Magical Fantasy Stories, Both Light & Dark

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Dark Is, As Dark Does

Fantasy Review: Skulduggery Pleasant, Dark Days by Derek Landy
YA fiction's getting too dark, complained an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple months back. The debate for and against spread across the web.  I wonder what they'd think about dark middle grade fiction. At least, I've always thought the Skulduggery books were middle grade. Though I guess you can use the same reasoning as for J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. They start out rather innocuous at the beginning and grow darker with each subsequent volume. 

At the end of Landy's last Skulduggery book, The Faceless Ones, the detective was sealed in the Faceless Ones' alternative world. Valkyrie is determined to rescue him, and she does after surviving another attempt by the Sanctuary, the organization that supervises the use of magic, to arrest her.  Other factions besides the Sanctuary seek to kill Valkyrie. Skulduggery, too rattled by being tortured by the Faceless ones to pick up all the clues, puts Valkyrie and their friends in needless danger. 

Dark Days starts out with various villains out to kill Valkyrie Cain, not as collateral damage, but as the focus of their murder plots. The ending of the first paragraph clues you in. Dreylan Scarab, the primary villain in this book, had two interests walks and murder. During his imprisonment for assassination he "... kind of lost interest in walks. His passion for murder, however, burned brighter than ever." The days are indeed dark.

The next chapter is the attempted murder of Valkyrie in her Stephanie persona ... but she is saved by a necromancer. I don't think I even knew what a necromancer was when I was twelve even though I read every issue of the comic Tales from the Crypt I could get my hands on. I even hid the comics under the stack of Disney comics so my mother wouldn't see them.  All this by way of an illustration that kids have been reading "dark" subject matter for generations ... in spite of bans by parental or others. Bans don't work.

Landy uses the necromancer as a means to an end -- saving Skulduggery from an alternate universe where he was lost in the last book. In reaching that goal, Valkyrie makes decisions that the adults around her object to ... but she uses her own judgement to amass all the magical power she can gather. Valkyrie is growing up. Even though she takes direction from Skulduggery, she begins making her own decisions before adults can tell her what to do.

This fourth volume is fast moving ... with many of the surviving villains of previous books not always behaving as you might expect. Also, Landy has come up with some innovative magical devices to cause the maximum about of destruction if our heroes can't save the day. 

One thing lacking in this book, though, was the humor. I missed it.  Still, I'm champing at the bit to read the next book to see how Skulduggery and Valkyrie avoid her doomsday future -- which was well planted in the course of escaping all the plots against the duo.

Just for Fun:
What's your potential of becoming a murder victim? You might want to take this quiz to see how much danger you live in ... or it might even be useful in profiling one of your characters. Ken Pence has a questionaire rating Rate Your Risk of Being Murdered. 

Pence is a former cop and his home page has other information that could prove useful. Even before I had settled into a dark story streak, I had thought about how the average civilian might encounter a "street disaster" or "home invasion". Pence's info might help you make such a situation more real. -- Thanks to Jordan Ellender for the tweet that alerted me.

Oh, my potential of getting murdered is very low ... unless maybe I smear the old man's dinner with mayonnaise ... and don't duck when the plate gets thrown at me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is Your Writer Bio Shopworn?

Is Your Writer Bio Shopworn?
Still using the same bio you wrote last year or the year before? If yes, shame on you. According to Duolit, your author bio is a key plank in your author platform, It doesn't pay to neglect it ... like I've been doing. [*cringes*]

My bios have been static since I sold Taking Vengeance to WolfSinger Press over a year ago. Though I had thought about rewriting my bio recently, I hadn't done anything about it because I was drowning in other marketing junk, ... sorry, duties.  Then, I read Robin Sullivan's blog about bios, asking "Is Yours [Bio] Working for You? Talk about a kick in the pants!

Her premise is you need three bios: short, medium, and long. Plus, you should change them often. Wondering what to put in them? She gives you a good example from one of her clients for your long bio. More suggestions for medium and short [Twitter] bios is to come.

Why not check your bio? According to Sullivan, your bio should (1) give your readers some insights into you, (2) be engaging, (3) be truthful/heartfelt, and (4) tell a story.

But your task doesn't end there.  The other parts of your author platform need polishing too. The Duolit team did a blog that can help you create a More Cohesive Author Brand. Their five tips threatens to give me two weeks worth or more of work to build my coherent online author image. Just what I need since I'm still scrounging for bloggers to review me ebook, Taking Vengeance.

