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Wherein I worry

Reader expectations are one of those minefields that, frankly, terrify me.

As an author, I have no say about my covers (well, beyond the usual pleading, begging, and generally undignified behaviour that I will spare you all), and none on the cover blurb; I have no say about what goes on the spine, and in the end, no say about where the book is actually shelved in the stores.

But as a reader, I know roughly what I want to read on any given day (the exception to this is Terry Pratchett, who I can read in any mood, at any time, and in any sleep-deprived state) and I tend to pick up a book according to that amorphous desire. And boy, if I pick up what I think is a Robin McKinley novel, and I end up with a Horror novel or a Military SF novel, I'm likely to be peeved beyond reason at the book I did get. Even when the book itself, as written, is entirely blameless.

Nothing new here.

But… wait, I'll get to the relevant part.

I write under two names (well, or three, if you count the Sagara West amalgamation): Michelle West (largely for DAW) and Michelle Sagara (for Luna); my first four novels, written as Michelle Sagara, have been reprinted by BenBella books under the name "Michelle Sagara West".

The West novels are all interconnected; they all take place in the same world, and are actually all on the same time-line. I am not the master of incluing, and my guess is that it's pretty hard to read any of those books without reading the ones that preceded them. They are all multiple viewpoint books, and while I would now structure the first 2 novels of the SUN SWORD series differently, the disparate plot threads and character arcs take some time to come together. Where time in this case means thousands of pages. Literally.

I try to end each novel with the closure of the novel's sub-arc, and with some sense of the emotional resonance relevant to that novel – but the story isn't done. I know where it's going; I know what the end-point for all of the characters I've introduced is, although some of those endings are based on characters that I haven't introduced yet. And one or two have changed since 1994, because of characters that have been introduced subsequently (this isn't really a spoiler – but or people who've read these books, an example: I knew where Kallandras was going to end up at the conclusion of the End of Days sequence, and now … it's not as clear.)

The Sagara Luna novels are my first attempt to do something different. I wanted to write novels that would a) stand alone and b) work in concert – much the way a Buffy season does. I also wanted to write something that had a much more accessible tone, something contemporary in feel, even with all the strangeness of the world around it. They're fun books to write. But they're actually harder, in some ways, for me. The language, the metaphors, the tone of the West novels – those are my writing voice. That's the voice I write in when I'm not really parsing words qua words; when I'm deep into story, and it's the story that's driving everything, hell bent on arrival. The Sagara tone is completely different, and I often find I'm stripping out metaphor or a turn of phrase that doesn't work with a contemporary feel when I do my first pass line-edits.

I thought of the first Sagara book as my attempt to write a Tanya Huff novel, with the clear understanding that I'm not Tanya Huff. I would like to be one tenth as witty or clever. I'm digressing.

People have read the Luna novels, and this makes me happy. People have even liked them, and have written to tell me so, and this makes me unreasonably happy. It's good to know that something you've tried actually works.

But … I'm not at all certain that the readers who liked the Luna books will actually like the West novels – and that's where reasonable reader expectation comes in. They are very different. But they are both written by me. I would have bet against it, but some people clearly do like both – and I'm completely uncertain about what to say when someone in the store asks me whether or not they should read the West novels if they like the Luna ones – or vice versa.

It doesn't do me any good – it doesn't do my career any good – to give people a novel that they don't actually want (it in fact helps no one's career to do this, in my experience). I've so far only had one person say "If you can write something good, why are you writing something boring?" in reference to the difference between the two. (Obviously I consider neither boring, because anything that bored me would never get finished; it's hard enough to finish something that's almost an obsession).

So the bookstore girl behind the writer wants to know how to navigate that minefield without denigrating either identity.


( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
I've read both your more recent series cycles and I like them both. The difference to me is the depth of worldbuilding detail given in the Hunter/Sunsword etc series vs the Luna books. The Luna books are also more focused and pared down than the Sunsword ones. I suppose, for me, I'd say that those who prefer a quicker pace with more plot focus will like the Luna books better. Those who prefer a deeper/broader look into the world will prefer the DAW ones. People who read both types will like both types.

Honestly though, the tone and themes aren't really that different. :P

JMHO though.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 04:53 am (UTC)
Well, as a reader who has read both the West and the Luna novels, I personally was more than satisfied with both of them, and obviously the Luna novels are much less dense, but if one takes the Luna novels for what they are, not what they aren't (i.e. West novels), I don't see how readers wouldn't love them. ^_^ And while the "Sagara tone" is certainly a bit of a switch, especially initially, I found after reading the Luna novels that one of the things I value most about your work--and it's hard to describe, but I'd say the subtlety of your style would be as close as i could come (as well as a certain tendency to have a hint of the apocalyptic in the background, maybe ^_^)--was just as evident in them as it was in the West books. And I don't know how someone could call the Luna books boring, either, because (especially Courtlight) if nothing else the details are bloody fascinating.

