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.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Clausterphobic Tangle of Hardships to Be Endured

Last week I tried to find something different in my reading pile. I discovered Judy Fong Bates' Midnight at the Dragon Cafe. Lots of good things have been said about this book since it was published in 2005, but the book had surprisingly weak reviews. All the mechanics of good writing a novel were there, but it felt flat to me too.

In one sense, a Chinese iimmigrant family's struggle in small Canadian company town town provides a powerful insight into social isolation and self repression. The family--father, mother, and Su-Jenn/"Annie"--escaped from Chinese Communist rule, only to live in one room above a small greasy spoon diner that catered to working class customers. The parents are estranged, and their main point of interaction is their pride and love for their daughter, who becomes more and more Canadian over the course of the book.

At the same time, the book is more than a routine immigrant rags to relative riches story. The books reads like a tale of peasant endurance, though the mother was originally rich by Chinese standards of the 1950s. It's a coming of age story were the M/C's childhood blinders fray under disappointments and tragedies to grow into understanding and acceptance. The clear, uncomplicated writing style reinforced Su-Jen's growing awareness of the secrets around her.

This fictional memoir had me in a bind. I don't think of myself as an emotional person, but I found the story hiding behind a polite, yet tearful mask. Yet, the story felt one dimentional to me. Yeah, I know all about cultural differences and the importance of "face" in Chinese culture. I realize the book was written from a kid's point of view. But. But. But. I couldn't accept that there wasn't some greater depth to the inherent tragedies of the story line. 

In short, I found this a non-engrossing book. I appreciated it. But, I had to force myself to finish it, almost like a school assignment. Like I was doing something for "the good of my soul" rather than reading for pleasure and/or insight.

You can read more about the book on Amazon. Sorry, but there isn't an ebook.

Other Interesting Reading

Amazon has been getting an increasing amount of flack for their arbitrary review policy--mostly, deleting all accounts which their bots thinks are taking payment for book reviews. Anne R. Allen wrote a recent blog detailing this review policy: Authors Beware: Amazon Gets Medieval on Paid and Traded ReviewsIncluded is a huge warning about paying for book reviews. More important, if you want to safe-guard your reviews [and maybe your account] you might check out the link.

My Writing Rut

I actually got new writing added to the third book in my Demon War trilogy. While I'm not doing a "happy dance", it still feels good. I have two chapters after splitting the long first chapter so I could have backstory from both Britt and Cahal from There Be Demons. I also added some action to both of them.

The original chapter is now Chapter 4 and is in need of some major editing. Can't wait for a badly wounded Gillen falling through Britt's old apartment door. 

The next big decision is what happens when Britt hauls Gillen off to Crossings ,where her Granny Nan's house is located. I think I've already decided in the back of my mind that most of the chapters will be from a grown up Britt's point of view.

Oh, yeah. Vetis and Grylerrque have prominent places in the story line. Basically, I'm going to have three romatic couples. How I'm going to write that I don't have the slightest idea. I don't do relationships easily, especially when they turn "smoochie".

The picture above was in some stock art I bought rights to. One of the busy-work things I've got to do next week is to find the contract to see if I can have the pic photoshopped to reflect the image I described for Vetis who is one of my brief viewpoint characters in Rendezvous.

Oh, a heads up. Wooden Pants is doing a 99c special on the There Be Demons ebook on 27-8 April and 1 May. I know it's going to be on Amazon. You might see if the price also changed on kobo/Rakuten and iTunes/iBooks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

It's All Blowing on the Wind, for Good or Ill

Happened to grab Nevada Barr's Ill Wind, an
older Anne Pigeon mystery, off my to-read pile. Who knows how long it'd been buried there?. But it's about another Colorado localle, Mesa Verde National Park.The book really coveyed the wind-swept atmosphere of the Southwest plateaus I remember from my visits there. I most remember Mesa Verde for its isolation, in spite of all the other tourists running around the place.

[No. I am not on an intentional Colorado reading kick.]

In this third book in the series, Pigeon has just been transferred to Mesa Verde, so recent an addition to the staff that she must live in a "dorm situation" with uncomfotable roommates until permanent, private housing is available. As she gets to know the people around her, Barr uses the time to plant a number of red herrings among the clues. The result is an intricate mystery with several interesting subplots. Perhaps the most interesting--a fellow rangers dwarf step-daughter who provides one of the up-beat notes in the book.

Was surprised to find myself labeling Ill Wind a cozy even though it doesn't have cutzie stuff connected to it. It's all in the development of the characters. Barr takes her time to describe them and their inter-relationships before she gets down to the serious stuff--solving the murders. The reader gets a real feel for living in an isolated spot, over an hour from towns, and how people can grate on others perople's nerves. Barr makes these characters so real that readers root for them.

