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, April 28, 2014

A Day Late, and More Than a Blog Review Short

Was so busy with stupid marketing and social media this weekend, I didn't finish either of the two books I'm reading. [How much I read depends on my mood and how tired I feel ... so I'm a review short.] Decided to dig under the pile of debris for something to review. Maybe I'll kill two reviews with one avalache?

Sandi Ault's mystery, Wild Indigo, has been festering on my desk, out of sight, for .... maybe .... a year???? I grabbed it because I remembered the main character and some of her dilemmas -- especially being a "white-eyes" being accepted by Native Americans, in this case one of the Pueblo groups. I think a New York Times article about AIM, Pine Ridge, and a murder also supplied a little motivation.

Anyway, a suspicion that a tribal death isn't an accident nags at BLM agent Jamaica Wild, a blond who finds hiding among an Indian population difficult. She has the misfortune to witness the death. She's warned off investigating by the tribal leaders who prefer suicide rather than murder as an explanation. Wild persists in her investigations ... and is suspended from her job and is in danger of losing it. After a wonderful chase, mystery is solved. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Wild's suspicions were true.

After shifting through the pages to check my memory, I give Wild Indigo 5***** Hey, Ault deserved it if I can remember as much about the book as I do. I'm thinking I should reread it ... but that'd delay reviews of the other two books more.

~~#~~



Have I been writing? ... I can't think of writing anything new. Did finish the draft of The Ignoble Nobel Prize Winner to send to the beta readers.



Did get a nice review of The Ghost in the Closet: "The Ghost in the Closet is a fresh approach to the classic ghost story, with a touch of urban fantasy."... Ghost is still free on Smashwords and Nook for a few days.

It's a three star review because they wanted more info about my characters, but I don't think 3-star reviews are bad.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mish Mash: What Do You Blog When You Haven't a Clue

Oh, I have plenty of clues, but no idea on writing something constructive. So, decided to do a "stream of consciousness" deal since all the gurus say you should keep a regular blog schedule. *grim grin* This blog is my own fault really since I decided to post on Thursdays, only I thought they'd be guest blogs which I didn't have to write. Just organize. So much for plans.



The closest thing I have for a guest blog is Pat Stoltey's A-to-Z posting for the letter "T". I'm still basking in the glow. It was totally unexpected. Must say, The Ghost in the Closet is free on Smashwords and Nook until the end of April if you want to read it at bargain rates.



Then there was my big accomplishment before writing this blog [and before I lost most of it]. I got my story trailer for Noticing Jamilla up on YouTube. This is quite an accomplish for me; I hope it's still there when I check the link.

Funny. Odd. Whatever. I often say I don't have a marketing bone in my body. As you can see, I got through the steps. The problem is I can't see many results from all the time I put in -- even though my reviews are generally decent.

Which kind of leads into a concern of most writers -- acquiring reviews for their books. One of my to-dos today was adding ratings on Goodreads. Today was a clean-up day, and the pile of non-blogged read books is high. So, I rated the books I read but didn't blog about. Project done. I think I have an update thing there that lists my reviews if you want to see what books I listed. [Oh, I don't understand Goodreads. Feel like a third-grader in middle school.]

On the subject of reviews: Be nice to a writer you read and review their books. Reviews don't have to be long. Just a sentence or so to show you read the book, and another sentence to tell people what you liked most. 

Of course, it'd be easier to write more, but I didn't want to scare you off the project. But that's another question. Have a good week-end, people.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Turning Points -- Do Your Characters Face a Life Changing Dilemma?

Coping with the turning points of your life means you are growing as a person. The same is true for characters in books.  I don't know how often I've dropped a series when the main character started spinning their wheels in the same old life-problem-rut for a couple books.  Writing gurus call it "character development." I call it predictable.

Wise authors often end the series when this happens -- even if their readers get angry. Charlaine Harris and Yasmine Galenorn are two of my favorite authors who come to mind as examples. [I've read with enjoyment several of their series -- from Emerald O'Brien of the Chintz 'n China Tea Room to Lucy Bard of Shakespeare].

[Am I fickle? Or, do series characters sometimes bore you?}

A chance book -- Thread of Fear by Laura Griffin,  I picked up at the supermarket, gave me this insight. I was reading a nice police procedural that started after with baby being found adrift on the Gulf [of Mexico]. Suddenly, I was reading Thread of Fear all the way through, without switching reads. None of the other three books I'm in the processing of reading [including Lee Child] had held my interest. Oh, the MCs had a problem to solve -- a mystery in the case of a couple cops or threat to their life or both. But Griffin's character stole the show for me by having to make a decision that will change the course of her life -- more than finding a hunk to love.

