M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Telling Faster than Showing

The Read ...
My, have writing styles changed from mostly telling to showing since the 70s! 

The itch to re-read a favorite author plus get some books off my bookshelf combined to a Nora Lofts reading fest over last week-end.  A couple got quickly pitched into the discard pile, but I ended up re-reading A Wayside Tavern and Madselin, both of which I'll be keeping.

Yeah, Nora Lofts, once a very popular historical, romance, thriller author, mostly told her stories.  Yet, the two books I read moved faster than Green's Spies [on which I commented on in my last post].  Granted there was a lot of showing among the telling, but her writing moves fast for all she uses long sentences.

Part of this comes from her basically linking short stories/novelettes into books.  Maybe some of you will remember her House at Old Vine, a trilogy that followed the occupants of a house from medieval times down through the centuries to the modern salvation of the derelict house.  A Wayside Tavern follows this pattern, only it starts with the Roman retreat from Britain.

Many of Lofts' other books follow the normal novel concept of sticking to one set of characters, like Madselin, a single.  I really was going to read The Lonely Furrow triology, but couldn't find all the pieces.  

Yeah, she wrote a lot of books during her career.  Most of the ones I remember took part in the same region of England (Norfolk near Norwich and Colchester) so in one sense she took advantage of the series-writer's shorthand.  Setting up her background (stage?) and placing her characters in action.

I can imagine my critiquers remarks at my tolerance of "telling" over "showing".  The thing is Lofts sets up her characters with a problem in the first few paragraphs [plus their world], solves it, and leaves enough dangling ends for the next generation to be in hot water.

The opening of A Wayside Tavern as an example:  "'Deserted,' one of the men in the front rank said as the little settlement came into view.  Men sighed or groaned or were silent according to their nature and training.  Paulus strode forward to see for himself, and with a little sinking of the heart saw that the place certainly looked deserted, not a light showing, though within door it would now be deep dusk, and no smoke rising into the clear, frost-threatening sky."

I won't mention the differences in reading level between now and then.

Web Nonsense ...
Think I'm going to take the plunge on my own and see if I can get my Half-Elven site up.  At least I found a nice template.

Progress ...
Have been doing busy-work trying to get my agent list set up.  Time-consuming because not all fantasy agents take the same stuff.  I think I'll procrastinate this week-end and finish Tamora Pierce's immortal series.

Trivia ...
The over-grown apricot tree dropped two more apricots in last night's storm.  In contrast, it looks like it grew over five feet from the green shoots I see.  I think it's got it priorities backwards.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Series Traps"

The Read ...
Simon R. Green seems to be falling into a major series trap with the recent Drood book, The Spy Who Haunted Me -- overwriting.  Like including more information than is needed to get a point across.  Still, I'm a Simon R. Green fan because he gives me enough laughs and chuckles to be worth $8.00.

Example:  "The Armourer looked more than a little uncomfortable at the thought of his mother (the Matriarch) getting it on with the Independent Agent ..."  [The IA is the guy who set up the contest at the core of the book and provides the villain.  The Matriarch is Drood's grandmother.  The Armourer is his uncle.]

The ponderous style had my internal editor swinging it's red pencil right and left.  The chapters are long and without breaks which can be annoying when you read in snatches.  His many adverbs annoyed me more.  I also didn't notice much character growth, other than his family is a bigger pain in the arse than most. 

There's a new one out -- giving us the tale of what happens after the matriarch is killed.  Eddie Drood is a suspect, of course.  I'll be buying it in spite of the comments above -- if it's mass paperback.

Web Business ...
When reading a link given by Patricia Stoltey on e-publishing to Amazon and Smashwords,  a terrible idea jumped into my head.  Should I publish the "sample" e-stories I was going to put on my someday-site for free?  Would you get terribly angry, put out, etc -- if you found you paid $.50 for something you could've gotten for free?

Maybe I can publish the short story ... and have Renna gossip about everyone for free, including (maybe especially), Mariah.  Renna is an aging Half-Elven who fought at Mariah's side during the Rebellion (that saved the Half-Elven from genocide 400 years ago from Dark Solstice days).

Maybe I can have my snickerdoodle and eat it too.

Progress ...
Not much that I can see.  

Demons -- got the pages changed after I re-added the prologue showing the demons plotting.  After going through it again, it felt funny that the demon-honcho didn't make an appearance until the last three chapters of the book.

Also took the plunge.  I sending it out for rejection to agents, aka as querying agents.  This will be a time consuming process since I'm googling and reading individual agents to try to match the kinds of fantasy I write.  Of course, with some poor agents with stellar reputations, I'll throw caution to the winds and just query.  Still, I'll only be sending out one or two at a time.

Promoting the Half-Elven is proving to be a bigger pain than I even dreaded.  My writing time is going to be spent talking to the guy who might help me build my site.

The rest of my stuff is just fermenting.  I have a couple critiques to do.  Also need to check if I've sent the fantasy critiquers something.

