Lessons from My Reading

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.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Long Books, Short Books

Kay's Book Review:
What's the proper length of a book? The question comes up regularly in writers' forums, and someone retells the conventions for the various genres. Never thought much about the length of the books I read, though I did notice that they tend to be in the 300 pages range. Mostly because the manuscripts I write tend to be shorter. -- Yeah, the old doubt: Am I doing it right? [I'm beginning not to care.]

Lately, however, the books in the grocery store book section seem to have gotten thicker, maybe a result of G. R. R. Martin's increasing popularity.  Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man is a good example. In a world caught in a war between demons of the night and humans, Brett follows his three survivors as they grow into into the stuff of heroes, perhaps saviors.  The book's rather episodic and skates along the edges of being back story, but the action and the good transitions keep the book tied together.

The three dimensional characters carry the story from they beginning attack to saving a village with newly found weapons. Brett even gives his secondary characters a in depth motivations which give them three dimensionality too.  I had high hopes for an almost perfect book ... until the last pages.  The story dribbled into two dimensionality when it tried to set up for the second volumne.  --  Did I sense the hand of the marketing department, perhaps?

Grumbling About My Lessons:
If your writing area is like mine, it's piled higher and deeper with paper.  Oh, I have managed to keep one card table free as a desk area.  Even managed to do the final edit of Cavern Between Worlds before I uploaded it to Amazon. It even survived my revision of the outline of my new story. -- Everything's going so smoothly I may break my arm patting myself on the back.

Then, I read Shelley Hitz's 26 Free Author Tools, and rediscovered how much I don't know and how unorganized I really am.  Take a look at her sources/tips.  You'll find suggestions about  everything from self-publishing a print book at Createspace to some sources to print-on-demand products to use promoting your book. 

Hitz's website is crammed full of self-publishing tips and tools.  You might even find some of her suggestions useful if you have a traditional publisher.  --  Me?  I printed off a copy and am underlining the things I should already know. My card table desk is no longer neat and tidy.

Now, I'm grumbling because I have another bunch of information to study.

Bad Haiku:

Desperation
10

Ships line island shores,
The anvils ring bright death’s knell.
The battle prep starts.

False king’s court dances,
Pretends all’s well in the land.
Servants drift away.

King seeks new allies.
Demons demand greatest price,
His young daughter’s life

Trivia:
How many times to blog? Some say once a week. Some say three times a week.
I'm going to try blogging once a week towards the weekend.
Why? Came to the conclusion that I mainly blog now to update my website the easy way.
I'd rather read blogs than write blog.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Elements of Good Stories

Grumbling About My Lessons:
Twitter useful? Blow me over with a sneeze. Found a retweet on Friday just before I was going to log off that blew my mind.  Lucy Marsden at From the Write Angle wrote a  blog on "Writing the Back-Cover Copy".  Her handy-dandy ten points include the hook, the conflict, a hint of emotion, a touch of danger, and much more. Her tips make a good check list for writing a good story ... as if you hadn't heard that one before.

Bet you'll find Marsden's pointers apply to more than the back-cover copy.  -- Me? I went back and rewrote the entire premise of my new Mariah WIP ... though I don't quite have a handle on how much skin she has in the game yet. How useful did you find the list? Or, were you already in the outline?

The new blog title.  Just wanted to say my ego didn't blow up on me. Just followed one of the suggestions from Kristin Lamb on the essentials of a blog.  You're supposed to have your name in the title.I can see the search engine logic in the manuever.  But ?????

Seems awkward to me. Still, I put my name in the title. I don't know yet if I'll keep it that way.  Seems like I've been playing with the title, off and on, since I began writing the blog. [Can't believe I've been doing this since 2009.  Yeah, almost three years to the day. A long time in terms of a snail's life.]

Time is a key element in writing.  Changing back to writing in the morning seems to work best for me ... after coffee and the cat's lap time. I'm progressing again. Find I'm getting in 750 words a day plus minor revisions. [An improvement of 50% if you're into statistics.] 

The idea's definitely turning into a novella, but still don't have a primary motivation for my main character.  Actually, she's acting like a cop or sheriff.  Maybe I'll just leave her to straighten out everyone elses' confusion.


Bad Haiku:


Rebellion
9

Assassins renege.
Give their oath to rightful heir,
Sing of mainland dreams.

More men leave false king.
Secret allies raise heir’s flag.
Island king watches.

Green heir seeks advice.
Island king loans brother’s aid,
The heir starts his fight.

