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.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Fairy Tale Motifs -- An Anchor or Great Launchging Pad for Your Story

Wickedly DangerousFairy tales have popped up in my reading in recent weeks several times. I reread a couple of Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Magician series. Read a self-published story using the fairy tale paradigm which sadly didn't reach it's potential. My favorite of the lot was a twist on the Baba Yaga motif of the Russian folklore.

Now Baba Yaga of the iron teeth and chicken-footed house was a reading favorite when my kids were young. Deborah Blake's take on Baba Yaga was so interesting, I just had to buy it. The babuska had turned into a hot chick in black leather. [For the record her house was turned into an Airstream trailer, and her traveling companion was a small white dragon disguised as a pit bull.]

Much loved children are disappearing from the town, and Sheriff Liam McClellan is totally frustrated in his search for them when he discovers some tourist's high-tone travel trailer parked on county land. After meeting Barbara Yager, the search for the missing children have to two teaming up to solve the mystery and more. Blake gets the love interest/conflict and mystery set up in the first chapter. The story line roars on as fast as Baba's motorcycle on a chase that involves hydraulic fracking, the Otherworld with an imperious fairy queen, and small town politics until the romantic elements slow the plot down.

Still Wickedly Dangerous was so good, I can't help but wonder why more fantasy writers don't mine folk tale traditions for their fiction.

Rating: 4****. It got a little too mushy towards the end, and the pace of the storyline slowed to accomodate romantic encounters. My feeling? Hey lady, make up your mind, already.


Big Achievement Last Week!

I finished the first draft of The Ghostcrow.

 Now a paper copy is sitting on the dining room table with all sorts of pencil additions cluttering up the first third after today's morning writing session. Some
writers would let it sit longer, but I needed to start working on it to present my new ideas to my critique group. Big structural change: I have to go back and add more paranormal aspects. The ghost only has a couple pages, but the story really belongs to Dumdie, the protagonist of The Ghost in the Closet, as she learns to accept her growing abilities to see ghosts.

New ideas? Last week I also started a new Cassy Mae [Noticing Jamilla] story. Had her on the bus where she still fleeing The Markham's wrath when a stinky boy plunks down besides her. The story revolves around her accepting her magical abilities and saving the boy from a demon-possessed director of a teen shelter. So, I spent a lot of last week thinking about details of demon possession.

Since The Ghostcrow is also set in Andor, I had to transfer the ideas from my doodlings to my edits. The result strengthened the menace of my story's villain.

Only problem I'm puzzling over is timing. The story has a Halloween theme. My critique group didn't meet last summer, so not of the preliminary editing of the story has been done. So I'm left with a story I had planned to self-publish now. The decision I have to make: publish in January to add to my file of Andor stories or submit it for rejection by publications. Problem is it's long. Standing at close to 10,000 words at the moment -- The length I seem to like writing.

Guess I added another reason to my list of why critique groups are important for a writer. They act as a cattle prod to keep you writing. Oh, I was writing ... just nothing new. Revision of a couple novels festering in my computer. I have to partly finished edits on two of them as I try to decide which one I should market. Probably both. Then, I get the great joy of submitting to agents and publishers.

Yeah. Rejections here I come again.


And One Little Milestone:
This is my 350th blog post.

Or, is that a mill stone?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Here a Review. There a Review. Why Doesn't My Book Get One of the Reviews?

Find the Links for Free Download
Hey, readers do you regularly add to your good karma but leaving a review of a book you enjoyed? Once a book is published, getting good reviews weighs heavy on an author's mind. This is especially true for pipsqueak indie writers like me. 

Reviews shouldn't scare you. They don't have to be a great production. All you need to do is just give a rating, four and five stars are wonderful, and write a couple sentences about what you really liked or didn't like about the book. That's that. No analysis of the characterization, the plot, or anything else. Leave that to the English Lit types and professional reviewers.

Of course, authors, if you want reviews, you must first market your books. Unfortunately, marketing's hard. Paul Jarvis gives a good check list of what a writer must do in How to Market a Self-Published Book. Mid-list authors can also learn something there. One problem though. Jarvis only tells you what you must do. Writers, then, have to do the research to learn how to do it.

Authors: If you are scrambling for reviews, you might want to read Michael Hardach's Blog: Five Ways To Generate Authentic Book Reviews. His actual suggestions are at the end of the blog. The first part of the blog is a rant against paid reviews.

Personally, I've been pleased with the results of exchanging reviews with GoodReads members. Yeah, I've posted reviews which were not returned. But that's not really any skin off my nose. On the other hand, I've been slow on my review turn-arounds and have a line four deep waiting. At least my to-review stack doesn't look like my to-read piles.