Trivia ...
After a barren five years or so, our 30-foot apricots produced 10 apricots.   About time it did something besides shade our bedroom window.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Series End or Just Shifting Gears?

The Read ...
Ilona Andrews' Magic Bleeds feels like the end of the series.  I clenched my teeth as I read it.  I liked the fast pace and development of the primary and secondary characters in their books and would hate to see the Kate Daniels' world end.  [Like, I'm green with envy ... especially after reading the scene where the hyena alpha tried to manipulate Daniels.]

What clues suggest the ending of the series?  Andrews ties up so many loose ends very little is left hanging.  The only hope in the book the team will continue writing the series is the suggestion of Daniels going freelance.

Since there are three more Kate Daniels books under contract, I can look forward to Kate's continued fights with Curren because the Daniels series is shifting gears to maintain freshness.  Even if they become a couple, I can't imagine them not fighting.  Their characters are too consistently drawn -- the super-protective male and a snarly, independent female, both intelligent.

How do I know about three more titles?  I checked the Andrews website for Kate Daniels series, of course.  You might check it out if you are thinking about site building.  It's one of cleanest, easy to follow sites I've seen.

Website building is whirling around in my mind thanks to WolfSinger Pubs.  I'm in the process of setting up a Half-Elven site, and the Ilona Andrews team has given me a great model.   Just hope Go Daddy's templates have something a computer idiot can manipulate.

Ta-Da for the Web Notes ...
Amazon's crowing about their Kindle sales.  Digital Book World  has a blog putting the hype in perspective.

I have problems with having one company controlling all the books I'm able to buy.  My e-reading device must allow my to buy books from any vendor ... now just the owner of the reader.

Hey, all you distopian writers ... how about a media mogul buying a corrupt Congress to write the laws so his company is the only one that can sell books?

Progress ...
Got my freebie story, set in the world of the Half-Elven [Cavern Between Worlds], more or less revisedThe old man only has to copy-edit the thing, I hope.  It's intended as bait to build a readership/fan base for the Half-Elven world [along with two other short stories].  Hopefully, I'll be able to sell more than a 100 copies of Taking Vengeance when it's published next year.  I'm still in the midst of studying how one does it ... but I'll try the best I can.  It'd be embarrassing if I only sold 20 copies.  [I can see my fiction career whirling down the drain.]

My head's spinning from the projects on the table.  Remember the guy on the Ed Sullivan show who spinned  a bunch of plates on top of dowls?  While musing while giving the cat his lap [aka outlining the next freebie story] I discovered I could remember some of the secondary/minor characters' names.

I'm concentrating my revision efforts on There Be Demons.  I'd rather drag my feet so I'll have an excuse not to query agents.   Maybe if I have the queries out, I won't be tempted to fiddle with the manuscript and can get on with revising Voices.  

Voices may be the most salable of the manuscripts I have endings on -- since it's more conventional.  Just a girl coping with talking to ghosts and bullies.  Mariah is a grandmother and an elf -- which should be a high fantasy quest but centers on a society coping with genetic drift in a small hybrid population.  Demons features a skewed pastiche of Catholic dogma which isn't all that complementary. 

Oh, I forgot Emma.  She's fairly conventional too but is able to see fae and travel to new Faery -- while coping with bullies .

Trivia ...
The raspberries are producing $5.00 bowls over and over again.  Glad they waited until we got back from the family trek.  

Oh, a heads-up.  I'm going to be blogging twice a week -- unless something drastic happens.  I've just got too much on my plate. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

To Limit Your Series or Not

I'm back after
spending lots of time among disintegrating paperbacks (used book stores), 
a fun Fourth of July, too much food, lots of good talk, botanical gardens/parks, and
embarrassing games of scrabble.
[I'm the queen of the three-letter-word who misses all the extra point squares.]

The Reads ...
which all seemed to relate to questions of writing series.
Didn't read much while on vacation.  Took Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris' The Adept: The Templar Treasure [third in series] on the plane to reread.  I'd call the book a paranormal mystery.  More important, it's a contained series ... five books.  While I found Sir Adam Sinclair an engaging character I'd like to read about again,  I think the co-authors stopped the series in a good spot.

Lots has been said/written about the deteriorating story lines of long on-going series.  {Anita Blake and Kate Scarpetta come to mind.}  So, how do writers keep a series fresh?  Obviously, limit the books in the series -- even if you disappoint fans.  Both of the other two writers who I read while away, Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey, follow the contained series pattern -- even when writing in the same world.

Tamora Pierce's The Immortals group gives us the new adventures of a young person finding/ controlling their magic to learn where they fit in their world [wild mage Daine].  The series occurs after the Alanna, the Lady Knight and before Keladry, the Protector of the Small.  It was kind of fun seeing Alanna as a mother with George being a "stay-at-home, administer-the-estate" dad.

