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, January 31, 2012

What Makes American Fae Tick: Review Rosemary & Rue?

Picked up a new series, the October Daye novels of Seanan McGuire. Read the first one, Rosemary and Rue. McGuire blew me away. She hooked me with her Prologue, in which Daye chases a couple of villains until she gets turned into a koi in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Then, she almost lost me in the the "first" chapter, set fourteen years later, when the interesting villains disappeared. At the end, McGuire ended up gluing me to my chair until 2:30 AM for the last half of the book. Does that rate four or five stars?

One thing that bothered me: the voice changed. I kept telling myself: you'd change too if you lost fourteen years of my life as well as your marriage and daughter. By the third chapter, I was hooked again after the death of Daye's Fae frenemy and the terrible geas she faced if she didn't solve the murder. How hooked? I finished off the last part of the book by reading until 2:30 AM. Doesn't that describe hooked?

Now the question is: why? McGuire offers yet another take on Faerie, where she transports a group of them to the Bay area after the Fae royalty disappeared or got lost somewhere in the Old Country. McGuire conveys the change in reference to one of the secondary characters, a Fae named Evening. As McGuire writes:

"Most purebloods Evening's age live full-time in the Summerlands rather than dealing with the daily stresses of mortal living. ... Evening was stubborn She saw San Francisco built around her, watching it grow from a little dock town into a thriving city. Somewhere along the way, it became her home, and after that, she simply refused to leave.

"I asked her about it once. 'I prefer San Francisco,' she said. 'The lies are different here. When you've lived as long as I have, you start appreciating new approaches to dishonesty.'"

Yeah, Rosemary and Rue is written in first person from the point of view of a half-fae. What I liked best is how McGuire set up the motivations for all her characters, especially Evening's murder and the logical way Daye managed to solve the mystery.

Why bother thinking about how a book was put together?
Ruth Harris did a to-the-point blog

Yeah, another commentary on how you should be writing ... even if you're a mid-list published author. Thanks to the Passive Guy for reposting this. I need to study it. Unfortunately, Harris thinks writers should have style which makes me wonder if I'd be wasting my time. I'm definitely not couture.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Writing Quandries on Marketing the Non-Commercial

The Northern Colorado Writer's conference is coming up [March 30-31] which means I have to decide if I'm going to pitch or not. Bummer, because I'm not particularly interested in the pressure of commercial publishing. -[No, that doesn't mean I don't promote.]- Have a possible publisher of my MG manuscripts, but that leaves my Half-Elven in the breech without only my weak marketing skills to sell it. To add to the quandary, a fantasy agent is coming to the conference. Decisions. Decisions.

 Don't think I have to worry. I don't think the Half-Elven are really commercial enough. [Do I waste the agent's time or not? That is the question.] Or, to phrase it differently: I'm not commercial enough. Still, the Half-Elven haven't bored fickle-me yet after writing in their world for years.

If you're at the looking-for-an-agent-stage, you might read Rachelle Gardner's article: Is Your Book Good, Great or Hot? It gives writers an insight into how and why agents make decisions. [Yeah, if I pitch, I'll be going in, expecting to be rejected.]

Not commercial or hot enough? Another blog I read on "strong women" emphasized why my stuff isn't commercial ... even though I write strong women characters, I think.  [My son says Mariah doesn't kick enough ass, though.]

Anyway, check out J. C. Andrijeski's blog: "Strong" Female Characters and Why So Many Bug Me. It's one of the best thought out blogs I've read in a long time and continues my previous comments about "strong" women.

The above link is an example of why I like Twitter and visit it a couple times a day. I discover interesting points of view now that my following's inching towards 300. Once I skim though all the promotion stuff [ Yeah,I'm guilty of posting my Half-Elven stories there too.], I stumble upon retweets or links to information I might miss otherwise.

Hanging in the same pack can reduce your exposure to new ideas, however much you enjoy them. Preconceived notions are limiting and sometimes wrong. Had to chuckle when I crossed with a Galley Cat blog, thanks to Tamela Buhrke. It's a great listing of how many one star reviews besting selling authors gathered.  


No. Bad reviews aren't the reason I think I'm not commercial. My worst review was two stars for the free Gorsfeld short story. Complaint? The story was too short ... even though it's free!  Speaking of free. I've permanently made "Cavern Between Worlds" free too. Hopefully, both stories will lure more people to buy Taking Vengeance -- if I can break out of the "writer track".