Most important result of exchanging reviews? I'm reading books and/or stories I don't normally read. Guess that's enough reward if the review fails to show up.

All that said, Crossings has gathered a few reviews out of the about 1,000 free downloads. Here are pieces of a couple reviews, I especially liked.
Find Download Links Here.

Ron Baker gave a 4**** review:
"The unusual dialogue and behavior of the inhabitants of this fantasy demonstrate the talent of the author. I like weird and this story delivers. A very creative fully realized world. Recommended."

 H. G. Estok gave a 5***** review:
"Ebe is what you might call a Boomer hero -- an elderly gent who, with the help of some magic and some very special dogs, does his darnedest to try and save the day. I enjoyed the world-building in this tale with a setting that's close to our own reality but very different. Theodoratus knows how to weave an intriguing yarn, and this might be my favorite one from her yet. She has a way of making the reader root for her characters, whether they be human or otherwise, with a story that's well-wrought from start to finish."

The free promotions for Crossings are almost over, and the e-pub will soon be up for full price. Here's the blurb: Slight of stature and lacking magic, old Ebe must destroy a nest of frogtrolls who killed a long-time friend to regain his self-respect. You can find download links on my website if you find the concept interesting.

Of course, writers have to get people to buy or download their books. Sorry. I don't have any easy solutions for encouraging them to do it. I sweat blood to get miniscule sales. But writers, you might want to look at JA Konrath's blog:  Ebook Sales Down? Here Are 15 Tips! As usual, this best selling author offers great advice.

Enough yapping.
Writers: How do you go about getting reviews?
Readers: How big of a chore do you think writing reviews is?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing Engaging Characters to Hook Your Readers. Do You?

Hard Time (V. I. Warshawski Series #9) Sara Paretsky was recently interviewed in the "By the Book" column in the New York Times on what makes a book good. [The New York Times, 14 Sept 14]

She replied, "Believable characters first, a good story, an understanding of how to pace dramatic action." 

Of course she was talking about crime fiction but I think her words apply to all fiction. I know flat characterization make me drop a book faster than anything else.

How did Paretsky say it? Like most writers, Paretsky's an avid reader. When she was asked about the last book she put down without finishing, her comment: "I read 120 pages and couldn't get engaged with any of the characters."

I read that and didn't feel so mean when I give 4-star reviews. Yeah, writers are like first graders who expect blue ribbons for sitting on the sidelines and picking their noses. They all want five star reviews--even if they don't get outside copy-editing.

But on to writing engaging characters. Barbara Ashford sure doesn't have the problem of cardboard characters. In her Spells at the Crossroads, a combination of two related novels Spellcast and Spellcrossed, she even makes even her Fae character human.
Maggie Graham turns restless after she loses her job to downsizing and, on a whim, takes to the road to explore the New England. She ends up in Dale, Vermont where a community theater, the Crossroads, is casting for positions in its summer stock company. Not only does Maggie get hired, but she's the only one who seems able to connect with the brooding,  "I-vant-to-be-alone" director. Yes, the books are more romance than urban fantasy. Perhaps it's best to say this is Fae fantasy, and Ashfords twists the cliches about Faery about 90 degrees.

Where Spells at the Crossroads excels is in Ashford's characterization. Yeah, Maggie's the intrepid heroine sticking her nose into where it doesn't belong, but she narrates her her story in a wry, first person fashion. Her witty narration of events and her feelings of incompetence have you rooting for her from the beginning. Rowen, the love interest, is dark and brooding and hiding hinted-at secrets. But both are given unexpected angles that make them three-dimensional actors on Ashford's stage.

All Ashford's characters get lots of writer TLC. Where most writers seem to give a their secondary characters a list of physical traits and a tic or two, the Ashford's secondary characters emerge as three-dimensional people with strengths and flaws who influence the plot as much as the principals. Dare I say "stars" since the books are about community theatre. 

And there's more. Ashford's adept at creating tension while giving her readers lots of smiles. Definitely a 5***** book[s]


Are you wondering how to accomplish
 something similar?

In a recent blog post, writing coach and editor, Jenni Chappelle has written a comprehensive list of the types of body language writers can use to reinforce characterization within their dialog: 9 Simple and Powerful Ways to Write Body Language.

I thought it a good summary, similar to the advice about using all five senses to depict your setting [aka stage]. All good advice, but how often do writers use them? Not often enough, I'd say from my reading of indie ebooks.


