Magical Fantasy Stories, Both Light & Dark

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Piling on the Dilemmas: A Review of Kristan Callihan's "Moonglow"

If yah love a book that starts out with a bloody, gruesome murder, would you love a book more that starts out with two? Would you love the book more if the female MC "meets" the love interest in the book after she's been buried under the body of one of the corpses? 

Picture this scene. "A small groan broke the spell. Someone shouted in alarm. The dead man moved, rolling a bit, and the crowd jumped back as if one. Ian's pulse kicked before he noticed the soft drape of blue silk beneath the man's twisted legs." All the werewolf gore, crisp characterization, and that discovery ... introduced in the first fifteen pages. What's more, Moonglow by Kristan Callihan doesn't slow down ... until the two lovers marry. -- No that isn't a spoiler because the book's a paranormal romance.

What impressed me most: Moonglow offers the reader more than gore and thrills as threats and murder pursue the protagonists. The book explores the price of love between a mortal and a supernatural without falling into a cliched relationship. Oh the elements of a mysterious dark handsome guy with secrets and a beautiful, feisty girl with new found powers are there, but Ian and Daisy stand out as rounded characters without paragraphs of rumination over "should I or shouldn't I" go to bed with the bloke. This is accomplished with minimalist flashbacks scattered throughout the book.

Let me make this clear. Most books throw problems at their characters and force them to make decisions. Often, the decisions are as cliched as the plot. Callihan manages to raise the stakes of "do or die" to a higher level, especially since Daisy's sisters also face the same kinds of choices. More important, the orchestrating villain doesn't turn out to be the expected one.

Set in Victoria England, the book's atmosphere isn't as ripe as those created by Anne Perry, but the setting feels authentic -- though a historian might pick at some details. 

The surprise? The book lived up to the blurb given by Diane Gabaldon, a New York Times Bestselling Author. "Callihan has a great talent for sexual tension and jaw-dropping plots that weave together brilliantly in the end." I couldn't say it better. Moonglow is the second book in what is probably a trilogy. 


[Kristen Callihan. Moonglow. New York: Hatchette Book Group, 2012.]
Rating: Totally Green with Envy
But, I think I'll trade it. 

In need of a chuckle? Read Kristen Callihan's blog on changing character names during the editing process. No  wonder commercially published authors sometimes pull their hair out.

Update:
"Troublesome Neighbors", the prequel to the Pig Wars, continues to progress -- in spite of a slight setback on the cost of a cover. [Not an unexpected problem when you're dealing with a professional artist ... but her stuff is so good, I had to ask.] Anyway, I think I'm looking at getting the manuscript to the editor by September. Maybe it'll be available by Halloween ... or before? 

Guess I should go looking for reviewers ... but not until the edits are done. That means coming up with a tantalizing blurb. Maybe I should give up before I start. I've never been coaxing. I'm more of a take it or leave it kind of gal.

Once the edits are done, I'll put the first section up on the Far Isle Half-Elven webpage.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Writerly Advice for Writing Success

A while back the New York Times Book Review ran an article on writing by Colson Whitehead, a MacArthur award winning novelist. The piece gives writers some easy rules on "How to Write". I especially like the eleventh one: "There are no rules. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it., too?" -- Yeah, I know I write genre and the NYT emphases literary. My position is good writing is good writing.

Does dialog = a cure for writer's block? Came across this quote on Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur, via  Writing News quoting Dave Mamet: Dialog is easier than plotting. Really struck a note with me, because when I hit a blank spot, I sit my characters down and have them talk about their reactions to the situation they're in, then have something disturb their colloquy. Then, I edit, revise, add setting, descriptions, movements and surprises. Seems to work for me in that I get words down on paper. How good the words are is something else.

Of course, there are as many kinds of winter's block as there are writers. Laura Lee Carter has another take on writer's block. She writes about how she no longer suffers from writer's block at her blog: What's Writer's Block and Why I Don't Have It.  If stress has become one of your writer hangups, you might check out Laura Lee's blog on a regular basis.