Hmm, I don't really know if this reply is actually getting at the bookstore girl angle. If I had read the Luna books first I think I would have been quite happy to read the West books, but I think it depends on what aspect of the Luna books a reader valued--if they just want more brain candy, the West books would probabaly not be the best recommendation, but if they're in it for more than just the snappy pacing and dialogue and romance, then the West books could work too.

Hooray for Kallandras possibly having a different fate. He's one of my favorites. But then, almost all of them are.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:18 am (UTC)
The boring was in reference to the West novels; the reader in question did like the Sagara novels, although I think they found some of Courtlight confusing =/.

Apr. 3rd, 2007 06:46 am (UTC)
Interesting, because I'd never call the West novels boring either. I guess he/she likes faster pacing above anything else, and finding Courtlight confusing might have something to do with that.
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
I think also that I'm a language junkie, when reading. I love words and the way the words are used. So I notice the difference in words, in sentence structure, in tone. They're not distinctly separable from the story itself for me, in the way that the character vs. plot arguments are strange to me.

But I came from the camp of "I hate it when people treat me like a stupid person", and I've always been terrified of making things too obvious. So I err on the side of, ummm, not very obvious -- and I lose people when I do this.

I also find that metaphor does tend to lose people -- because it breaks them out of the flow of the story. It doesn't have that effect on me as a reader, but I probably tend to think in metaphor, or even sometimes to speak using metaphors. And I also find that if I consciously think of ways to repeat information, it helps make things clearer -- but that's also hard for me to gauge.
Apr. 4th, 2007 09:19 am (UTC)
But I came from the camp of "I hate it when people treat me like a stupid person", and I've always been terrified of making things too obvious. So I err on the side of, ummm, not very obvious -- and I lose people when I do this.

I've been trying very hard to learn to Clarify Clarify Clarify in my books, for the same reason. *I* feel like I'm bludgeoning people, but man, I thought I'd nailed my motivation and explanations for actions in this last manuscript I turned in, and I still got a lot of "why'd she do that" questions. Apparently it's hard to be too obvious...
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
Well, though I too have spent a lot of time in that particular camp, and I'd be lying if I said that I always understand every sentence in your books on the first read-through, but personally, having to think about what i'm reading a bit is one of the things i appreciate most about your style.

I think your love of language comes through very clearly in the West books' tone, and I think the books would be a lot poorer without the metaphors as well. This is slightly obvious, but clearly your style and your story are all of a piece, and both would suffer if you didn't write the way you do. That said, and despite being a fellow "language junkie," I also sometiems find it helpful when there's a little informative repetition.
Apr. 12th, 2007 11:25 pm (UTC)
making things too obvoius
One of the things I love most about your writing is that you don't hit me over the head with either your story line or your character's developments(emotional or story arc).
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:10 am (UTC)
There are actually striking similarities between the two styles, at least IMHO. But they're definitely two different-purpose types of reading for me. I can't read the West novels one at a time, and I won't start a reading without plenty of brain-space for all those subplots. Oh yes, and a box of tissues. (But they're happy tears, mostly.) I think of them as a vast tapestry on which the fate of the world is described.

On the other hand, I read the Sagara novels for fun action with lots of entertaining irony. Kaylin feels much younger than anyone in the West novels, despite her history, which I think accounts for the slight YA feel. The characters still have depth, but there's not as much of the gorgeous embroidered detail. A little bit of Buffy, but more... Alanna, from the Lioness Rampant books by Tamora Pierce.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:41 am (UTC)
So the bookstore girl behind the writer wants to know how to navigate that minefield without denigrating either identity."

How about, "It's like Nora Roberts -- people who read books under Identity X want different things than people who read books under Identity Y. They're both me, it's just that sometimes I like to write different sorts of books."
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:45 am (UTC)
My introduction to your work was with the Sundered series. I loved them so much, but I think it was early 90's and I had a hard time finding the rest of them until the reprints. As I love Tanya Huff's works as well, I see now why I liked them.

When I picked up your Sacred Hunt novels and the other West novels, I had no idea it was you that wrote them. As you said, the writing style was different. I'm one of those readers in which the West Novels didn't appeal. I stopped reading it after the Scared Hunt series and couldn't get into the Sun Sword series.

