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, October 27, 2014

Does Our Society Change Over Time? What's Your Guess?

Orphan TrainBought Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline somewhere, sometime. Picked it off a stale to-read pile ... and the book kept my interest. The book is a delightful read about the growing friendship of two women -- a 91-year-old survivor of the Orphan Trains, a social experiment to find homes in the midwest for New York City's indigent children between the 1850s to 1929, and a modern goth teen close to "aging out" of the foster care system.

On the surface, the Orphan Trains provided a much needed social service. Some children did find good homes. Others became free servants. Others were downright abused. In fact, they shared similarities with today's social services, only the Orphan Trains were privately funded. Guess they were better than the kids starving on the streets of New York City

Whenever I think about Orphan Trains, I remember the one survivor I once talked to in a Nebraska county museum exhibit. He keep saying he was grateful for the chance; the family that chose him was strict, but he ate well and got to go to school. Still, he kept rubbing on one shoulder or another as he talked, making me wonder if there was more to the story.

Kline took this basic historical information and created a book greater than the two plots would've been alone. Molly, a modern goth with strong convictions, goes into the "system" when her Indian father dies and her mother becomes a druggie. Niamh-Dorothy-Vivian [Her name changed as she was placed in different homes.] went into an orphanage after her Irish immigrant family was killed in a tenement fire, and was taken to the Midwest on one of the last Orphan Trains. Their stories join when Molly is assigned 50 hours of community service for trying to steal a copy of Jane Eyre from the library. A journey of discovery launches for both women.

Even with the twining tales told from alternating viewpoints, the plot lines are fairly simplistic. I found the twists and turns quite predictable, even the growing friendship of the old lady with the high school senior. Found the characterization rather thin too. While each character was distinctive, none of them were three-dimensional. Not even the protagonists. The characters came on stage, did their part, and left. Even the descriptions were labels, eg. the house was a three-story Victorian mansion.

Think this was a well-researched novel, engaging without much depth. I give it 4****.


The paper edits of The Ghostcrow continue. Soon, I'll be going back and inserting a couple scenes to flesh out my character development of secondary characters. The short story has grown into a novelette again. It seems to be my preferred length.

Do have a short story, short read if you never stray from the Amazon corral, that I'm preparing to publish as a free story, Hear that Damn Owl. Can't see charging 99c for a 15 minute or even 30 minute read. The pic is a cover reveal. Whoo-ho! Not. But I really like the cover... though I think the cover artist is sick of all the modifications I ask for.

Owl was once a flash fiction piece from when I tried to write really short. Results? Think it gave me some training in using one word rather than a phrase. Actually, my free short reads have served another purpose. It gives people a chance to sample my writing without cost...unless the down loader is a freebie hound.

Need to get some beta-reads on this. With luck it'll release during the Christmas rush.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#Writers, How Do Your Craft Skills Grow?

Strange CandyOkay. I'm a Laurell K Hamilton fan ... of the Anita Blake series ... when it comes up in mass paperback distribution.

Those caveats have kept from reading her short story collection, Strange Candy, in the past. I've only seen it in hardback. But one day, I wandered into a new used book store in town and felt obligation to buy some stuff. So I bought it. Read it in a couple sittings.

I came away thinking how much Hamilton has grown as a writer since the 1990s. Her growth is obvious in the two Blake short stories. Granted we're talking short stories here, but they are similar to chapter lengths. In them, Hamilton doesn't multiply the facets or hone the edges of Anita's character as she does in the books, and the secondary characters are definitely flat.

Maybe familiarity with your characters, breeds depth? Or, do acquired craft skills create three-dimensional characters. Lesson? Maybe writers should take time to know their characters before they rush to publish.

What surprised me most was that Hamilton published some Sword & Sorcery. Unfortunately, it's mostly cliched stuff. Have read the story lines many, many times before. But at least she was submitting her stories...and got accepted.

The only short story that really shined for me was "A Lust of Cupids" which indicated how her wicked sense of humor was developing. Still, only 3***** for this read. The stories would still have been buried in the archives if Hamilton hadn't reach stellar best-sellerdom.

Guess all us novices and pip-squeak writers can take heart.
There's hope.


So what have I been doing?

Would you believe messing with social media? Mostly cleaning up things. I crowed too soon about getting The Ignoble Nobel Prize Winner and Night for the Gargoyles up for free on Amazon. Both uploads had problems, but they are now fixed ... after hours of mis-punching buttons.

Actually, it's kinda nice I got them up. Amazon put them in their free Kindle short reads categories. Gargoyles has a #2 and a #4 ranking as I write. Ignoble has top 100 ratings too, all in very narrowly defined categories.

Caveat. These rankings aren't very important, especially since the rankings haven't translated into more sales...at least on Amazon. On the other hand, Smashword sales are picking up. I may break the 25 a month paid download barrier someday. Maybe I'll dream of selling 50 e-stories a month.

Yeah, not very impressive is it? Now you know why I call myself a pipsqueak author. I can give away books, but selling them is another story.

Another example of my list cleaning, decided to do a new title for Crossings. The cover is currently being revised to the new title -- Showdown at Crossings: A Tale of Andor -- and then, it needs to be re-formatted ... then, resubmitted.  I'm hunching my shoulders and hoping all the places where I've listed the book will automatically change the cover, but I doubt it. -- See how marketing time metastasizes?

