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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Monday, April 29, 2013

Mixing Fantasy Elements to Create a Gripping Story

Came a little late to Cassandra Clare's Immortal Instruments series. The family lending library had to send City of Bones to me in a bunch of books to trade. City of Bones was a keeper though.

By way of explanation, I remember seeing the books prominently displayed in bookstores, but never bit even though the storyline seemed interesting. Why? Well, the books are trade paperbacks. If you could see my two bookshelves, crammed with mass paperbacks, you'd know why. Even after we traded five boxes of books, there's no room. -- Besides, have I ever mentioned I'm cheap?

Cassandra Clare is an award-winning YA author who takes an interesting view of the Nephilem, angel-human hybrids. City of Bones is just one of many books exploring this  world by way of the shifting alliances among Shadowhunters, Demons, Fae,  Werewolves, Warlocks and Vampires. Along the way she twists on preternatural stereotypes quite nicely.

In City of Bones, Clare takes the common situation of the main character [Clary] learning s/he's living a lie and must learn to use her/his burgeoning powers to save ... well, something.  This time it's the MC's mother who had been living in hiding after she escaped from her husband who rebelled against the Shadowhunter authorities and has been found and tortured to reveal the location of a sacred artifact needed to renew the rebellion.

The storyline bounces from danger to danger as the three major characters -- Clary, Jace, and Simon -- learn about themselves and the parallel magical world that exists along side the mundane one. Sound familiar? The ideas may seem common, but the way Clare uses them isn't.

Some of the elements she weaves into the story line that I really liked:
       -- the travelogue of New York City, especially Brooklyn, which mentions places I know ...
       -- includes a normal, who contributes to the action, even though those with magical powers put him down ...
      -- the furtive, loyal personal relationships that persist in spite of ethnic discord and open warfare ...
I could name more ... but I'm not a cataloger. 

Rating: Four Stars -- Nice interesting book ... but it didn't keep me reading beyond my bedtime. Nor did it give me the itch to buy another trade paperback. On the other hand, I know the family lending library is buying more volumes ... and I get them for free.

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Have you even cringed when you go back and read your early writings?

At the moment, I'm working on the beginning ... like at the beginning ... Far Isle Half-Elven novella -- or novel depending on how many points of view I use in telling the tale. 
Why cringe? Well ... it's almost all telling except for pieces of dialog every page or two. I having got any great hooks at the end of the chapters. Also the action seems predictable. 

Good thing I get to discuss new chapters with my critique group and hope they throw me a life preserver.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Do You Think a Villain Has to Be the Slitheriest? No,I'm Not Talking About Voldemort.

I'd like to nominate Kay Hooper's Bishop Files novels for creating great villains. Just finished Hooper's The First Prophet, recently published in mass paperback ... a year behind the hardback. Believe me it's as good a thriller as comes off the shelves. 

What's not to like? Hooper delivers a fast-paced story line with lots of twists and turns that lures you into turning the pages as fast as you can read. Most important she delivers another great villain who's manages to keep one step away from the fleeing protagonists. Short summary: the main character, trying to avoid her new found psychic powers, is pursued by an organization who seeks to control her while Bishop's team tries to save her.

While Hooper's villains in her previous Bishop novels tend to be slimy egomaniacs, the adversaries in this book have their own point of view and show inklings of honor within their confrontations with Bishop's side. So what if they are killing psychics? This a a good read to study for presenting ambiguous villains who aren't over the top ... yet... -- Who knows what'll happen later in the series.

Five Stars -- A fast moving multi-genre tale with a stable full of well drawn characters. It even has a believable romance. Would that I could keep so many people straight in my own writing. I can't even keep real people straight in a crowd.

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Must confess. I've been goofing off ... reading blogs [and tweets and Facebook posts] instead of playing spider solitaire. Seems there's quite of bit about how not to piss agents off. Then I read Janet Reid, of the Chum Bucket and agent extraordinaire, comments about some things that must of appeared in the queries she received.

Of course, I never do dumb things like saying "fiction novel" in my queries, but I do plenty of other ding-bat stuff. Like spent most of the afternoon chasing the publication date of a sale I made back in 2010[?] -- "Night for the Gargoyles" to Spectra Magazine in Great Britain. 

Yeah, I know it's 2013, and I took my own sweet time to get my arse in gear.  Anyway: if you look up volume 5, you'll see my name on top of the author list on the cover. 

Why go look for it now? Well, I have a contract from Grumpy Dragon for "There Be Demons", the novel that grew out of that short story. Am thinking I'll put it up on my website -- for free -- since rights have reverted to me.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Looking for the Next New Thing in Genre Fiction: What's Your Flavor of Dead?

What's your favorite "new" thing in genre fiction? For awhile, vampires were the most popular dead things. Zombies soon got their day in the sun. Or is that the moon for both? Then, there are the ghosts that float through fiction genres from mysteries to paranormals and more. 

Stephen Blackmoore uses some different preternaturals in his new book Dead Things, a stand alone novel that adds the supernatural to a down to earth mystery with lots of suspects heating up the action. If you want to learn more about Blackmoore, you can visit his website. You might find some ideas to liven up your website.

Eric Carter is on the run from his past. While he's more than willing to use his powers to fight the bad guys, he's reluctant to return to Los Angeles. He wants to protect those he loves/likes from his powers as a necromancer and his ability to talk to the dead and gods. When he learns his sister is murdered, he must decided whether on not to return home and solve the crime. Blackmoore gives the reader a lovely ride with a twisting mystery with lots of well-drawn, lively characters.

Liked the opening, especially since I'm struggling with three different openings at the moment:
     "When I pull up to the bar, the truck kicking up dust and gravel behind me, I know it's already too late to help anyone. Of the eight or nine cars in the parking lot, two of them are Texas State Troopers', their roof racks still flashing."

Immediately, you know the narrator is a "good guy" and that something bad is coming down. The fight in the first chapter demonstrates Carter's powers against a murdering demon which earns a warning by some voodoo loa in payment. Then he learns of his sister's death. Carter's pulled back to Los Angeles to finish a fight he left undone many years ago.

What I found remarkable in this book was Blackmoore's use of preternatural lore. Human friends and enemies display varying magic skills that fit into a consistent magical system. Plus his well-drawn Voodoo gods, demons, and Santa Muerte, who has a bigger role than you might think, stand out as individuals.

Rating: Five Stars. This is a keeper for me. Also read it in two days in spite of being busy. I think both his website and this book can serve as good examples to study.

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As I said, I'm really interested in openings at the moment. I'm putting Mac and the Hag Stone back in the files, but I want to rewrite the first chapter first. After critique group discussions, it's going to be one book again.

I'm going back to my Far Isle Half-Elven world. After some of the reviews of Troublesome Neighbors, I feel obligated to come up with another story. This time, at my critique group's urging, I starting at the beginning of the saga -- with Teemon's arrival in the Far Isles. I'm opening with a confrontation between Teemon and Seradith on the elf planes. The fact that it's a revision of a novella length draft makes this an attractive project.

I'm also revising a short story, called The Noticing One about emotional vampires, because I feels a need to have something else to submit or self-publish. I don't know which at the moment. Probably both.