors are most likely to pay a professional to do. I mean, there’s no connection between being able to write a book and being any good at art or graphic design. And, while a lack of editing might get you bad reviews, or lose you sales at the “download a sample” stage, a bad cover will stop readers from even clicking through to learn more about your book.

Again, though, this is something I feel I should be able to do, so—out of a combination of stubbornness and lack of funds—I did it myself. Those of you who’ve been here a while will have seen me make several different ones, each time thinking I’ve finished the job, only to redo it a few months later. Here’s the latest one, hot off the… well, fresh out of Photoshop.

the cover for

Honestly, I like it and feel good about using it, but I’m sure a professional could have come up with something much better, both visually and in terms of appeal to my target readers. This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”… if you’ve got the cash.

Marketing copy

Most obviously, you need a blurb—but this also includes any other writing you might use to sell your book. So, an author bio, your Amazon description, any additional writing for your website, stuff like that.

I’ve said that a lot of things are “the worst”, but writing a blurb is the woooooorrrrrrsssssst. I honestly thought that knocking out a few paragraphs about a book I know inside out would be easy, but it was horrible. You have so little time to catch someone’s attention, so you have to keep it brief, which is where knowing what you’re writing about very intimately is actually extremely unhelpful. And striking a balance between teasing people with your best plot points and giving away the entire story is very tricky, too.

You can see what I came up with over on the book’s website, if you can’t read it on the back cover above. My best tip would be to make a list of the key things you think are appealing about your book (in my case, that it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, that the heroine is a thief, that her brother is Giacomo Casanova, that the setting is 18th century Venice and that the hero and heroine are trapped together by a curse) and then concentrate your efforts very firmly on conveying that as succinctly and intriguingly as you can. But honestly, I did that and it was still a giant headache, so what do I know?

Marketing

Nobody knows the secret to selling a large number of self-published books. People are doing it, but no one really knows how—or, if they do, they’re wisely keeping quiet about it because, once everyone knows and is doing it, it won’t work anymore.

However, there are plenty of things that might work. Here are some of the ideas I want to try:

A blog tour. Well, sort of. A blog tour is where, over a set period of time, your book is featured on a bunch of different blogs. Those blog posts could be a “cover reveal”, an excerpt from the book, an author interview or a review of your book by the blog owner. You can pay companies to organise one of these for you, and they’ll guarantee a certain number of posts from their “network”. I’m trying to organise my own by choosing and emailing bloggers directly. [Update: this did not go that well.)

A Goodreads giveaway. Goodreads offer two kinds of giveaway: ebook (which you have to pay a not-inconsiderable fee to do) and paperback (which are free apart from the cost of sending out the books). I’m not hugely interested in paying to give my work away for free but the paperback ones seem to attract a decent amount of attention so I’m excited to give one of those a try. [Update: I did!)

Paid advertising. Again, my budget can sort of be described with a sad trombone noise, so I’ll have to be very careful about this. But I like the idea of advertising on one or two popular romance blogs. Amazon have also just introduced pay-per-click ads, which I guess is kind of like the big publishers paying chain stores to include their books in promotions.

So, there you have it: an overview of what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks and will continue to be up to, into and generally all over until the release. Like I said above, I’m planning to expand on all of this in more posts, as well as update you on how all of this works out. It’s a learning experience, let’s put it that way!


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2016 Week Thirty-One: Evolution

So I talked (whined) last week about moving goalposts and eventually concluded that the absolute balls-up (I think you’ll find that’s the correct literary term) I’ve made of writing Venetian Masks will have been worth it if I learn something.

This week I thought it might be fun to see if I actually have learned anything so far. As it happens, I’ve been writing stories based on Beauty and the Beast for over a decade now – I’ve written other things too, but something always draws me back to it. A while ago I compared myself to the guy in Amelie who keeps painting the same picture over and over again and can’t get it right, and I stand by that. I don’t know what that says about me (probably nothing good), but it makes it surprisingly easy to do a like-for-like comparison of my writing across the ages.

Some of you are probably thinking “She’s not seriously going to excerpt a ton of crappy writing from her adolescence and call that a blog post?” Oh, my sweet summer children. You must be new here.

Having said that, I’m not a monster. I’ll just do a couple this time and then maybe return to the theme the next time it seems like a good idea (or I run out of other ideas).

Hold on to something. It’s about to get cringey in here.

