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 30, 2015

Getting the Most out of Your Villains: Should They Be in a Readers Face?

Murder in the Queen's Garden: An Elizabethan MysterySeems like it never takes me long to return to reading mysteries. This week in addition to some heavy non-fiction I read, Amanda Carmark's Murder in the Queen's Garden came to the top of my current to-read pile. Stickler's can argue that the Nonesuch's gardens belonged to Lord Arundel since he bought the estate from the crown after Catherine Howard's misadventures. But Elizabeth I had stopped at the fabled palace on progress, and I won't quibble.

   As usual, Carmark shines in her descriptions. She gives the reader a tangible idea about life in Tudor England, with all its squalor, riches, and superstitions, though you must give the Tudors credit for not going hysterical over witches like the Stuarts did. 

   What I find amazing is how Carmark narrows in on the telling detail. Just one example: Kate, the MC, being thankful her room wasn't close to the "jakes", aka outhouses, in a clause. London smells got more attention. The pacing, character development, plot line all live up to the standards of the setting.

    That leaves us with the crucial part of any mystery--the villain or perp. I thought her handling of that element lacking. I like the perp to be noticeably involved in the action. Being shoved from behind doesn't cut. The villain's dupe was a sniveling wretch, and the true perpetrator wasn't on scene enough to get a feel for the scheming going on in the shadows. Oh, there were encounters but no indications. Maybe a more astute readers would disagree.

   Perhaps the best part of this series is the growth in the main character's personal and political savvy. Kate Haywood has always been observant, but now she's beginning to make sense of the tortuous schemes of Elizabeth I's court. 

I especially like the concise descriptive points that Carmark uses to advance her story and create the ambiance in which her character interact. Strongly recommended, both as an enjoyable read and a craft lesson.


Links to Interesting Stuff.
At least, it's interesting to me.

   Are you dreaming of writing a blockbuster book? Hey, even if you're a reader, you might be interested in this blog that tells you how it's done: How to Write a Dystopian YA Novel in 10 Easy Steps  by Kat Brown. I found this interesting not so much because I expect any of my shorts to be blockbusters, but I seem to be stuck on writing YA coming of age stuff at the moment.

   Seems more people than me are thinking YA. The Passive Guy weighed in on why YA novels are used in so many blockbuster movies.

   Then, there's our own dystopian society. Once the US was exceptional, but Robert D. Putnam has written a book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, showing how the American Dream is about to evaporate. This is a book not only for the American body politic but for writers who need to get more class differences in their writing to make it more realistic. Won't preach, but I'm grateful that a poorer US [in the 1940s & 1050s] managed to support a more helping social infrastructure that allowed the poor to become upper middle class. Anyone for $99 a semester state university tuition, maybe about $2000 a semester in today's money.

   [Yeah, I was one of those kids who went to such a college, only we were so poor we qualified for a free tuition grant funded by the state. Thousands of poor kids got them at the time. But then, I could provide food & rent working for a buck an hour. Yeah, I'm thankful I grew up in the golden age of America.] 


   Was feeling a little sorry for myself  last week when I realized none of the stuff I've been writing the last month or so--trying to bend Cassy Mae's story into a sequel--wasn't cutting the mustard. My critique group wrinkled their noses at how the back story clogged the story rather than illuminated it. Then, I tried their suggestions. Result: a bigger mess.

   Of course, my musician daughter said, "So, what. Salvage what you can and continue writing." Her attitude: It's what happens when you create. Yeah, I think it was good advice for anyone.

   Actually, I had already salvaged the plot line with a new main character and sent it to my critique group. If the first response to my new first chapter is any measure, I made the right move. It even starts off in a bus station, so I get to keep my cover. Pill's going to fit right into the 10,000+ words I've already written with very little revision. I like angry Pillar Beccon more than mild Cassy Mae. The book's still set in Andor, only being told from a developing witch's point of view.

   Now, I must post the new story line on my author website. I'm also offering longer excerpts of all my fantasy stories there on my publication pages.

   Do you think I'm strange that I like to have a potential cover of my book while I'm writing?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Piling Books Into Your Series - How Authors Keep Their Readers Coming

Viper Game (GhostWalkers Series #11)   My recent book store adventures continue. Found so many new books last time that a customer thought I was an employee as I walked to the coffee shop. She looked at the pile of books in my hands in disbelief when I told her the books were the ones I was buying. Yeah, I found several books by favorite authors with long series plus a couple new mysteries, including a writer I hadn't read before.

   Normally, I don't talk much about the authors I read automatically. But I've been thinking lately about characters and series and why/how they keep their wheels spinning along, a lot recently because my own reviewers keep insisting I write more about my different characters.