Where do I stand? Neck deep in do and do more.  I don't think I've changed my bio in over a year. Granted, I don't have much to brag about, but marketing is all about presenting a polished image. My online image is totally haphazard. The good news? I found two links that'll help me polish my image ... if I ever get ambitious.


Fantasy Book Review: 
Derek Landy, The Faceless Ones
Found Derek Landy's third Skulduggery Pleasant, The Faceless Ones, while cleaning out some boxes under the table last week. My reward was great in new reading because I found two other books in the series, the ones that were published in Britain. I'm looking forward to a Skulduggery read-a-thon over this weekend without even attempting to progress on The Game of Thrones, no matter how much I like George R. R. Martin's character sketches. For my reading enjoyment this weekend, it's Skulduggery all the way.

Yeah, YA print books conquer the might of the TV series. The Kirkus review summed it up so beautifully I think I'll just quote them. "A high-intensity tale shot through with spectacular magic battle, savage mayhem, cool outfits, monster, hidden doors, over-the-top names, narrow escapes, evil scheme, and behavior heroic ..."  

I'd add double crosses and false trails or is that red herrings? Whatever, Valkyrie aka Stephanie and the reader are left hanging on her own devises when Skulduggery saves the day in a way Valkyrie doesn't expect.  How can I not read on to the next book, Dark Days. Skulduggery Review, continued. Look for the next episode next week ... if I'm diligent.

This book is dark enough and moves so fast, that even adults who don't groove on fantasy will enjoy. Hey, the series even tickles your funny bone. Best yet, the Mrs. Grundies haven't started complaining about this middle grade book's darkness ... yet.



Trivia:
Have a Facebook page up for Taking Vengeance, but don't really know what to do with it yet. At least I figured out what kind of stuff to add to it.  
Think I'm going to change the page to the Far Isles Half-Elven though. 
As I said, I don't know what I was doing. 
Incidently, I'm looking for people to like the Taking Vengeance page.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Agents and Openings


Agents and Openings
Every wonder how quick an agent makes a decision on your query's sample? Maybe a minute, if you're lucky. 

Don't believe me. You can find the answer in the October 2011 Writer's Digest in their section on agents. The cover even teases writers with the possibility of meeting "...Your Future Agent". How can you resist that lure to buy ... even if you don't believe it?

The most obvious first step in meeting an agent for those without the money to attend conferences is to send a query. Chuck Sambuchino has some interesting information on snagging an agent with that letter, including agent interviews, questions to ask if you get "that call", and just what an agent can do for you in this new world of self-publishing.

Kristin Nelson, the agent of many good insights into the world of publishing, gave readers the value for the price of admission, in my opinion. She not only did a "when did I stop reading this sample" segment, but she explained why. Some of the queries she used as examples presented some interesting ideas, in my opinion. Nelson rejected all but one -- all on the basis of a few sample paragraphs.

Yeah, our fates hang on a few opening paragraphs and, hopefully, the first fifty pages if you get asked to supply a "partial". Fortunately, Writer's Digest had another piece: "Workbook: Your First 50 Pages",an except from Les Edgerton's "Hooked". 

The page I tore out of the magazine? An excerpt from James V. Smith  Jr.'s "The Writer's Little Helper" -- a checklist for your first 1,000 words. I figure that should help me place my hooks for agent or, more important for me, publishers. 

Just for Fun:
I find old covers fascinating.  Maybe because I have so many of them on my bookshelves with the books and series I've kept over the years. Recently, I discovered an article at Abe Books on the book covers of Georgette Heyer's novels..  

In case you didn't know, Georgette Heyer was one of the writers who made "Regency romances" popular as a genre in the 1930s. She also wrote mysteries but they weren't as enduring as her romances. [She was most prolific in the heydays of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie.]

Any other Heyer fans out there? I think my favorite books were Frederica and Venetia. 

Trivia:
Bad enough I get yowled at until I twirl the cat in the extra office chair. 
Now, he's fighting me for my computer chair. 
[It's better padded and has a pillow.
He usually sleeps on the tops of the couch using a stuffed skunk as a pillow.]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When is a Book Too Good?

This Week's Book Review:
Everyone looks for good books to read -- however they define that. The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey is definitely a good book. I reread it over the weekend because I needed a comfort read as I tried to labor, unsuccessfully, through another book. Lackey had me reading until almost 3 AM after the nightly news ... on a re-read, no less. --  [A big pain since my head was so fuzzy the next day I couldn't write. Didn't get much else done either except two naps. Don't think I remember any of the web stuff I read either.]

