Magical Fantasy Stories, Both Light & Dark

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Developing Characters--Twisting Characterizations to the Max

Who doesn't love a story about a whorehouse madam with a heart of gold? Sandra Dallas delivers more than a tired cliche in her unpredictable historical novel, The Chili Queen.

Now, I've read a lot of Sandra Dallas. But for some reason never read The Chili Queen until I traded my last bunch of books. I always count on her for a heart-warming tale to counter my usual snarky tendencies. Then, I started this book and was totally dismayed. I encountered cliche after cliche at the beginning. Only Dallas' masterful telling of a good tale kept me reading until the plot twisted as the characters shifted their positions in the story line.

As I said, The Chili Queen is unpredictable. None of the main characters turns out to be quite what they seem at the beginning. To make the reader care, all the members of Dallas' quartet are likeable. To make the critics happy, all the characters have distinct personalities as revealed in the interesting back stories. You care about Dallas' people and root for them, even though they all seem to be in the wrong at one time or other.

The execution of a con creates the core of the plot, and Dallas' plotting makes this book as hard to predict as a classic shell game. The characters all want to win the prize and find ways to push the odds in their favor. Yeah, the character depictions are front and center here, with faint clues along the way for the reader to figure out the solution to the puzzle.

Recommended. Readers will find hanging onto their preconceptions hard as the plot twists and turns through the story line. See a summary of the book and more reviews at

  
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My Writing Scene

Kinda like not thinking much about marketing any more. It's finally become obvious to me that I need to totally rewrite There Be Demons. The world has become more complicated with not only rival mage groups but two sets of aliens. Wading through the beginning of On the Run has been a revelation. One I enjoyed. You can sort of follow the process with the draft snippets I post at my author website.

My writing still happens at my normal pace--slow. But that's okay. I'm under no pressure to publish anything. I can just write to amuse myself. Big change this last week was adding another chapter to the beginning. I'm not joking when I say I back into my stories.

I was going to write a 10,000 word short story?
I already have over 30,000 words...and I don't have the world foundations set yet--
and only 3/5 of the book drafted.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Power of Prayer and Consequences--Kevin Hearne's Shattered

    Wasn't going to review Kevin Hearne's Shattered this week. Was just reading it for pleasure because I'd already finished another book. Then, I got to the middle of Shattered.

   A very minor character, in one quick scene several books ago, was shown to have set up a major plot line--with one simple habit. She invoked the cooperation of gods from several major pantheons, an act which has been saving the Iron Druid's behind for several books. In Shattered, the character simply confessed to praying to several gods at once at a crucial juxtaposition. The scene stopped me dead in my tracks while I thought the process through.

   Discovered one of the best arguments I've seen for outlining a series. Quite a revelation for a seat-of-your-pants writer, like me, who has to keep going back and adding bits and pieces.

   Why do I think Hearne outlines? Because in one of his previous books, he mentioned that later in the series, Atticus, his Iron Druid, would be encountering the Vedic pantheon of India. Actually, Atticus was peripheral to those sequences in this book. Granuaile did the Vedic encounters. This made her viewpoint seem superfluous on the surface, but her absence was important to the other happenings in the story line, including the rip-roaring finale.

   There's a lot to like in Hearne's series, now in its seventh mass paperback book...with high rankings and many reviews. One reason, perhaps, why his series is bubbling along: his writing is as crisp as a fresh apple and just as tasty if you like humor.

   Yeah, humor is big in Hearne's writing. He's is even smart with it. Atticus isn't the comic relief. Oberon, the Irish wolfhound with a love of sausage, brisket, and other delectable foods, is. The set up for Oberon thinking Hay'-zus, not Gee'-zus, should pull a sausage out of his pocket had me laughing out loud. Hearne has a genius for twisting humor from almost any cliche.

   We won't talk about my liking for crusty old codgers, but in this book, Hearne has added another druid to modern history. He's good for some laughs too. But, I think he was underutilized. Sad to say, the new character grew more than Atticus did.