The Mercedes Lackey book Sacred Ground (1994) is one of her few stand alone books.  It's a paranormal mystery which would seem an ideal candidate for a series.  The PI, Jennifer Talldeer, investigates insurance fraud complicated by the desecration of her ancestor's grave via the influence of an evil spirit she must defeat to save the world.   Osage beliefs lie at the core of the book, and I think Lackey made the right decision not to turn the book into a series.  Subsequent books would feel like generic detective mysteries after the emotional impact of the first book.

Web Notes ...
A couple blogs [Dan Straka and E. J. Wesley] mention this site:  I Write Like.  I couldn't resist taking a peek even though I was trying madly to catch up on what's happened since I started the family trek.  For the heck of it, I pasted in the opening chapters of my four semi-completed WIPs.

So who do I write like?  Dan Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stephen King.  I like the company, but wonder why the agents I query keep sending rejections.  [I think I'd be happier if the program said I wrote like Lee Child.]

The site offers a free newsletter.  I don't know what it contains since I didn't explore that far.  Still, you might want to explore further since the site is offering some great examples of free "seller hooks" -- for writing lessons, I'm guessing.    [I was a bad girl and didn't follow the links, which I should do since I'll be studying e-marketing when I get organized.]

Whatever.  The site is so popular that AW Water Cooler closed down discussion of the site.  Still, the response time is fast.

Progress ...
I thought a lot about series while semi-comatose on the plane.  Just before I left, my beta reader pointed out all the loose ends in the There Be Demons.   I thought I was being clever ... leaving room to write a sequel ... but she was right about me needing to clean up more details.

Out of my four semi-done (half-baked?) WIPs I think Mariah/the Half-Elven (with three completed drafts) and Demons lend themselves to sequels.  Yeah, I know I should wait until I sell the first one before I think about writing the next one.  The Mariah/Kerry books happened by default when I chopped up a 400,000+ word mess.

Believe it or not, I actually did some writing while on vacation.  Came up with a scene describing the kids' reaction to their father's death for Voices.  At the moment, it's mostly "tell" so I have to dramatize the scene. 

Speaking of marketing, I'm taking my first step by revising a much rejected manuscript set in the Half-Elven world to offer as a freebie.  If I ever get the site going, you can point and giggle at me.

Also, now have a bunch of scattered notes on hagstones ... characters meeting mostly.  Now I have to find some hooks to hang the story line on.

Trivia ...
While I enjoyed the trip even if I didn't get to see the ocean, it's nice to be back home -- even with the 90+ weather.  Did miss the strawberries at the farmers' market though.  I'll have to console myself with corn on the cob and raspberries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Scary book for Summer

The Reading for Today ...
Actually the "reading" was from the first part of the week.  I finished reading the young adult book Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender before the NYC son showed up to escape the humidity.  Imagine an atypical town where people live in the same spot for generations.  Next imagine a revengeful ghost seeking to punish townspeople (children) for past slights ... oh okay, for bullying and manslaughter.  Add some good writing and you have one scary book filled with tension as the characters try to solve the mystery of why the main character's sister is acting so strangely.

While every parent is "absentee" to some degree [One can never know everything your kid gets into, and I'm not sure it's healthy to be glued to every part of your child's life.] -- this is another example of casual parenting. The mother is concerned with a promotion at work, and the father is laid up in the hospital by the first "accident" cause by the possessing ghost.  This leaves the high school daughter, Alexis, having to cope with her middle grade sister's increasing strangeness (Kasey).  To make it even more interesting, the two girls live in the house where the first murder/manslaughter took place.

I liked the minimalist rendition of the story arc.  No gore, but plenty strangeness.  The most telling was the changing of Kasey's eyes from blue to green as well as the change in her vocabulary.  There's also the standard stuff like doors opening and slamming on their own.  Water boiling on an unlit stove.  Eerier, was a twelve-year-old's ability to make adults do her bidding.  Alexis manages to put the pieces of the puzzle together, with a little help from unexpected high school allies, in time to save the day.  To say more would be a spoiler.

Perhaps the lack of a firm opening hook was the most surprising here.  The opening page set an eerie atmosphere, and the next page shattered it by explaining that Alexis was into art photography -- in this case taking pictures of a misty moon breaking through a tattered veil.  Later on in the book, Alexis' photography skills become a crucial factor in solving the mystery.

Progress ????
Okay, I sort of tacked an ending on Voices of Ghost Creek.  My first through tenth? ending always stink.  For some reason I just rush at a "power" walk when I should sort of meander a bit to take the time to explain what's going on.  We're talking a few sentences scattered here and there. 

Another problem:  I'm just not an emotional person, and it yells loud and clear in my writing.

So, I need to print the piece today and get it ready for revision when we come back from the family trek.

The other last thing I need to do is send a critique to a critique partner, but I'm having problems explaining why his drunk scenes aren't working even though the premise of his short story is good -- getting caught in conflicting time loops.  I'll worry about that this afternoon.

Trivia ...
We're off to the west coast to visit family ... only problem we couldn't fit a visit to the ocean within the constraints imposed by the garden.  At least, we've been picking a few raspberries as they ripen.