The Serpent's Shadow follows Maya Witherspoon's move to England escape from the evil magic that killed her mother and father. Maya fights to establish her medical credentials in an Edwardian world in spite of being mixed English-Brahmin ancestry. The book is part of Lackey's Elemental Magician series, and Maya is triply handicapped by not knowing how to work in the magical tradition she inherited until the love interest finds and teaches her. -- [It's also a take-off from Snow White. Not the Disney version, thank the-powers-that-be.]

Love the way Lackey had separate conflicts for each important secondary characters to solve in this book. Yeah, seemed like every meaningful character each had his/her own problems, and Lackey managed to delineate and solve all those loose ends without pages of back story clogging the pace of the story. I thought it a masterful performance that lured me to read waaaay past my bedtime. [Like, 3 AM.]

Even the villain had problems with incompetent help ... but then, that's the kind of weakness that enables the heroes to defeat the villains. In this case, Lackey created a wonderful straw-villain who was a delight to watch.

Yeah, her characters are well rounded enough to have angles you don't expect.

Grumbling About My Reading: 
Is social networking a mystery to you? Thanks to all the people I've been reading on Twitter and the blogosphere, its not a mystery to me ... but I'm sure as h**l  rebelling.  Still, the social networking titles keep jabbing their hooks into me. 

Michael Barrett has a blog with a marvelous pre-primer on social networking which includes a list of all the stuff I should be doing on Facebook and Twitter. Only problem I can't ever get things to work right without lots of trial and error.

Case in point, my marketing guru [Actually, there are many, but only one talks to me.] told me to set up a Facebook page for Taking Vengeance. I did ... and even came up with a gimmick to add content in spite of my slooooow writing/publishing rate. Then, I did a test on Twitter looking for likes. Score: 1 person shows up on the page and 3 people emailed me it works, but didn't show up on the page.  Oh well, back to the drawing board someday. -- Hey, I got a Twitter post. Maybe one of them can help me?

Hey, maybe I should share a bit of marketing the guru gave me -- a way to update your book Facebook page. You should have quotes from the book or, maybe, a character[s] making comments about what happens in the book.  So, once a week ... if I can remember ... I've decided to write a Mariah grumble. This week's has her commenting that cleavage is more attention-getting than bells sewn to the hem of your skirts.  --  Why a grumble? Grumbles are one of my favorite things. 

One guru suggestion I'll gladly ignore: Having my name in the title of my blog. My name is in the sub-title. Sufficient. As I said, I'm in a rebelling mood. More important. Seeing my name first thing just plain annoyed me.

If you're caught in the marketing scene, what is your favorite way to make sales? Is it effective?

Trivia:
I can see the end of the endless drops in the old man's eyes.
Only putting them in every two hours now.
It used to be every hour with up to three meds needing five minute breaks in between.
The doctor visits were the worst time-wasters, though, since they always took about three hours.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Indie Writer's Pain: Gettting Book Reviews

Kay's Book Reviews:
Indie writers can envy writers, like Kevin Hearne, who are published by the corporate big boys. For example, here he's getting a review of his book Hammered, the third novel in his Iron Druid series, and he didn't ask me for a review. -- We won't talk about the almost a hundred reviewers I queried with little results, and no this isn't sour grapes. Just an observation. 

Actually Hearne dismayed me when I first started reading. The opening didn't sparkle like his previous books ... until I hit his ode to salad spinners. This bit after he'd finished turning Asgard, the plane of the Norse gods, on its ear. More important, he doesn't dwell on his genius bit of humor but jumps right back into the plot of avoiding god-generated disasters and making Thor pay for his centuries of cruelty and entitled attitude.

Yeah, I admit my envy of humorous writers since I'm incapable of writing funny. Oh, I understand the basic structure of juxtaposing two incompatibilities. Like the forgetful rabbi making the "sign of the cross" with the punch line: spectacles, testicles, watch and cigars. I'm condemned to spending my life being an appreciative audience for others. Books that do humor well while keeping the plot moving ... fast, should be cherished.

Yeah, this book isn't as funny as the others, but more important, it's more than competently written. The lives of the main characters and major secondary characters continue to develop and the loose ends are tied just enough to leave some dangling hooks to pull you into the next set of books. Let's hope Atticus  O'Sullivan continues his Brer Rabbit conniving for many books to come. 

Bonus Review:
The NYC son has a fascination for old for old cover art. I benefited by rereading Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in the 0.25 Ace edition, yellow pages and all. I had forgotten what a great chase it was. 

Just as Tolkein marked fantasy tropes, I think Alan Garner set off a bunch of his own. Of course, he used tropes himself -- wise old wizard and kids landing in an adventure when they are removed from their normal lives.  It's what you do with the trope that matter. I found Garner's mine escapes more exciting than Tolkein's.

