Ask-A-Wench about. . . audio books

Anne here, with this month's ask-a-wench question, a thought-provoking question from Janice (and for which she'll receive a free book).  Thanks, Janice.

With the popularity of audiobooks and the increasing ease of obtaining them, I am seeing more comments and reviews from readers talking about books they listened to rather than read in print. Has this affected your writing process at all?   I know when I have to compose something I hear the words in my head and then I put them on the paper. I know some people put the words on the paper and then read them aloud or in their heads. The sound and the rhythm are very important – but I don't have to think about how they will sound if someone else says them. Is this a consideration for you?

Christina said:  I don’t listen to audiobooks myself – I’m a very visual person and don’t like having things read out to me as I need to see the words. I don’t usually read my work out loud to myself either, except occasionally a bit of dialogue. Therefore, I never used to take them into consideration at all when writing my own stories. They were just something my publisher had done, and I never even listened to the author copies they sent me when audiobooks used to be on CDs. I received two and kept one for my shelf, while sending the other to a second cousin of mine who was blind. A couple of times, I had to provide a pronunciation list for the narrator as some of my books contained Japanese words, but I had no direct contact with anyone and never checked whether they got it right.


Then I changed publisher, and to my surprise they asked for my opinion on the person who was to record my first book for them. I listened to a few different narrators and agreed one of them was the best. As far as I was concerned, my input was over, but that turned out not to be the case. Again, I was asked about pronunciations, since I had included a whole bunch of words and phrases in Old Norse. When adding those, it never occurred to me that some poor soul would have to read them out loud. In my head, I’d pronounced them the way I thought might be right, using Swedish as my guide. However, for the purposes of the audiobook, guessing wasn’t good enough. So I had to consult with the kind lady who had helped me find the right words in the first place – she has a PhD in Old Norse and speaks Icelandic too. Then I had to learn to pronounce the words myself, before teaching the narrator how to do it. We had a session via Skype, which was great fun, both of us tripping over the unfamiliar sounds and laughing. There’s a lot of guttural stuff in Old Norse, and sometimes you sound like you’re just clearing your throat <g>. For every book since, I’ve had those sessions with the narrator and we are both getting used to Norse words and phrases. I’m even tempted to use them in real life sometimes! Doesn’t þegi þú! (pronounced THEY-ghi THOO – the TH as in the word ‘three’ and then a throaty ‘g’ as in the Scottish word “loch”) ) sound much better than ‘shut up!’ for example? So yes, these days I do think a little bit about what I’m adding to my stories, but if the words need to be in there, my reader and I will simply have to learn how to pronounce them.

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How Many Books Is Too Many Books?

IMG_5579 (004)Nicola here, and today I'm asking the provocative question "how many books is too many books"? And as a follow up to that: "What system do you use to categorise your bookshelves?" You see, I need help and advice. The time has finally come to sort out my “library.” This is rather a grand term for a muddled collection of books on shelves, in boxes and in stacks on the floor all over the house with only a notional system of what is where. For years I’ve been saying I need some sort of cataloguing system, yet each time I sit down with my books to try to categorise them, I either get distracted into reading something I had forgotten was there or I am so overwhelmed by the hugeness of the task that I retreat and close the door on the mess. There are obvious downsides to this, most annoyingly the fact that I can’t find half the books I know are there and when I need them for research – or to re-read a favourite novel – I’ll spend ages huffing around looking for them. Also, I have been known on more than one occasion to buy multiple copies of things just because I didn’t realise/remember they were already in my collection. So a neatly-ordered bookshelf is crucial.

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Editors (part 1)

Anne here, and as I've recently sent in the final revisions on my latest book, I thought I'd talk about the editing process. I'm mainly talking about "traditional publishing" which means I'm with one of the "big" publishers, in my case, Berkley, which is part of Penguin, NY. But I'll also mention "indie" publishing, where authors are doing it for themselves.

There are three levels of editing — the structural edit, copyediting, and proof-reading. These days it's all done electronically, and each part is done by a different person. Today I'm talking about the editor who does the structural edit.

The structural edit Y0I85D5QKvs-unsplash (1)

People often expect an editor to be a bit like some school-teachers used to be, happily slashing away with a red (or blue) pen, changing sentences, and in some cases, rewriting whole chunks. In the days we had printed manuscripts and got them posted back with editorial comments written on them. I used to take them to library talks, and people were always surprised how few comments and corrections there were. 