Then, there are the settings. You can almost feel the cool night winds as you read. If you're looking for loads of background about the Anazazi, the old ones who built the abandoned southwestern US towns, you'll have to go elsewhere.

Read a sample and more reviews on

Interesting Reading

This blog, When a Pantser Revises, by Chris Marra made me pause. As a writer, I'm a panster trying to reform into an outliner. Marrs's an unapoligic panster, a writer who writes without an outline. Writers can find the blog useful for its revising tips. Readers can get an idea about how the "sausage" is made.

While fictional mysteries like Ill Wind tend to be neat and tidy, the real stuff is often the opposite. The New York Times has been running longer pieces on different topics for some time now. On 15 April 2018, it published an article by N. R. Kleinfield on "Never Solved, a  College Dorm Fire Becomes One Man's Obssession". I think the article demonstrates an interesting, reality-based counterpoint to the standard mystery novel is constructed.

My Writing Rut

It's happened. I finally turned On the Run over to my copy editor to play with. I went through the manuscript one more time and didn't find many corrections. But I know that she's going to find all sorts of places there should be commas and other places where my commas should be deleted. We won't talk about all the other stuff.

Anyone want to guess how marked up my manuscript is going to be when she returns it?

Here's a short excerpt from Pillar's first day visiting at a school for mages run by unknown relatives:

Gracie [Pillar's mother's great-aunt] smiled broadly at her. “I see someone taught you how to keep your eyes to yerself. But, you really must learn how to stop leaking power.”
"Don't have any power to leak. Didn't you hear Principal Tankin."
"Oh, it's there if you know how to look."
Thinking Gracie felt as comfortable as the bus lady [a host containing a demon pursuing Pillar] should've been, Pillar relaxed, wishing she knew how to ask the questions buzzing around her head. She didn't want another academy person spitting nails at her. Knowing Delia [Pillar's foster mother] would want her to keep a low profile made her more hesitant.
"So, tell me about yerself."
"I'm Maisie's daughter. I come from the Osseran Commune, and I just graduated from high school."
"I know all that. But, who are you?"
Pillar gave her a sharp look but didn’t know how to phrase the thoughts buzzing in her mind. The question blurted out on its own. "Why didn’t you guys come looking for me when Ma died?”
“I thought it best you were where you was.” Gracie shrugged, her gaze flicking to the hall door. “Going to be fun to have a true Beccon living here again.”
“I thought my father’s last name was Beccon?”
“Goodness gracious no, child. Your parents weren’t married. In fact, Maisie never did name your father.”
I’m nameless? The fact hit Pillar like a fist in the gut. No wonder no one came looking for Ma. Her brain throbbed as she tried to absorb the information. Why didn’t Delia say something before?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

True Hauntings and Fictional: Getting Your Mystery Fix with a Spook

The books in Heather Graham Krewe of Hunters series read two ways--as stand alones or as a strong series where a shifting, but continuing cast of characters solve interesting ghostly mysteries. She even adds more value for the reader by using interesting places for her settings.

{In fact, she teased me into buying this book by setting The Hidden in Estes Park, Colorado, a retirement-central extraordinaire if you like a high altitude and cold. [I prefer the flats along I25.]}

Seems like I've read a few books set in my local area, lately. Sometimes, the descriptions have been right on [Lee Child's Midnight Line]. Other times, I had a hard time recognizing the places. Graham got the mountains surrounding the bowl/park right. But, Estes Park is infested by unavoidable elk. Two days after finishing the book, I can't remember one mention of elk. They're one of the prime tourist Estes Park's attractions in addition to the Stanley Hotel.

Copycat murders provides the core mystery for The Hidden. Former Reb soldier, Nathan Kendall, is murdered, shortly after the US Civil War. The crime was never solved. Today, his ranch has become a guest ranch and museum.

When modern descendants [thank the various DNA sites for this] are killed in much the same way as Kendal, the museum director, Scalett Barlow, comes under suspicion for their murders. With a plot hop--a Krewe of Hunters member is her former husband who rushes to prove her innocent. Everyone gathers for the crime-solving fun. 

Of course, there is a romance. Actually, a couple of them, including the runaway marriage of Nathan Kendall and his wife, who lend their ghostly fingers to solving the muders.

The Hidden isn't one of Graham's better books. I thought it lack suspense, the m/c was rather sappy, and the plot predictable. Maybe I have read too many of them, and the well-constructed plot elements have become tedious for me. [Must admit the moose was a surprise.] Or, is it just the romance and bed scenes I find overly similar? 