   The puzzle loomed higher while I was glancing through those favorite authors, trying to decide which book I'd read first. Ended up reading Christine Feehan's Viper Game even before Patricia Brigg's new Mercy Thompson. That surprised me, but then, Feehan featured Wyatt & Gator Fontenot's grandmother as a secondary character.

[Yeah, I'm into old ladies. ... Nothing prejudiced about me.]

   Romance writers have it the easiest when it comes to keeping their worlds alive, I think. They can give all those relatives, friends, and acquaintances a chance at finding their own "one true love". Mary Balogh and Stephanie Laurens do this  well. The children of Lauren's first batch of Cynsters are now in the process of finding love. Balogh is still mining the social network of the Bedwyns. Both of these are writers of Regencies, and thanks to Georgette Heyer and Nora Lofts, I remain addicted to a good Recency, though the number of fictional earls and dukes have long outnumbered the quantity of real ones in British society.

   Since when did reality have anything to do with romances, anyway? Still, I don't tolerate writers who don't/can't give a feel for the mental mind set of the Enlightenment lurking in the shadows of privilege.

   Back to Feehan. She keeps two paranormal series going--that of her enhanced military operatives and their female counter parts and her benign vampire series, the various Carpathians ruled by Prince Mikhail Dubrinsky. Viper Game belongs to the former series, this time featuring the brother of a former "book star". I like how Feehan has toned down the testosterone of her male protagonists; they were getting just plain annoying, even though she writes a good sex scene, around the middle of the series. Feehan's super villain is still lurking in the shadows, but the series may set up a new compound [aka fortress] of enhanced warriors and their mates. She left hints that another of her misfits might find true love--after some exciting adventures, of course.

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson Series #8)    Patricia Briggs keeps her series going by emphasizing one main character, Mercy Thompson, a coyote walker in a world of werewolves. The latest novel, Night Broken, features the manipulative former wife of Mercy's werewolf husband coming to live in her house because she's stalked by a volcano demon/god. Added complications come from a fae walking stick which refuses to abandon Mercy and the need to conceal the powers of a half-fae friend. Yeah, Briggs piles a lot of supernatural into the northwest corner of Oregon, and her fans keep coming back for more.

Panther Prowling    I sometimes think that Yasamine Galenorn's Otherworld series has become too complicated. Still, I keep coming back for more, including Panther Prowling, told from the point of view of Delilah D'Artigo, my least favorite of the three sisters featured in the series, though Galenorn has grown the character over the course of the series. Heaps of supernaturals are piled upon the reader in this series with the sisters bouncing around like ping pong balls trying to save Seattle and the human-based earth. Panther Prowling takes a breather from their arch-villain and concentrates on a possessed sword rather than a demon lord trying to conquer the mundane, fae, and demon worlds.

   One note on Galenorn's books. Her publisher, Berkeley, has decided to stop publishing her Otherworld series after ten years and 18 books, citing decreasing sales [if I remember right]. They want her to concentrate on her two new series. Sounds like she's going to. But...Galenorn has the ending of the Otherworld series in sight and is thinking about becoming a hybrid author.

   Interesting. The current publishing paradigm is provided opportunity for established authors as well as pip squeak writers like me to be independent.

All these books are written by master craftsmen. You are going to find tight, complicated plots and three dimensional characters, even among the secondary ones. I recommend the books as do thousands of other fans. Of course, I love Briggs depiction of the Tri-Cities area along the Columbia River.


Interesting & Useful Links:

   What can be more useful than a laugh? Chuckles are nice, but readers of L. D. Masterson's blog often get a belly-laugh or two. I usually read her Hump Day Mish Mash Funnies on the week-end and don't comment as much as I ought. Maybe a link will make up for my lateness.

   Other stuff that pulls me out of my working schedule: The Passive Guy posted some videos on What the English of Shakespeare, Beowolf, and King Arthur actually sounded like. Take a click and see how much you understand. [I was thankful for the subtitles.]

   Then, I recently had a couple guest posts and interviews posted on various sites. You can take a peek at Pat Stoltey, The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Zoe Ambler, and  Savvy Book  Writers.


  I've been whining -- mostly to myself -- since last week. My critique group told me the back story [relating back to my short story, Noticing Jamilla] wasn't working in either of my two attempts to add to Cassy Mae's adventures. It just confused them. Suggestion was to rewrite the whole thing from beginning to the escape and go on to her escape from the Markham's wrath. 

   And, here I wanted to get a simple short story up so I could collect my Andor stories into a print volume. Oh, well.

