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.

.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Recyling Your Settings: Are You Squeezing the Most Out of the Worlds You Create?

One of my all time favorite settings/worlds is Andre Norton's Witch World series. I've been reading them since forever ... and even have the 25c Ace editions to prove it. Imagine my delight when I discovered a new [to me] Witch World novel in my to-read pile. Andre Norton and A. C. Crispin's Songsmith about Eydrth, the daughter of Elys and Jervon, two of my favorite characters in the series. 

All in all, the Witch World is an excellent example to follow if you want to get the most mileage out of the worlds you create--fantasy or other. How? You recycle the details with new characters.

The story line: Eydrth, a minstrel, seeks a cure for her father whose mind was blasted by magic while seeking her missing mother. On her long journey from Arvon through Escarp, she first crosses the Witches of Escarp and links up with an adept whose quest parallels hers. The quest gets complicated by a mad witch, with a vendetta against men working magic, who seeks to destroy both the adept and Eydrth's family.

Won't mention the authors' effective craft skills here because both writers are Masters. Still there were little glitches here and there which a good copy editor should have caught.

The one I snorted loudest at? Eydrth was singing in the market square when a rampaging half-Keplian stallion threatened her audience. Of course, Eydrth drops her harp and leaves her tip money in the case to calm the stallion. What bothered me? No one stole anthing--neither the harp nor the money.

Such nit-picks aside, I give Songsmith Five ***** Stars. Hey, I read it in one sitting and was bleary eyed the next day. But I enjoyed the trip.

###

The Ghost in the Closet is partially back from my beta readers. Got some good input which I'll put into play next week. 

Did get slammed on the word "doodie". I named my charcter "Doodie" because as a kid she hummed to herself -- doo-de-doo-de-dum.

Seems this California gal didn't clue into some eastern parts of the US using "doodie" as the equivalent of "doggie do", aka excrement. My main character's name is getting changed to Dumdie, different but still an insult.



What do you think about getting the cover to 3-D? Is it noticible?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Who Wants Some Free Book Promo?

Coming Soon.

Another Thursday, but no new guest blogs. Guess no one's interested in free book promo. Granted this isn't the most powerful writing blog on the web,but my posts have been getting over 100 page views lately. This is much better than last year when the number was closer to 50.

If you'd like to do a short guest blog with links to one of your fiction pieces or author page, send for my guidelines at mkkaytheod-at-yahoo-com. Two caveats: in English, please, and no erotica. 

Curious Fact:
I have more Ukrainian readers than Russian ones, but the French outnumber both. I'm guessing that fact has something to do with my selling more books in foreign currencies. 

Another Marketing Fact:
Want to increase your royalty percentage on your print books? You might check out Lulu. They give back more than CreateSpace and distribute to more venues.

I only do epubs since I've been self-publishing short stories and novelettes to build a "plateform" in case I ever get a print book. 

Setting an Income Target:
Have you ever wondered how much a successful author makes ... and how? Laura Purdie's brave enough to have her income exposed on the SCBWI blog. Care to count the ways she pieces together her income?


Decided to give you another look at my The Ghost in the Closet cover. The more I look at it, the more I like it, even if my story's about old ladies. Think I'll get the piece out to my beta readers tonight.

Anyone care to comment on the cover?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do Your Settings Turn Off Your Readers, ie. Make Them Stop Reading?

Got to thinking about the settings of my stories again when The Family Fantasy Readers Sharing Association insisted I read Veronica Roth's Divergent. YA. Fantasy. Dystopian. What's not to like? The setting that's what. The buzz in my brain kept telling me such a society couldn't exist.

First, all first time novelists take heart. Divergent, set in a far future Chicago, is Roth's debut novel and the first in a trilogy that's been sticking to the New York Time's YA Best Seller List for weeks. Don't know how many trunk novels she had, but she sure hit the bull's eye with her tale of Beatrice Prior learning what her place is in a fragmenting world is. 

I know I took heart. I have my own "trunk novel", a trilogy about "Austel's Idiot" who was introduced in Dark Solstice, set in my Far Isles Half-Elven world. Maybe there is hope that it'll get revised and published one day, but at the moment, I'm wallowing around in short stories to build my platform for There Be Demons.