And, remember. You don't have to have an e-reader to read an e-story. You can download both into your computer at Smashwords.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Magic Systems and Urban Fantasy

Do you need an introduction to the world of urban fantasy?  Stumbled across a list of ten top writers/protagonists at Book Chick City.  Take a look at "Laura's Top 10 Fantasy Series". 

'Twas nice to see someone agree with me. I've read and enjoyed most of the series though I ofter despair. I don't think imitate their achievement. [Good thing I'm not ambitious.] Still, the important piece here -- if you like to play with the supernatural -- the list gives you some of the genre's template characters. Actually, I read much more urban fantasy than I review. A lot of it seems highly repetitive.

Who stars in your favorite urban fantasy series? 

Kalayna Price's Grave Dance isn't repetitive, even though it's second in the Grave Witch series, featuring Alex Craft. She takes some conventional forms of magic and the world of Fae, puts them in the mixer, and comes up with some unique twists on the templates. Price's twists on magic flows in logical patterns that're internally consistent. Quite an achievement that.

The plot twists and turns too. Price has Craft caring about four to six secondary characters, each and everyone of them fleshed out enough to make Craft take actions that no one in their right mind would do. If friends don't motivate her, then the monsters do. Price even gives an interesting take on monsters. Example: I've read many stories that use kelpies as a danger. Price manipulates the trope, and the kelpie, while still threatening, helps Craft achieve a goal.

Price has a way of shading menace into even relatively safe situations. The ability promises a long career ahead of her. Grave Dance is a keeper.

Writing Urban Fantasy -- Or Anything Else
You should check out E. J. Wesley's blog about getting lost in your writing. It's not only your characters who get befuddled as you write. If they aren't getting befuddled, you should double check. You might not be writing something intriguing or exciting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is Romance in the Air, Yet?

Okay, it's only January, but I read a couple blogs suggesting that people add a strong romantic subplot to increase reader-interest. That made me laugh since I don't have a romantic bone in my body. Then, I found this blog by Amanda Nelson on Top Ten Made-Up Literary Couples. The pairings are priceless. My favorite was Bella Swan and Lestat. All the couples are worth a chuckle or two. Just don't drink your coffee while reading.

While thinking about romance, what's a strong woman to do? You know, the kind of women you encounter in urban fantasy novels, where action is in the forefront and the romance come after the mayhem is done. Dr. Fran Cohen Praver, a clinical psychologist, has an article in the Huffington Post about Strong Women Make Better Marital Partners. Since most of my friends are mouthy women married to strong, quiet men, I agree.

For younger women who are still working through their relationships, consider this quote: "Think of your self-worth as a garden that you will weed by countering insidious messages and planting new healthy ones." 

Makes me glad I'm an old bat who grew up before today's intensified media. Yeah, there're a lot of advantages to ageing ... as long as you're reasonably healthy.

Strong women aren't only found in urban fantasy. It's close to the second anniversary of the Haitian mega-quake. Takes a strong woman to protect her family in such an aftermath. Oxfam's, Yolette Etienne, wrote about "How Women are Lifting Up Haiti" in a CNN op-ed piece. One thing I thought interesting, she mentions working mixed farming plots similar to those used right after their Revolution. GeekGirlCon provided the link.

Of course, if your a writer, your strong woman needs some vulnerabilities. Noelle Pierce blogged about dreams and offers some possibilities if you're looking for a way to knock your main character down to size. 

Now, I'm still left with finding a way of making Mariah, my Half-Elven hero, more vulnerable. She's still an elf, even if she drinks too much. -- We won't go into my son's request I go into more detail in my semi-sex scenes. [Oh, they indulge, but I don't describe the blow-by-blow.]


Monday, January 16, 2012

Buying Books by Intriguing Titles

The family lending library finally delivered Jim Butcher's Ghost Story, the thirteenth Harry Dresden novel. Thought the title rather cliched since the twelveth novel in the series, ended with Dresden getting shot. If I wasn't a fan of the series, I don't think I would've pick the book up. 

[Google "Ghost Story" and see how many different books come up, if you're curious and have lots of time. I was surprised at how many.]

In Butcher's Ghost Story, Harry Dresden's caught between life and death after he's been assassinated. In no-man's-land, he's told that three friends will die if he doesn't solve who killed him. So, he returns to Chicago only to discover he's a ghost who can't interact with the physical world. Imagine Dresden invisible, inaudible and unable to blast his way out of danger. On top of this, you just gotta know that the world has become a more dangerous world after his last encounter with the Red Court vampires. 

