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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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Giving Secondary Characters a Chance to Star: Exploring the Sidetracks in Your Story Lines

Have you ever been enchanted by a secondary character in a novel? One that lurks in the background until needed for the plot? One that deserved to be a star, at least in your opinion?

The writing team Ilona Andrews does just that in Gunmetal Magic with Andrea, the were-hyena or Bouda friend, and later, partner of Kate Daniels in the Andrews' Magic series.  Andrea's problems get star billing ... as she works through a twisting mystery ... while she clears up some personal issues with authority and reconciliation with her lover. Yeah. Andrea is a busy girl in this book.

Perhaps Andrea shows too much "teenage horror-movie stupidity" -- going where "no one with any sense" would go -- in the book, but it's excusable. Workers employed by Andrea's former lover, Rafael, are killed at a construction/mining site. The mystery rises about what was in an empty vault and where did the killing viper bites come from. The puzzle complicates when the possibility of snake weres arises ... when no snake-weres were known before.

Andrea follows the clues to solve the murder mystery no matter where it takes her. Andrea lucks out each time by coming up with both new information and a new twist in the plot line. The complications requiring Rafael's help annoy her the most. 

Andrea has always been an independent sort of girl. One who rejects being the delicate sort who needs always needs rescuing. She'll wreck her own mayhem, thank you very much. The Andrews set up the dual conflict and Andrea's problems with authority all in the first two fast moving chapters ... with a minimum of back story.  In short, Andrea'd be damned if she'd "bow and scrape" to be admitted to Clan Bouda. -- The book almost earns five stars right there.

The romance is entertaining as well. Not only does Andrea have to face a mother-in-law-from-hell in Auntie B, Rafael's mother and leader of the were-hyena clan, she has to put up with Rafael's protective instincts. How bad is Auntie B? Well, she can make the word "dear" the most threatening word in the dictionary. As for Rafael, he finds some creative ways to annoy her until she gives in and let's him back into her life. Andrea readily admits she loves him, but there's that subservient thing.  -- To say more, would destroy the fun of reading the book.

Rating: Five stars. It took me some time to review the book since my pile of "read" books is about a fourth the size of my "to-read" pile. Not only did Gunmetal Magic keep me ready "just one more chapter" past my bedtime, but it goes on my keeper pile.


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I seem to have slowed down for Christmas -- not that I'm not doing things like cards/letters. Did get the edits/revisions done for Bad Luck Emma. Now I'm be sending it out into the cold, cruel world to be rejected by agents.

Did get some good news. Pat, the Pet ... my vowel controlled, pre-primer color-a-comic has made it onto the publisher's list. Here's what Grumpy Dragon had to say:

"Pat the Pet by Kay Theodoratus.

This is a coloring book/comic for English as a Second Language readers as well as emergent readers. The focus is on short vowel sounds, and it features Pat, a lovable, goofy brown monster who would fit in well with the Muppets. This book is going to be a Lightning Source title available through The Grumpy Dragon, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. ... We also have plans for a DVD with institutional licensing as well as a coloring app for phones/tablets..."

Of course, cynical me, isn't holding her breath. As I said somewhere ... maybe around Christmas 2013?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is Your Manuscript Perfect? Striving for Perfection ...

Personally, I think perfection is overrated ... an unachievable goal. Good-enough is plenty good enough for everyday consumption and me. Of course, if someone is going to invest money in your writing, the manuscript better meet their idea of perfection ... or at least be revisable to some semblance there of.

These thoughts popped into my head when I came across a post of Justine Musk's blog on achieving perfection: how to make mistakes + be imperfect like a badass. Musk is a gal with attitude and confronts the idea of wanting perfection and wanting it now ... like with your current draft.

Think she has something important to say about writing here ... even though the insight percipitated in a yoga class. Given some of the people I've seen doing yoga, I can understand where one might get an inferiority complex watching graceful "benders" do their thing.

My version of yoga looks more like a fish flopping around out of water -- no rhyme or reason -- but I mange to get some static exercise in. A helpful activity if you've got a foot of snow outside.

The one graceful "bender" I know is my daughter, a harpist in New York City. Mia was recently interviewed by Columbia Television News. I shared this on Facebook as a proud mommie. I'll share here too. While Mia works for perfection in the area of music, especially on coming in right on the beat, she is just a quick to say "Art never stops". You can never become proficient in everything. The learning process never ends.