But the Triumph!!!!! 
   After working on the revision of my author website since December, I published it last night...when I should have been writing this blog. Oh, I still have to do a lot of checking and optimization. But it's up! Finally!  You can see it here, says M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer.

Sorry to be late in posting the blog this week.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Add Spice to Your Writing -- Move Storylines to a Different Country

The Edge of Nowhere (Edge of Nowhere Series #1)   While browsing in a different part of the bookstore, I stumbled across the first book in a new series by mystery writer, Elizabeth George, The Edge of Nowhere. Since we've traveled through Whidbey Island, where the book is set, many times, I picked it up even though trade paperbacks hurt my thumbs when I read. Yeah, George has branched on from her Inspector Lynley series to a new one featuring Becca King, a teen who hears other people's thoughts as whispers.

  Don't worry George's abilities to weave a tangled mystery plot didn't get  totally lost in her foray into the supernatural. The mystery is alive and well in The Edge of Nowhere.

  I did find a couple of road bumps that almost stopped my reading, though. I found the premise that an abandoned teen wouldn't get picked up by the local cops and taken to protective services in such a small place, especially if she landed there without an adult in hand, hard to believe -- even on an island with huge amounts of tourist traffic passing through. Also thought George tended to talk down to the kids, like thinking two syllables in stead of four. If it wasn't for the ages of the characters, I would have called this a tween or upper middle grade book, even if it's over 400 pages.

  With that said, I must say that the last couple of YA novels that have come my way were even more simplistic than George's ... and they were published in hard back by major traditional publishers. *My-hands-are-up- in-the-air* For the record, I didn't think much of the editing for The Edge of Nowhere.

  Characterization felt a little flat here. Still, the characters had just enough quirks to keep them from being predictable. For me the storyline left too many dangling threads at the end, even for the first book in a trilogy.

  But the settings. Oh, the setting. I could taste Whidbey Island and feel the ocean against my skin. Her descriptions evoked the misty closeness of walking through huge, thick growing trees which complemented the mystery well by making it feel spookier.

   Recommended with reservations. It kept me reading.  As a fan of the more intricate Lynley books, I found the book an enjoyable read, but felt it didn't have enough salt and pepper in the mix. As a fantasy reader, I didn't think George developed the paranormal angle enough.


  Did a little bit of this, and a little bit of that last week. Proofing my author website  continues, usually in the wee hours when I normally read. Main achievement? I'm getting an intimate understanding why the gurus say not to proof your own stuff. On the other hand, I need to get it up without embarrassing me too much so I can get it analyzed. *Snarl*

  Biggest accomplishment. I got almost 3,000 words written on Cassy Mae's new story. Have almost 10,000 words down, the beginning of the beginning and the beginning of the middle. Seems I started the story in the middle.

   Have tried something different in my writing this time around. Just wrote scenes one after another without trying to construct them into chapters. When it got near time to submit to my critique group, I went back and revised, but didn't break the piece in two and add a chapter hook. The results wasn't too bad. Can't wait until we get together to discuss the holes in the story lines. I'm deliberately not
spending time on revising this time around. So far, it looks like I'm getting more production out of my writing time.

  I'll end by mentioning my review promo for The Ghostcrow continues on Smashwords if you use the code: RP68A. As a reader of my blog, I don't really expect a review ... but it would be nice. Yeah, I'm shameless.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Giving A Book a Second Chance Can Give You a Good Read

Where Secrets Sleep   I just love it when a book, especially a mystery, surprises me. At about page 60, I put Marta Perry's Where Secrets Sleep down,  feeling somewhat disgruntled over the routine characters being presented. The book had lost that "just-one-more-chapter" hook.

   The premise of the book is common enough. After a life-shattering encounter, city girl goes to claim a mysterious inheritance in the countryside, in this case Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Amish country. As soon as the townspeople learn she's staying town, strange accidents begin to occur, and the girl learns her grandmother's death wasn't as cut and dried as first believed. Combine that with a romance as a subplot, and I'm sure you've read that scenario before? I know I have in many permutations.

   Oh, the story line was well-paced, and the characters were decently drawn, but they just didn't jump off the page at me. They wakened that "I've-seen-these-guys-before" feeling. Fortunately, I picked the book up again. The stock characters began to act in unpredictable ways even as the sweet romance developed between, Allison Standish and Nick Whiting, in spite of their initial dislike of each other.

   None of the pieces Perry uses in her cozy mystery, of the Amish sub-genre, are particularly original, but I found myself turning the pages once I was a third of the way through. The puzzle of the who-done-it and the nice choice of perps was part of the draw as Allison starts to unravel the clues of her grandmother's death. The murder and mayhem created enough tension to keep this reader reading. Though I thought, the good people were a little too good, and the negative ones didn't have enough redeeming qualities to really confuse the reader. Still, the book was a pleasant read on a couple snowy evenings.