Watching Chicago's favorite wizard learn how to manipulate events indirectly is fun and the plot twists and turns through a distopian Chicago. New and old characters join the romp as Dresden tries to save his friends. Though Molly seems to have gotten burnt the most by Dresden's adventures.

More important, the story introduces a thinking Dresden. I found this an interesting character development in this long enduring series. I'll have to add this to my list of ways to keep a story line evolving to different heights rather than sinking into carpal tunnel syndrome. I looking forward to new additions to the series, featuring a new more subtle Dresden.

Butcher's prose is just as delicious, as always. An example of distopian Chicago:
"Seedy wasn't a fair description for the place, because seeds  imply eventual regrowth and renewal. Parts of Chicago are wondrous fair, and parts of Chicago look postapolcalyptic. This block had seen the apocalypse come, grunted, and said, "Meh." There were no glass windows on the block--just solid boards, mostly protected by iron bars, and gaping holes."

Yeah the books going on my keeper pile. 

Titles:
Have been muttering about titles -- "on and off the air" ... since my Half-Elven work in progress is title-challenged. Current title is: Traitorous Tides, which at least hints at the scope of the story more than The Somant Troubles.

Titles are one of my many weak spots. Seems every thing I write goes through several title changes. Like, if you've read me for any length of time, you know I've twiddled with the title of this blog too. Felt good to learn I'm not the only one. Kirkus McGowan complained about sappy blog titles. Check it out for a fun read.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Smile, It's Link Mish-Mash Time

Discovered an interesting blog discussing writers' fears while I researched something else. Julie Dick blogs about five of them. I resonated to the carpal tunnel one. My thumbs whined. But, I think her other listings often make writers pause as they hit their heads against their keyboard.

Since it's still the "new year" and all good people are examining their lives to make improvements ... [gag] ... I thought I'd mention some links that particularly interested me this week. Buried in each, I found a nugget of good advice. Maybe they'll be useful for you too.

So, what's your greatest fear about your writing?
If you found the first blog interesting,
you might find some of this interesting too.

I've removed one fear from my phobia list -- looking for an agent, even though I encourage writer friends to go the traditional publishing route. Yeah, I know seeking an agent is the big #1 step on the route. Why do I do this? Because I don't think print and e publishing are mutually exclusive. Anyway, if you are seeking an agent, you should read Roni Loren's blog: "What Will Make an Agent 'Gong' Your Query'. Some useful editing tips there. Yeah, ya gotta edit and revise your queries too.

Sometimes blogs make scary reading because of the subject matter. I'm one of those kooks who spend extra money to eat natural foods, preferably USA certified organic even though I realize there can be problems there. Ari La Vaux, a syndicated food columnist, wrote an interesting article on the hidden effects of GMO foods

For those of you having trouble finding your writing grove, horror writer, Lake Lopez has some words of advice on writing every day. Basically, she makes a good point that there is more to writing than stringing words together like beads.

While we're thinking about new-yearsie, resolutiony stuff, Michael Hyatt wrote a blog on "Creating Your Personal Life Plan". This is a plug for his book [free], but it also serves as a useful example of a publicity piece, I think.

In closing, I'll say my "life plan" is simple, maybe even 
simple-minded: enjoy myself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Importance of Dead Ends

Okay. I'll admit it. I watch Castle religiously. It's one of the few TV programs that I allow to interrupt my writing. Why? Because the plots always lead to several dead ends as the detectives try to solve the crime. Makes it interesting as you try to second guess them. More important, I think the exercise applies to all fiction, not just mysteries. Your characters -- primary and secondary -- have to have to fail at reaching their goals before they succeed at the end.

Even though it's something of a ghost written-con, I still enjoy ABC's Castle novels. Just picked up Naked Heat, where the Castle clone, reporter Rook, is doing a profile of a gossip maven, who is billed as the most feared muckraker in Manhattan and who gets killed. The Beckett clone, Nikki Heat, starts stepping on celebrity toes to solve the murder. Character after character gets fingered as a suspect until they're ruled out. It was a fun romp, adequately written, but I couldn't see whether it crackled with sexual tension. Eh, consenting adults occasionally end up in bed. What's new?

Dead ends and red herrings make a mystery. Sexual tension, I don't know so much.

--[That's why I wouldn't make a good romance writer. Even though Mariah and Ashton, my main Half-Elven heroes, have the hots for each other, I "close the door on their activities".