 Trivia: 
Condolences to the people of Norway. 
I cringe when I think that American crazies inspired Breivik.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Does Writing Openings Paralyze You?

My Book Review [aka Comments]:
Okay, I know about the importance of a book's opening sentence, paragraph and chapters.  They perform the important hooking function of luring the reader deeper into the book, but oh, is it sweatful.  That and the cover and book blurb are major selling points when you look at a book on the rack.  Yeah, Nora Roberts' The Search hooked me with the first chapter and the  blurb about rescue dogs.  I picked it up because rescue dogs interest me even though I'm a cat person. In short, Roberts lured me out of my reading zone.

Then, reality set in.  The book's almost 500 words long, long enough to be a pain in the butt if you try to read it in less than a week.  But, that wasn't the reason I found myself skimming the book half-way through.  I felt the thriller [suspense novel ?] got bogged down in the detail.  

Still, there's a lot to like, especially if you're a romance reader. [I'm not.]  Still, I liked Roberts lip-lock scenes in this book.  They weren't all sugary and weak-kneed but kept a fair amount of heat between two interesting adults.  If you want to read a book about a survivor,  The Search will give you a good read ... provided you are trying to kill lots of free time.  I'll even grant that you might like to read romances.

Bonus Review:
Sins Out of School  [a Dorothy Martin mystery] by Jeanne M. Dams ... starts with the premise: what can go wrong when a teacher takes on a substitute assignment. [We'll pause while teachers shudder.]  In this case, it's a murder. The book is a nice, if somewhat predictable, cozy mystery about an sleuth who's an American living in Britain.  Again, I guess my definition of fantasy stretches to this book since I can't quite accept that such places ever existed except in never-never Britain.

Lessons in My Reading:
Slow but sure does it.  Still haven't done much on the book review front, but I did discover a blog about the Five Best Ebook Stores at Lifehacker. In short, the places where your ebook should be.  They list these ebook stores: Google ebooks, Project Gutenberg, Kobo, B&N Nook, and Amazon Kindle.  WolfSinger Press took care of the Kobo, B&N, and Amazon for Taking Vengeance

Ugh.  I have more research to do for Cavern Between Worlds since I self-published it.  It's up on Smashwords which includes Kobo.  The rest will have to wait until I start charging for the book in August.  [Just like that, there's another item added to my to-do list.] --  One bit of information for self-publishers:  you can set your book up for Pub It [B&N] and Kindle [Amazon] on Smashwords.

Yeah, the book review requests keep going to the back burner, mostly because I'm really concentrating on writing new stuff so I can publish something else, maybe.  I'm trying write more pointed scenes in the draft rather have my characters drift around in an interesting situation. Found Kathryn Craft's blog about Critique Speak at the Blood Red Pencil quite pertinent.  The goal is to present sharp, crisp scenes that intrigue my critiquers the first time around.

There's another reason for the slowness in the review process -- time.  Finding places to submit your review means you have to read several possibilities to make sure they review your genre.  Then, there's no guarantee you'll get reviewed once you get added to their queue.  Still, I image much of my not-so-free time on the web will be spent going through my lists.  The two best lists I've found stress indie books:  Simon Royke's the Indie Book Reviewer and the Reviewer List.  I'm hoping for two reviews from 100 cold calls.

Trivia:
Okay, in spite of complaining about how busy I am, we're going to see the last Harry Potter.  I expect a grand spectacle after a nice lunch.  No, I'm not all sad that Harry Potter's ending.  I enjoyed reading the books, but often the movies did a better job telling a story.  

My recommendation:  all writers should read to marvel at the world J. K. Rowling created.  Her writing would make an anthropologist proud.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finding Book Reviews, etc.

Grumbling About My Book Review Lessons:
Haven't progressed much on soliciting book reviews, even though its a primary task.  The week-end frittered away into nothing.  I accept on faith that the more reviews, the better which means I've got to shift the stick.  If you're in the same boat, the Indie Book Collective has a list of reviewers on Goodreads if you're self-published.  

[While you're there ... if you join or are a member, you can "friend" me.  I plan to get back to visiting there regularly again.]

Then there's Maria Zannini who  blogged on good cover design as a guest blog on Kristen Lamb's site: Creating Cover Art: Down and Dirty Tips.  The sources of artwork is well worth the price of admission if you're self-publishing ... or considering it.  Wished I knew about the sites when I was working of the cover for Caverns Between Worlds.  [No, I hired it done ... but who knows what I might have found "wasting time".]