There are still editors who do that kind of editing, I believe, but I've never had one, and I've had nine editors so far in my writing career. (That's not because I've driven them bonkers, by the way — in publishing editors tend to move around a bit, both within the company and moving to different publishers. And having babies. And I have moved publishers, too.)

Lukasz-szmigiel-jFCViYFYcus-unsplash (1)Most editors these days don't correct typos, or make small or large changes to sentences or chapters. Theirs is more a "big picture" edit. They read for story concept, character development, plot, theme, structure, and so on. They spot strengths, flaws and weaknesses in the manuscript and make suggestions to make it a better book. They can see a manuscript much more clearly than the writer, who is usually too close to it — it's hard, when you've just finished writing a book to distinguish the wood from the trees.  A really good structural editor will help a writer lift a story from competent to good, from good to outstanding. 

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Am I my heroines?

Anne here, and today I'm responding to a question from Quantum (for which he's won a book): "When reading your books I often wonder whether you imagined yourself as the heroine while writing, imbuing her with qualities that you have or would like to have. Daisy the seamstress is a favorite and perhaps you are stitching ideas together like Daisy making dresses."

1EmmaWatsonHeroineI had to really think about this. When I'm writing, I try to imagine myself into each of the characters — not that the characters are me in any way, but that to access them, I have to 'dream' my way into them and how they are feeling, thinking etc. But it's not much different to the way I imagine myself into the places in the books, when I haven't been able to visit them in person. 

It's a common belief that writers base their characters on real people, but all I can say is that it's not true for me at all. The closest I get to using real people in my books is pinching their name for characters, and I only do that with friends' names and then only for minor characters. (For instance, Sir Alan and Lady Reynolds who give a party in The Scoundrel's Bride. See also who I dedicated the book to.) I also borrow physical characteristics from actors sometimes, but mainly it's the mood of the photo that inspires me, like the one above.


When I was first published a good friend who loves psychology examined my first book with an assumption that the heroine was some form of me. She was a little perplexed. Then she read the second book, and then the next, still looking for me-as-character. I'm not sure when she gave up looking for evidence that they were some version of me, but she did quite early on. 

There is obviously some part of me in all my characters — they come from my imagination, after all. Some have my sense of humor, some respond to the events and situations in the book as I might, but mostly my characters do and think things I would never do. Occasionally they do things I would love to be able to do — like come up with instant snappy comebacks in dialogue. In real life I often only think of the perfect comeback an hour or two later, or even at 2am. But generally they are who they are. Other writers I've talked to about this have similar responses — I suppose it's where the notion of "a muse" comes from.

Some of my main characters spring to life more or less fully formed on the page. Others take longer to emerge, and I ask myself questions about them, and what they are feeling at any point in the story. I build up a picture in my mind of who they are and what makes them tick. Even then, some can surprise me.

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Ask A Wench—October 2019

Anne here, wishing all our Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving, or Joyeux Action de Graces.  (photo Ruth P. Peterkin – Fotolia) Happy-Thanksgiving

I'm also hosting our monthly "Ask a Wench" feature, and this month the question we're responding to is: "Do you have any particular subjects or themes you often return to in your novels?"

Pat here: I do not set out to write themes, but if a reviewer asks me for the theme of my newest release, after some consideration, I’ll almost always say it’s a search for justice. And yes, I include the fight against prejudice under that heading, because that’s always a huge part of my books. Usually, it’s women seeking fair treatment.

Lady-justice-2388500_640In my Magic series, I give this a fantasy spin by making my women psychic—so rather than being treated badly just for their sex, they’re treated badly because they’re weird, which covers a lot of territory, including being female.

My men are almost always seeking justice for someone or something. I usually have a mystery/action element requiring a villain to be brought to justice, whether that person is a lawyer who defrauds, a contractor who cheats, or a killer to be caught. But in my latest series, there’s an underlying element of economic injustice, because that’s so much on my mind with the news these days. A writer’s mind is a sponge—it’s difficult for us to avoid absorbing the real world!

Nicola here: My timeslip novels tend to be inspired by “lost” figures from history, usually women who were so often a footnote in a male-dominated narrative or whose stories have been told in a particular way. I like shining a different light on them. A good example is Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, whose story I wrote in House of Shadows.

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