Fiona Glass is an art teacher who moonlights as a forensic artist. No paranormal abilities here, she's just great an establishing a rapport with her subjects to create life-like drawings that catch perps. In Thread of Fear, Fiona is recovering from a romance-gone-bad with a cop only to find herself falling for the small town cop who hires her to draw the perpetrator of a cold case that the cop thinks is related to a new murder/rape. When the third victim appears, the plot line is off and running. 

Oh, the personal decision. All the while she's caught in the investigation of the serial murders and falling for the cop, she's trying to finish "serious" paintings for a coming art show. Oh, the dilemma. She's trying to quit the forensic bit for the serious bit.

Yeah, the book has well-developed characters, plot twists, and a great small town vs city comparison in the setting [to make the decision more difficult, I guess]. But those craft skills weren't what kept me glued to the book over the week-end. It was Fiona's problem plus some humorous scenes complicating her decision. I give the book Four Stars**** because the plot didn't stand out from the common mystery paradigms. Still, a good read though.

~~#~~

 The On-going Saga of an Un-famous Writer:

So, what else was I doing besides having Easter dinner at my house? [Traditional ham with apricot gaze] I was getting Mozilla Firefox unscrewed. My son-in-law worked the wonder. More important, he located a bunch of my short stories and story ideas that got scrambled when the data from my desktop was transferred to my laptop. 

In short, I found my Hagstone stuff. [*happy dance*]. The storyline sort of dribbled away on my first attempt at the novel when too many elements of the story weren't fitting into a coherent socioeconomic system, aka setting. A new character that came to mind -- rather an old character who was way off center in another setting -- may rescue the storyline yet. I'm hoping I can get the novel going again. 

First, though, I have to take care of the stuff on my desktop. My next free short story is getting closer to published-status. [The Ignoble Nobel Prize Winner] 

Then, there's my Half-Elven stuff. The short stories I wrote about Mariah are now accessable, but I haven't found the most-revised version of Dark Solstice yet. 

Then, there's my websites. I'm trying to up-grade the SEO on my author site ... and need to do something for my Half-Elven site. It's losing rank and needs upgrading badly.

Hummmm. Wonder what I can use as a bribe for the free computer guru
to get him to drive up here again.
Hummmm.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Worst Writing Fear -- Kristen Taber





Kristen Taber

My Worst Writing Fear:
On Being a Shy Writer

When I was in high school, we were tasked with writing a horror story and delivering the lines in front of the class. Intended as a creative assignment mixed with a public speaking assessment, it held a far greater test for me. I hate standing in front of people. I hate blossoming from a wall flower into a spotlight rose, unfurling my pedals for everyone to see and analyze. I hate being dissected like a carcass in biology class.

But I stood in front of my fellow students, stared from face to face, meeting the eyes of my peers and spoke. I concocted a story about a ghost who wandered the halls of my prestigious high school, murdering teachers in vengeance for their cruelties. Not an eye moved from my face. Not a sound escaped from a single mouth.

And my pants fell down.

Or at least, that’s what it felt like. I stood there in front of everyone who mattered to me—or seemed like they mattered, even if they truly didn’t—as naked as I had been when I stepped out of the shower that morning. They loved the story. Students who had spoken all of three words to me all year told me I should write my story down and try to publish it. And all I could think about was trying to keep my lunch from spilling from my mouth onto the floor in front of them.

I am the true definition of shy. I’m the girl who crosses the street to avoid people she knows. I’m the kid who stutters when she stands in front of a crowd of three. I’m the quick-witted responder who thinks of the right words hours after a confrontation. I’m a recluse.

So naturally, I write.

It seems like such a contradiction. In my shyness, I find friendship in characters and homes in worlds that would not exist if I had been born an extrovert. I publish because I feel the need to share these friends with others. Yet I am terrified of standing in front of the critics as I wait for their reactions to my inventions.

As I wait for my pants to fall down.

It will happen, of course. Reviews reflect people’s preferences, and no two preferences are alike. For those who love Meaghan and Nick, the main characters from my Ærenden series, there will be those who despise them and wonder why I did not create them more assertive or funny or romantic. For those who rave about not being able to put the series down, others will claim they had to fight yawns through every chapter.

I do what I can to make the books perfect. I hire multiple editors and spend sleepless nights fine-tuning sentences until I can no longer see the words within the story (or the trees within the forest). I gather beta opinions and reviewers’ advice. I add sub-plots and delete scenes. I polish until my fingers are raw and my eraser is bleeding. I breathe life until I live beside the characters I’ve invented. Then I step beyond my fears and release my stories unto the world, holding my breath and hoping.