I'm really hoping you write more in the Sundered style and world.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
I think it's impossible to please even the most loyal fan 100% of the time, but beyond that, I think reader expectation isn't only dependant on the reader, but the reader's goal, and even then some books just don't click for certain people (I can enjoy the stories of Jane Austen and recognize them as quality prose, but something about her writing really irritates me). There are books I've bought and studied knowing I dislike them, and then tried to figure out why I didn't like them. I don't want to sound defeatist, quite the opposite, but my current problem with Pratchett is that the lastest books no longer surprise me. The last few Pratchett novels have a certain expectation that's fulfilled, and even though it's technically continuous new ground, the story archs tend to be the same, and for most people, that's okay. They want Vimes to be running around in his underwear for at least four pages and I'm amused just like the next person. But beyond that, I read too much into things, and I suppose it also comes down to why I read Pratchett, or any other author. Do I want to laugh? Do I want to sit down and think? Do I want to get angry or offended or emotionally charged?

Anyway, as a person who adored the Sunsword books, I say the day you reach all of my expectations I'm no longer learning anything (or I'm fully enlightened and no longer need to buy another book). I'm probably not your target, but that being said, I think it's totally fair to challenge your readers.
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:47 am (UTC)
I'm probably not your target, but that being said, I think it's totally fair to challenge your readers.

With the West novels, I don't have a target audience in mind -- they're my internal idea of what I want to read, on some level. But they're odd. I have a yahoo group -- well, someone else started it, but I answer things on occasion there -- and I tend to stay firmly out of the threads in which people speculate about what will happen in future books. I did read one post about it -- I honestly can't remember whose -- and what I came away with was I'm not very clever. At all.

Most of the ideas struck me as vastly more clever than I am, and I had that authorial pause of despair, in which one thinks "omg everyone is going to be disappointed at how obvious things are". Maybe because I don't think of myself as a surprising or clever author, I just try to tell a story that stays true to the characters as they evolve -- I want people to be moved by things in the same way I'm moved by them. If that makes sense.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
Hmm, I also enjoy both current series, but while I am buying the Sundered series I have a much harder time getting into them (I enjoy hope in my romance and since I'm basically rooting for the devil to get the angel the second and third book - which I have browsed into - are for reading when I am more composed about those two. Oh, what IS nice is that I have no idea whether you'll get them together at the end or not).

I found you via the Hunter books and then went into Sunsword because of that (and because of the gorgeous Jodi Lee covers). Near the end of Sunsword I realised that the two are connected (I'm slow that way, I just throw myself into the world and see if I can swim, I don't analyse while I'm reading), which encreased my enjoyment. Actually I do read even your big series one at a time when they appear. I shall reread them when I have all of them (provided you finish them in my lifetime ^^, I can see places you can go with them but you've surprised me often enough, so who knows what'll happen).

The Cast in Courtlight have the advantage of one viewpoint which focusses your style more and - as you said - recurring characters (if I can take up the Nora Roberts view, they'd be your J.D.Robb series) and since I love the character it works well for me. I don't see them as YA though, the dark background made the heroine grow up very fast. I'm looking forward whom she is going to end up with, or even if she will. I'm hoping for an eventual good ending after however many adventures you'll have her go through.

I thank you for not being Terry Goodkind who threw his main characters in the Sword of Truth series into the ever more harrowing torture scenarios until I couldn't take it anymore. With you the adventure stays fresh.

Hmm so this is an analysis from my viewpoint but no real help for your question I guess. Sorry o.o;
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC)
I thank you for not being Terry Goodkind who threw his main characters in the Sword of Truth series into the ever more harrowing torture scenarios until I couldn't take it anymore. With you the adventure stays fresh.

I think it's hard to write about characters when their story is finished on some level. I've had one or two people ask me (very, very politely) not to give up on the West characters because I was bored with them -- and I am honestly never bored by them. Because in the long arc, most of their stories aren't finished. Where they are now, how they get to the end of those arcs -- those are still compelling for me because I want to tell those stories, and I haven't finished.

But I think it would be very, very hard to return to characters whose story is finished, for me.

People do read for character, and often, for very specific characters -- but I sometimes wonder (because, working in a bookstore, I've heard this about Goodkind several times) if the emotional story he was telling was finished earlier in regards to the two, and he felt he had to continue with them regardless. I honestly don't know; I don't know the author in question. I do know other authors who grind their teeth in frustration at being shackled to older works.
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
From Wikipedia:

"The Sword of Truth series is considered an epic fantasy series by both readers and critics alike. The awards it has been nominated for or won are all fantasy-related, and as the series contains all the standard fantasy elements such as dragons, magic, set in a more or less medieval level of technology, and fictional countries, it has been marketed as a fantasy series. Despite being placed in the genre by others, Goodkind perceives himself as more of a novelist than a fantasy author.[8][9] Goodkind believes that using the fantasy genre allows him to better tell his stories and better convey the human themes and emotions which he desires to share with the reader. Regardless of the genre of his novels, Goodkind states his main goal in writing is to inspire.[10]"

Maybe by treating fantasy as a disguise which he has to fit his vision into, instead of the tool or correct outfit for his story Goodkind has never seen that he has repeated the same Campbell hero story again and again, with no real growth (admittedly I stopped reading in the middle of the fourth book, so I can't completely qualify as knowledgeable).