I'd add: If your are pushing the boundaries of your skills, you'll always discover something new you must accomplish.

On a Different Promotional Note:
Discovered perhaps a "perfect" way of helping your friends increase their Amazon rankings on LinkedIn without them spending a dime more than they already have.

Tod A. Fonseca blogged on "What is Tagging". What he discusses is a way of increasing your book rankings using Amazon's rankings without having to beg your friends to buy your book. If you've ever bought something from Amazon, you should be able to like and tag books -- go down to the subject areas the book falls in and click the little boxes showing the keywords.

What I'm pulling out of the things I'm reading on promotion: If you click those likes, tags, and say a review is helpful to you, it all helps your book's ranking on Amazon.

Hint: the Amazon page for Troublesome Neighbors. I would appreciate all the likes, tags, and sales I can garner. Thank you for your help. Of course, there's my author's page and my other "books". Did I mention I wouldn't object if you bought my book?

*smile* Do I sound like a needy writer? 
[I don't consider myself an author yet. I'm not perfect enough yet.]


Thursday, December 6, 2012

NaNoWriMo Thoughts Worth Thinking About

Doubt if I'll ever complete a NaNoWriMo year -- though I always get some writerly tips from the people who survived the challenge ... and from those who didn't. [Don't think I can sit long enough to write 2,000 words a day without injuring myself. But lots of people manage to do it every year.] Here are some thoughts on the results.

But first:
All you guys who earn that badge of hard, dedicated work
have my admiration. 

Margo Berendson discusses which part of writing is hardest. This year she used NaNoWriMo as a tool to finish an in-progress manuscript. Thought it would be relatively easy. Read what happened.

Which do you think is harder? 
The ending or the beginning of your novel?
Explain why your reasoning.

Me? I think they both present headaches which require many "aspirins" [rewrites] to cure.

Sarah Ahiers not only finished her fourth NaNo but also crows about writing her 500th blog.
The woman has endurance. 
[And some people are amazed when I've written only 300 of the things?]

Lee Bross blogs on finishing NaNoWriMo: "You have everything you need for a successful climb in front of you and there is nothing stopping you from getting to the top. It will take patience and diligence and a little luck, but you can get there." 

In other words, it's time to start revising.

Are You Bored or Burned Out by Your Story? 

Ace Jordyn at the Fictorian Era offers a pep talk for people who don't know what to do with their NaNoWriMO results. Look at the most recent blog on story-telling crutches too. There's always lots of interesting stuff at this blog.

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So, what have I been writing at my snail speed?

Not much ... though I did get a Prologue [two-three pages] set up for Troublesome Mac where I start right off with her grandmother calling her MacKenzie. I think of that as a girl's name, but I know it can be a boys name too ... as well as a last name. 

Silly little back story. Troublesome Mac is the result of a writing prompt at a Northern Colorado Writers class. [Yeah, I still take classes. I still gots lots to learn.] Any way, I did a few paragraphs on Mac plotting on how to get noticed by a wizard that just moved into her neighborhood. The people who discussed my effort all thought Mac was a boy. 

Do you think they might be telling me something about the book's eventual saleability?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy Is The Person Who Can Write Funny

At least, I hope Kevin Hearne is happy. Since they haven't bought out his contract or stopped publishing his Iron Druid Chronicles, DelRey Books seems happy enough with his sales . 

May Kevin's royalties exceed his day-time salary by more than a buck. 

Yeah this is a book review of Trapped, the 5th book about Atticus, the last druid, and friends defending themselves from the many enemies he has acquired in several pantheons. Just to give the enemies equal time: they feel justified in seeking vengeance on Atticus for actions he's previously inflicted on them. 

In Trapped, Atticus seeks to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth to double the number of druids in the world, but Bacchus and his minions, the Black Elves, the Norse gods keep interrupting him. His allies among the Tuatha De Danaan, his wise-cracking side kick, Oberon an Irish Wolfhound,and the earth's elementals help him on his quest. Oh, Granuaile kicks some ass too.

If you like action, Hearne's the guy for you. His books jump off the blocks by introducing several threads of possible conflict in the first couple of chapters. Trapped is no exception.  