All while knowing I’ve just unlatched my belt.

My worst writing fear is my nakedness. It’s being myself in front of the world and hoping who I am is enough.

It’s simply being a writer.

~~#~~

Kristen Taber Bio 
Kristen spent her childhood at the feet of an Irish storytelling grandfather, learning to blend fact with fiction and imagination with reality. She lived within the realm of the tales that captivated her, breathing life into characters and crafting stories even before she could read. Those stories have since turned into over a hundred poems, several short tales, and five manuscripts in both the Young Adult and Adult genres. Currently, Kristen is completing the five-part Ærenden series from her home office in the suburbs of Washington D.C.
 
Now for the Arenden series that Tabor has written. The Amazon links -- The Child Returns -- The Gildonaen Alliance -- The Zuiihbu Master. You can also find the series on Nook. You can learn more about Tabor and her writing at her Website and her Blog. She's also active in the social media-a-sphere: Facebook - Twitter - Pinterest - Google+ .

Now the Excerpt from 
The Gildonae Alliance

Less than a quarter of a mile from their destination, the air took on the distinct smell of smoke. Although it started out faint, within a matter of minutes, Meaghan could see a heavy black cloud rolling toward them, chased by an unmistakable orange glow.

“Fire,” she started to warn Nick, but choked on the word before she could complete it. Nick glanced toward the advancing fury, grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him, hastening their pace toward the cave.

It all seemed too familiar, like she had returned to the fire Cal had set in the field. But this time, though the sense of déjà vu made it seem surreal, she realized Cal’s power did not control it. They had no protection from the flames.

Her eyes stung. Her nose burned. She pulled the neck of her sweater over her mouth and breathed through it. It helped, but it would not keep her alive for long. They would only be safe when they reached the cave. Even if Cal had not yet arrived, they could teleport somewhere else. She did not care where, so long as they escaped the inferno chasing them.

She moved faster, watching Nick’s feet as the smoke grew thick, clouding her eyes. She recognized a boulder with a red vein running through it, and a stump shaped like a chair. They crossed the frozen stream, now trickling with new melt. A hundred yards remained. She could almost taste the clean air that would greet them when they found their way to the deeper caverns. The need drove her, and then something tugged at her awareness and she froze mid-stride.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finding a Writing Guru -- A Necessity if You Want to be a Writing Success


Unfortunately, success all too often depends on marketing.

Yeah, all the marketing gurus, keep telling me I need to play in all sorts of social media puddles. But, keeping up with GoodReads, Goggle+, Facebook and other social media feels like the death of me. At the end of the day, I'm panting from scurrying around the web ... and still have a bunch of places I should post ... or something-or-other. I'm beginning to think marketing gurus don't have a life, or at least a creative writing life.

Does that sound anything like your marketing life?
If so, I sure hope you like promoting your books more than I do.

My biggest failure? Commenting on blogs. All too often it's one of the things that gets left undone ... though there are quite a few I check on regularly ... No, it's not rebellion on my part. It's just that it's usually late at night by the time I read them, and I'm thinking of the nice paper book that's laying by my nice comfortable chair. If I get downstairs soon enough, I might even get a purring cat on my lap.

Some Writing Gurus I read -- and listen to -- more than others.

The Passive Guy at The Passive Voice is my "main man." Recently, I read this little item that motivated me to post some blog links this blog around. Did you know that "Self-Publishing is Dumb?" So, says the Passive Guy. The discussion is more about literary vs genre fiction than self-publishing per se. -- My opinion: any publishing venture is dumb if the practitioner doesn't know what they're doing. Which is why writers should read blogs to learn from others' experiences.

I think I learn more from The Passive Guy than almost any other publishing guru. Maybe because he isn't pushing his own products as he doles out advice. He's got another blog about the importance of value in the publishing equation you might find interesting.

Other blogs can be just as interesting and helpful. At Leigh's Wordsmithery I found some interesting market information. One of which I plan to submit to since I had already started re-editing the piece before I read the blog.

Lastly, how about a bit of fun?

 Margo Berendsen posted some writerly pins about editing on a recent blog. I share !!illustrating the writer's condition on my Facebook author page, but I don't know how to transfer pins. [I've still tons to learn about playing on the computer.]
 

~~#~~

I'm still begging for reviews for The Ghost in the Closet. The book is free on Smashwords until May ... if you would be so kind. Hint. Hint.