Basically, with him the tropes hit me over the head with a hammer again and again (I really liked the first book by the way, even though the torture made me queasy). You don't write down to your readers or spell everything out again and again, on the other hand you're not so elevated or incoherent that one can't at some point understand what you mean, so it stays intriguing.

Nifty ^^. Keep writing, I'll certainly buy and try each new book. Should I ever stop liking them, I can tell you they'll go on to a new good home (I never throw books away, I don't sell them on ebay any longer either, I have a few friends who get books parcels once or twice a year).
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:54 am (UTC)
I'm completely uncertain about what to say when someone in the store asks me whether or not they should read the West novels if they like the Luna ones – or vice versa.

I suspect, "If you like Guy Gavriel Kay and casts of thousands, you'll probably like the West books," would do as a rough place to start. I'm not sure how to pitch it from the other side--the Luna books are different enough from most of the urban fantasy that's out there that it's harder for me to come up with a rough outline of "if you like X, Y will probably appeal."

As for me, I came to the Daw books from the Luna books. I'd seen the Daw books before, but I by and large gave up on big fat fantasy a long time ago, not because I don't like it in general, but because it takes so damned long for the books to come out that I've forgotten what happened by the time a new one arrives in my hands, and I haven't got the heart to go back and read 3000 pages of backstory in order to remind myself. I liked the Luna books enough to try the ... Sun Sword books, whatever the name of that series actually is ... because I knew you could write and the series seemed to be complete. It took me a long time to get into the first book, in part because I'm out of practice reading BFF and there were too! many! names!, and in part because I was reading it on the train and things rather than all at once, but ultimately I got sufficiently caught up in them to keep reading, and am now very annoyed that I can't *find* the fourth book on this side of the pond!
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
but ultimately I got sufficiently caught up in them to keep reading, and am now very annoyed that I can't *find* the fourth book on this side of the pond!

Well, if you email me, maybe we can think of some sort of hostage exchange :D. I noticed your contest and was very good and did not enter it.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 10:53 am (UTC)
So I'm one of those readers that loves both your Luna and Daw books. (I do, however, have a much harder time reading the Sundered books, so there are all types here, I guess.) I first you through The Broken Crown, which had a beautiful cover that leapt off the bookshelf. All pale blue -- it really stood out. But before I started reading it, I discovered there were the Hunters books so I went out again, bought those, and read them first. When I heard you were writing the Luna books, it made sense for me to put Cast in Shadow on my autobuy list since I liked your Daw books so much. Looking back, I guess there was danger in that if I had expected a certain type of book from you but I guess I'm not that type of reader.

What I'm trying to say is: While I do think Kaylin's books are more focused and parsed down whereas the DAW books are larger in scope and density, I actually don't think they're all that different in tone and theme. Actually I feel like there are similar themes running throughout both sets of books. And though I'd never thought of labelling myself as such, I guess certain uberthemes linger with me as a reader and I like finding them again in an author's work. (I enjoy reading all sorts of books but some don't have very strong uberthemes, if they have them at all, and I'll admit those books tend to slip out of my memory very quickly.)
Apr. 3rd, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
I'm with you - I've read all of the series(es?) (only the first of the Sundered, but I'm looking for more) and I love them all. Each series is different (the Luna books are a quicker read, the Sun Sword books have an intricate storyline, and the Sundered books are a bit deeper and harder to get into, but well worth it), but I absolutely loved all of them. Similar themes, but different writing styles, although all still similar.

If any of that makes sense. :)
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)
What to tell people about the difference? Let's say it's a Gone With the Wind versus Buffy feel. You know how I feel about what you write but let me state it again. In everything you write, there are the precious moments (I don't mean cute but seriously valued) that grip me and just shake the daylights out of my heart. Whether the moment is the brother being shoved off the tower or a moment of kindness from a creature of ultimate evil or a simple sentence is one of your not so short, short stories.

Yes, there are differences but that is good. Try telling the potential buyer that they're not the same but who wants to read the same thing again and again? It's like having a diet of just your single favorite food. Would you want it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack you ever ate?