As my son wrote of his recent critique of my current Half-Elven WIP, "Mariah and Ashton should be more passionate (weren't they horny elves??). How's he pleasuring her?? Can elves give us any tips?"

I do better at typos than tips.]--

Need a tip on getting out of the procrastination habit? Amy Spencer has a tip at her blog Real Simple: How to Stop Procrastinating.

My suggestion for avoiding procrastination is develop some writing buddies.  I find they do more than anybody to keep my fingers on the keyboard. Don't know where to start? Try a writer's conference near you -- if your local library or independent bookstore doesn't help writer's network.

L. D. Masterson has some good ideas on what to look for in a recent blog on writer's conferences. I'll be going to the Northern Colorado Writer's conference this year. Looks like they have a good slate of presenters this year. 

I'm going even though I don't have anything to pitch, unless I push the Half-Elven. Last year, I pitched an idea of a Color-a-Comic reader, a set of stories limited to short vowels only with the color book simple. Just got word that the publisher is scheduling it for June, 2012. Just have to get the contract back with their signature on it.

However I've improved my craft skills over the last couple years, I still need help. 

Trivia 

I make no secret about being a cheapskate, penny pincher or a saver. If you also have a frugal vein, I recommend you read Mariah Zannini's new book: Smart Budgets for Busy People. If you've got kids, they'll thank when they become adults for the habits you instill today.  -- Recycling can become a habit ... even for your writing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Are You Reading That Book? Blog?

Have been trying to figure out why the writer, Yasmine Galenorn, keeps stacking up on my keeper-shelves. Recently finished another of her books -- Courting Darkness -- about the D'Artigo sisters. Story line centers on Camille's capture and torture by her dragon husband's father [who disapproves of his son's choice].  Heads Up: This book is darker than most of the previous books in the series.

I envy Galenorn's craft skills at keeping you reading. Camille isn't my favorite of the three sisters, but the book kept me reading past my bedtime until I finished it two days. Why? Galenorn keeps her characters hopping. Just when you think you've reached a minor resolution, she drops her character into another deep dilemma. 

One of the things I like best about the series is Galenorn's deft touch with humor. She doesn't write "funny-ha-ha", but keeps a light sarcastic touch that makes your lips twitch. Her sex scenes are good too. She moves on with the story line just before the scenes get repetitive and boring.  All in all, this book is a keeper.

I'm not the only one who's been thinking about keepers and might-read books. Michelle Rowen has been sorting through all the stuff she loaded into her Kindle last year. Her recent blog discusses: the Top 10 Ways to Get on My Keeper Shelf. While the list is as idiosyncratic as mine, her list is worth reading. Her list includes many of the same qualities I've noticed in many of the best sellers I read last year.

Suggestion: emphasize some of the characteristics she likes, and maybe, your current opus will be more salable. And no. I don't think that comment applies only to urban fantasy.

Then, if you're trying to make more time for writing, you might like to read E. J. Wesley's blog, The Open Vein,on why he reads the blogs he does. If you're making the effort to blog regularly, surely you'd be interested in knowing what people look for in a blog.

A Word of Encouragement:
Is your WIP having problems accumulating words? Kendra Turner gives writers some help coping with non-productivity in her blog: "Aim, Shoot, Bull's Eye: Targets for the New Year's". [Thanks to Margo Berenson for mentioning this on Twitter.]

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What To Do with the New Writing Year

Are you staring at a whole new year
lying before you?
I hope you are quickly getting your writing grove back
after the holidays.
Of course, there's more to life than writing ... hope that's getting in gear too.

While we mull the future, it's a good idea to reconsider the pit falls that plagued us during the last year. No place is better for keeping tabs on publishing chicanery than Writer Beware, and Victoria Strauss wrote a great retrospective of the 2011 publishing year. I'm sure someone will re-try some of these tricks, so read and be aware.

Of course, everyone's talking about what they should do. Imagine my delight when I found Chuck Wendig talking about 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing on his blog Terribleminds. [Loved the title of his blog too.] Thanks to Dean Wesley Smith for the link. Guess I should warn you that Wendig's mind is as profane as mine. Guess his mommy didn't pound politeness into him. Guess, mommies don't mind if guys don't have polite mouths.

Maybe I should mention how important it is to get your information right, and I'd say this is especially if you are creating a medievalish fantasy world. Way too many writers get caught up in anachronisms. Jeri Westernson,  who writes the Crispin mysteries set in medieval times, just wrote a blog about ten myths about the medieval world -- Top Ten Myths About the Middle Ages.