In a world that sought political peace by dividing into five factions adhering to one particular virtue -- Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent), all sixteen-year-olds must chose which faction they'll join after being tested for their aptitudes. Most choose the faction of their families. Beatrice Prior and her brother chose other factions.

Beatrice becomes the hardened, calculating Tris when she joins the Dauntless, the opposite of calm, collected selflessness of her original group. The title, Divergent, comes from the fact that those who don't fit into any of the groupings are anathema and are destroyed. Guess which group Tris tests out as? Fortunately, she's finds allies, who were hurt by the system who give her clues she needs to survive the transition.

Yeah, it's a story about someone who finds themselves even though they don't fit into the structure of their society.

Divergent has a lot going for it as Roth sets up her world. An interesting protagonist who doesn't wallow in the difficult decisions she must make. Well-drawn secondary characters who must also cope with a changes required to become Dauntless. Fortunately, Tris finds a guide, who becomes the love interest, to help her make the transition from selflessness to a fighter. All the drama of surviving a corrupted playing field leads to lots of action with enough to plot twists and turns to keep the reader guessing as Tris learns the surface secrets of her world.

The setting got into the way of the intense story before I'd read a third of the book. One of the big first images is of Chicago, the city of trains. Granted they run on schedules, seemingly frequently, but they exist in a vacuum as does most of the sophisticated technology used in the book. Granted teens can be clueless about the details of farming, factories, and utilities. Granted Roth provides a couple of scenes of food coming into the city, but nothing about the kind of people who grow it. 

Short supplies of food, including bananas (?), is one of the structural plot points. Where all the pieces of a technological society come from is presented as a given, sui generis.

Oh. There's another group -- the factionless who are condemned to live in poverty, almost on the edge of starvation -- who provide the grunt work of the city. They might provide the labor for the items above, but where do the materials come from? No political entities are mentioned outside of those centered in Chicago. Also, where do they get the technical skills to make them?

The demographics of providing school aged kids work against a realistic setting. When I realized that Chicago had a graduating class of sixteen-year-olds of implied double-digits, I got kicked out of the story. Granted some failed and became factionless from the git-go but the math still didn't make sense to me.

I couldn't shake the impression that Roth had a population of about a 100 trying to pass the initiation into their faction. I grew up in a town of about 8,000 and had a high school graduating class of 200+/-. As I said the math just didn't work close enough for me to accept the world as a self-sustaining social system, which as Roth described it, it is.

So, I ended up skimming Divergent to its contrived ending. I give it three stars. ***. The story had so much going for it at the beginning, but for me, the pieces just didn't fit together.

###

I'm making some progress!

I did get my ending on Crossings, a side story for There Be Demons, and it's off to my critique group. Then, fermentation, before I do paper revisions, looms.

Am sort of anxious to get back to posting my revisions to The Ghost in the Closet. With any luck, it'll be published before the end of April. Maybe before if I keep making progress like I did today. In the meantime, here's a preview of the cover.


Hope your writing -- or other pursuits -- are progressing as well or better.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Long Books: Are They Easier to Write than to Read?

Oh, yes, I can read long books, fantasy or otherwise. Case in point, Spirit Walk by Richie Tankersley Cusick. Okay, if you want to nit pick, it's two books in one volume, but I started reading it as I got bored with Great North Road. And--I don't think I finished it because it was 200 pages shorter, either.

Spirit Walk is solid Young Adult fantasy where the protagonist moves to a new town just as she's developing the talent to see and hear ghosts. 

Miranda Barnes gets relocated when a hurricane destroys her old life, and when she's moved to her mother's home town, she learns that her grandfather is the town's lunatic eccentric. Turns out his "strange spells" come when he contacts the spirit world, but he dies before he can teach and guide Miranda to control her developing abilities. Fortunately, she finds a group of friends who are more than willing to help her cope, including the local "bad boy" who provides the love interest.

Sounds like a cliche, but it's a cliche like romance books are a cliche. It's all in the writer's imagination and ability to develop a plot line. In this case, Cusick demonstrates good craft skills plus plausible depictions and explanations for the phenomena she works with. Miranda is a good kid trying to find her feet in a new world and, thanks to Cusick, does it in a logical way with only a few normal freakouts. Her sidekicks are all well differentiated and, while they are familiar types including a southern belle, have kinks that move them away from the norm. 