While Atticus seeks a quiet place to bind Granuaile, Perun, a Slavic lighting god, appears when he flees from the destruction of the Slavic godly plane by Loki, a Norse god. That's just the first chapter. By the third chapter, Atticus is summoned to the Fae Court, and  Perun has developed a case of lust for Flidais, the Irish goddess of the hunt. In short, Hearne manages to introduce new complications and interlock them together into the previus storyline in most chapters. While the complications aren't as seamlessly woven as previous books, the book is still a fast, twisting read.

One thing that stands out to me because of my mystery bias, perhaps, is that Hearne doesn't really have villains. His complications fall more into having a different mind set rather than personal greed or urge to harm, per se. Granted there are personality faults in abundance, but his characters lack the focused self-interest of true villains. How fair is application of negative traits? Well, Atticus has quite a few of his own. .... 

But, then that's my own judgement since my value system tends to consider selfish self-interest as a negative trait.

Hearne's strong point? Humor. Few writers are as funny as he is. Whether Atticus and Oberon are discussing the merits of sausage or human mating habits, he is good for a chuckle. More chuckles come from his irreverent view of deities of whichever ilk. Hearne even manages to give an explanation about why you might think clowns evil.

Do have one complaint about an omission in the Atticus stories. While Jesus and Mary have appeared is a previous story, they haven't gotten billing worth their status in the earthly cosmos. Yeah, Il admit to sore grapes. When I think of the wonders Hearne could work with the Christian stereotypes of all ilks, I feel deprived. Guess I'll have to be satisfied with what he does with the Indian pantheon when he finally gets to it.

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Am sort of taking a little break for the holiday weeks. Not that I'm less busy, but I'm writing less and baking more. Even have bought stuff other people have made.

[A lot of it "Made in the USA". Remember the union label?]

Still progressing on Bad Luck Emma. Only a few more chapters to go and I can go onto new projects.

One discovery: "Tazan of the Apes" isn't as bad a book as I thought, even though many of the social sentiments are outdated and the writing style has a pompous, superior expository style. Didn't find the "Me Tarzan. You Jane." line. Guess the movie version had contaminated my opinion of Burroughs.

Yeah, I read it in one sitting ... 
which surprised the heck out of me. 
Under all the exposition, there's an adventure novella in there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Paranormal Plus -- Crossing Genre Boundaries

Lots of fiction genres, like mystery or romance, combine paranormal elements. Or, at least they say they do. You know the love the vampire ... or werewolf ... or demon in a will they live-happily-ever-after plot. Truth be told, I find such HEA paranormal romances rather dull. But, combine them with thriller type action and/or a puzzling mystery, you've hooked me.

Heather Graham's The Uninvited crosses genres with abandon and intelligence. Allison Leigh, a history professor, discovers the body of a fellow tour guide, an apparent suicide, in a stately home which also is reputed to be haunted by a Revolutionary War ghost. [The Who-Done-It + Paranormal] After a team of "ghost hunters" led by Tyler Montague investigates, a second murder occurs. [Complication + Love Interest]   Of course, Leigh is suspicious of Montague, but the board of the museum tells her to cooperate to solve the crime. Add twists and turns while various characters are threatened by the supposed mad ghost.

The question: are the murders a spectral manifestation or something more mundane or a combination of the two?

The villains in this case aren't particularly evil -- maybe more like totally selfish in a venial way even though ready to commit multiple murders. Graham does give them well rounded motivations. 

The most amazing was the way Graham wove a large cast of secondary characters into the plot. Most of the people introduced in the first few chapters had something integral to offer in solving the mystery. Making all of the "sidekicks" interesting, likable people is a skill most authors lack.

Rating: Only four stars. While I strongly recommend it. The book didn't make me abandon other tasks to read "one-more-chapter".


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The revision/edits of Bad Luck Emma continue. I'm a little more than half-way through, but I've already queried a couple agents ... to get in under their holiday deadlines. Not that I expect anything wondrous to happen. Getting a request for a full, though, would be a nice Christmas present.

Did research on cat behavior for Troublesome Mac. The articles made cat behavior so dull and predictable that it's a wonder than anyone would keep a cat lying around. -- I think I'm fixated on "troublesome" situations and people.

Will repeat my offer of a free PDF or epub file of Troublesome Neighbors to any reader who asks for one in December. Send your email to mkkaytheod [at] yahoo [dot] com. Yeah, it'll go in my email files ... I may even get around to sending out a newsletter if something interesting ever happens with my writing. In the meantime, tidbits appear at the Half-Elven Facebook page  or my author page