And Ta-Dah!
A Cover Reveal for a Free Short Story that's in Process.
[No, it's not the one I'm thinking of submitting.]

 



I don't know if I'll be using this cover or one still in process. For free stories, I usually get two cheap covers and chose the one I like the best.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Looking for Readers and Reviews in All the Wrong Places?



Blurb for The Ghost in the Closet:

Dumdie Swartz sees things other people can’t. Her weird habits have caused her nothing but problems since she was a child. Even her sisters teased her mercilessly.

When her boss fired her because he thought her trances were TIAs, Dumdie became homeless. Though Dumdie was lucky to find a room in a homeless shelter, just as winter was setting in, she discovers that not only does a ghost haunt her room, but her safe haven is threatened by a lost will. Dumdie must conquer her fear of upsetting people if she's to keep her room in the homeless shelter.


~~#~~

Heaved a huge sigh of relief last night. 

Got another self-published novella up. Now I have to promote it and find someone willing to do a review. It's sort of like shooting yourself in the foot. The best places I should do this are on Amazon and Goodreads. I know it. But, I'm such a populist that I get squeamish about limiting distribution to Amazon. 

How I'm trying to build a platform without making me snarl.

I'm offering The Ghost in the Closet for free on Smashwords for a short time. That allows this hermit to offer it free to people without using the computer skills I don't have. Hope I can get a free good review lines to use in Tweets. So I hope you at least click the link and read a piece. If I did my job, you'll read it to the end.

More important I'm giving you a case study in marketing. I'm trying to mesh the limited amounts of time I can spend on the computer, my natural inclination to avoid social media, and come up with a way to promote successfully. All before I put the book up for sale on Amazon -- that's when I raise the price to 99c.

You think that's too much to charge? 

Well, that means I'll get about 10-35c a sale. Remember I'm cheap and have a natural inclination towards thinking writers should get paid for their creations . Yeah, I think I'm competent enough not to disgrace myself.

What's your position on giving books away for free?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Visiting Your Favorite Fantasy and Realistic Worlds

When a writer creates a realistic setting, readers will imagine much more detail than the actual words used. That's one of the wonderful things about books. I'm sure you have your favorite settings/worlds and react to the world the writers created.

 [Any comments about your favorites welcome.]

If you've read this blog, even sporadically, you've gotten an idea of what kinds of worlds I like to lose myself in. I think of them as fantastically wonderful settings for characters to act in, and where I can enjoy arm-chair adventures. You may or not agree with me or the books I like. But, I'll bet you have your own worlds/settings you like to return to. 

Over the last few weeks, I've returned to several worlds worth mentioning, but they didn't really give me any new insights into the writing process. Even so, I'd like to review them.

Flowering Judas by Jane Haddam. Her running mystery series, featuring detective Gregor Demarkian, has run for years with Haddam delivering competent entertaining puzzles in each book. Here, Demarkian, a retired FBI agent and consultant, is brought in to find out why the body of a man missing for years is suddenly found hanging from a bill board in his home town. Yeah. Demarian's up for solving the puzzle as he chases the clues through an unknown town. While Haddam's interesting plots shine, I think her three-dimensional characters sparkle more.

Even though my favorite part of Demarkian's world, the Armenian enclave along Cavanaugh Street, has a small role in Flowering Judas, I give the book Five ***** Stars.

Death of Yesterday by M. C. Beaton. Another long running series, this time set in far northern Scotland, features Sergeant Hamish MacBeth, a genius at solving crimes and avoiding promotion. He also has problems getting married, a strong sub-plot in this book, and his nosy, small town neighbors always make matters more difficult. 

Beaton creates tangled plots that begin with a tiny wiggling thread of a crime, often a murder. The more MacBeth investigates, the more tangled the thread becomes. The ending comes as a surprise because the real criminal behavior is more serioyus than offing a stand-offish artist who gets killed because she sketched the wrong person.

Death of Yesterday only gets Four**** from me because Beaton's writing is trending towards cookie-cutter descriptions, though her characters remain interesting. Even the detectives in the home office, who are jealous of MacBeth's success rate, supply a few surprises.

Last but not least, Hunted by Kevin Hearne. Atticus O'Sullivan is still running from various preternaturals and pantheons, with only a few allies besides his Irish wolfhound and Granuaile, the new druid he just finished training. And that causes problems for the book. The opening was one big long chase ... for about half the book. Even Atticus rising from the "dead" almost failed to save this book from a competent, but Three*** Star rating. Hearne's sense of humor saved his rating in my eyes. If you like an irreverent take on life in general...and gods in particular ... this book is worth the time to read it. I give it Four**** Stars.