On the other hand, I always get a good relaxing read from Graham's books, reads that tempt me to read one more chapter, even though it's midnight or after. Bottom line: when you craft a book as well as she does, even your less than stellar books are worth reading. It's not her fault I've usually guessed the perps 2/3rds into the storyline.

Want to read other peoples' reviews? You can also check out some samples on

Other Interesting Reading

Stephanie Laurens has it made with her Cynster series. Her characters and backgrounds come ready made. She's now working on the grandkids of the first book m/cs, an English duke finding his true love during the French Revolution. The series has reached the Victorian era as she writes the stories of how the varioious members of the Cynster clan find true love. She gets a little explicit on the love scenes, but she really doesn't go overboard. Of course, an evangelical Christian whould probably disagree with me.

What's notable--her female Cynsters are just as strong and dangerous as the males. If you like your romance in period settings you might take a look at A Match for Marcus Cynster. -- Yeah, Laurens has strong non-Cynster ladies in her world--though they aren't as menacing as her masterful males.

Have you ever though about writing a blog? Jane Friedman, one of the best bloggers, is holding a webinair [12 April 2018], sponsored by Writer's Digest, on how to do the blogging bit effectively. [Yes, there are ways to write better blogs than I do since I'm a confirmed dillettente.]

My  Writing Rut

Don't think of my blog as a rut, but I do write it. Imagine my surprise when I noticed I've written 500 blogs. 

Actually more. I used to write a separate blog about my Far Isles Half-Elven. But I got in a rut when after writing Night for the Gargoyles. I couldn't get out of Andor. Seems publishers think demons are more interesting than elves. You can download ebook free, for sure, on Amazon , iBooks, and kobo/Rakuten. Don't know if it shows up as free in other countries besides the US, but you might take a look.

Night for the Gargoyles was the inspiration for There Be Demons, the first of a possible Demon War trilogy, which is available at the same places. Had to write a book to find out what happened when Gillen tried to teach for head-strong teens from the projects how to fight demons...and survive. I like to joke that the book has more reviews [good] than sales [bad, though it's approaching the average sales for an indie].

Monday, April 2, 2018

When Refugee Colonizers Go Astray, What Must They Do to Survive

Polymath by John Brunner is one of those hidden ScFi classics from back in the day when there was much controversy about calling Science Fiction ScFi. The book, written in 1974,  also illustrates the optimistic viewpoint about democracy: people could rule themselves when guided by wise men. [Of course, the wise men still needed sharp, with-it women as mates.] 

We won't ever talk about how space exploration has been retarded by political decisions. 

But yeah, the social aspects of the book seem dated--almost fifty years later--but Polymath still gives the reader a quick moving, engrossing tale where one cheers for the good guys.

As a writer, I couldn't help feeling envious. Today, Polymath would be considered a novella.  [Both my books are twice that long.] Today, it ends at where the false conclusion starts.  Yeah, there's no hint that the human vermin are destroying the ecology of the planet. The reader is left to assume that things will be done wisely, according to the Americal Way. [The reader must remember that the AW was not so explotive and predatory back then.]

Settling an alien planet is a common theme in Science Fiction.  The problem in Polymath happens when the colonizers land in the wrong place, far off the established space lanes. Two different space ship landings offer two possible solutions to the dilemma. Granted the AW wins, but Brunner gives the reader a suspenseful ride. I would have liked to have read Brunner's take  on what happened after the  steering rules were set up.

The characters made the book for me. All were multi-dimensional, especially the main character, Lex, a polymath being trainned to organize newly settled planets. But, the villians have more than one trait, too, as well as providing some comic relief.

You can read a sample and more reviews on
Amazon        Nook        kobo/Rakuten

Other Interesting Reading

Writer, Writer, how does your garden grow? Oh. You write. Here's an interesting take on editing your manuscripts by Kristen Lamb: The Dangers of Premature Editing.Pruning Our Stories vs Pillaging Them. You might want to take a look.

My Writing Rut

Still doing content edits of On the Run. Here's Pillar's reaction to the demon battle at the end:

"A scattering of drips splashed against Pillar’s face from the trees overhead. Without knowing it, she had stepped back into their shelter after the explosion of light. Ears ringing and muscles trembling, Pillar blinked, but the world was slow to come in focus. Everything had gone silent. Pillar coughed to clear her lungs as she fought to return to the world. Lefferson’s books had hinted that power could explode rather than just light fires, but she hadn’t taken the notebooks seriously."