If you know Thom Metzger, he writes YA under the pen name Leander Watts. From works on heroin and the electric chair to fantasy set in 1830's Upstate New York, its a afar jump. He says that there is definitely a different feel for himself as well but it is still his writing. You both are just exercising different parts of your creative well springs.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
Hm.. Well, I first found you with the Sundered books.

Then the Sunsword books (and the second Hunter book is still one of my favorite books ever, with Jewel my favorite character).

And then the Court books.

And you know what?

I'm still buyin' 'em all as they come out.

Well, not yet the Sundered books, but that's cause I'm dead broke. But they are on my list!!

The court books go a bit faster, and are a bit less complicated, i.e. less worldbuilding, but I still really enjoy both styles.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
I read both series, not knowing they were the same author. Both series came to me via friends shoving the book into my hands going, "READ! READ IT NOW!". I picked up The Broken Crown for about three years on my own, because my main criteria when looking for new authors is books over 300 pages, and a Jody Lee cover never hurts because I trust that the cover will actually be a scene from the story. The blurb on the back of the book caused me to put it down every time, because of the description of Diora as teh mostest beyootiful gracefulest specialist person evar zomg! When I opened the book and read the first little bit, it seemed to back up what the blurb implied - female lead who's perfect in every way needs rescue from her own life, hijinx ensue - and that's not a character I imagined wanting to read about. The friend who shoved it into my unwilling hands said, "George R.R. Martin meets Kate Elliot. You'll love it." He was right, although Diora still made me grit my teeth through at least the first book. (and it became part of the drinking game - "Every time Diora's described as 'graceful' or 'flawless', take a drink.")

The Cast books came to me via another friend, and I hadn't seen them on the shelves prior to that. I almost returned them when I got to anthropomorphic animal people, because that's usually a dealbreaker for me. It is all too often a vector for creepy pseudobeastiality scenes. The friend who loaned me the book said, "It's not what you think. Keep reading." I'm glad I did. The writing reminded me of Jane Lindskold and Tanya Huff before she started sounding like Laurel K. Hamilton.

When I discovered they were written by the same person, I could see why the name was different - they're different enough "voices" that someone coming from one series might have expectations that weren't found in the other - however, the writing is great in both and the characters are equally engaging even though they're different, and the worlds are different.

Curiosity made me pick up 'Into the Dark Lands' when I found it, although I haven't read it yet because I can't find the rest of the !#$%!@ series. Because, you see, I know that I'm going to start reading it, get sucked in, finish it in an hour, and have a major hissyfit because I'll have to special order the other books and wait a week until they get here. The writing voices are different, but the characters are always written dynamically, and I enjoy watching them grow and change throughout the story.

Had I known Sagara = West, I would have just bought the books outright, knowing nothing about the world or the characters or the plot, and there would have been no reluctance to read Cast. You're an author I trust to tell a good story, so it's not really going to matter to me when the world or characters or even genre changes - I'd still read them to find out what you were going to do to my brain this time.
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC)
This is all interesting to me - it would never have occurred to me to dislike or distrust Diora because of her appearance -- to me, for her, the appearance, the cultural survival implied by being beautiful or graceful, is a trap; it's something you perpetuate to survive. Being desired or wanted makes you more valuable to people who have power, yes -- but in a stark sense, it's not who you are, and not, in the end, what she valued about herself; she understood its value to others, and understood that to have no value was... bad. It's not something that Margret understood initially either, and Margret and Diora despised each other when they first met.

The Leontines, though, are easier for me to see -- kateelliott did a list a while back of things she doesn't feel she's good at as a writer. I would have snagged "sex" as something I'm terrible at, but someone else had already grabbed it (I think it was papersky. The Leontines have an interesting social structure (more of which in the 4th book, which I'm writing now), but it wouldn't have occurred to me to use them in that fashion.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)
I think maybe readers can navigate this better than it first seems--my experience from the reader side of the fence, even before I started writing, has always been that I can be comfortable saying: Okay, I adore this series by this writer; this other series by them, not so much; but of course I'm going to try said writer's new book, just to find out if it is maybe one I'll adore as well. So long as I get books that are what I want about half the time, I'll keep coming back.

It's only after several misfires for me as a reader that I'll--not stop reading, even then, but wait for a paperback or used or borrowed or library copy before trying a writer's next book. And even then, I'm willing to be won back.