You'd probably do yourself a favor if you follow Kristen Lamb and Maria Zannini.  Zannini has a link to her Indie Roadshow, a whole four weeks of self-publishing tips where she discusses various aspects of self-publishing.

Zannini does a lot of "dutch-aunting", basically with the warning self-publishing isn't easy, especially when it comes to editing.  Yeah, self-publishers are in charge of the entire show ... including spending money on your project.  But, that may not be much worse than low-level publisher-published authors.  I've heard many complain they spent more than their advance on promotion of various kinds. --  I know I did for Taking Vengeance.

If you are interested in the changing parameters of the publishing world, you might also take a look at her guest blog at Mason Canyon's, Thoughts in Progress.  Zannini writes about the steps in her game plan she made to get her novella, The Devil to Pay, published so the advantages stay in her pocket.

Anyone care to share their experiences?

In the end, the self-publishing explosion may actually be changing the parameters of book reviews.  Writer Beware shares a link for an article by Patti Thorn, a former book review editor of the Rocky Mountain News [A Denver newspaper which went defunct].  First she gives a behind the scenes description of the book review desk.  Then, she discusses her business:  book reviews for hire ... sorry, making the case for fee book reviews, aka Blueink review.  Thinking about it?  I'll warn you the fee is respectably professional ... which is not to say that free reviews aren't necessarily profressional.

One networking thing I have accomplished:  setting up my author's page on Facebook.  Hopefully I'll be adding something new soon ... if I can get it written.  So far, I've my critiquers and beta reader set up for The Trouble with Somant.  Anyone care to like the page?

Quest: Chapter 8 in Bad Haiku


False King Seeks Allies
8

In the dark of night,
Smoke surges from toxic herbs,
Polluting dank air.

Rats stop gnawing, cough.
Roll over, die.  Rightful king
Slumps in his shackles.

Blood drips in circle
As the False King seeks help from
Depraved ghosts and ghouls.


Trivia:
I've enjoyed a couple of Tess Gerritsen's mysteries from time to time.  Her comments on her Six Favorite Books Featuring Female Sleuths. is a nice read for all writers, I think.  Not only does she mention Julia Spenser-Fleming's Episcopal priest, the Rev. Clare Fergusson [one of my favorite sleuths], but she gives an ode to Nancy Drew ... even if she was written by a composite of  writers.  Yeah, I was a Nancy Drew sort of gal rather than a Sue Barton one.  [from The Week, thanks to a link by Tamela Buhrke]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Magic in Paranormal Fiction, etc.

Fantasy Book Comments [aka Review]:
Is there a greater cliche in fantasy than "magic"?  Ilona Andrews Magic Slays and the other books in that series has one of the more interesting concepts of magic I've discovered.  The stuff ebbs and flows, making everyone -- nulls, weres, vampires, magic workers -- cope.  In Magic Slays, the coping becomes more complicated because a bunch of nulls is taking advantage of disaffected magic workers to create sleeper cells dedicated to destroying magic.

Do you catch the hint of social commentary there?  Yeah, the team writers, known as Ilona Andrews, make some interesting comments about the "human condition"  within the context of the story.  What amazed me was they stopped before the commentary became tedious a la Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards.

On the writerly level, Andrews trims all sorts of dangling loose ends as they complicate Kate Daniels' first job as a private investigator.  Yeah, its a delight to watch how the flaws in characters come back to bite Daniels in the behind with fangs longer than a were's.  The reader is even treated to some back story about her family which doesn't clog the action flow.

Never fear, even though lots of complications are resolved in the Magic Slays' story line, there're plenty more to carry the series forward.  This is a series that hasn't bogged down ... yet anyway.

Grumping About My Lessons:
Barb Drozdowich at the Indie Book Collective has blog on book blogger/reviewers, simply titled "Reviews".  The reason I mention it is to kick myself in the butt ... or is that "but ..." ... because I've been ignoring the "email for books reviews" on my to-do list.  But then, I've also got this little item about formatting for Amazon and Pub It that's languishing from list to list.

Guess I'm going to have to bite the bullet and ask "followers" on Twitter to do it.  --  My Facebook pages are for people I know/met so I really don't want to beg there.  --  I think my dislike of marketing could very easily rub off onto social networking.  --  What do you think about begging for reviews?  Personally, I don't even care if they're bad.

I'm glad I don't expect to make any money as a writer.  It saves me from lots of disappointment since I'm so deep in an accounting hole, I may never see black again on my Schedule C.  Then, I discovered a fascinating blog by Ellery Adams "Bares All" ,giving us the statistics on the life of a mid-list author.  While he makes some money, he seems to be getting about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield.