And what have I been doing except for social media until it's coming out of my ears? I'm actually getting some new writing done. The Ghostcrow progresses, and I even have a cover.

Here's a sample of this week's progress:

"Dumdie made a face. She thought pigweed was a zombie plant because, no matter how much you thought you’d killed it, it always returned from the dead, alive and growing more yellow flowers. Green beans were her favorites. They played games with her as they hid among the leaves to see how fat and long they could grow without her finding them. Mr. Carson said she was good enough at finding veggies to be a detective.

A bean detective. Dumdie liked the idea and smiled. Apprehending errant beans."

I hope your writing's going well too.
Readers, if you like humor with your fantasy,
look for Spells at the Crossroads.
You'll be rewarded.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Writers: Do Your Characters Nurture Your Writing?

  Most of the guru-speak I've read/heard talks about what writers must do for their characters. Recently, I began to wonder about what our characters should do for us. Lots of kids eventually take care of their parents as they get older.Why can't characters help writers as their series age?

  One book's a cinch...if you've got the writing chops. At the start of the series, the characters present a new land to be explored, complete with new concepts and problems. I recently exchanged reviews with a writer who came up with an intriguing new take on angel-human relationships--at least it was new to me, Amy Vansant's Angeli -- The Pirate, the Angel and the Irishman.

  The storyline traces the progress of Anne Bonney, the pirate of renown, as she becomes a Sentinel, a policeman for angels gone so bad they drain people of their energy. Yeah, she's as much of a rule breaker as a Sentinel as she was as was as an 18th century woman. 

  But there's more to like with the book: a love triangle that's announced in the title, but the book is more than a common chick-lit romance. Vansant has a rollicking sense of humor that turns the entire read into a smile-fest, even though the heros are chasing an evil bad guy or guys. I imagine sequels will have problems avoiding reruns of the same old motives, but for now the story line is a fresh as the morning sunshine after a rain. May Vansant prove me wrong. 

  Then, there's the other end of a writing career. I read several authors automatically when I find their new mass paperback editions. And sometimes, I re-read previous titles if a new one doesn't come out quickly enough. When you've written many books about the same characters, It takes true creativity to keep from recycling the same ideas over and over. Granted there has to be some overlap if a bunch of books are to be a series. The trick is in keeping the books exploring new territory.

  One of the writers who amazes me with her consistency and her inventiveness is Kay Hooper. I think I started reading her titles back in the 1990s. I'm still reading them even though she's basically a romance writer, and most romances bore me. 

  Her psychic F.B.I. agents, led by Noah Bishop, and their civilian counterpart [Haven] are a different story. I like the way Hooper plays with the supernatural even if her books tend to get repetitive. I've recently read Hostage and Haven. They are set in a new trilogy, as usual with her writing pattern, and deal with a new enemy who plots to destroy Bishop. At least that what previous nemesises have threatened to do. Hooper's achievement? She puts together a good thriller with a well-fleshed killer, usually with strong, realistic psychic abilities. 

One device Hooper uses to keep her books fresh is a romance as a sub-plot. Each book presents a new psychic couple discovering each other as they hunt down a killer. Yeah, the premise is used in hundreds of books each year. Hooper does it without putting you to sleep.

  One of the problems with a long running series is that sameness does creep in. Another negative, Bishop too often plays the role of puppet master to his investigators. Granted Hooper delivers a fun, fast paced read with lots of chills, but her ideas are starting to feel a little shop worn.
4**** for both books.


  Have been having fun with Crossings. Spent huge amounts of time submitting it to promo sites when I'd rather be writing. Truth be told. I'm still doing it. My big achievement. Crossings is up on Amazon for free at the moment.

  The results? Crossings has ranked at high as #3 in this obscure Kindle category.

When I copied it from my listings, it was #9. Surprise. Surprise. It even looks like there might be a couple sales on the chart for The Ghost in the Closet, but I doubt if they amount to a cup of coffee.

  Oh, and I even have some 5***** reviews of my own.

  Don't think I'm resting on my "best-selling" laurels though. The Ghost Crow is progressing. I'm taking my own advice and recycling Dumdie Swartz of The Ghost in the Closet. This time with a story set during her teen years -- though I don't think of it as YA. I'm maybe halfway through the first draft, and I know where I'm going.

  My Far Isles Half-Elven? They're are resting in obscurity though they sometimes appear on the first page in Goggle and Bing under the search term "Half-Elven". People even click through. How do I know? My website links are the only places where I promote The Foiling of Gorsfeld, a story set during Mariah's teen years, and it gets downloaded regularly.

Care to share how you've recycled some of your characters?