Response to DWS: Dangers of not trusting the creative voice

A few days ago, Dean Wesley Smith, a career writer who has written hundreds of books, wrote a blog post about how to be creative while writing. Namely, how it works and how to destroy it.


Outlining… Absolutely the quickest way to make sure the creative voice won’t even show up. Why should it bother? Your critical voice has already figured out what the book will be, so the creative voice just goes off and pouts, leaving you the hard work of writing from critical voice. And having no fun.

Knowing Your Ending… This, to the creative voice, is exactly like you picking up a book, flipping to the last pages, reading the ending, then thinking the book will be interesting to read. This comes from fear, brought on by the critical voice being afraid of “wasting” your time and so on. You know, stuff parents said to you in the real world. If you need to figure out the ending because of fear, you will lose your creative voice almost instantly and the project will lose excitement and mostly just die.

Writing is Hard Work… No creative voice wants to show up with that belief system. That is all a myth and remember, the creative voice is like a two-year-old in nature. It doesn’t want to do anything it is forced to do. So when you keep repeating over and over to make your ego feel better that writing is hard work to be suffered over, your creative voice says screw that and leaves. And then writing from critical voice does become hard work and your books are dull.

….

Solution:

1… Stop caring so much about the final product, just do the best you can.

2… Write one draft, clean with cycling in creative voice, and release with a promise to yourself you won’t touch it again.

3… Have fun. Make writing fun again. Make it play.

Source


 

I know a lot of writers dislike Dean Wesley Smith because he comes off as so opinionated. But you know what? He’s 67 and he’s been at this writer thing for longer than I’ve been alive. For longer than most of my friends, even. Not to mention that he and his wife self publish all their own books and have for years. He’s done things that none of my newbie author friends have ever thought of (like selling signed paperbacks to the voracious book market on eBay.)

There are basically two kinds of writers. Those who outline everything, and those who “write by the seat of their pants”, that is, those who rely exclusively on the “creative voice” DWS mentions above.

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What happens when an artist has fun. Big Bad Wolf by Ninjatic

When I started writing, I always found that outlining killed my inspiration. I’ve since found methods of outlining that kind of work, but they still give rise to stories that are … well, only passable. I mean, they were okay, but they weren’t my best work. I had the idea that the stories could have risen to amazing heights, but … that takes a genius place in my brain, and I can’t hit that genius place while coldly outlining.

This has always quietly baffled me. When I was writing fanfiction, at most, the only outlining I would do was to write a list of “cool stuff I wanted to happen” so I didn’t forget to put it in. And I cranked out some storylines that were pure genius. Even now, years later, people still track me down to tell me how much they loved my old fanfics.

Then I started writing books for publication, which I dutifully outlined. And they just … weren’t as good. The sparkle wasn’t there, somehow. So I went back to fanfics, just writing with no outline, only a brief list of things I wanted to happen. And the genius returned.

So … I don’t know if DWS’s advice up there applies to everyone. But for me, writing with very little outline, just following the conflicts and the characters’ reactions to them, is where the sparkle and the genius lies. I’m going to toss out the outline for my next book and just write into the dark. I know my characters and their arcs, and I know my bad guys and what they’re trying to do. Beyond that, I think I’m capable of setting them loose and watching the feathers fly. If I can do it with fanfics, I can do it with original characters, too.

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Book review: Discipl-ish by Mike Duran

I was supposed to review this book at launch, but I was kind of off on my sort-of-terrible vacation at the time.

Discipl-ish by Mike Duran is a memoir of his rocky life, first as an altar boy in a Catholic church, then as a delinquent teen, then as a young man who accepted Christ and had pastorhood thrust upon him way too early.

Over the course of trying to run a church, he made mistakes, fell into bad company, and eventually enabled a whirlwind of spiritual abuse that made me physically ill to read about. I had to keep putting the book down because it upset me so deeply.

Eventually, Mike’s pastorate was stripped from him and the church dissolved. This is where most memoirs of this kind follow the person into a journey away from Christianity and how much “happier” they are with no religion at all. Mike, fortunately, doesn’t do that. He clings to Jesus, works through forgiveness, and lets go of the negative emotions that usually consume people who walk away from the faith.

After he moves on into other jobs and picks up writing, he chronicles helping people far more than he did as a pastor, much more one on one. Throughout the book, he wrestles with questions like, can people from other religions be saved? Can it be possible to hold two opposing theological positions at the same time, like Calvinism and Arminianism? Is it possible to find peace with paradox?

His roots as a horror writer also stem from his religious background, which is fascinating to read, too. I was reminded constantly of Stephen King’s semi-memoir, On Writing, in which some of the same elements appear (drugs, a fascination with the occult, etc.).

The book is a gripping read. It’s like sitting down with a friend over coffee and listening as they tell you a fantastically interesting story. Once they finish, you look down and your coffee is cold because you were listening so intently. I pretty much devoured the whole book in a few days because Mike’s storytelling is so compelling.

I’m not really into memoirs, but this is a good one.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. My review and thoughts are my own.

It was the best of vacations, it was the worst of vacations

We’d been planning a trip to the beach in San Diego for six months. We meticulously saved up for it, planned everything, and were going to have a great time.

Monday morning, the day of our trip, my husband woke up and said, “I just had the weirdest dream.”

He dreamed that he was in his college dorm, getting ready to go home. But he looked down and realized that the floor was covered in hair trimmings, like from a barber shop. Then he realized the floor was wet, too. Behind his computer, on the floor, was a crack in the wall with water pouring through. So he was trying to save his computer from the water, and things were getting worse and worse. In the dream, he said, “God, make this stop!” And everything went back to normal. No water. No dirty floor.