Guess I should say I found him doing a guest blog on Jessica Faust's Bookends blog.  No, Faust isn't a slouch as an agent.  Adams has three mystery series, at least one of them published by Berkley.   Still, he doesn't make enough to make the IRS sit up and pant ... unless he didn't file his taxes. -- It's just that most authors don't make the best seller lists.  It's statistically impossible.  So, forget the leather elbow patches and pipe.

[How's that for a sexist comment?  
Whatever, the article is fascinating ... or did I say that already.]

Is there a cure for paltry sales?  Maybe the WANA? Don't know the term?  Maybe you should read about Kristin Lamb and her approach to social networking. It's a little self-promotional, but has some great insights on increasing your ebook sales.  Basically, it gives some pointers on not promoting alone. Kay rating:  worth printing so you can underline the pertinent parts.

Doesn't all that sound good?  Unfortunately, I think I'm more congenitally geared to growling than glad-handing ... even if I'm only pressing keys.

Trivia:
The dumb cat has decided it likes to be twirled in my computer chair.  I get up to touch my knees so my hip doesn't ossify, and he's usually there meowing for a ride.  Today, he hissed at me when I tried to remove him.  He soon got the message he's not the boss.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Quest 7, Fantasy in Bad Haiku

More of Quest, in Bad Haiku:
[Taking a break from serious writing.]

Failed Plot
7

False king frets as spies
Relay worrisome rumors
Of a wise rival.

With threat to his rule
Lurking beyond his grasp, king
Launches assassins.

Tales of youth’s prowess
Stop the killers’ blades, convert
Enemies to friends.


Kay's Comments
(Since my "book reviews" aren't serious enough 
to be a review of a book's worth.)
Actually, it's Monday, and I don't have a review per se.  But, I am still thinking about a blog by the Passive Guy on reading ... and how J. K. Rowling managed to get people to open pages across the generations.  I know I was an early reader of the books ... by the second volume when this cheapskate had to buy the hardbacks.

Passive Guy said it succinctly:  "How Harry Potter Saved Reading."

I prefer like to think "How Reading Saves People".  Is there nothing so pathetic as a bored salesclerk looking like they wanted to suck their thumb while they waited? The blank faces on subways are worse, like the time of the living zombies. Scary that they can turn off their brains. Books have saved me from such perils ... often. 

Came across several bored store clerks in the past week.  If they opened a book, they could have saved themselves from boredom. The time-clock probably condemns them to boredom, though. Wonder if you could make a case for "cruel and unusual punishment".  Corporations wouldn't understand even though the Supreme Court says the things are "persons".

Grumbling about My Lessons:
Promotions.  Promotions.  Someone shared the Indie Book Collective with me, and I'm learning a lot there. You might to ... even if you don't self-publish. 

But I have even something better to share if you are "indie" published, thanks to them.  The $0.99 Network will help you, perhaps, publicize your book if you have an ebook costing $0.99 or $2.99. Don't have an e-reader yet, but it seems to me that this place will help you save money.

I've done a submit for Taking Vengeance [published by WolfSinger Pubs].  Now I'm waiting to see if the site masters agree with my definition of "indie" to include small independent publishers. Don't think it's up, though.  I can't find it yet.

No matter really.  I'll still be able to use them starting in August when I start charging for Cavern Between Worlds.  Whatever, I think we're seeing networking in action -- provided I can figure out out to format the story.

Trivia:
The city road department is trying to turn me into a smarter mouse.  Road construction around out town has metastasized.  At least, they are creating jobs along with the inconvenience.
 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Finding New Authors to Read and Writing Craft Ideas

Fantasy Book Review:
Need a new author to read? Novella collections make a great way to discover new writers.  Hexed, which includes stories by Yasmine Galenorn, Ilona Andrews, and Allyson James about magic and mayhem, was no exception.  Granted it included two of my favorite authors and reminded me of another whose name I had forgotten [James].  Jeanne C. Stein was new to me.

While I usually don't care much for vampire stories, Stein hooked me with her Anna Strong in Blood Debt.  I've a soft spot for people who stand up to arbitrary authority, especially when they use their brains.  James even came up with an interesting "other" antagonist which hasn't been overused -- at least not in the books I've read.  So, I gave her four stars for creativity.  I think she lost a star from me for the vampire protagonist -- even if Anna Strong fights to keep her humanity and can walk in daylight. -- Hey, the vampire meme needs all the innovation it can attract.

