Friday, December 20, 2013

There Comes a Prophet, by David Litwack

I have mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand, I enjoyed the writing stylistically. This novel was published by a small publisher, though, so one can expect it to be edited and free from errors. There were some errors, however, though not enough to bother me, and I can be picky. On the other hand, much about it was disappointing.

::SPOILERS::

Plot Summary: A thousand years ago the Temple of Light took over, banning everything that would remind people of the time before (our time, plus perhaps some more advances in technology). The people live as they did in the olden days (I purposefully use a vague term here; the descriptions were lacking) with people who work as weavers and shoemakers. In order to enforce their power and the rejection of what they call the Darkness, the Temple periodically takes a youth and gives them a "teaching;" which amounts to psychological torture lasting several weeks. When the youth's spirit is broken, they return them to their village to be an example to the rest. Which actually sounds a lot harsher and scarier put like that that it actually was in the novel, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, the three main characters, Orah, Thomas, and Nathaniel, are all around the age of teaching, and Thomas gets chosen. When he returns he's in bad shape, so when Orah gets chosen next, Nathaniel decides to go after her.


The problem I have with the novel is that it was lackluster. There's only one part that really held my attention, and that was in the first third when Orah is taken and Nathaniel goes to save her. That was compelling. Otherwise, this novel really illustrates the need for authors to put their characters in dire situations that seem impossible to escape. Most of the time in this novel, that was not the case. Thomas's teaching, while certainly a sucky experience, was hard for me to really imagine as soul-crushing. They have him in a solitary cell. It's dark. Occasionally they show him images of  nuclear weapons going off, so he learns what the Darkness was all about. Yes, this is a nasty experience, especially for a nice kid who's been raised in a small village where the worst thing that happened was probably a bad winter. But not having experienced solitary confinement myself, I have little understanding of what it does to your mind. Perhaps if the author had gone further in his descriptions... I don't know. You're repeated reassured that no physical harm will come to the character. You know that the period of teaching will end and he'll get to go home. It's just not dire enough.

Even when the characters went to find the Keep, and it looked like the clever arch bishop might be tracking them, they handily get rid of the tracker. No tension there anymore. They find the Keep and spend a leisurely summer looking up things like mathematics. Not exactly nail-biting stuff. Litwack hinted that Thomas might betray his friends, and in the end he sort of does, but only by denying he wanted to go to the Keep with them. I thought he was going to do something far more drastic, like call the vicars. Then it would have been fascinating to see him struggle with what he'd done and all that. So things just never reach any sort of a real peak. It seemed to me that the novel was a platform for the author's views, which many novels are. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but that's kind of *all* this novel was, in my experience.

As for the characters, they were not developed enough. Each of the main characters only had two or three qualities that defined them, and most of the time the author just told you what they were without going into detail. Nathaniel's a dreamer. He used to dream about knights. He's brave. Orah's the planner. She's also a leader. Thomas used to be the sweet musician, then after his teaching he's the scared sweet musician. He likes food and is good at climbing. Any secondary characters get next to no detail at all. To be fully developed and interesting, characters need a lot more going on. I was really interested when the author started to describe Orah's life as a weaver. I wish there had been a lot more of that. It might have made me care about her more. But more than that, none of them seemed to have real dreams. Nathaniel wants to... explore the mountain pass? That's his big dream? Be a knight, I guess. Although that's implied more than shown. Orah wants...? Nathaniel, eventually, I guess. But not much else. Why does she even care about the Keep? Is it because she got chosen for a teaching and wants to bring the Temple down out of... revenge?

No--such an emotion is too dark and extreme for the characters in this book. They are just nice kids who stumble onto a puzzle and walk a really long time, then get exposed to some education that opens their minds to possibilities. It's not enough to warrant the revolution they decide to bring on. It just isn't. Nobody ever went to war because they thought the populace needed to know that a thousand years ago people were capable of star travel. People become revolutionaries when their children are starving to death.*

So as much as I'd like to rate this novel higher because I appreciate stylistically good writing, I just can't. I hope in his future writing David Litwack raises the stakes and pushes the limits of how far he'll take his characters. It doesn't have to be as brutal as The Hunger Games, but make me believe they're really in danger! :)

__________
*Or when the British overtax them and restrict their "right" to take land from Native Americans. But that was sort of an anomaly, as revolutions go.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

World Building! Huzzah!

I confess, I'm letting my attention wander off my WiPs at the moment. It shouldn't come as a surprise given that I wrote a whole post about my current writing ennui, of course. But what has been fun is that instead of wasting all my time on The Sims (did you know that The Sims 4 is coming out in a few months? This could be bad news for my writing!), I actually have gotten involved in some world-building. I've had several flickers of inspiration for a possible new series, though I won't say more than that because it's not even half-formed in my mind yet. The world I'm working on will include Odalnord, the land of Myadar and The City Darkens, but it will also possibly be the setting for this new story. I'm toying with a medieval setting and I've been using some pretty fun online utilities to create a land in this world that adheres to some realistic aspects of a medieval European setting. It's still very much in the preliminary stages, but I spent a couple of hours last night working on a map and figuring out where the climate zones would be.

The utilities I have been using are intended for role-playing games a la Dungeons & Dragons, but of course can be used for fictional worlds in novels, too:

This link provides a list of Mapping software, some free, some not. I used "Fractal Mapper" to create my map.

This one is a "domesday book"-- doomsday books (that's the spelling I'm more familiar with) were essentially censuses (censi?) of medieval communities, and historians get very excited about them nowadays. This site allows you to set a couple of parameters and it then gives you calculations for how many cities, towns, etc., and how many professions in a town or village as you choose, would exist in your kingdom.

I also just looked at a climate map of Earth and followed the latitudes and other patterns (Oceanic climates on west coasts, for instance) to work with my fantasy world map. I'm probably not going to get it 100% right but it's fun to have a guide. It opens up story possibilities just knowing what the climates are, and, paired with the domesday book site, it makes a difference as to which areas are more densely populated and have cities and such.

Another aspect of the domesday book site that's fun to think about is the history of the land and how long people have been building castles there. That impacts how many castle ruins there are, and castle ruins just provoke all sorts of interesting ideas in terms of adventures that could happen there. What terrible hauntings could be taking place in some castle ruins near the town my character might live in??? Mwahahaha.

Anyway, it's not techinically writing, but it's not so far afield that I feel like I'm abandoning writing completely. And as long as that's where my energy is flowing, I'm going to go with it.

Do you enjoy world-building? How much detail do you like to put into it? Do you have any cool utilities that you use? Recommend them in the comments, I'd love to check them out!

Friday, November 22, 2013

When You Don't Feel Like Writing

First of all, let me say that I do not subscribe to the school of thought that would address this problem with a simplistic, "You write anyway!" exclamation. Writing is not boot camp. Toughing it out may work sometimes, in certain situations. For instance, about a week ago because I'm doing NaNoWriMo I did force myself to write on a day when I felt really stuck, and I did break through the wall I was banging my head against, and so it really was worth it to endure the discomfort of that. But I'm not really talking about that sort of situation here.

What I'm talking about is an overall feeling of blah, I'd rather be <insert other hobby here> that I have sometimes. Generally, I find my writing happens in cycles, and may be tied to seasons. For the last few years, I've had writing frenzies, in which I must write or feel like I'm losing my marbles, mostly in March through May. And I've also always really wanted to do NaNo, ever since discovering it in 2006. I haven't been able to do it every year since then, but in the years that I didn't, I really missed it.

This is the first year that I can do it, I am doing it, and I'm really not into doing it.