I actually block more on promoting my writing than actually writing my stories. Maybe that's why I always look for negative comments about book promotion. So, when does promoting your book become spam? Yasimine Galenorm wrote a blog knocking begging writers, in effect.  Her rather pointed comments made me feel somewhat guilty -- even though I try to interact with my few readers. Check out her blog to read a master writer's take on blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.

Then, when you get tired of promoting your books, Angela Scott, a YA author, gives you *Ten Ways to Promote Your Book and Get Sure-Fire Results*. 

How do I promote my books? How about a mention of my Half-Elven Facebook page:
I'd appreciate a few more likes on it. 
[I actually have one.]

While tooting my horn, my website is: 
It comes complete with links to a couple free fantasy estories. 
 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Except the Queen: Using Many Viewpoints to Break Through Plot Conventions, a Book Review

Is there a greater convention than the heartless Queen of Faery? I'm sure Meteora and Serana, sisters of the Greenwood, think so when the Queen banishes them to the mundane world for spying out one of her secrets. The sisters are forced to live in different cities and forbidden to talk to each other.

Jane Yolen, one of the premier American writers, and Midori Snyder explore how a fey might cope in an American big city in Except the Queen. The plot twists and turns and intertwines story lines until an attempt by the Unseelie to take over the Seelie Court and mundane world is defeated. 

For those not in the know, in the Celtic tradition the Seelie Court is the domain of the fair folk, who are inclined to help human folk when their selfishness doesn't get in the way. The Unseelie are those fey with malevolent attitudes towards humans, who would as soon harm a human as look at them. They are responsible for the "elf bolts", sour milk, and changelings of mythology. Granted, the Unseelie were banished back in the dawn of time, but they always seem to create mayhem humans and fey alike.

Except the Queen is a study in using multiple viewpoints to tell a story. At first, the presentation is disjointed even though interesting. Each chapter uses one of several different characters' viewpoints. The beginning narrative is hard to follow, but slowly the characters meet and interact until the Unseelie are defeated and star-crossed lovers are united.

Some of the parts I especially liked include:
     -- the use of birds as messagers when the sisters are forbidden to talk to each other;
     -- using tattoos to possess and work evil; and
     -- the use of ash baseball bats to defeat the Unseelie.

Granted the story line distills into the same plot as a thousand or more other stories, but here the execution is everything. Just savor this opening from a chapter from the viewpoint of an unseelie who's trying to break free of his slavery. The rhythm of these lines is just an example of the writing in the book.
    
"My father left blood spoor at my door in the hind end of the night. It was a child's blood, one not yet weaned. I had to follow; there was never any choice. Gods, how I hate him. And how he feeds on that hate.

     "The trail led me to the park as I knew it must. He does not like the gray buildings. They heap [sic?] him. They leech him. They age him as they age all fey who settle here in the human towns. Green runs in our veins like sap. It keeps us young."

Except the Queen is a YA that can be enjoyed by all ages ... even, I suspect, by those who don't care for fantasy. This book is definitely a keeper for its elegant prose and plot twists.
[Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder. Except the Queen. New York: Roc, New American Library, Penguin Group, 2012.

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The Half-Elven Pig Prequel is now "Troublesome Neighbors" and has an ending. I've sent it out to be critiqued. Other parts of the self-publishing process are falling into place: have the formatters, a cover artist, and editor ... not necessarily in that order. Feels good to have accomplished something. Who knew weaving several story lines together could be such a pain in the behind.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can Your Characters Stand the Series Test?

Picked up a copy of Christine Feehan's Samurai Game, the new Ghost Walker novel, in the grocery store. A couple of books back I stopped looking for her new titles because it seemed to me that she was giving the same character different names and matching him up with a different woman who was a cookie cut-out from the previous heroine. I think this is a minority opinion because they are re-issuring her Carpathian series -- and publishers don't do that unless an author's books are selling.

In the series, the Ghost Walkers defend themselves against Dr. Whitney's attempts -- the man who created them by enhancing their psychic abilities to use as military operatives -- to regain control of the soldiers and their women. At this point in the story line, the pairings of different Ghost Walkers have now produced children. Whitney plots to kidnap the babies for further experimentation. This time around, Feehan complicates the story line with an added element --  a female character is as lethal as the overprotective males.