Grumbling About My Writing Lessons:
Time.  Where does it go. Of course, I had my critique meeting last week ... and my old man's second eye surgery. Even though I was told, not too gently, I need to add more back story to my new Half-Elven novella, I've been spending enormous amounts of time looking for book reviews.  

Yes, it is a long, involved process.  I blame the book reviewers for being too interesting.  First, I have to go to their websites to see what they do.  Then, most of them suck me into reading a couple reviews, sometimes more. There are some really good books out there ... even those written by indie writers.

Want to try reading some new writers without breaking your wallet? You might visit: The 99-cent-Book Network run by the Indie Book Collective. Contrary to popular opinion, you don't need a reader to download an e-book ... even on Amazon.

Before I go any further, I must share a link on Why Books Don't Sell from MuseInks. Since I'm one of the thousands who have an abysmal Amazon ranking, I thought I'd share this before I proceed.

Getting ready to draft a new novel? I used to do it every fall, and I bet many of you with children do the same as soon as the school bell rings. C. A. Marshall revealed a simplified way to check on your plot development: The Nine Grid Plan. I printed it off since I could even understand it ... unlike the snowflake method so many people swear at. 

Trivia:
Gotta crow ... even if you aren't interested.
Richard Hayes who reviewed Taking Vengeance at What I Wrote said:
Theodoratus' Half-elven "...is a new approach to the Elven legend which is really refreshing." 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Romance Rising -- Above the Cliches

Kay's Book Review:
Discovered Lee Roland's book, Viper Moon, on the grocery store bookshelves, where I seem to be finding a lot of the books I read lately. The cover featured the standard sexy lady in tight leather pants ... eh ... with red hair even... eh ... but she had a red and black banded snake draped over her. Yeah, a paranormal romance tempted me, and I read it.

The front cover blurb read: Evil waits for the dark of the moon. I almost didn't buy the book because of it. What kind of smarmy evil lolly-gags around? True evil blind-sides you until you have to pull your arse out of the blood. -- Maybe: Evil gathers in the dark of the moon?  Maybe not.

Fortunately, the back cover blurb developed the primary story line: Cassandra Archer is the Earth Mother's Huntress who rescues children from an imprisoned evil entity fighting to break free of his confines. So the dark of the moon is meaningful because that's the thriller deadline. The book opens with MC running from monsters in the town's sewers, probably without leather pants. The beginning timeline: the full moon. Cass has about two weeks to find and rescue two children from being sacrificed.

One disappointment with the book.  I think it's a stand-alone which is too bad since Rowland developed some interesting twists on the concept of the Mother Goddess and her servants. Both Cass and the love interest are well-drawn, but don't quite rise above the paranormal hero cliche. But, the secondary characters, the setting of an urban world in decay, and the twisting villains shine. A lovely little adventure.

Grumbling About My Lessons:
Had coffee with a successful writer a couple days ago.  [Yeah, our town has bunches of them.]  Among the the things we discussed was editing.  He doesn't.  I do because I'm so dyslexic I don't know if what I'm reading is really what the print on the paper/screen says. From reading a bunch of free stories on Smashwords, I'm thinking more people than me need a good editor before they publish.

I can hear everyone groaning at the cost of self-publishing books.  Yeah, it can be expensive ... especially if you write loooong books. The Passive Guy gave a link to the price guide of the EFA, the Editorial Freelance Association. It'll give you an idea of what you'll need to pay a competent editor.

Most of my time recently is spent writing ... and asking for book reviews.  In the process, I've found a list of book reviewers that features mostly romance and sci fi/fantasy: Lauri Owens' Embers. Got Taking Vengeance in another queue to be reviews.  Took me some two days to work through the list. Guess marketing trumps networking time.

Oh, I should mention I've given up on downloads/readers? for Cavern Between Worlds.  After almost 250 downloads, I've started charging $0.99  for it. Yeah, it's up on Amazon as well as Smashwords.Yeah, the inevitable happened. The downloads stopped dead.

Last but not least.  Opened my personal email this morning ... and there was a review sitting it it.  Okay, the notice that a review of Taking Vengeance was posted. Richard Hays of Stuff I Wrote did a very kind review. He writes better poetry than my Bad Haiku.

Trivia:
I may be spending a lot of time in my computer chair, 
but Wiggles sees to it that I get 
my exercise.
He likes to be twirled in an office chair best and
meows loudly if I don't jump up and turn the other chair.