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2016 Week Twenty-Eight: The Naughty Princess

It’s been very hot this week and when it’s hot my brain tends to overheat and turn to sludge so I thought we’d have a look at something from my bookshelf.

a book with a plain green cover: the naughty princess by anthony armstrong

I found The Naughty Princess by Anthony Armstrong at a book fair when I was a teenager and paid 75p for it, which was a bit of a steal because it’s one of the best books ever. First published in 1945, it’s a collection of almost Wodehousian humorous re-interpretations of fairytales, so it falls pretty squarely at the cross-section of two of my interests.

The illustrations are by A K Macdonald and they’re quite lovely:

an illustration of a woman in a long white dress sitting beneath an archway overlooking a garden. Caption: “She was not really bad-looking, her father decided – an understatement which, if openly expressed, would have resulted in challenges from at least half a dozen young knights.”

a fairy appears to some men wearing feathered hats and tights. Caption: “'Well boys, what can I do for you? Ask for anything! Old fairy custom and all that...!'”

But the real star here is the writing. The stories are funny both in terms of the beautifully cynical way Armstrong has looked at fairytales and in the style of his prose. In the first story, ‘The Pack of Pieces’, King Plimsoll of Waterline decides he has to marry off his daughter because she and her ladies-in-waiting keep hogging the bathroom in the mornings. He goes to discuss this with his Acting Vizier (the actual Vizier has been turned into a monkey puzzle tree and “even the Queen was forced to agree that in Affairs of State something more was required of a Vizier than a reputed ability to puzzle over-enterprising monkeys) and discovers him dictating to his “extremely pretty young stenographer”:

[He] was giving his mind to it so thoroughly that he had her sitting on his knee so as to miss nothing that fell from his lips.

He rose instantly in the presence of Royalty and the damsel a few seconds later gave a low curtsey – finding herself, indeed, in the best position for it in that she had been abruptly spilled on the floor.

“Really, Malan!” began the King mildly, for he was pretty easy-going as far as his very valuable Acting Vizier was concerned. “Must you start that sort of thing so early?”

“It is never too early for a loyal Vizier to start work,” countered Malan, swiftly, “and as Your Majesty observed, I was dictating a confidential letter which I did not want overheard.”

“Oh, I see… Well, let that business drop for a moment. I want to ask you something privately.”

The dropped business got up from the floor and retired with another but better-planned curtsey to her own office.

 

I laugh at “dropped business” every time.

Of course, I have to give a mention to Armstrong’s interpretation of Beauty and the Beast which appears here as ‘Presents for Princesses’. A king heads off on a journey and promises to get each of his three daughters a present. One asks for a husband, one for some underwear and the youngest (and most calculating) only for a rose and her father’s safe return , though she rather suspects he’ll pick her up some jewellery too. The king manages to get hold of a prince who’s been turned into a frog (he travels in a “Royal-Box-With-Holes-In-The-Lid”) and the underwear (though there’s some confusion over that and it transpires he’d asked for “braziers”) but the rose proves a bit tricky – until they happen to stumble on a beautiful garden full of them, of course.

a rose and a necklace. Caption: "the second gift: a rose"

The garden’s owner, naturally, turns out to be a strange and ugly creature, but unlike the Beasts of old he’s prepared to hand over the rose in return for being allowed to come with the king and watch him present it. On arrival, he proposes and, to everyone’s surprise is accepted:

For the previous evening [the princess] had found in an old history book the story of an ancestor of hers, a certain Great-great-aunt Beauty and her husband King Beast, and she guessed what no one else had, that Chunk was only a Prince in disguise who would resume his original handsome shape as soon as a Princess married him.

The frog turns into a prince, the sister who wanted the underwear is so keen to show it off that she attracts a prince (or several) of her own, and there’s a triple wedding.

Indeed, the only snag at the wedding was that nothing happened to Chunk. Fania had been too clever for once, for Chunk wasn’t suffering from a spell. He’d been like that from birth and nothing, it seemed, could be done. People continued to avoid him, and for once he couldn’t complain that even his best friends wouldn’t tell him why. A man’s best friend if his wife, and he was always hearing about it.

This book should be better-known! Although it’s not particularly rare, I don’t think, and there seem to be copies of it on Amazon UK and AbeBooks if anyone’s interested. I’m very glad that I stumbled across it and haven’t managed to lose it in any subsequent moves.

Well, that’s all from me for this week. I think I’ll go and melt quietly in a corner somewhere.


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Beauty and the Beast Retellings – Novelisations

I think I’ve had a page like this on every website I’ve had since my early teens (which is possibly more websites than you’d think, and certainly more than I really remember), so it was only a matter of time.