But I think--anecdotally, and of course I have a much smaller sample group than you do as a bookseller--that readers can understand about a writer writing more than one sort of book, and navigate that to find the books by that writer that they like.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
I've read both, and I love both. I understand that each series has its own unique tone and style. In fact, the fact that they are different is a testament to your skill as a writer.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)
Though this may not be helpful, I have several friends that like both the sagara and west books - but the few that don't usually have a very specific type of thing they don't like that can't really be gotten around. For instance, my mother loves the sagara books, but can't stand books with many characters so the west books will never be her cup of tea. I actually like them all, though it amuses me that the feel of the books, makes me feel as though I really have two authors instead of just one.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to mention that this is a fascinating post.
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:11 am (UTC)
Hello! It's great to see you. I want, of course, to know what about it is fascinating to you :)
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
For me the distinction between the names on the covers alerts me right off that this is a new style for you. Charles de Lint does something similar with using his alternate name for his more horror based books. You know picking them up that you may be predisposed to like the book because you like the author in one voice, but you are warned to approach with an open mind. I've really enjoyed both of your voices. I think if I hadn't had that clue, I might have been put off. That sense of not getting what you expect, which you mentioned. But with the difference in name I know to keep an open mind and see where this new approach takes me.
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:13 am (UTC)
For me the distinction between the names on the covers alerts me right off that this is a new style for you.

Yay! This was the biggest reason to keep the two names separate. It's hard because I don't want to give anyone the sense that I'm ashamed of the books, or that they're not somehow mine -- but at the same time, I think they're different enough that I also want to make that distinction somehow.

Apr. 4th, 2007 04:25 am (UTC)
I think Jonquil had it right with the Nora Roberts/JD Robb comparison. I love both series, but I have to admit that until I read this post, I didn't realize that I treat the two differently when talking to customers. I had a lady in just the other day who wanted big and complex with as many characters as possible, and I gave her Broken Crown--it never occurred to me to say, "And if you like this, she's got another series." (Sorry, Michelle. Truly--I'll think of it next time.)

As someone else said, it all depends on what kind of reader you're talking to. I think most people would like both because both books have characters that reach up off the page and grab you by the throat. However, there's no denying I would never give a Sun Sword reader the Cast books without telling them not to expect the hugely complex plot and world of the Sun Sword. Vice versa, if I were asked about the Sun Sword series by a Cast reader, I would warn them that they are going to be in for the long haul.

For myself, the Sun Sword books are my soulmate, but I very much enjoy being unfaithful to them with the Cast books.
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:42 am (UTC)
it never occurred to me to say, "And if you like this, she's got another series." (Sorry, Michelle. Truly--I'll think of it next time.)

No, no, this is good -- this is what I do when I'm working in the bookstore (admittedly with other people's books). I really like trying to match people with books they'll like; I like the challenge (it took me 8 years to figure out one reader who came in every weekend, but when I finally did get it, it was great), and I really only think of the reader and the books when I'm doing this.

For myself, the Sun Sword books are my soulmate, but I very much enjoy being unfaithful to them with the Cast books.

And omg, I have to steal this :D
Apr. 5th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
Steal away! Yes, I love it when I get the right person together with the right book. I like it best, of course, when it's a nice person who is interested in one of my areas, but it still gives me a nice sense of accomplishment even if it's an inarticulate person who wants blood-and-guts thrillers.
Apr. 4th, 2007 06:52 am (UTC)
If I was describing the difference between the two, I'd have to say that I think of the Luna books as 'lighter' in terms of the number of characters, and the intricacies of plot, but (and especially in the case of Cast in Courtlight) sharing the same level of emotional complexity. And since its that emotional depth that *I'm* reading for, I like both series. I also have a real love for the sprawling epic, so the Sun Sword series are doubly dear to me. Now if only I could get the fourth book back on the shelves at my bookstore so I can recommend it to people again!
Apr. 6th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
I first bought 'Broken Crown' at Jacks 99c store in Manhattan while on a 2 night layover there a few years ago. I am completely addicted to reading (anything from the classics to the cereal box at breakfast if there's no current book) and had forgotten the current book at home. I went back 4 days later on my next layover and bought another copy as a present for my brother in law for his birthday. Then I went looking for the rest of the series.

I shudder to think how long it may have taken me to discover those books if I had not seen that book at Jacks that day.

I want to ask you, please, to continue to allow your readers to exercise their minds. It is perhaps the trait that I most appreciate in your style of writing. "Clarify, clarify, clarify" is for textbooks! Case in point: the new Dune book, Hunters of Dune, clarified where Frank Herbert would have left the reader to work it out (IMHO) and succeeded in being just boring and disappointing.