I'm not sure why. The story is working. I'm pleased to be back in Veronica's world--in other words, she's not the problem. I can only chalk it up to how hard the summer was. I think I went through a minor depression, and I think I'm not really out of it completely. I've gone through a major depression in the past and this is not like that, but one thing the two do have in common is I have no desire to write.

Now, I have been under the impression in the past that not writing leads me to feel bad, and sends me in the direction of depression. So you'd think doing NaNo would help me get out of this minor depression, but it doesn't seem to be doing that.

Another possibility is that my writing has been taking a darker turn lately. The sequel to The City Darkens (as yet untitled, but technically Luka's Chosen, book 2), is kind of a study in how to write about violence without making it titillating. The fourth Veronica novel, which will probably be called The Cradle and the Grave, although I've been considering reversing the order, has a lot of really dark moments. Which I don't think is entirely out of the ordinary for the series, but I just got through writing some of the darkest scenes, and that's been draining.

Still another option has to do with how my writing happens in general. I go through periods when I don't want to write. Like usually in the summer, despite having more time to do it, I don't write a lot. Summer is for playing outdoors. I actually did try to write quite a bit this summer and eventually gave up as I went into my shell. So it could be that rather than dragging along the vestiges of my minor depression this not wanting to write is really happening because I'm just not in the mood, and I will be in the mood in a couple months. It wouldn't be the first time.
Because, kittens.

So I think when I hit 50K for NaNo I'm stopping for a while. If I do, I'll have two WiPs sitting around at 50K words. Which is uncomfortable. I can't help worrying about them. It's unlikely I'll abandon them so far in, but it does mean I'll have to reread them and scratch my head a bit when I pick them back up to continue with the story. So I don't know. Maybe I'll only take a few days off and then get back into one or the other.

How about you? Do you ever take breaks from writing or producing whatever art or craft you're passionate about? Do you think it's best to always force yourself to keep going?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Conundrum of Ender's Game

Anyone who is interested in sci fi and LGBT issues, and has access to the internet, has probably already heard about the boycott against Ender's Game, the movie based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, opening tonight. A lot of people are very excited for the movie. As I understand it, the novel is very good. My ex-husband certainly liked it a lot. I have never read it, but I do know a little about it from what he told me.

All things being equal, I love sci fi and often wish there were more shows and movies out there to see. So I would have been happy to go see Ender's Game. However, there's a problem. Orson Scott Card is not only a vocal opponent of LGBTQA rights, but he puts his money where his mouth is. So essentially, paying to see Ender's Game means making a contribution to a vehement homophobe's campaign to keep gay marriage illegal and even criminalize homosexuality. Of course, now that his novel is being made into a film and the world has started to discuss his views and actions, Card is claiming he's backing off. He's demanding that everyone show tolerance for his past statements and actions. Which is like Napoleon asking everyone to forget he once took over most of Europe after he was sent to Elba.*

So, okay, Card is a tool and a bigot. Let's all boycott the film.

Except as was recently pointed out to me on  Goodreads forum, Lionsgate, the company producing Ender's Game, has a history of positive policies towards their LGBTQA employees.They've issued a statement, unsurprisingly, in hopes of stopping the boycott before it starts. So paying to see Ender's Game means supporting a company that has publicly declared itself an ally of the LGBT community and apparently puts its money where its mouth is. So the decision is a bit more complicated.

I need to say one or two things about boycotts in general.

First of all, calling for a boycott of a product or service is not the same thing as calling for censorship. I have seen way too many people on the internet in the last few months conflating those two actions. No one who wants to boycott Ender's Game is also automatically saying Card should be silenced, his books should be burned, or anything else that would fall under the purview of censorship. Censorship is about restricting someone's freedom. A boycott is about using one's freedom to choose where one will spend money. In boycotting Ender's Game, people are saying, "Sure, Card, keep doing what you're doing, that's your right. It's also my right to ignore you and refuse to give you money."

Secondly, there's something to be said for participating in a large-scale boycott because it sends a message, even if it seems to be picking on just one person. I've heard before that there's no point in individuals boycotting items without it being part of a larger boycott, because only a large, organized boycott will make a splash. I, for one, boycott Walmart (for so many reasons I will not go into here; watch this movie if you're curious) despite the fact that my boycott is indefinite and doesn't have to do with a larger organized effort. I will continue to do so even though Walmart probably won't ever notice, because I could not live with myself if I shopped at a place with so many awful policies. There are other businesses and individuals I boycott, but I won't list them all here. The point is, I believe in boycotting, on a personal level and as part of a larger effort. And the larger efforts may actually bear fruit, which is why boycotting Ender's Game may be worth it despite Lionsgate's good policies.

Another thing to consider is the long view: if Ender's Game does well at the box office, Card's chances of scoring more movie deals go up. Do we really want to funnel millions of dollars into this man's pockets?

I am sad I'll miss out on what I'm told will be a really good sci fi movie. But to quote MLK, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." I realize it's just a movie. Seems a little dramatic to quote King. It's just that I so rarely want to see movies that come out these days, and it's such a pleasure to do so. So it is a sacrifice. And a worthy one--I am committed to opposing forces that would deny rights and dignity to people anywhere. So no Ender's Game for me.

Were you planning on seeing Ender's Game? Have you changed your mind? Tell me your take on all of this.

______________________
* It's important to note that Napoleon later escaped from Elba and went on to lead an army again. Need I explain the implication I'm making in reference to Card?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hello People Who Haven't Quite Given Up on this Blog

Yes, I've been totally MIA blog-wise since June. What can I say, it was a rough summer with little or no writing and fall wasn't much better. There were family issues, there was a move... nothing all that interesting though it effectively brought my blogging and fiction writing to a grinding halt nevertheless. I'm going to reformat The City Darkens today for release as a full novel (no more serialization--I've decided that since no one seemed to think that was as fun as I did, I'm done with it), and I have a new cover (queue excited clapping) done by professional artist Dolly Georgieva-Gode. You get to see it here first:




Also, if you read one or more of the installments of The City Darkens, like the first one, Myadar's Snare, for instance, please comment below with your email and I'll send you a complimentary copy of the full novel. I'll be formatting it so you can skip forward to whichever section you choose, so you don't have to reread the first parts if you don't want to. I would, of course, deeply appreciate your giving the book an honest review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.

Wondering if you'd like the book and what it's about?

Here's the blurb:
For ten years Myadar has accepted her life as the estranged wife of a nobleman, running his estate and raising their young son. Everything changes when Myadar is summoned to the capital to begin a new life as a courtier in the decadent, scheming royal court. In a land on the cusp of a new age of modernity, Myadar must decide whether to oppose the rising tyranny that threatens to destroy everything she loves, and risk her own life in doing so.

And here are links to the Goodreads pages of the first three installments from back when it was a serial. You can read reviews there.

Myadar's Snare
Myadar's Betrayal
Myadar's Flight

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wrangling Fictional Characters

I've begun to write the sequel to The City Darkens, and I won't say very much about that specifically, since it is one my rules never to talk about a story before it's finished. But what I will say is that I decided to go with a different narrator than Myadar. Ginna has lived most of her life in the Undergrunnsby--I felt like Myadar's story really only showed one perspective on the city, and that I needed to have the next story flip that and look at it from a completely different angle. So this has presented two unexpected challenges.

First, Ginna has a distinct voice, which is great, in a distinct dialect, which I can hear clearly in my head most of the time. At first, I had a real struggle because Ginna kept insisting on switching tenses and telling her story sometimes in present tense and sometimes in past tense. Eventually I figured out how to handle this: she'd tell the events of the story in past tense, and anything she considered to be a constant truth she'd tell in present tense. Now the only trouble I'm having is with some of her to-be verbs, which I can't seem to find a consistent way of conjugating. I'm going to have to study up on existing dialects. The nice thing about creating your own fantasy world is that you can take liberties when you invent a dialect. You're not required to represent how real people talk in a certain region of the real world. But you do have to be consistent.