Kudos to Hearne for keeping his series running in top form. Shattered is a delightful read than had me not only reading one-more-chapter and smiling, if not occasionally laughing out loud. The family lending library patrons are clamoring for the book to get mailed to them.

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My Writing Adventures

Is writing an "adventure"?
Perhaps, a journey of discovery?

   I've been playing on PicMonkey. Below is one of the new banners I've been working on. I plan to use them on my Twitter postings. Several gurus have encouraged bloggers and Tweeters to use pictures because people tend to read things with pictures.



   Don't ask me to verify that it works.

   Gurus also say not to tell people to "buy my book" -- which most posts seem to do, especially if you use a tweet service of some sort. Tested that premise for a month with very few postings on my stories. Sales and downloads, even of my free stuff, really dropped off. Thus the banners. I'm trying to find effective ways to mention my stories. -- Only they're getting a little stale according to other gurus.

My reaction?
You can't win for losing.

   I am progressing with the On the Run manuscript. My two chapters at the "academy" have expanded into four I think. More and more, Run is threatening to become a book. Did get a new snippet up on my website if you want to look.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who Was the Winner of Your Reading Derby This Week?

    Ended up hosting a reading derby this past week--with two books instead of seventeen. Started reading one book by a favorite author but ended up skimming it more than reading because the book emphasized action rather than character development. Maybe that's one problem for long running series--readers become more interested more in what's happening to the people in the book rather than sis-boom-bah action scenes running one after the other--and they fizzle? At least it was for me. [I did finish and enjoy the book, but it was an also ran.]

   The winner was Kay Hooper's  A Deadly Web , part of her new Bishop Files series. The story's a nice, tight thriller with Bishop trying to find out why psychics are going missing. The plot pits him against a deadly web of psychics preying upon psychics. I get a little tired of conspiracy theories in real life, but where would genre fiction be without them?

   I don't think the people in peril plot line ever gets tiresome once a writer sets up a likable set of characters. In A Deadly Web, you have an attractive main character who needs saving from a fate worse than death, which is more nefarious than the cliche. Since the book fits in the romance-suspense-thriller category, there's a caring male to anchor the MC, a character who is working with another psychic group than Bishop's to save psychics. Even the members of the cabal of villains are interesting and well drawn .

   Problem. Too much talking. Hooper weighed this book down with too much character and not enough action. Worse, the ending seems to dangle without a real resolution. Another way of putting it, the characters didn't seem to grow from their experiences. Granted Hooper needs some loopholes to hook readers for the next book in the series. But to me, the book felt 3/4s baked. Only the end sank rather than the middle.

   The multiple changes in viewpoint also bothered me. Even the secondary characters got their place in the sun. Often felt like Hooper was head-hopping. Thrillers need to get into the perps' minds to create suspense, but this story seemed to be spending as much time on the villains as the heroes. If I counted the pages, I'm sure this wasn't true, but it still felt like it.

   That said, let's talk about the pluses. Hooper's a master at creating a spine-crawling sense of dread in the reader. She sets up a menacing situation and then squeezes it dry. And, Hooper knows how to convey psychic sensibilities so they seem possible even to non-believers.

Recommend in spite of reservations. The book kept me reading well beyond my bed time so I guess it means the book is better than most. But the book definitely isn't Hooper's best.


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Did you hear my scream: "Finally, *#(&%"?

    GoDaddy's advanced tech support finally fixed my webbuilder so it stayed fixed. The new excerpt of my working draft of On the Run is now up. Now I have to start thinking about longlines. All of this is subject to change of course because Pillar may surprise me against with an insight I never dreamed of when I started the story. For once my reviewers might be happy. The story is threatening to be longer than my other self-published pieces, thus taking care of my biggest criticism in my reviews. My stories should be longer.

   Did get a nice review for The Ghostcrow at TMBA Corbett. I always find it interesting when others find my fantasy realistic. Oh, you have to scroll down through all the book promo stuff to get to the review since it's part of a blog tour.

Now all I have to do is get writing on my new stuff.
Does that sound familiar?