I love retellings of Beauty and the Beast. I guess on one level I know that I’m just reading (and writing) the same story over and over again, but there’s more to it than that. Putting a new spin on a fairytale is a really unique challenge: you have to find something fresh in the story, something that’s all you, while keeping all the elements that people will expect. Of course, I love reading original stories too, but I get just as much – and often more – enjoyment out of seeing someone reinterpret an old one.

Especially when it’s this old one.

Here’s my collection of novelisations. I’ll add some information and my own thoughts below. If you’re a Beauty and the Beast or fairytale fan too, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these or any others you’ve read! (If you’re not a BatB or fairytale fan, you will probably find this post unbearably geeky. Sorry-not-sorry!)

a photo of my copies of the books below

I might amend this post as I read new books and re-read old ones! Also, if you like Beauty and the Beast retellings, I’d love for you to check out Faustina, the one I’m working on at the moment.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

This is the first Beauty and the Beast novelisation I ever read. I vividly remember seeing it in a bookshop when I was 12 or 13 and in the first passionate throes of my BatB fandom. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would have written a whole novel about it (how little I knew!) and I went into full “shut up and take my money” mode. This copy is much-read and well-loved – if it doesn’t look it, it’s because for several years it was my precioussss.

Beauty is probably the “purest” retelling I’ve read, by which I mean that it very much maintains the feel of the Beaumont version of the fairytale, without adding or changing many aspects. The only exception I can think of is that Beauty’s sisters are nice, which is a change I really like – I feel like it would detract from the drama if Beauty’s sojourn in the castle could be seen as just a nice holiday from having to do everyone’s chores. As the title suggests, it’s really the story of Beauty, of which the Beast is only a part. Each scene in Beauty’s life is really richly drawn and it’s easy to get completely absorbed in the writing and become very attached to Beauty and her family. It’s told from Beauty’s point of view so the Beast remains a little distant and mysterious, perhaps more than you’d expect from the hero of a romance novel, but I think that’s part of his charm in this case. You’re left guessing about him alongside Beauty.

Robin McKinley wrote a second version of Beauty and the Beast called Rose Daughter. Unfortunately, I seem to have parted ways with my copy. As I recall (prompted, it has to be said, by Wikipedia), that made more of the rose from the original. Beauty has a special talent for gardening, and her revival of the Beast’s dying roses is linked to her saving and falling in love with him. I guess I’ll have to re-read it and update this post when I get a chance.

Belle by Cameron Dokey

One thing that turns up repeatedly in BatB retellings, despite not being in the original, is the idea of “Beauty” having a special skill that she can use to help break the curse. I like this idea a lot, partly because it takes some of the pressure off of “true love” to cure everything, which is an element of BatB that I’ve become pretty uncomfortable with. It can also give the character a bit more substance and add some depth to the curse, depending on how it’s used, and it’s something for the characters to focus on besides angst and marriage proposals.

In Belle, Belle’s skill is woodcarving. There’s a special branch, from the “Heartwood Tree” that, if carved properly, will reveal the face of one’s true love. This artefact replaces the rose in the role of “something for Beauty’s father to steal”. It’s a really sweet idea (and has a great and very fairytale backstory that I won’t spoil) and a nice twist. Other than that, Belle stays almost as close to the original as Beauty does, and also makes the sisters sympathetic. I wonder if that’s almost unavoidable, if the writer wants to keep the sisters at all, because otherwise the first third of the book would read like Cinderella. (That’s a particular problem if you’re also planning to do a Cinderella adaptation, which a swift Google shows me Dokey has.)

Overall, it’s a good read, with interesting ideas, good character development of Belle and some sweet scenes between the leads. If I have a complaint, it’s that I’d like to have had the romance drawn out a little more, so that there was more of it to enjoy, but I’d still recommend giving it a try!

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

I’m going to come right out and say it: this is my favourite. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was the best (I might give that to Heart’s Blood, below) but I re-read it more than any of the others and it delights me every time.

It’s set in San Francisco in 1905. I don’t know much about US History so I couldn’t tell you how accurate it is, but the setting feels very well-drawn. The Beast is Jason, a rail-baron-slash-wizard who is better at rail baroning than wizarding and has got himself stuck as a half-wolf, half-man. Beauty is Rose, whose superpower special Beauty skill is reading  – specifically, reading in various other languages, so that she can help Jason decipher some of the spellbooks that he thinks might help him out of his predicament. They start off by using a speaking tube but eventually meet face to hairy face and there’s angst and conflict and it’s great. The system of magic in this universe is interesting – I think this is part of a series set in the same universe, but I’ve never got round to reading the others – and is the focus of a good secondary plot.