The ghosts? They're the best of all. They come across as characters with real problems rather than flitting balls of light.

As for being long, there are two major things that can go wrong with a story line. One you go into so much detail that you lose your reader's interest. [Like the Great North Road did for me. Though George R. R. Martin does it for me too.]

Another reason is all the writers, who are still learning their craft as their storyline meanders in and out of plot twists and extraneous scenes, who give up. If the beginning writer's lucky, they keep writing until they learn how to construct a novel. If they are luckier, they'll go back and discover a mouldering draft containing inspiration for a number of different novels.

One example of this is a recent blog by Margo Berendson about a unicorn novel she wrote when she first started writing. ... I was an early critiquer of the unfinished novel, way back, but the plot line always has stuck in the back of my mind. I'm glad she's recycling the material now that she's gained a better mastery of her skills. Check out her experience on rekindling her writing dream.

I'm doing much the same thing with some short stories I wrote way back when. Discovered that some of them could be rewritten to fit into my Andor world [There Be Demons and Noticing Jamilla]. I'm now in the process, while I wait for The Grumpy Dragon to do its thing, of converting the short stories into planks in my platform.

Have you made any other use of your trunk novels, besides making a home for dust bunnies?

Oh, Spirit Walk. I give it a five star rating because it kept me reading past my bedtime.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Worst Writing Fear -- Nathaniel Sewell


Hi ... Welcome to my first guest blogger Nathaniel Sewell, the author of Fishing for Light, a satire. My initial topic is "My Worst Writing Fear -- with blogger's name", but this is not just a gripe session. There has to be a suggested solution to the agony. I'm now scheduling Thursdays for fiction writers. Send for Guidelines. Email is on the sidebar.


My Worst Writing Fear -- Nathaniel Sewell


As a storyteller, I don’t worry about making grammatical errors because I know, as sure as the Earth will continue to orbit the Sun, it will happen. And I know I’ll make every effort with the help from editors, who are much smarter than ‘I’, to weed out those nasty incantations that cause me to hide in naked literary shame. 

I don’t worry about the length of a novel because the story should naturally unfold at its own pace. Or that I break some sacrosanct rule that the high priest of writing has cast down to us, we the tiny brained mortal who has the audacity to think they can create a meaningful story. And I don’t worry about writing an ugly scene showing how human beings can disgustingly treat their fellow man and then justify their actions using religion or political expediency. 

I don’t worry about creating a stereotypical character that might swerve into being a cliché. And I don’t worry about writing a sex scene between a hot babe and a hairy, height-challenged dude while being filmed by three fat little pigs smoking cigars. However, what I write has to have a point and is not written to just shock the reader’s senses, because I respect the reader. 

But as you can tell, I really don’t much care what anybody else thinks, or says, or opines about my writing. I think to really write, to really devote your life to creating meaningful, art, as an artist you should be fearless. If writing is to evolve, the writer has to take risks. BUT, save for that one person, there is one person that I DO worry about, and I fear what that person thinks about from behind their eyeballs - the reader. I respect and fear only the reader because they have taken time from their life to read what I have created.

My worst, worst writing fear is that the reader will stop, reading. If my number one goal is to keep the reader reading, then I know all my effort should focus on writing that is well crafted, entertains, and informs. It is an odd tight rope that we have to navigate. If the story is almost pornographic that would seem to cater to our base impulses, but then again, some guy named, Vladimir Nabokov wrote - Lolita. Or another guy wrote using the ‘N-word’, that guy was named, Mark Twain. I think we all know there are numerous other examples of writers sharing an entertaining story that pushes our collective readerships – buttons. Right? Otherwise governments and school boards would have nothing left to do.
So my worst fear is that I stop the reader from reading something true, authentic and unfiltered. That I did not share with them my inner most thoughts, and take them on a short journey into a world they might not understand. Or a world that they secretly might want to investigate, but they just need to have the available literary transport to take them there. So, in the end, what I fear the most is a ‘shrug’ from the reader. If that happens, I know I have failed.