Don't think just because you've published your book,
your work is done.

Question: How much time do you spend on social media?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can Two Master Writers #Write Better Than One?

The Iron Trial (Magisterium Series #1)The family library delivered two YA/MG books the other day: a vampire dystopian novel and a magical school novel. Both cliche themes to my mind. I almost put them both on the furthest, dustiest to-read pile. But there was a little yellow sticky note on the middle grade one: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

Two master, best-selling fantasy authors teaming up? I just had to take a peek. Read the usually deadly prologue. Then thought: Maybe I should read the first chapter to see if the promise held. Then, dinner called. Not that it was ready. I had to cook it.

Now most books for kids involve the discovering of self as either the main plot or subplot. The Iron Trial is no different, but it's not just another Tom Brown's School Days or Harry Potter regurgitated. Black & Clare manage to make the situation their own with a protagonist who is content to play second fiddle. Callum Hunt wants to fail at becoming a magic-worker because all his life his father has warned him that magic is dangerous and can destroy you.

Of course, he failed the tests for magic in the opening of the book. But he fails the tests in such amusing ways that you just have to keep reading. For example, all the other kids being tested levitate their papers until the room floats with sheets of paper. Callum concentrates so hard on keeping his sheet of paper on his desk that he embeds it into the wood. Something the headmaster of the Magisterium notices.

Of course, bad boy Callum breaks the school's rules, but Black & Clare give him more depth and complexity as he negotiates the path from outcast to friendship and team member. In spite of the standardized theme, all the events contribute to a fast-moving, twisting plot with a strong one-more-chapter pull. The characters are well motivated too.

The Magisterium is projected to be a five book series centered on a fight against evil. I look forward to the other books in the series because I think that the core theme of the books lies on the choices you make as an individual that count, not your supposed destiny. Only one problem I can see. The pace of the series release. One a year, I think. Did you guess I was giving it 5*****


My paper revisions for The Ghostcrow continue. My critique group generally likes it, but as usual, has put a magnifying glass on the story's weak spots. They want more magic and supernatural stuff. I like my form of magical realism where the magic is firmly planted within the happenings of a mundane world. Now, doesn't that sound like a cliche?

I'm putting snippets from the novelette up on my author website. Why not take a look and see.

Other than that. I've been mostly cleaning up messes. Come to think of it, revising a draft is just another way of cleaning up a mess. Don't you think?


The Goddess Fish Blog Tour of
The Ghost in the Closet 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hey, #Writer. Are Your #Plots Too Simple?

When Shadows FallDon't you love a complicated plots with twists, turns and surprises? I know I do. In fact, I turn a deep shade of green when I encounter a complicated plot that works. Why? Because I feel my plots are too simplistic. So, you can imagine my delight after I discovered J. T. Ellisson's When Shadows Fall on the supermarket shelves.

The Prologue indicated it was a multiple viewpoint story  ... and it was: the perp, the red herring, and a medical examiner running away from police work to the safety of academe after a catastrophic case. I grabbed the book even though my to-read pile's growing.

The baffling case begins with a letter announcing the writer's death and gets its first complication when her doorbell rings. The lawyer, of the man who wrote the letter asking her to solve his murder, tells Samantha Owens she is the executor of the estate and is requested to do a medical examination that proves the death wasn't a suicide as first ruled. The murders begin to pile up, but the murder investigation soon entwines with a maze of child abductions, past and present. As I said, a nice, complicated plot line that includes a rogue FBI agent.

How would I sum up the storyline? It's a suspenseful nail-biter embedded in warm relationships and cold chills. Major and minor characters are well-fleshed out, and you care about them. The perp comes across as a person rather than an actor. Even the macabre ending is well foreshadowed. In my humble, pipsqueak opinion, J. T. Ellison is an author to study if you want your plots to be fast-moving and suspenseful.

I'm just one in the chorus giving When Shadows Fall 5*****.


Blog Tour:
The Ghost in the Closet

Hi ... I commissioned Goddess Fish Promotions to run a blog tour for The Ghost in the Closet. The stops include:
October 6: Deal Sharing Aunt
October 7: Laurie's Thoughts and Reviews
October 8: Bunny's Review
October 9: Queen of All She Reads
October 10: Kit 'N Kabookle
October 13: Room With Books
October 14: It's Raining Books
October 15: Long and Short Reviews
October 16: SBM Book Obsession
October 17: Danita Minnis

They're also organizing a raffle for a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card among the people who comment on my write up. I'm not always the listing at the top so you may have to scroll down. To find the links you can either use a search engine or go to the Goddess Fish page for my tour.

Looks like I'm going to be spending more time on Social Media.


The revisions of The Ghostcrow,prequel to The Ghost in the Closet continues. I'm about 2/3s of the way done with the revisions. Decided the ghostcrow needed more screen time to do his/her thing. Also solved my dilemma about timing. Once my critique group sees the story, I'll submit it a couple places. Then, probably in January, I'll self-publish.

Oh. I'm putting snippets from The Ghostcrow up on my website now.