I feel I should mention that there are problems with this book. Probably the biggest is the villain. He gets a lot of “screen” time considering that his impact on the plot is minimal (Beauty and the Beast doesn’t really need a villain) and he spends it being unrelentingly evil for no particular reason, except perhaps to expose some of the seedier elements of the setting. I would never say that romance writers shouldn’t explore dark themes but some of these scenes are very jarring against the fluffy romance and, since they barely influence the story, they seem pretty gratuitous. I actually skip all of that character’s scenes when re-reading and the book almost makes perfect sense without them.

Having said all that, I think the hallmark of a good book is that you think about it long after you’ve finished reading it, and I’m always being reminded about this one. I can see some of the scenes in my imagination so vividly and I know I can rely on it to distract me from real life if I want it to. In a way, I guess it’s reassuring to me, as a developing writer, that a reader can find flaws in a book and still love it.

Mercedes Lackey is another twofer, having also written Beauty and the Werewolf. I own that too, but now that I come to write about it I realise I can’t remember much about it, so I guess that’s another one to re-read! I do love The Fairy Godmother, though, which is another story from the same series. The overall premise of the series is that there is a force called the “Tradition” that forces people into story patterns, e.g. a girl with a wicked stepmother into marrying a prince. It’s a clever idea but I suppose Beauty and the Werewolf just didn’t grab me like The Fire Rose did. I’ll definitely give it another chance soon, though.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

I would have been hysterical with excitement over this if it had come out a few years earlier. As it was, I approached it with suspicion – and was pleasantly surprised. Set in a modern US high school, this is the story of Kyle:  a vain, popular teenager who gets turned into a Beast. (As opposed to just getting a lot of tattoos and scars like he does in the movie.) It does what it says on the tin, to be honest – it’s a sweet teen romance with characteristic BatB angst. I particularly like that Flinn really uses the differences thrown up by the modern setting, like having Kyle experiment with online dating. I also like that he roams the streets of New York at night – that alleviates some of the claustrophobia of having the characters trapped in one place.

One issue with this book: Kyle has a tutor, a geeky blind guy called Will. I probably didn’t think too much about that the first time I read it but, since I now have a boyfriend who is a geeky blind guy, I’m kind of attuned to the details of Will’s portrayal. On the whole, it’s pretty good – I mean, he’s basically there to teach Kyle something about inner beauty and on a fairly flimsy justification (Kyle’s dad is famous and doesn’t want people to find out what’s happened to his son, but the first thing Kyle does is to describe himself to Will who, in any case, has signed a non-disclosure agreement, which anyone could have done) – but he’s got a personality beyond “blind guy” and sets Kyle straight on some misconceptions. And any uncorrected misconceptions can perhaps be blamed on the fact that it’s told in Kyle’s voice. The problem is that (SPOILER AHEAD) Kyle makes a deal with the witch who cursed him that if he breaks the spell, Will will get his sight back. Obviously he does, and then there’s a page at the end where Will is all “Oh, hey, I can see.” Which is a bit… cheap, I think. Like, without it, Will would still have come out of the story much richer and with the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped a teenage Beast get a girlfriend. But it reads as though the author thought no one could possibly have a happy ending if they were still blind so she just tacked that on. (I’m not saying that’s what she actually thought, because of course I don’t know, but that’s how it reads to me.)

I didn’t mean to labour that point quite as much as I did but, as with my warning about The Fire Rose, I would have felt weird about leaving it out. To complete the criticism sandwich, though, I really like the fact that it’s written entirely in Kyle’s voice. It’s an unusual choice to write a romance solely from the hero’s perspective, especially with Beauty and the Beast, since the character starts out wildly unlikeable. Kyle’s evolution throughout the story is really well done, and I like that he still seems a little self-absorbed at the end. We’re in his thoughts, after all, and it would be unrealistic for him to change beyond recognition.

I’ve thought of another retelling from the Beast’s perspective, actually: Beast by Donna-Jo Napoli. Another one I seem to have mislaid somewhere along the way and should get hold of again.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

As I said above, I think this is the best retelling of Beauty and the Beast I’ve ever read. It’s also probably the longest, and it’s worth every page. Heart’s Blood is the story of Caitrin, a Beauty whose special skill is scribing. Amazingly enough, that’s just what Anluan, a mysterious chieftain who lives at the top of a haunted tor, is in need of: someone to organise and transcribe notes made by an ancestor of his who practised dark magic and brought a terrible curse down on his fortress and the surrounding area. The part of the rose is played by heart’s blood, a rare and expensive plant that’s used to make a particular ink.