The second unexpected challenge is that Ginna is such a strong personality right from the get-go. I feel like she's just using me to get her story out. (Stephen King attributed an idea to Native Americans--I don't think he was specific about the tribe and I don't remember where I read this--that stories stalk the writer until the writer is ready to tell them, or some such. It's like that.) Actually, a few times it's been like she slapped me upside the head and said, "Hey! What kind of ninny do you think I am? I'm doing this instead." And sometimes I don't really like what she does, but there's no way around it. She's going to do things that way, because that's who she is. For one thing she can be incredibly and remorselessly violent. Not all of the time, but basically she's got a lot of rage from some of the experiences she's been through. I've written before about violence, and how ambivalent I am about representing it in fiction. I look at George R. R. Martin's stories, which granted I've only experienced through the show, Game of Thrones, and I think he goes too far. Don't get me wrong, I'm addicted to the show. But I really could do without some of the images it has put in my head, and it disturbs me when people come to the defense of its violence with reasons like, "It's historically accurate." Westeros doesn't exist, people. It never did. There can be no historical accuracy there. And if you're referring to a depiction of medieval England, let me tell you that the ways in which GoT is historically inaccurate far outweigh the ways in which is may be accurate--for instance, there's no Catholic Church, and you really can't talk about the history of England without including the Catholic Church.

Not exactly a Catholic priest.
Okay, end history-nerd side rant.

Anyway, the point I was actually trying to get to is that since I've begun dealing with Ginna, it's caused me to wonder if GRRM might actually not have really planned to be quite so brutal when he started writing. Maybe his characters slapped him upside the head and said, "HEY. WE ARE JUST THAT EVIL." Or something. Then again, one of the people I watch GoT with claims that when GRRM was a kid, he had pet turtles, and used to write stories about the turtles torturing each other and plotting to murder each other. So quite possibly he's just that much of a sadist. Who knows?

I'm actually not complaining about Ginna's domination over the story. It's quite wonderful when characters take over and the story grows from them. I'm a pantser, though. I can see how if you had a whole outline written, characters slapping you upside the head and demanding that the story go in a direction you never intended might become a problem. You'd get quite lost without your map.

Have you ever experienced a character running loose from your control? What was that like for you? Did you enjoy it, or were they a royal pain in the ass? How did that story turn out?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Vanguard of Hope, by Kathy Steinemann

Vanguard of Hope, by Kathy Steinemann, the first in her Sapphire Brigade series, is a melodrama set in the late 19th century. I have had quite an internal struggle over how to rate this book. Because I determined that several of the problems I had with it were probably personal taste issues, I'm giving it three stars instead of two.

One thing that Steinemann could easily clarify at the beginning with a quick edit is the location of the story. I was very confused--there were references to "Free Negroes" and the 13th Amendment, implying the United States, most likely in the South. But the spellings are often British, there is a reference to British tutors, and Peter, the husband, is described (too far in) as having a British accent.

There are also some other editing issues like verb tense inconsistencies and confusing shifts in focus from crucial plot points to details about a secondary character's appearance and personality.

But now, on to the major issues I had with the novel...

[Warning: Spoilers abound in the next few paragraphs]

First off, Steinemann sent me the book to review, and she probably didn't realize I am a historian, or she might not have. There were a few distinct, well-researched passages, but the book had so many anachronisms as to completely throw me out of the story. Finally I decided to pretend that it was set in 1958 instead of 1890, which took care of almost all of the problems. For one thing, the term "paedophile" was not in common use until the 20th century. I am not convinced that people in the 1890s would have reacted to Hope's confession about her secret as they did. Perhaps one or two exceptionally advanced thinkers might, but the vast majority would have labeled her "hysterical" and locked her away in a room with yellow wallpaper.

The concept of "racism" as a bad thing is also far more recent than the turn of the century. At that time and well into the first half of the 20th century "racism," and specifically "scientific racism," was widely accepted as an appropriate world view, not as something to condemn. Read some of Teddy Roosevelt's writings on the topic of race sometime. By the mid 1920s literally millions of people, including a half a million women, belonged to the KKK. It became something you had to do in order to make it in a career--even Harry Truman joined for a brief time. Had the novel been set in the late 1950s or in the 1960s, after the Civil Rights movement had begun, it would make a lot more sense to me that Hope would want to reject racism. And it would still make a lot of sense to me that she and those around her might suffer retaliation for it.

Terms like "cheating" and "stalking" are also later 20th century terms, for what it's worth. The book is full of language inappropriate to the time.

Another issue I had was that I thought I was reading a romance, and as romances go, Vanguard doesn't follow the rules. Some readers may enjoy this as a step away from convention. However, I like romance conventions. Introduce the main love interest at the beginning and that's who I want the main character to end up with. But Hope had not one, not two, but three loves. Hey, I'm all for polyamorous love stories, but this really wasn't one of those (way too much talk of offending God for that). The introduction of Owen in the last third of the novel really threw me off. I never trusted him. It didn't help that he kept breaking into her house and surprising her when he 1) knew she was a victim of sexual assault and 2) was a doctor who counseled her sister about her own assault and should have been a lot more sensitive to the repercussions of violating Hope's space and safety like that. On top of that, Hope's reactions to this violation didn't ring true for me. She wasn't the least bit unnerved. Maybe if she had met Owen before Solomon or Peter, if there had been established sexual tension with him from the start, I might have been able to hang in there. And it didn't help that I found their playful sexual banter awkward (they had names for their body parts) and tiresome (there was far too much of it).

Click on the image to purchase on Amazon.
I was disappointed because in the beginning of the novel I got hooked despite the anachronisms and minor editing problems, which is saying a lot for me. I get frustrated with that sort of thing usually. But I was impressed because the story of Hope's affair with Solomon was compelling and I thought that would be the focus of the book. Also, Steinemann has a good grasp of how to throw twists into a plot. In fact, I think she does it too much (he was murdered, no, he killed himself, no, he's not actually dead--that one annoyed me particularly because I was invested in the hate crime aspect of the murder scenario). But by the last third of the novel, I felt that the tension just wasn't there. The only looming threat was Hope's illness, and that wasn't enough for me. I needed something else to threaten her--the illness was just saddening, not exciting.

Anyway, I think others may enjoy this novel more than I did. Anachronisms really bug me (unless it's an alternative history) and I don't think they bother non-history buffs nearly as much. So if you like melodramas with lots of twists and prefer romances that stray from the usual conventions, you may enjoy Vanguard of Hope.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

We have a winner!

Well, the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia is officially closed. The good news is, I ran the names of all the lovely people who commented on the previous post in order to enter the drawing to win all the episodes of The City Darkens (to download the first episode free, go here) and we have a winner! Lisabet Sarai, please stand up and claim your prize!!! Applause!!!

Okay, so in real life I'll be emailing Lisabet. Thank you all for reading and participating in HAHAT this year. Let me know if you do anything wonderful to promote acceptance of LGBT people in the coming months!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

HAHAT: Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Hello all! I'm happy to say that I'm participating in the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia this year. I only just came across it about a month ago, so this is my first year both as a blogger and a general participant.