Recommended. Where Secrets Sleep proves the adage its how you construct your puzzle that makes a mystery intriguing. Yeah, it's all in the execution, and Perry does it well. What's more she's left room for two of the secondary characters to have stories of their own. Guess that make Perry a good recycler of settings, too.


   I got a question about the other books I read each week the other day. Last week, I tried to read two books which quickly went onto the trade pile. Don't know why I let them gather dust in my house. Now I'm re-reading Georgette Heyer's Infamous Army, about romance among the English troops at Waterloo. I like Heyer's rendition of Waterloo and have re-read the book, off and on, since the 1970s. The cover price of the edition I'm reading? 99c. Not like The Lord of the Rings which I re-read every year.


   Having problem coming up with ideas for your next story, blog, or ???? Susan Gilbert offers some ideas and links than can help you on her Monday Memos blog: Improve Your Content Idea Generation with Four Tools


What have I been doing?

    Well, my website still isn't totally proofed. Haven't really completed Cassy Mae's chapter because I got caught up in research. Haven't really promoted my stuff much either. Last week we were kind ofsnowed in, like it was too cold to go out and do things. Once the errands were done, we scurried back inside. My hibernation stopped short of popping popcorn to snack on while I read. But, I'm beginning to see some dents in my to-read pile.

   Must mention my new story, The Ghostcrow, is still free on Smashwords if you use code: RP68A. Have one five-star review on Amazon, but it doesn't really look like many care about whether or not Dumdie Swartz is being chased by a demon.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Worst Writing Fear: Losing the Interest of my Readers -- N. P. Griffiths


My Worst Writing Fear:
Losing the Interest of my Readers


N. P. Griffiths

     What is my worst writing fear? Is it the thought of no one reading my work or of suddenly losing the will to write another word? No, not really. Is it the fear that someone will beat me to the punch when it comes to publishing a story with a certain theme? Nope. Let’s be honest the fantasy genre has been around for a while now, so everything has been pretty much done before in one form or another.

   I guess my worst fear, when I think about it, is losing the interest of the reader. Keeping the readers interest is central to everything. I know it sounds obvious but everything pivots around fixing their eyes to the page. A reader who has gone from ‘This is great’ to ‘meh’ is not one who is likely to continue with your book or read anything that may follow on after.

   The problem for a writer is that, whatever genre they’re writing in, it is likely to be crowded with books that are trying to capture a piece of an increasingly competitive market. This is exacerbated in the young adult market because of the short attention span of younger readers and the fact that this marketplace has become so popular since the Harry Potter series

   Keeping the readers attention is a problem common to anyone who has wanted to tell a story and one that, while not foremost in our minds, never goes away.

   So what to do?

   Well, the solution, I guess, is to stay interesting. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But the pitfalls in trying to ensure that the reader sticks with you can often be bigger than the issue that you’re trying to avoid. A good example would be rushing the narrative to a perilous situation without doing the necessary groundwork beforehand to ensure that the reader is both engrossed in the story and invested in the characters.

   One of the things you can do to try to ensure that the narrative stays taut is to be honest with yourself when you redraft and ensure that the people you ask to read your work in progress are the kind who will give you feedback which, though difficult to hear, is both honest and constructive. This will be painful but will benefit you in the long run. Another thing to do is give yourself a decent gap between your drafts. The perspective this brings is invaluable when it comes to tightening your narrative.

   Ultimately it’s down to the writer to be honest with himself or herself as to whether their manuscript is where it should be before they decide to give it to the outside world. If they’re right then hopefully readers will agree with them and vote with their eyes.


 Author Bio:

   N.P. Griffiths lives in Chaffered Hundred, Essex, where he writes steadily and works for a large company specializing in information technology. He is currently writing the next book in the Isabella’s Heiress series. He can be reached on Twitter via @neilpgriffiths.



Isabellla's Heiress

Newly dead and struggling to cope with her new reality, Emma Elliott is thrust into a dark and desperate vision of London. In her fight to survive she meets friends, both old and new, and uncovers a world inhabited by two warring clans of angels, one bent on the ultimate destruction of mankind, the other committed to our salvation. A way out presents itself but with the forces arrayed against her Emma starts to wonder why, of all the people who have found themselves in this position; she is being singled out for such special attention. As time passes more questions arise for Emma. Who is Isabella, the woman she is constantly mistaken for? Who are the mysterious Cado Angelus who cast a shadow over Emma's every move? And what part does Emma have to play in the events that will soon unfold in her world and ours.

Buy Links:

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