Another reason I like novella collections is they can fill in the back story of important secondary characters in a series. Galenorn first hinted at a tragic past when she first introduced Iris Kuusi, a Finnish house sprite, in her D'Artigo sister's Otherworld series.  Her story Ice Shards fills in the details.  Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews does much the same for a more minor secondary character in her alternative world of magical Atlanta. Allyson James reminds the reader that a relatively minor character can wreck greater havoc in a story than writers normally assign to them in Double Hexed ... if a writer pushes beyond the obvious.

I was sorry when the book ended.  Fortunately, I had rebuilt my to-read pile so I've a couple juicy reads to look forward to.  And no, I'm not going to comment on the quality of the writing in this collection.  These be master's here. -- Maybe I write half as well.

Grumping about My Lessons:
[Are we learning yet?]
Are you search engine friendly?  Like do you want to make it easy to find what you write whether blog or novel?  Chuck Sambuchino at the Guide to Literary Agents recently had a guest blog by Hollis Gillespie on How to be  Click Magnet. If your a writer, its a skill you must learn to improve your sales and/or the readership of your blog.  I know I printed a copy of the blog to study it.

Lesson:  Out of the ten tips, I picked up on writing titles.  I did notice my longer, more descriptive titles got more visits from search engines, but didn't think much about it.  Now I have a list of handy-dandy ideas to improve my blog readership.

Good thing I printed the article.  My eyes glazed over the first tips on getting most out of your titles.  Did you know Google only lists 65 characters in their search engine titles?  I didn't.  Now I know why so many search engine listings dangle in mid-idea. 

And, while you are writing that title, make it specific. I have to quote Hollis' example.  Newspaper speak:  "Senile Feline Enthusiast Dies".  Web speak: "Dead Crazy Cat Lady of Dayton an Undercover CIA Spy".  -- Rather nice that the old lady had an interesting life ... but, maybe, the red tape drove her crazy.

Did you read the article? Which tip seemed most appealedl to you?

Opening hooks have also been on my mind.  Since I've been curtailing my time on the web, blog opening lines have to hook me.  Then, I find K. M. Weiland's Word Play blog on hooking readers:  Is Your Opening Line Lying to Your Readers?

Found another gold mine, I think, on Twitter. Galley Cat did a blog on Find Reviews on the Book Blogs Search Engine.  This one's not a list of things to do.  It's a link to Fyrefly Books which has compiled a search engine about people who blog about books.  They also feature reviews you can search by genres.   

Trivia:
Remember.  No one ever said writing is easy.  I've notice it's also time consuming.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Chapter of Quest #6 - Bad Haiku

Bad Haiku:

Exile
6

The island kingdom
Gives refuge.  Heir learns and trains.
Dreams of his return.

As people suffer,
Refugees sail to island,
Search for their leader.

Heir is Island king’s
Squire. Knows ruling’s not easy.
Tells seekers to wait.

Grumping about Web Links and Other Stuff:
Want to feel sad you're stuck on earth?  Watch this video, courtesy of the Science Fiction Writers Association.  I would have missed it if I wasn't procrastinating on Twitter.  It features a series of time-lapsed photos from a very large telescope located in Chile.  In a word:  Beautiful.  Also a perspective people in the northern hemisphere don't often see.  -- Retweets are sometimes useful.


Does anyone know why the blogs I follow keep disappearing from my dashboard?  It's getting a little tiresome now that I'm limiting the time I spend social networking.  Grrrrrrrrrrr. 

Have you thought about per click advertising? I've been thinking about it since I have credit at GoDaddy.  I found Sandy Williams' blog [Magic and Mayhem] about her Facebook per-click-ad-campaign thanks to the AW Water Cooler:  Do Facebook Ads Work for Authors?  It's a series of blogs I'll be following with interest.


[I have a Facebook author's page under M. K. Theodoratus.  So far no one's visited or liked.  I can't bring myself to link my various email lists.  To me, that's an imposition.  Yeah ... I'm the shy violet of social networking.]  

Need to go back and study SEO [search engine optimization].  Really missed a great link in my last post's title.  Original:  Dealing with Envy.  Edited version: Dealing with Writer Envy.  Most of my regulars have already read the post, depending on their reader schedule.  But the search engines might find it ... and people might actually click on it.  I have several blogs two or more years old that still draw new readers.

Why do I even mention that?  Because I need to spend more time getting keywords into my titles and paragraphs.  Keywords are the key to SEO success.  [Sorry, I couldn't resist that.]

Trivia:
Forgot what I was going to grump about.  Is senility happening before my nose?
The above wasn't it.  It was something else that was witty.