I had a friend named Rufus when I lived in El Cajon many years ago, who was a sweetie. He liked to flirt with me which I enjoyed very much since my first husband, who I was married to at the time, was pretty lame at making me feel pretty, etc. Rufus was married and had a child, but he also had a boyfriend; I'm not sure if his wife was okay with this or even knew about it. In any case, one night around 2am Rufus and his boyfriend were walking down a street in El Cajon (a low income neighborhood in San Diego known for its white supremacists) hand in hand. Witnesses saw several men stop them. They shot and killed them both execution-style.

The perpetrators were never caught.

I'm deeply happy to be away from El Cajon, but I've found that in NorCal there is still a lot of homophobia. Many people I encounter who don't live in California think that it's a great place for LGBT people, but while you do have pockets like SF, West Hollywood, and Hillcrest in San Diego, there's still a lot of progress to be made.

Friday is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17th). Consider doing something to spread the word about LGBT rights. Got ideas? Post them in the comments!

A couple of other questions to consider for commenting:
Have you ever known anyone targeted with violence solely for some aspect of their identity? Tell us what happened.
What's the best way to handle hate crimes? Should they be punished more severely than other crimes or treated the same?

Comment on this post and add an email and a preferred ebook format. I will do a random drawing of names (using an online utility) and the winner will receive free copies of all of the episodes of The City Darkens, which is LGBT fantasy. You can read more about the first episodes here. Some episodes are not yet out. The winner will receive them as soon as I'm done editing and formatting them.

The contest ends late in the day on May 27th.The winner will be announced on here on the blog (on May 28th, barring some unforeseen obstacle) and contacted via email.

Want to comment but don't want to enter the drawing? Post away! I love reader comments.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Quality Control for Indie Authors

I've read some bad ebooks.

I never post reviews for them, just because I don't want to hurt some poor struggling author's feelings. I admire anyone who puts themselves out there, you know. Sometimes, I email the author with notes for improving the book, but other times I just don't post anything. I've had folks send me novels to review who are probably scratching their heads.

However, my policy on this is probably going to change, because I just can't stand how badly written ebooks reflect on all ebooks. It's not something that only makes the author of the flawed book look bad. It makes all self-publishers look bad. How can I expect readers to wade through the bad to find the good, when I myself can't seem to do it? It's frustrating, because the best thing for ebooks sales is word of mouth, but you don't get word of mouth until a certain number of people read your book, and a lot of people are just avoiding self-published books because they think 90% of them are crap, and they're right.

I've been talking about this on one of the groups I belong to on Goodreads. It really surprised me when several fellow members posted answers to my initial post saying that they don't see what the big deal about good grammar is, and that some readers/reviewers suddenly think that they are "English teachers" as soon as they pick up an indie book, and that there are too many grammar Nazis. What this tells me is that these authors don't care if their books have major grammatical and stylistic flaws. The fact that they view people who care about grammar as "Nazis" and, worse, "English teachers"... well. I say, if an English teacher reads one of my novels and thinks it's good, then I've really done a great job. And I want that. I want my books to be that good.

There are a few folks on GR who are talking about putting together some sort of consortium of authors/readers/reviewers who would evaluate books for their writing quality (not in terms of content, but in terms of grammar etc.). I may participate in that. I'll keep you posted.

How about you? Do you care about grammar and style when you read a book, or does story just trump everything else? What sorts of things make you pause when you're reading (not in a good way)? If a consortium formed to evaluate books on their writing quality, would their seal of approval make a difference to you?


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Twitter: Spam vs. Marketing

A few months ago I took down all of my programmed tweets that directly marketed my ebooks. I did this out of frustration with how many of these tweets I was seeing in my own stream. They vastly outnumber tweets where anyone actually says anything about how their day is going or whatever. When I attempted to make  list of tweeps who "tweet real stuff" I only managed to accumulate 24 people, out of a potential group of nearly 2000. This makes Twitter really boring to me. I felt like I was just looking at a stream of spam, and it didn't help that 4 out of 5 of these marketing tweets used quotes from the novels with grammar errors or style issues in the quotes. One vampire novelist's quote said something along the lines of, "A dead body! Someone sucked his ass dry!" Now, just give that one a minute to knock around in your head. Not a pretty picture, is it? A couple of times I couldn't help myself--I had to @ the person with the troublesome tweet and point out the problem. This was never received very well (I can't imagine why!). Seriously, though. You're tweeting something from your book. Why not choose a line that actually flows well?

Yeah, that's what I end up thinking, too. They've probably already chosen the best line in their book.

But I digress.

Back to my point: I got fed up with all the marketing tweets especially since most of them seem to come from people who otherwise are not engaged with Twitter at all, or very little. I nixed my own, and kept an eye on my sales. At first, nothing changed. Then I had a couple of pretty dry months. Then, April happened. In which I more than tripled the the best month of sales I ever had before on Amazon, and had my second best month ever on B&N. What changed?

Well, in April I was giving away two books. I released The Plane and the Parade so I was giving away The River and the Roses. And I had just started giving away Myadar's Snare then, too (I still am; get it here.) And because I wanted to be sure everyone knew about these giveaways, I did a lot more tweeting about them than I had been. I also sent out some direct messages--I really hope those didn't annoy anyone, but since what I was DMing about was free, I decided it was a risk worth taking. Since the free books are located here on the blog, I can't be sure that the tweets led directly to the sales--after all, for that to be the case, a lot of people would have had to click through on the pictures in the margins here or on the links on the ebook description page or something. I also joined several Goodreads groups in April and added my books to a few bookshelves, so it's quite possible that made a big difference--although I only did that with the Myadar books, and I sold a bunch of Veronica books as well as Broken Ones, too, which I didn't post.

So I've decided to give marketing tweets another try and see what happens. Right now, I'm only going to send out 2 or 3 a day. This is extremely low. Michael Hicks, who is my hero because he started out like any indie publisher and worked his way to where he quit his day job and bought a house in Florida with a pool, for pity's sake, sends them out every 60 to 120 minutes, for instance. He's being moderate compared to some of the spammers I mentioned above. I just really don't want someone who only has three dozen followers to open their Twitter account one morning and have to scroll through my fifty marketing tweets clogging their stream.

So we'll see if these tweets do anything. I may eventually up it to 6 a day, although I'm going to give it some time first. I'll give an update when I've seen what happens. By the way, if you don't already follow me on Twitter, you can do so here.

How do you schedule your tweets? Have you found that one kind of tweet is more effective for your sales than others (a book description, a quote from the book, a quote from a reviewer)?

When you see promo tweets, is there one kind you prefer? How do you feel about seeing a lot of promo tweets in your stream?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Myadar's Flight is out!

Myadar's Flight, the third episode in The City Darkens, is now available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Like the other episodes, it is priced at $0.99.

Here's my description (SPOILERS if you haven't yet read Myadar's Snare--which you can download for free here--and Myadar's Betrayal):

Myadar has struck a blow against Reister, but she still hasn't found Bersi or figured out a way to escape Helésey. After the success of her first foray into the city disguised as Raud Gríma, she determines to don the costume of the legendary highway robber again. This time, however, things will not go as planned.

So far April has been great for sales. I've sold over three times as many books as in any prior month (although since that number was never very high, it's still not like I can quit my day job). It's super exciting, though. I love knowing that people are reading my books! I just hope they enjoy them, too.

What do you think of the cover? Do you have a favorite of the covers for the parts of The City Darkens, yet?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Veronica, Book 3 is Out!

I got so busy this week I haven't had a chance to do this post until now. My newest Veronica Barry novel, The Plane and the Parade, is out at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is the third book in the Veronica Barry series. The first, The River and the Roses, is available for free until the end of the month. I hope you'll download your preferred format and try the series out!