When I gave that first West book to my brother in law, I told him that the only author I could compare you to was Frank Herbert, in how intricate the storyline was, and how the story stuck in my mind for days after I finished the book. In that sense I can say the same for the Luna books. The pace and language style is more contemporary, but how you weave the story, what keeps me reading when I should be eating or sleeping, remains the same. I used to reread Dune series whenever I ran out of something new to read, now I've added the Sun Sword series. Every reread of Dune I would see some new (to me) sub plot or deduce some new cause for a later event, making it a permanent resident of my bedside bookshelf.

I think most people who've read one series would enjoy the other and those who don't, well, you can't please everyone.

BTW, right after I finished the first West book, my 15 yr old (then) daughter started reading it. Luckily it was a weekend because she literally did not stop until the end. When I had to take it away to MAKE her go to sleep, her argument was that I should understand since I've already read the book! She has subsequently lent the series to some of her friends, all of whom then went out and bought their own copies ( in some cases, initially, because there was a waiting list and after the first book most couldn't wait for the next book to get to them). I find it hard to imagine any fantasy fan finding those books boring. Unless he/she didn't get beyond the first 2 chapters?

I am involved in a program to encourage adolescents and teens to read, I have consistently recommended the Hunter and Sun Sword series to the older teens and recently the Cast series as well and most like those books (both series/worlds) well enough to request a similar "standard" of fantasy writing (not quite in those words, but definitely that meaning).

I hope some of the above was helpful.

Apr. 10th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)
I hope some of the above was helpful.

It was very, very encouraging, and thank you for posting it. I would never in a million years have thought of the Dune comparison -- and I loved those books beyond reason when I first encountered them at fifteen.

But I think that the reason some people find them boring is the pace, which is slow. I admire George R.R. Martin's ability to pace a huge, multi-viewpoint plot -- because those books just move.
Apr. 8th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
I'm quite happy that I found your LJ through random searches. I've been following your novels for almost 6 years now and have often debated whether or not I'd write some fan mail to show my appreciation. But I'll save that for a more formal approach than simple e-mail/comments.

It looks like you've gotten quite a bit of useful advice from what I saw as I skimmed the above comments but I thought I'd lend my own perspective and say that I might have had lowered expectations when I first picked up Cast in Shadows when it was first released. Perhaps a better phrase would be that I had very few expectations because you have always made the disclaimer that the two pseudonyms each had a unique writing style. Because of this, I approached your novel with an open mind and loved it.

My only complaint about the Sagara novels is that I read through them to quickly, but that's a sign that your diligence in stripping word metaphors out of these novels worked because I got lost in the plot rather than the detail. The more detail you add, the more I look for subtleties in characterization.

So, in general, I think the approach you've been taking will continue to be effective for many of your fans and in keeping your fans rather than driving them away.

Other things that may be useful is to point out that each has a unique universe, one focuses on multiple POVs whereas one is almost exclusively a single POV, and one focuses on details and character subtleties (I.e. West Novels) versus the plot itself (i.e. Sagara). At least that's my interpretation because in your West Novels, I focus on the characters and how they grow rather than the plot itself like with the Sagara novels. I still love the characters, but the plot itself is what drives me to read it.

In general, I'd say keep your answers neutral when replying to a fan who wants to know if both stories will be equally enjoyable. Point out some of the differences as you did here in terms of what you focused on when writing the novels, and perhaps suggest that the answer is subjective to the readers since some like both and some prefer one series over the others. And perhaps the most diplomatic answer would be to tell them to read the first chapter of each before deciding if they want to give it a try. From that, they can make their own decision.

To the reader who wants a simple Yes and No answer, I'd almost be more inclined to believe they'd rather read the Sagara novels because the West novels open ending will drive them insane. Your Isladar still drives me insane every time I read him and I'd like to say I'm pretty patient and easygoing!

Hopefully, some of this was new and useful. Thank-you for your hard work!
Apr. 10th, 2007 04:18 am (UTC)
Your Isladar still drives me insane every time I read him and I'd like to say I'm pretty patient and easygoing!

Isladar plays the long game, and for keeps. I can't (obviously) say more -- but only one thing has happened in all of the books in which he's appeared that was not thought out, not planned. Most of the demons don't understand people all that well because, for the most part, they simply don't care; Isladar understands people sometimes better than they understand themselves, and this makes him probably the most dangerous of the kin.