So, how did Samurai Game stand up to being read? Well, I read it all the way through with very little skimming. ... All the action you expect from a Feehan novel is there, maybe more than some previous volumes in the series. What kind of action? Well, how about three assassinations in the first 20 pages. Firefights, intrigue, more assassinations follow, and plenty of sex in between the fights.

The book's well worth studying for how Feehan paces the plot. Even though this is tenth in a series, very little back-story clogs the action. Even though I hadn't read the last few books, it didn't matter. Dribbles of info here and there gave me enough to know where this book fits in the story line.

I still haven't decided whether this book's a keeper or is going on the trade pile, but I recommend it as a read.


[Christine Feehan. Samurai Game. New York: Jove Books, Penguin Group, 2012.]


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Looking for success with the help of an agent? Rachelle Gardner, one of the best for sharing publishing info, recently blogged on what catches an agents eye. So, if you'd like a pointed commentary on what agents look for in a writer, the info is only a click away.

I'd add one other point that's a necessity if you are seeking an agent's quality time. Write consistently and productively. There's a pace in the commercial publishing world that can eat up a writer alive ... especially if you write genre fiction. Read the blogs of professional writers, especially when they write about revisions and copy editing.  Both eat up hours.

At least Gardner nor any other agent need to worry about me clogging their in boxes. Since I can't sit at the computer long enough to be efficient, I've decided not to query agents ... even if I had something to query with.


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Which reminds me of the status of my writing. My pig prequel has a new title ... Troublesome Neighbors ... and I'm slogging somewhere in the last third. So much for spending a week on writing a free short story. Worse than being a slow writer is trying to tie together several story lines into a new whole.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mini-Vacations Don't Necessarily Refresh

Just as I resolved to blog more often, umpteen jillian relatives descended on us. ... Okay, ten of them, which is a good share of all those we have. So instead of blogging, I was sitting on my behind yakking and eating too much. I even got infected by knitting again since I was surrounded by knitters. -- Have knitting needles ready at my chair now ... and am hoping they keep me sane while watching TV.

So, did I learn anything while they were here besides keeping my mouth shut? I did snatch some time for reading late at night. ... Actually, I've a pile of books I haven't mentioned in my comments. So, since I've got a trade pile almost ready to dump, I'll share some quick observations about what I read recently.

First grabbed: Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates, a local author. Can't believe I didn't review this when I read it. Cates also writes under the name of Cricket McCrae. Whatever the name, I enjoy her touch with leading her MC from clue to clue. In this case: Katie Lightfoot who not only must prove her uncle innocent of murder but must also confront the fact she's a witch after her mother tried to suppress her talents. There's a lot going on in this opening of a new series. -- Well worth reading.

The Light and the Oracle by Victoria Hanley, another local author whose books I've been reading for years. The YA book has an often used plot: a humble teen thrust into the midst of corrupt officials, in this case teachers, when she's sent to the Temple of the Oracle to learn to control her magic. The obstacles and solutions are both realistic and fantastical. -- I think reading about a MC discovering how to make their way in their world keeps me reading YA. Believe me, Hanley creates a three-dimensional world.

River Marked by Patricia Briggs carries on the adventures of a coyote shifter caught in a world of werewolves. In this sixth Mercy Thompson novel, Mercy finally marries her werewolf to the consternation of many of his pack. Briggs was wise to change the locale of this book, using the couple's honeymoon as an excuse. Of course, they park their trailer in the middle of a series of murders. One nice touch, Briggs uses usually frolicking otters as her villains, but I was a little annoyed she pulled Old Man Coyote out of her hat as Mercy's father.

After all that talk about getting rid of my trade pile, all three of these are keepers ... no matter where I find a space to stuff them. -- Unfortunately, we talked so much we didn't get to organizing the bookshelves.

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Did get some writing done ... if slowly. I'm working on a prequel to The Price of a Pig. thought it'd take me a couple weeks. Hah.  Tried writing in first person ... until I got tired of all the "I"s. Changing the text while revising all sorts of stuff took even more time. Guess, I must resigned myself to being a sloooow writer. -- Am starting to get itchy about revising The Price of a Pig since the most of the critiques have finally come in.

What do you find easiest? First person or third person viewpoint?