In The Plane and the Parade, French teacher and amateur psychic detective Veronica is off for the summer. It's not all fun and games, though, as Veronica begins to help SPD Detective Daniel Seong, her boyfriend, in his search for a murderer who may in fact be a terrorist. At least she and Daniel are going strong--but a visit from someone in Veronica's past may rock their solid foundation.

My bestest beta reader, Kathryn, interviewed me about The Plane and the Parade on her blog. That was loads of fun! It's always great to be invited to talk about my writing.

And as of this post, one copy of Plane has already been sold, so that's awesome.

This month has been great for sales, actually, after a somewhat disappointing March. And we're only halfway through, so I'm hoping this is the start of an ever increasing trend!

Releasing Plane brings up an interesting question for me, though. When you have a series, do you advertize the latest book a lot, or focus on the first? As a reader, I avoid jumping into the middle of a series. So it's irrelevant to me that book 7 of Song of Ice and Fire is out, for instance, because I would need to start at book 1 anyway. Then again, knowing that there are seven books does appeal to me, because I know when I start the series that I've got a ways to go before I run through the books that have been published. However, I also often hear complaints about book series that have "gone on too long" because the author "needs an editor" or has "lost passion for the story" or whatnot.

What do you think about book series? Do you like them better than stand alone books? Do you ever start a series in the middle? How would you approach marketing books in a series?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grimdark and Violence in Fantasy

Recently I was checking my stats on this blog and saw that someone came here after they did a search for "sophia grimdark martin." Which isn't quite as weird as it sounds, since about a month ago, I think, I went on a minor Twitter monologue about grimdark, and so it would seem that someone out there noticed.

What, you ask, is grimdark?

It's term, apparently originating from the description of a tabletop RPG, Warhammer 40K, set in a future which is "grim" and "dark," and in which everything is war.* I read a very interesting article discussing grimdark in fantasy here, but I wanted to go into a bit myself, because of my ambivalence about it.

As I understand it, grimdark has become a term for dark fantasy that takes violence to a really gruesome level. One of the articles I read about it (might be the one above, I'm not sure) talked about how the genre of horror basically died in the 90s, and was reborn as "dark fantasy." So what has become common, apparently, is for fantasy novels to show ever-more graphic depictions of violence, especially sexual assault and torture. This starts, more or less, with George R. R. Martin's series that I've only experienced as the TV show Game of Thrones (love it, am hooked, often can't take the violence). But from what I read, GRRM is a beginner compared to some of the grimdark stuff that's come out since. And it has also, apparently, become the expectation that fantasy authors write this sort of violence in their novels, and each one seeks to top the one before.

I actually don't know about this first hand, I'm just summarizing the articles I read.

I initially started reading about the grimdark trend because I was worried The City Darkens might be grimdark, and I'd just read about it briefly in an article on TVtropes.org which made it sound like it was generally viewed as a bad thing. However, despite the fact that these articles were critical of it, the authors of these articles were reacting to the trend and its popularity. Apparently, a lot of people like grimdark fiction.

As an aside, The City Darkens isn't grimdark. Not by a longshot, from what I can tell. Yes, there's violence in it. Just not nearly that level of violence. To quote the same article I linked above, "Ringil [in Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains] remembers being gang-raped at a boys’ private school, where all the kids take turns gang-raping each other as part of being hazed." This sort of thing is never going to happen in my books. There's a couple of reasons for that, which I'll get into.

1) I don't read novels with this level of violence, and if a novel contains a sexual assault, it had better be essential to the plot. Even Mélusine, which I reviewed here, and gave five stars to on Goodreads, has a sexual assault scene early on that I could have happily done without. When I don't like reading something, the likelihood of my writing it is very, very low. I have a similar thing with harming animals in fiction. I don't like it as a plot device. I think it's manipulative, because as they've pointed out (here and even better, here) on TVtropes, people get way more upset about an animal or child getting hurt or killed than adult humans. I also cannot stand it if the harming of an animal is in any way supposed to be funny or entertaining. Animals are not here to amuse us with their suffering, folks. The world is hard enough on them already without that.

2) I have a really hard time writing violence of any kind, because ever since I became a mom, all my emotional armor has become swiss cheese. I kid you not. I was never a fan of violence, you understand. I totally freaked my students out the first year I taught American history when I had to ask one of them to take over reading a letter by Michele de Cuneo because I burst into tears (it, too, involves sexual assault). But having my son just destroyed any level of desensitization I formerly built up. I cannot watch suffering dispassionately, and when I write it... yeesh. It's like I'm pulling out my own nails. Which doesn't mean I won't do it. As I mentioned, The City Darkens has violence, and I believe it's important to convey the consequences of things like war, so the violence is, in my opinion at least, fairly realistic. The big difference is, I don't slather on the details.

In fact, I can't imagine writing a story without violence. This is where my ambivalence comes in. I've tried, folks. Remember the plot-bunnies I mentioned about an Edwardian romance? I thought writing romance might be a good idea for me, so I could avoid violence. Well, it doesn't work for me. I love reading Edwardian romance, but when it comes to writing, it seems I cannot escape violence. In Broken Ones, there's domestic violence. In my Veronica series, there are murders and arson and plane crashes and other violent situations. And in The City Darkens there's still more violence.

I like to say I write to preserve my sanity, and that is true. I do go through seasons where I don't write, and that's okay, but when I'm in a writing phase, not writing very quickly makes me antsy, irritable... it makes PMS and pregnancy hormones look like a joke, people. While I often enjoy writing most when it's acting as an escape for me, it's also a form of therapy, in reality. There's a part of Myadar's Snare that is incredibly painful for me to write and to reread. Whenever I revise it, I just hate that part. It's because I gave myself this challenge, to write one of my greatest fears. So rereading it means going through that fear again. Ultimately, I hope it makes the story more authentic, but man. So unfun.

It brings to mind two (very different) authors. Nalo Hopkinson used to participate on a feminist sci fi and fantasy listserv I belonged to for a while. We read Brown Girl in the Ring for a book of the month. There's a scene where a character gets flayed alive, and someone on the listserv talked about how awful it was to read. Nalo Hopskinson responded that it also had been incredibly hard to write, which surprised the woman who had posted originally. She said she had never thought about whether a scene had been hard for an author to write. That really stuck with me, because I was already writing back then, but I hadn't really ever written anything that was that hard for me. In fact, I'd say that the first time I truly did that was in Myadar's Snare. It happens again later in The City Darkens, too. But up until then, I did write scenes that were hard scenes, but they were almost always fueled by anger, not tapping into fear or pain so much. Certainly not recent, raw pain or the way I imagine I would feel if something I am currently very afraid of would come to pass. I'd be more likely to draw on old fears or old pain, if that makes sense.

The other author is Stephen King. I'm not sure where I read this; probably Danse Macabre because I'm pretty sure it predated On Writing. He said he didn't really have a choice about what he wrote. He used a metaphor, which I'll paraphrase, but just be aware I'm probably getting it wrong... He said writing is like a strainer in your mind. All this muck passes through it, and some stuff says in it, and that's what you write about. He said that if he had a choice, he'd write like Amy Tan.

So violence is part of the muck in my strainer, I guess. And as such, I can't out-and-out condemn grimdark, because it's just taking that same muck to a much more extreme level, after all. I think, and this was pointed out in some of the articles that I read, that the real problem with grimdark is that it's violence for violence's sake a lot of the time, and that just seems like someone needs a better editor. Violence in novels and any other fiction medium really needs to have a purpose. It's like my issues with animal harm in fiction. That can really be applied more broadly to all violence. Violence can be used in a really cheaply manipulative way, and if that's why it's there, it's no bueno. Violence should exist in stories only when its absence would make a story impossible to tell.