I am ambivalent about him, myself.
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)
I picked up Cast in Shadow first. I saw all your sun sword books on the shelf every time I went to Barnes and noble all these years and never picked up to read. It took only that one book and I bought all your books and read in Chronological order, Sundered, Hunter's and sun sword. The point is, IMO, if reader likes your story telling style and depth of your writing, they would want to read all your books, like I did. There is one underlying theme that I find, exists in all your books. The deepening (Sorry,i don't even know if this word exist) relationship and interaction between dark and good characters. Therefore, if reader likes strong female character, magic, fantasy, character depth and growth, romance between dark and light, strong story and plot, they exist in both books. One of the comment was comparing your sun sword books with Guy Gavriel kay. I read two of his books (Tigana, Song of Arbonne)beacause I found out that you like to read his books. The ending of each books, made me depressed. I didn't go to any lengths and buy all his books and read. Your books gives hope and celebration of life. So, I read both your books because I find what I look for in both of your books. I tried to send it under my username it will not let me, so i am posting it under Anonymous. My user name is sandhya64
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:53 am (UTC)
I am just replying my own. I can post with my username now. I just need to load a picture now with my username. Sorry, I am new here as far as posting goes.
May. 29th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
Reader expectations
I'm one of your fans who has only read the "Cast" series, and I'll admit, I initially picked it up because I thought it was more what I expected from "urban" fantasy - our world, only different (usually because of the inclusion of magic and/or magical races).

I suspect if I'd known when I picked up the first book that it had more of a "typical" fantasy setting, I'd have passed it by - much to my loss! I am absolutely hooked on Kayla's story.

But I'm not a big fan of epic fantasy. I seldom read what I consider "true" fantasy. My first exposure to it was Tolkien's Hobbit (hated it). Then someone told me I *had* to read Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant" series. Absolutely loved it (and his second "Mordant" series). But my next foray into epic fantasy was Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, almost 10 years later. And that series has definitely burned me out against committing to a multi-volume series with one main story ARC going on. It's almost 20 years later, still not finished, mired in detail and - some prior fans would say - ego.

The other thing I find difficult with most fantasy that I've picked up is the need for a glossary and/or index of characters. Those books were easier to spend time on when I was still in school and had time for re-reads with each new release. I could spend a week digesting a book, learning how to pronounce (or suffer through) the convoluted names and complicated politics. I just don't have the energy for these any more! Maybe when I retire...

So I could see where there might be a difference for at least some of your fans. You might ask how they came to find you...from epic fantasy or from urban fantasy (or even "paranormal romance"). Some may love both, but some may have to be coaxed to try the other, if it's not familiar.

Sep. 12th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
I think I was vaguely aware that Michelle Sagara and Michelle West were the same person when I picked up Cast in Courtlight at the library. I'm sorry to say that I'd read your 1st Sacred Hunt book at exactly the wrong time (ie, not really in the mood for Big Fat Fantasy), and then I had a run of bad-books-with-Jody-Lee-covers, so I'm afraid I shied away from everything else you wrote.

But being as I was desperate and remembered you as competent (it's been a bad month for picking out good books for me), I checked Courtlight out -- AND LOVED IT! Your plot was interesting! Your magic was interesting! Your characters were interesting and likeable! Your POV on life didn't make me want to slit my wrists! Also, I couldn't put it down.

So I made a point of immediately informing my romance/fantasy-loving best friend, and we are now planning to hit the rest of the series. I will probably go back and hit the Sacred Hunt books, too, but I may go looking for the Sun Sword books first. (Depends on what I find at the bookstore.)

Thank you again for writing Cast in Courtlight. Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air and good magic, too. :)

(I'm loving that new Jody Lee art style, too. Makes me happy to see an established artist stepping out of her comfort zone.)
Sep. 13th, 2007 07:32 am (UTC)
But being as I was desperate and remembered you as competent (it's been a
bad month for picking out good books for me), I checked Courtlight out --
AND LOVED IT! Your plot was interesting! Your magic was interesting! Your
characters were interesting and likeable! Your POV on life didn't make me
want to slit my wrists! Also, I couldn't put it down.

This made my day - and as I'm revising, it was very welcome.

But I have to ask (and hope that you actually see this response): Are there really many fantasy novels with a POV on life that makes readers want to slit their wrists? I can think of a few of them, but not all that many -- which would make it a very bad reading month.

But: I can suggest a whole bunch of books that don't do this, if you're interesting
Feb. 29th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
I have to say my love of you came from your short stories. They were lyrical , unique and quietly haunting in ways that linger days afterward in my head.

As much as I enjoyed your series, that serene haunting quality is what made me buy anthology after anthology with your name in it.
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
I have to say my love of you came from your short stories. They were lyrical , unique and quietly haunting in ways that linger days afterward in my head.

I think you are the first person to ever say this. I get (some small amount of) email about the short stories -- but specific stories, rather than general comments.

Can I ask which stories, in particular? I tend to approach short stories -- which I haven't written in a few years because I've been so very behind in everything -- in a trust-your-subconscious-because-it's-due-now way, and sometimes what people say about them makes me re-examine what I've written in a different light.
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