That setup is superficially similar to The Fire Rose, but this is a much deeper story. There’s a magic-related subplot in The Fire Rose but it’s definitely supplementary to the romance. In Heart’s Blood, the curse is much more complicated than usual, taking in numerous ghosts who are characters in themselves, a Norman invasion, local politics and lengthy flashbacks. The curse is the story, making the love story more incidental. That said, the romance is still both sweet and powerful and you absolutely root for them as a couple. There’s just a lot more to it than that.

 

Boy, this ended up loooooong. I’m going to post it now, because I spend far too long writing blog posts and then losing confidence in them, but I hope to come back and edit and add to it in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of these retellings, or if there are any others I should check out!

me in a dinosaur mask. or maybe it's a dragon.


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I’m writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in Venice.

Screw it. Today I’m going to tell you about Faustina.

Faustina is the novel I’m working on. I’ve been saying all along that I probably won’t call it Faustina when I publish it, but I’ve been calling it that for a long time now and I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to get another title to stick. Especially now that I’ve designed and become attached to this cover.

The cover for Faustina: a woman wearing a gold Venetian mask and a coy smile.

Faustina is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in 18th Century Venice, against the backdrop of Carnevale, because masks and historical costumes are pretty and also I went to Venice last year and saw a lot of masks and then became a dinosaur.

me in a dinosaur mask. or maybe it's a dragon.

NB: there are no dinosaurs in this story. Please believe me when I say that I would have shoehorned one in if I possibly could. Actually, looking that this picture again, I think that might be a dragon and now I’m questioning everything.

I’ve been writing retellings of Beauty and the Beast for over ten years now. (Beauty and the Beast was an obsession for me throughout my teen years. I could probably dissect that in another post.) I keep meaning to stop, but I think I’ve become that guy in Amelie who paints a new copy of the same painting every year because he can’t get it quite right.

I really want this to be the time I get it right, which is probably the problem.

The heroine is Faustina Casanova, younger sister of Giacomo Casanova, who is famous for having sex with everyone. I read Giacomo’s Wikipedia page and was really fascinated by some of the crap that he got away with, like hiding spikes in Bibles to escape from prison and pretending to be magic. (It’s okay, wiki-haters, I also bought his big-ass book.) I really wanted to write a heroine who was essentially a con-artist, falling into one scrape after another in the pursuit of an easy life and always coming out on top, but only just.

That reminded me of maybe the second or third retelling I started writing back in my teens, where the Beauty character was a thief whose father sent her into the mysterious, magical castle to steal something. I’ve always liked that as a twist, although I never finished that story, because it gives the Beast something to push back against. What I mean is, in Beauty and the Beast, Beauty dislikes the Beast because he’s scary-looking and keeping her prisoner, but the Beast just adores Beauty from the beginning. I used to eat that Beast-angst up with a spoon back when I thought the height of romance was having someone who was so desperate for you to love them that they would just stop eating and wait for death if you left them (this actually happens in the fairytale) but now that one-sidedness feels both deeply problematic and also kind of dull. But giving the Beast just as much reason to be mad at Beauty as she has to be mad at him, THEN trapping them in a castle together… that appeals to me.

Anyway, that’s how Faustina, the Beauty, came to be. Giacomo Casanova loses a lot of money in a game of cards to a reclusive, mask-wearing figure, and sends his criminally-minded sister to get it back. Throw in a curse that may or may not exist, some arguments and some kissing, and you’ve got what I’ve been tearing my hair out over for the last year.

I think, if I weren’t writing this, I would want to read it. Hopefully some other people will, too.

I actually started this post because I wanted to post an excerpt from the book but this has been way too much of a build-up for that so I’m just going to close with this picture of a cat I watched from the window of my Venice hotel room. (Update: there’s an excerpt here!)

a cat in venice

On the internet, a cat is worth a thousand words.

PS: If Faustina sounds like something you would enjoy reading, here are some things you could do:

  1. Comment and tell me. You might stop a tiny piece of my soul from dying!

  2. Subscribe to and/or revisit my blog to see future excerpts! (Warning: you will also see posts about things like buying an absurd number of candles or revisiting my childhood diaries.) The subscribe box is in the sidebar to your right.

  3. Join my mailing list. I don’t spam (in fact, so far I have sent precisely 0 emails, so I can say that with utmost confidence) but I will let you know when I’m close to publishing the book.