How about you, do you have "muck" in your "strainer" that you have ambivalent feelings about? Have you pushed yourself to write something that is unpleasant for you to reread?
How do you feel about violence in fiction?

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*The hashtag #grimdark apparently has some sort of My Little Pony connection I find... disturbing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

STOP THE PRESSES!

STOP THE PRESSES! 
Is that just one of those phrases you've always wanted to scream at the top of your lungs? And isn't it just tragic that most of us will never get to do that?

Sigh.

Anyway, the title refers to my realization that I have to reorganize how I'm publishing the parts of The City Darkens. I will explain, and I will try to be concise. (I'm hearing Inigo Montoya in my head: "Let me 'splain. [pause] No, there is too much. Let me sum up.")

Twice now, people I do not know (one, a snarky employee at Smashwords, the other, a member of a book group I'm in on Goodreads) have pointed out that if people buy every installment of The City Darkens once all twelve are available, they will pay almost $12 for what is essentially one book.

I wouldn't pay $12 for a novel, even if it is 150K words. Which The City Darkens is, altogether.

So while I initially dismissed what the Smashwords guy said, because he was a condescending, unreasonable peon (harsh, perhaps--I'm a little bitter still), when this other very nice guy who was giving me feedback in general made the same comment, I realized I had a perception problem. Both these guys thought I was splitting my novel into 12 parts in order to make more money, I surmised.

Now, it's true that on Smashwords, that may have been the case (although to be perfectly honest it's been a long time since I read the SW rules on royalties). However, because of the way Amazon does royalties, I would make more on one book priced at $5.99 than twelve priced at $0.99. Amazon requires that you price between 2.99 and 9.99 to earn 70% royalties. Anything above or below earns 35%.

I intended (and still do) to offer a version with parts 2-12 and a version with all 12 parts for sale as well as the individual parts, for less than $12 (I was thinking in the neighborhood of $7), actually hoping that people would opt for one of those instead of buying all the parts, because ultimately, that's going to mean better royalties for me. The trouble is, I'm not ready to publish everything yet. It's all written, it's been revised a couple of times, but I just know I still have typos to catch, and my beta reader is still working through 5-12. And she's bound to have advice for how to improve things. So part of what happened here is that my impatience, which is epic, got the better of me.

Another thing that happened is that I originally projected 8 parts. This is what comes of being a pantser. I had no idea the story would take so many words, and parts, to come to fruition. So my original plan to publish the novel as a serial meant people would pay about $8 if they bought the parts separately, and $7 for the whole thing. I just failed to alter my plan when it came out to 12 parts instead.

I wrestled with what to do for a few hours today. I drove my husband up a wall fretting over the pros and cons of a few different possibilities. I won't go into them here, because I've decided to just group parts 1 and 2, then parts 3 and 4, and so on, into larger parts. So there will be 6 instead of 12.

This means that if you have downloaded part 1 on my free book page, you will need part 2 in order to have the complete part one in this new version.

I'll be posting the original part 2 to the free page soon. Download it!!!

In other words, the titles of parts 1 and 2 are currently:
Myadar's Snare
Myadar's Revelry

And they will now both be part of Myadar's Snare. Myadar's Revelry will no longer be separate.

This is good, because I was never comfortable with the title Myadar's Revelry, but I couldn't think of anything that worked better.

The current parts 3 and 4 are:
Myadar's Secret
Myadar's Betrayal

And I think I'll just call the two of them Myadar's Betrayal. Unless people tell me they like the title Myadar's Secret more.

And so on.

So this represents a chunk of work, since I've decided to edit and format the 3&4 combo before changing Myadar's Snare to include 2.

Does that make sense?

Do you like the title Myadar's Betrayal or Myadar's Secret better for part 2?

Would you have handled my dilemma differently?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cover for Myadar's Revelry (part 2 of The City Darkens)

So just to have all my new covers in one place, I figure I'll post a blog article for each.

This one is for part two of The City Darkens, which I'm hoping to publish tomorrow, depending on whether I get the final edits done and whether my homework for the MA program gets in the way. In any case, it should be up by the end of the day Monday.

My concept for the covers is to keep the background mostly the same (although I'm smudging and shading each individually, and unless I find a way to cut that corner, that means each will still have a slightly different background). The portrait of Myadar, the main character, in the foreground, will change with each episode, and have something to do with the story in that episode. In Myadar's Revelry, for instance, it's the first time Myadar's look gets "updated" to reflect the court's fashion (basically flapper, art deco, etc.).

So here it is:






What do you think of it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smashwords No More

I'm pretty disappointed in Smashwords. They asked me to unpublish Myadar's Snare because they don't allow serial novels. Which makes no sense at all. I don't see the difference between allowing someone to publish a series of novels and a serialized novel, other than the length of the works. But Smashwords says they don't consider a part of a serialized novel to be a complete work (even though they publish novellas all the time), and it is therefore against their terms of service. These are the people who also publish porn, (unlike Amazon). But when it comes to serialized novels, no no.

I contacted Amazon to be sure they didn't have a similar policy. After all, I suppose I could be taking crazy pills. They informed me that they have no problem with publishing parts of a serial novel. So there.

I am so annoyed with Smashwords that I've unpublished everything I have with them. I know, it probably is a little, "Imma take my ball and go home!" The thing is, this policy of theirs is bad business. No one stands to lose in the scenario where they allow me to publish my novel's episodes. If people like the first and want to buy the second and third and so on, they get to read these installments faster than they would if they had to wait for me to finish editing the whole thing to publish it all at once. (I do intend to offer that as an option eventually.) Meanwhile, if folks purchase the parts, that means both Smashwords and I would benefit financially.

Ultimately the best thing about Smashwords was that they made it easy for me to generate coupons to give away books, but I've realized I can just upload files in various formats right here, and I don't need them. The majority of my sales happen on Amazon, followed closely by B&N (I read the B&N policy, and while they don't prohibit serial novels, they do prohibit including links in your book, which I find weird as well). It's a pity, though. I liked Smashwords because it felt more like working with an individual's business rather than a monster corporation like Amazon. In this case, though, the logic of the big corps wins over the crazy of the little guy.

I'll be updating this blog to reflect the change soon. Look for a new page with free books to download.

Have you ever come across a baffling business practice that made you want to stop working with that business? How did you handle it?

Monday, March 25, 2013

COVER! OF! PART! ONE!

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I was really fretting over the creation of my covers for the decopunk serial novel I've been working on, The City Darkens. I wanted a deco feel, and the closer I could get to a tribute to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the better. Since part one is almost ready to be published (maybe tomorrow!) the time had really come to confront my fears and get to work on the cover. So I collected some images on Pinterest and sat down at my dining room table with all of my boxes of art supplies, none of which I have touched in over a year, and this is the result:
I'm really pleased with it. If you are familiar with the posters for Metropolis, you might recognize the one I like the best:


I realize my font is a bit hard to read, but I figure the title will be all typed out nicely at the top of the page next to the cover, so it's really more about catching the eye and also communicating the Lang inspiration and deco quality.

My husband asked whether I'll get in trouble for the similarities. My understanding is that as long as an image is 75% altered from the original, you're okay. Now, I can't claim that I ran any sort of algorithm, but I did change a lot in the picture. I think I'm okay. Would you agree?

Anyway, be on the look out for the soon to be published first episode of my novel, The City Darkens: Myadar's Snare. Yay!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

Continuing in my pursuit of good fantasy novels, I picked up The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett. This one is not GLBT, although I suspect two of the male characters may pair off eventually in a sequel.