Westerman's blog's a very good example of a topic blog based on her writing research. If you are even remotely interested in the Middle Ages, she's well worth following. Pay special attention to the end of her blog.   

Progress?
Have been revising and cleaning table tops to look for the story beginning I hand wrote while the desktop convalesced from a virus. Found the pages, but haven't gotten close to typing them into the computer. Guess, I doomed to being a slow writer ... even though I tried NaNoWriMo to see if I could speed up.

Big accomplishment? Changed the name of the Half-Elven WIP from The Somant Trouble to The Troubles with Traitors.
 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Have You Picked the Right Name?

While we don't pick our personal names, everyone picks up naming rights along their life's journey. Nicknames. Business names. Pseudonyms. Blog Names. The question: How adaptive are the names you've picked for your endeavors? As an example, having the last name of "Fagg" wouldn't be very adaptive in junior high unless you enjoy being bullied. [Yes, there is a book by someone named "Fagg" sitting on my coffee table.]

Thought of names a lot while I read Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles novel, Nightshade. While I haven't read all of the series, I do pick them up at used book stores, mostly because I've driven over the same empty Texan landscape many times while visiting kids in college back when Texan universities were known for quality.

China Bayles is a former lawyer, turned herbalist, and amateur sleuth. Wittig Albert creates a community of interesting characters. Even though I'm a sporatic reader, I found myself remembering even the secondary characters and their problems. I think that might be the key to creating realistic, three dimensional characters -- give them all a problem that gets solved during the course of the book. Of course, if you're writing a series, you have to leave some dangling ends to lead into the next book.

In this book, Bayles is still reeling from her father's death and the fact she has a step-brother. First the emotional problem: Her father cared for his secondary family more than his primary one, which meant she felt neglected even though she didn't know about the other family.

The book problem: the half-brother is convinced their father was murdured [because his mother, the father's legal secretary, thought he was murdered], and hires Bayles private detective husband to investigate. When the half-brother is murdered, Bayles and husband investigate and solve the mystery, in prime cozy mystery fashion.

The secondary problem: a feud between two of Bayles' friends over a misunderstanding left over from previous books.

While she ties up a lot of plot lines, Wittig Albert leaves enough unanswered questions that you feel that her characters are living real lives. I'm having problems sticking with the next book in the series, Wormwood, in spite of my interest in Shaker communities, though. I didn't mind her inserting a dual plotline of Shaker life & problems into Bayles' trip to Kentucky. Did mind how garrulous the opening scene of the boo was. Seemed to me that the backstory interrupted the beads of the story with too much string.

Now for the silliness. I'm always confusing Susan Wittig Albert with Rosemary Aubert, another mystery writer. The dyslexia has me reading both names the same as seen on the book covers.

Found some interesting info on Naming Your Blog by Chris Garrett. It's all about writing a blog title that will scan well in the search engines, ie. have good search engine optimization. It also helps if people remember the title and are hooked into reading it for the benefits the title suggests.

Of course, my blog title's all wrong even though I talk about what it says, like yakking about what I learn from my reading. I've fiddled with my blog title before. Should I change it to Writing Lessons from My Reading? Whatcha think? How about: What I Do Wrong: Writing Lessons from My Reading. Seems too long to me.

Oh, why I thought Naming Your Blog interesting. Many of the checkpoints for writing blog names also apply to writing titles for articles, books, and stories.  So says she who just changed the title of her Half-Elven novella [Somant Troubles] to Troubles With Traitors. See, blogs can be handy for more than building a platform. You can talk out loud to yourself ... and maybe people won't think you're crazy.

Happy New Year's 
Hope the Breaks Fall Your Way
I don't make new year's resolutions since they're mostly worthless. Oh, maybe I resolve to stumble along the best I can, given the circumstances. Still, a codified list of what's wrong with me? I'm so old that even my faults have become as comfortable as old shoes.

Alex Marcoux wrote a blog on 2012 New Year's Resolutions for the New Paradigm that got me thinking after I thought "good point". She takes a positive spin on the coming Mayan doomsday and how we should respond to it. Rather than get all hysterical about the end of the world, she considers the event more of the end of one era and the beginning of another. Maybe another chance at designing The Age of Aquarius? 
Give the blog a read. My reaction was too bad more people don't incorporate her principles into their own lives.