 Blub: Fishing for Light

Ms Prosperina is a genetic monster trying to take over the world by spiking the coffee at her Starry Eyed Coffee Hut chain … and she’ll stop at nothing.

It’s up to her unwitting creator, the geneticist Professor Quan, to stop her. In an attempt to correct his mistake, Professor Quan creates a network of people with the power of true love genetically coded within them.

Everything hangs in the balance when Eddie, altered at birth by Quan’s genetic mutation powder, fails to follow his pre-ordained destiny. The trauma of his father’s death has caused him to stray from Quan’s master plan.

Will Quan succeed in helping Eddie regain the light behind his eyes and will they succeed in foiling Ms Prosperina’s evil plans?




Monday, March 10, 2014

Economical World Building: Can Your Readers See Action or Do Your Characters Act in the Dark?

One fact of the writing life: all writers build worlds ... whether in the past, present, and future. Some bloggers even think the setting or world of a story is the equivalent of a character, something your protagonist, antagonist, and secondary characters must react to. Adding depth to my settings is one of my main chores when I revise.

Got a good demonstration on why I write fantasy rather than science-fiction when I read Peter F. Hamilton's gut-busting Great North Road. I don't much participate in the world around me ... and that include futuristic extrapolations. I'd never make a Millennial except for politics. I really don't want to be connected with the world around me. Hamilton's detailed extrapolation of your current mess makes me want to bury my head deeper.

Had another bone to pick with the book. I can't imagine holding the 900 page, gorilla-sized, thumb-busting hard back up to read. My thumbs would be catatonic. Even the paperback made them sore. Yeah, I could of used an e-reader, but the battery would of probably expired, not to be revived.

Yeah, you got it in one. I think the book is waaaaaaay too long. Remove the extra padding, and I think there's a great 4-500 page futuristic mystery in there with multiple plot lines and well-fleshed characters with vendettas rather than grievances. The tech is also an inventive extrapolation of current cyber connectivity, political oligarchies, and government surveillance. I also loved the way he solved the problem of space travel.

Short summary:  Set in Britain of the future, the story begins with the murder of one of a world-class oligarch's several hundred clones [all of which are involved in his business empire]. Detective Sidney Hurst gets the unwelcome task of solving the mystery which is soon linked to plots to the control of bio-oil produced on a distant planet which is transported via a type of space-portal. The source of bio-oil is plant-based from a planet that had no animal life until humans arrive. Evidence soon suggests that an alien being from that planet might have been responsible for the earth-side murder, which calls in the interference of governmental agencies.

The plot soon entwines with the mystery of whether or not Angela Trammel actually murdered another North clone years earlier, a crime for which she was imprisoned but released when the second murder occurred. Trammel claims an alien being killed North and members of his entourage. She is included in the expedition to find evidence of the alien on the bio-oil planet. Then, more mysterious deaths occur with lots of hints that Trammel isn't what she claims to be, including innocent. 

By this time, I'm around page 400 and skimming. Soon I'm skimming so fast, I'm losing track of the storyline. I'm giving the book three stars *** because it didn't hold my interest,  and I didn't finish the book though I did peek at the ending.

Granted monster books are an acquired taste like monster trucks. In my defense I say: I read the Lord of the Rings at least once a year. It keeps my interest though I've been reading the book since the 1960s. Guess I'm not a candidate for marketers of time travel.

 ~~~~#~~~~

My own writing isn't doing much new. I'm cleaning up stuff in my computer ... and groaning because the computer store when I bought my lapstop did NOT transfer ALL my files.  I've discovered I'm missing several short stories, and yeah, I shouted.

Did get a festering short story, revised to be set in Andor of the There Be Demons world, expanded. I'll be offering it free when I get it all set up. Need something different for the marketing lures. Use the free story links on Twitter to lure people to my author website.

Then, it's back to drafting the end of Crossings from the scattered thoughts currently hanging from the draft. And, did I say I've got revisions that must be transfered for The Ghost in the Closet so it can get copyedited and formatted? 

Then it's back to my Half-Elven revisions and writing.  Wheeww. Give me a moment while I stop panting.

Now I'm wondering if you can concentrate on one writing project at a time or do you take the shotgun approach?