First off, let me say that the novel was not only good enough for me to finish, but I've wishlisted the sequels. So that's saying something. However, I did have a number of problems with it, which I'll get into in a bit.

The novel is set in an Edwardian-esque fantasy world with strange night/day cycles that change all the time. Nights are referred to as "umbrals" and days as "lumenals," and due to some unexplained phenomenon, some umbrals last 20 hours, some five, and likewise with the days, etc., with no rhyme or reason to when the long and short umbrals and lumenals occur. Magic exists in this world, and seems to have different manifestations based on gender. Other than that, the setting is very much Edwardian, as you can guess from the dress the woman on the cover is wearing.

So my initial reaction to the first lines, which are very  Jane Austen, was delight. I thought, here is exactly the sort of book I want to read, especially given my intent to explore writing an Edwardian romance. However, this delight soon faded.

First of all, I think it just doesn't fit to combine fantasy and Austen. It's weird, because I love both, but somehow, they just don't go together. It's like lemon curd and white cheddar. Love 'em both. Wouldn't spread the one on the other.

Secondly, Beckett moves from Austen, to Bronte (all of them, but especially Jane Eyre) to Dickens, and back to Austen. I love all of these, of course, but they are all very different. I don't read Austen if I'm in the mood for gothic romance (Northanger Abbey is not my favorite of hers), I read Bronte instead. I don't read Bronte if I want a taste of the drudgery of living in working class London, I read Dickens. 

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

So the movement in the novel from the (mostly) cheery story of Miss Ivy Lockwell and her sisters and their association with Rafferty and Garritt to Ivy becoming a governess in the lonely, shadowy Heathcrest Hall in the windblown, wild country of Mr. Quent (who almost has a wife locked in an upstairs room, for pity's sake), to a return to the capitol with a focus on Garritt's struggle to find and keep a job as a clerk... I just had trouble with it. I found the similarities to real works by Austen, Bronte, and Dickens too distracting and when the plot deviated from the expected formulas for those novels (Austen would not have had Ivy fall for two men, for instance--at least, not without resolving it for the reader so that one of the men was revealed to be a cad) I was annoyed.

I also found it bewildering when the mid section of the book, set at Heathcrest, suddenly switched to first person, and I became convinced that the whole first part of the book was almost entirely unnecessary to the plot. I started thinking, why did the author even include it? And why not write the whole novel in first person? I know why now, having read the whole thing. Beckett needed to go with third person in the first and last thirds of the book to show stories like Garritt's. Could the middle part have remained in third person? Probably. I'm left feeling like the novel just wasn't very tight. Maybe if I reread it I would feel differently.

Anyway, those are my quibbles. Overall, I did enjoy the novel. Ivy is likeable, as is Rafferty. Garritt I'm on the fence about, and I was ready to toss his sister to the bad guy he so strenuously protected her from. I have a theory about Mr. Quent, but I won't share it until I've read the next two books.

Click the image above to order.
I won't say, "If you're a fan of Austen and Bronte you'll like this book," because as you can see, that's not how it worked out for me. Rather, if you are looking for a fantasy novel that departs from the usual medieval setting and involves some likeable characters, you'll like this book.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mélusine, by Sarah Monette

The fantasy novel Mélusine, by Sarah Monette, is the first in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. First off, for those familiar with the French myth of Mélusine, be aware that this story has nothing to do with mermaids. Luckily I didn't remember that the mermaid in the myth was named Mélusine, or I might have been disappointed. I've always liked mermaids.

Anyway, this story (which fits into the GLBT fantasy genre, by the way) is about two men who live in a city called Mélusine. One, a mage and a member of the royal court, is named Felix. The other, a cat burglar and sometimes thug, is named Mildmay. Felix and Mildmay don't know each other, and for most of the novel, pursue different stories. My biggest beef with this novel is that it switches from Felix to Mildmary's first person accounts, sometimes within the same page. I think I understand why Monette chose to do this (she wanted their stories to keep up with each other in the course of time passing), but it still irritated me all the way to the end. I would get engrossed with one story, and then be jolted into the other. Just about every book I've ever read that does this annoys me. However, I can see the appeal of telling a story from more than one perspective, particularly in this case. I won't say more about that so as not to spoil things.

I liked both Felix and Mildmay, and became more interested in each of them at different times. Mildmay's voice, in particular, really grew on me. I became very attached to both of them, and by the end of the book, I didn't want the story to end. This sort of thing doesn't happen all that often to me; I'll enjoy a book just fine, but also enjoy the ending, and be done with it. Not so with Mélusine. I'm really happy I get to read more books in the series, otherwise I'd miss these characters, especially Mildmay.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

The irony is that through most of the novel, I liked Felix more, and more often than not, I wanted to know what was going on with him much more than Mildmay. I enjoyed Mildmay's voice and I really liked it when Mildmay told stories--long before he said so, I knew Mildmay loved story-telling, you could read it in the way he would dig in to a story and deliver it with such relish. Also, at the start, I had a hard time with Felix's experiences, since saying Felix was a punching bag is like saying Hurricane Katrina damaged some houses. And it just kept going and going, I was like, jeez, let's give the guy a break already, okay? Eventually Felix loses his mind, with full-on hallucinations and such, and actually, that's when I really started to like him. And I have to say, sane Felix (who we only meet at the end) is not nearly as likeable as crazy Felix. I'm a bit concerned I won't much care for sane Felix in the next books. Time will tell, I suppose.
Click the image above to order.

Anyway, I highly recommend this book. It is very well-written, meaning the phrasing, etc., is so good I felt like my writing was improving as I read it.


Oh, and just a note on the cover. I really don't like it. To me, it says "beefcake," and not much else, despite the attempt to represent Felix's mage tattoos. And it's so very inappropriate to associate beefcake to this novel. Perhaps Felix was buff and all before his misfortunes hit, but very quickly Monette describes him as emaciated, his hair shorn, etc.--I visualized concentration camp victims.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inspired to make a pledge

Okay, I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I was watching an episode of Glee, where they're singing Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," and I got really inspired.* Not to write (although I've had a lot of inspiration for writing lately, for which I am grateful), but to make a pledge. It's still a bit hazy, but let's see... I pledge that when I break $1000 in sales (this is still quite far off), I will donate $100 to some sort of children's charity. It was a line in the song about not having a right to ignore a hungry child's need... Anyway, once I break $1000, $100 to a children's charity. And when (yes, when) I start making at least $500 a month in sales, I'll sponsor a child. I did this before for a while but had to stop because money just got too tight. I'd like to do it again. And if I ever become one of those epub authors who makes more than $50,000 a year, maybe we'll adopt a child. That's something I've always wanted to do, and if you ever read my family blog you'll know it's something we may have to do if we want a second child (although that's still not a sure thing). Adoption is so expensive though, so I'd have to be making a lot more than I am now to even consider it.

*This is weird for a couple of reasons: first off, I'm really not sure what to think about Michael Jackson when it comes to children, and unless you knew him personally, you can't honestly tell me you have all the facts either. But I am uncomfortable with at least some of what I do know, so for him to inspire me to want to make a pledge to help children, well... Anyway, secondly, it's all the more apparent that I am a sucker for Glee performances, because the previous performance in the show, a mash-up of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Destiny's Child's "Survivor" already had me all worked up thinking I could take on the world. This is nothing new, actually. I straight up cried during Amber Riley's performance of "Beautiful"--and I still do every time I watch it.

So anyway, you folks who read this blog can hold me to my pledge. I will announce it when I break $1000, and you can say, "Hey, that means $100 to a children's charity!" and you can even suggest some good ones.