You think that's a lot of books to read in two weeks? I still had another one about Henry the VII I didn't review. Guess I could say, I can read a thousand page book a week ... but I don't want to. I prefer variety. 

~~#~~

Not much new stuff written this week. The big achievement was finishing the content edits for The Ghost in the Closet. Did have to change the name of my main character from Doodie to Dumdie. Seems my editor came from another part of the country. This California girl didn't associate the name "Doodie" [which was explained in the  story as coming from the way Dumdie sang to herself as a child] ... with "doggie do", which term I do understand ... though I tend to use the term sh*t.

Now that the copy edits are done, I can send the story to the formatter. Think I can get it published by before the 11th? If you like me on Facebook you'll know when The Ghost in the Closet comes out for free on Smashwords.

Still I wonder: What reasons have caused you to change a character's name?

Though I managed to get this blog done, it seems tinkering with my website ate my whole week-end.  I still have to change the inevitable typos and glitches yet, but I like the change in appearance so far. You can check it out, if you want.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 3 My Worst Writing Fear -- Greg Dragon





Greg Dragon hails from sunny South Florida and has worked in the creative field for several years. He has written extensively on the web with articles on gaming and lifestyle improvement and continues to do so on several websites. You can learn more about him at his website, Facebook, and TwitterHe blogs at GoodReads.

Taking Criticism As A Writer

A good friend of mine read Anstractor in it’s entirety and pulled me to the side. He said “I’m gonna write up my thoughts on your book and give it to you but remember that I’m an ass, so don’t take it personally.” His comment made me laugh because he knew that I could take criticism but felt the need to say that anyway. What could he possibly say that would make him feel the need to remind me of how much of an ass he was? Well, perhaps he had dinged an author before and in turn saw the damage that his words had caused. I told him to give it his best shot, I’ll take what I can away from it, and turn my nose up at the subjective bits.

The reason he warned me about his critique is due to the personal nature of writing. We all love praise but the negative remarks take a lot of getting used to. Many people seem to get damaged from criticism and will even quit no matter how much the positives prove that they probably shouldn’t. Once you reveal your writing to the world you are subjected to some of the harshest opinions that you can take, many coming from people that have an agenda. Some of it you can use to improve, much of it just feels like a personal jab. When people ask me what was the hardest part about writing a book, I often forget that it’s the endgame. You have to market it and deal with what other people think.

If you are reading this and thinking about doing your own book, criticism is something that you have to be ready for. I have seen so many authors respond angrily to their one-stars on Amazon, creating whole blogs to address their “haters” and walking around with a chip on their shoulder all because of critics. You have to prep for the bad that comes along with the good. Many of your friends and family will offer great support and feedback, but in the back of your mind you will discount it. You want to hear what “the masses” feel, and even if the vast majority loves your book to death, the one-star ninja that questioned your writing style will get under your skin. You have to be ready for that and you have to be honest with yourself about how ready for it you truly are.

After a few weeks of reviews both in-person and online I was practically over it with Anstractor. I love my book, love my story, and love writing, but negativity moved me to a place of wanting to just press on. You go from defensive to accepting to just saying “ya add it to the growing list of complaints”, deciding whether you will learn from it, or just chalk it up to people with opinions. Regardless of what you do, you will react one way or the other. I thought that I was bulletproof but it got to me in the worst way after the second month of marketing. It will get to you, but how will you react?

I look at the seasoned experts in writing and the jaw of steel they all seem to have and it reminds me that they were tempered through the fire too. So when you write, and I hope you still do write, make sure that you are ready for the criticism once it goes public. I was a blogger before I wrote Anstractor so I had been charred, burnt, and baked by trolls in preparation for this. It still was not enough preparation to deal with negativity from strangers… even with the enormous support that I do have. For a new writer looking to be successful at authorship, I will tell you that it can hurt but just remember that everyone’s a critic, and everyone isn’t necessarily nice, and/or supportive. Weather the storm, improve, and don’t quit.
 
###



Anstractor Vestalia
A Sci-Fi Romance


Born an outcast, raised a soldier, and chosen as a savior. Rafian VCA is humanity's only hope against a vicious new race of predators aimed at taking over the galaxy of Anstractor. In Anstractor: Vestalia, the first book by author Greg Dragon, the planet of Vestalia has been completely taken over by the Geralos. After losing their home and being forced into space, the revengeful Marines of Vestalia decide to take the fight back to the Geralos and win their planet back.