How about you, have you been inspired in unlikely ways lately? Do you have any pledges you've made or would like to make?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Draft Finito!

Yes, folks, I have just finished the first draft of The Plane and the Parade, the third book in the Veronica Barry series (unless you count Veronica in Paris, which is book "zero" and takes place about 13 years before The River and the Roses). I'm doing a first read-through and then I'll be sending The Plane and the Parade to my most wonderful beta-reader, Kathryn. And while she's slogging through that, I'll be working on a cover. Although I have been searching through images, and so far I haven't found any parade ones I'm particularly taken with.

It's always so wonderful to finish the first draft. The revisions are much less fun. Yes, yes, I know they are a necessary evil, and I'm going to do my best to nail every typo and fill every plot hole. I'm just not going to particularly enjoy it.

I've been giving a lot of thought to what to write next, and I just finished reading a GLBT fantasy novel that I'll be reviewing here soon that I absolutely loved, and it made me want to write a GLBT fantasy novel. Or maybe just a fantasy novel, with or without GLBT characters. I've got a fantasy world I spend month building many many years ago that I'd love to actually set a novel in.

Trouble is, I'm really not sure what my characters or story would be like. I have odds and ends in terms of ideas, but nothing that hangs together. I know I like an old-fashioned quest, of course.

But then there's the whole idea I had about trying my hand at writing a romance, and I'm really not sure I'd want to combine the two. QUEST + ROMANCE = CHEESY. Not always, of course, but it just seems like if the point is to find the MacGuffin before the world ends or whatever, then splitting your attention to moon over some hottie is a little bit counterproductive. And I do realize the hottie can be the MacGuffin, but then it just really becomes a book about a character who is obsessed with someone else and needs to develop a stronger sense of self. Although I suppose the Myadar serial I've been working on has some elements of this--in her case it's a child, not a hottie, though. I like writing female main characters, though, and if I'm going to write a romance, I don't want my mc to be so smitten with the love interest that they pursue them like a MacGuffin. And as for a scenario where the mc of my fantasy novel dutifully pursues the (non-character) MacGuffin and falls in love with some other character who is somehow tangentially involved, while I have no problem with this sort of story, it's not really a romance. It's a fantasy story with an element of romance. And so it doesn't satisfy the "I should try writing a romance" urge.

No, I have a couple of specific needs when it comes to my mc, and these vary by genre. For one thing, if I do write a fantasy novel, I want my mc to be powerful. I often write mcs that are fairly ordinary or at least inexperienced, and as such, apt to get their butts whipped. It would be nice, for a change, to have an mc who does the butt-whipping. If I write a romance, I suppose my mc could still be a butt-whipper, (ahem--this is straying into unintended territory--keep your minds out of the gutter, people) but it's really not so essential.

There was the whole Edwardian romance idea, but I am, shall we say, a perfectionist when it comes to research, and would probably drown in any effort to write a historical romance even of the shallowest kind. I've considered possibly creating a fantasy setting that somewhat emulates the Edwardian England of Jane Austen, thereby releasing myself from the need for accuracy of depiction, but then we stray back into FANTASY + ROMANCE = CHEESY again.

Welcome to the merry-go-round that is my mind when I try to tease out a new story. :P

How about you, do you ever find yourself going around in circles when you're trying to nail down a new story?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Maledicte, By Lane Robins

I came across Maledicte, by Lane Robins, when I tried out this utility, which suggests a list of books you might like based on a title or author you provide. I typed in Kushiel's Dart. So the implication is that Maledicte is like Kushiel's Dart, which it isn't, except perhaps in the most superficial ways.

I am a picky reader, which doesn't work well with my also being a pretty voracious reader. And also I read very fast. Forgive me for saying so, (because it is bragging, and I do it because I had a learning disability and didn't really learn to read until fifth grade, so my inner child still has something to prove) but at my fastest I read 700 words a minute. So I go through novels very quickly. Despite this, I don't spend time on a novel I don't like--I just quit reading and move on to the next one. My shelves are littered with novels I have started and tossed aside. So the fact that I didn't toss Maledicte aside speaks to the fact that I liked it somewhat.

A short list of reasons Maledicte is worth reading:
  • The gods in the world of Maledicte are intriguing and original. First off, they're dead. Secondly, each one is the patron of two things, one positive thing and one negative thing, but rather than being two sides of coin, these things are fairly unrelated: there's a god of health and greed, for instance.
  • The title character is transgender, and in such a way as to be fairly fluid, which is unusual.
  • One of the central characters, Gilly, is quite likeable.
  • Another of the more minor characters, the king, is also likeable.
  • The writing is good. Good phrasing, no grammatical problems, strong figurative language, etc.
    To order, click the image above.

Aside from that, the novel has many problems, and the ending drove me up a wall. For details, read on.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Except for the two characters cited above, no one in the book is likeable, least of all, Maledicte. It's hard to conceive of why Gilly becomes so infatuated with him. Gilly seems to really dig how sulky and rude Maledicte is. I do not. Plus, Maledicte kills cats. UNFORGIVABLE.*

To enjoy this novel, you must enjoy witnessing your protagonist commit one gory, brutal murder after another. Where Kushiel has sex, Maledicte has murder. And make no mistake, there is very little sex in this novel, and what sex there is either takes place between unlikeable characters, or amounts to rape.

Which brings me to one reason the ending pissed me off. I'm firmly rooting for Gilly, right? Even though Gilly insists on falling in love with Maledicte. So by extension, I root for Maledicte, because if Maledicte gets killed Gilly's going to be devastated. And there's this well-written build up of tension between them, because Gilly's hot for Maledicte, and thinks Maledicte is a man, and eventually Maledicte starts to fall for Gilly, and doesn't want to reveal the physical secret of his body. I enjoy sexual tension that's complicated with an extra layer of resistance like this. But a major part of why I was reading was for the scene I was convinced was coming, in which Maledicte gives in to his lust for Gilly, they start to fool around, and Gilly gets to uncover the secret as they do. This scene never happens. What happens instead (watch out, the following spoils the ending) is that Gilly thinks Maledicte died, and then when they are at last reunited, he not only has the shock of seeing that Maledicte is still alive, but also that he is a woman. And they live happily ever after.

The second reason the ending of this book made me want to spit nails was that I needed to see Janus get an ass-kicking (at the very least). In yet another instance of Sophia's vaunted ability to "see how a plot will unravel" going horribly awry, my conviction was that in the end, Maledicte would have to murder Janus, the love from his childhood and the reason he got into the revenge business in the first place. After all, Maledicte made a pact to murder the earl of Last, and Janus became the earl of Last. And that was just fine with me. Janus, of just about any character, was screaming to get murdered. I don't know why Robins thought he would appeal to readers just because... I don't know. Because he was a street urchin who got abducted... right after he tried to ambush and murder a guy for his coin? Maybe it was supposed to happen because Janus spoke like nobility even though he lived in the slums? Or was it just that we are supposed to love him because we're told over and over that he's pretty (same with Maledicte, there). And sure, sure, Maledicte was desperately in love with him, and that's why he can never kill him, because the god he made the pact with is both the god of love and vengeance. But there's a scene where Maledicte slays an enchanted child of himself, a shade that represents who he used to be. Couldn't he then be free of the love that originated in his childhood?

Anyway, I was left deeply annoyed. But this is a first novel, and I did like it enough to finish it, so maybe I'll give Lane Robins another try, if I run out of other authors to read. Which actually seems pretty likely, given my reading habits.

*FWIW, if you are a cat lover like me, and you like fantasy and don't mind when it gets pretty violent, check out Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards novels, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora. Cats figure more prominently in the second book, but the first is very enjoyable.