I said, “Huh, that is a weird dream.”

And we went on our merry way, packing the kids and the luggage into the car and taking off on the six hour drive from Tucson to San Diego.

Just outside of Yuma, our air conditioning condenser died and took the power steering with it.

Words can’t describe the terror at that rest stop. We got in the car, which started just fine. But as soon as Ryan turned the wheel, the car lurched and died. Having worked on cars before, it took him ten seconds to realize that the dead power steering was trying to draw too much power and making the car die. So he revved the engine and we blasted out of the rest stop. Once we got up to speed, the steering handled … all right … but the car was making a funny helicopter noise.

I was all for turning around, going home, and canceling the trip. But Ryan insisted that the car would get us there, so we grimly pressed on.

With no AC.

Through the desert. In May. During a heatwave.

I was unaware that between Yuma and El Centro lies a strange wasteland called the Dunes.

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It’s only a couple of miles long, but in the growing heat inside the car, it might as well have been the Sahara.

We kept the windows down, drank iced water and sodas, and grimly counted the miles until the mountains between the desert and San Diego. We knew that although the desert was 102 degrees, San Diego was 70, so there would eventually be a cooldown if we could just get there.

Long story short, we did get there. The car handled just fine over the mountains, and the higher we climbed, the more beautifully cool the air became. Descending the last pass into the marine air was a wonderful experience.

We checked into our hotel without a hitch, although the car wanted to lurch and die any time we turned into a parking space at low power. We hauled our stuff into our room (which was very nice, and they upgraded us to a nicer room at no charge), and Ryan set about hunting for a mechanic who could fix the car in one day.

After the heat of the desert, San Diego was almost too cold for us. The kids got into their beds, just because they could, and played gameboys. Hey, it was vacation, after all.

Ryan found a mechanic six minutes away, and first thing the next morning, fought the car down there. The air condenser and the power steering are on the same belt in our car, so when one breaks, it has a good chance of taking out the other. They fixed it, and thankfully, the crazy high price tag came with financing.

That took a whole day. The kids and I explored the area around the hotel in the meantime.

There was a very pretty vacant lot nearby that was full of wildflowers. The kids were enthralled.

The next day, we had the car back, and it ran beautifully. So we went to the beach.

You know, we had VACATION like we had planned. It was very pleasant and the kids got soaked, but hey, that’s what you do at the beach.

The drive home was no big deal with air conditioning. Oh, air conditioning, you blessed machine! And it was even hotter outside, with a  high wind. And we passed a fiercely burning fire in Yuma.

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But we made it home unscathed, and very tired of vacation.

So, it was a nice vacation … and it was a horrible vacation, depending on how you look at it. Most weirdly, it followed Ryan’s dream exactly. I think that was the freakiest thing of all.

Rejection isn’t so bad

Well, my urban fantasy book that was on submission with a small press got an official rejection. They cited issues that I was aware of and was planning to fix in another draft, anyway.

In a way, I’m hugely relieved. The longer I waited to hear back from the publisher, the more I realized how much control I was relinquishing. I couldn’t pick my own cover artist. I couldn’t set price promotions. I’ve been indie so long, going under the yoke of a publisher was just too hard for me. Maybe I’m too much of a rebel.

Anyway, one of the issues they cited was the worldbuilding. It was flabby and didn’t make sense.

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In my previous post, I talked about the fanfic series I’m turning into original fiction. (Hey, if Cinder, Mortal Instruments, the Vorkosigan Saga, the Temeraire books, and Firebird all started life as fanfiction … I can do it, too!)

Anyway, my husband latched onto it, and we’ve been doing spectacular amounts of worldbuilding. He asked me, “What about the metaplot?” So we’ve been building that. We’ve actually built back across world borders into the urban fantasy universe, explaining the villains there, and how they’re going to interact with the characters in both series. Our going idea is to write, say, five books in each series, and then have one book that has the big Cosmic Crossover event and finishes up both storylines.

It’s crazy ambitious, but I’ve written far more bonkers things before.

Anyway, all this worldbuilding definitely fixes the issues the publisher has. I’m going to have to rewrite the entire book, I think, but I’ve done it before.

My biggest problem is that all my friends tend to read and write fairytale fantasy romance featuring female protagonists. I’m going to have to fish around to find a male audience who will follow male characters being awesome and not having much romance. I think my action movie history is showing.

 

Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.

So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.

So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”

As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.

Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.

First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.

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It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”

Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)

So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.

Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!

Exordia: sci fi book review

I’m a bit late to the party, here–I was supposed to have this review up a few days ago so people could catch the preorder. But it took me a while to read the book … so here’s my review, late! On the plus side, it means you can grab the book and read it now. 😀

Here’s the info:


Exordia CoverSacrifices must be made.

On a desert planet, all citizens must cooperate to survive. The scientific organization, Pallagen, protects the colony city of Exordia–whether they want it or not.

Rebels must be broken.

Ex-Pallagen researcher Lena Ward isn’t going down without a fight. Her team of Exordia rejects is ready to pierce Pallagen’s benevolent exterior and expose the truth of their horrible agenda.

Loyalty must be programmed.

Amnesiac Alex Kleric is reclaiming her life as an Enforcer dedicated to Exordia and Pallagen. But the records aren’t jogging her memories. Something is wrong–and all questions point to Lena Ward and her underground rebellion.

Progress must continue.

To save Exordia. At any cost.


My review:

Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I picked it up expecting one more fast-paced techno-thriller with very thin character development. Oh, and dystopia, which I don’t like very much.

What I got was a fun, snarky, sci-fi adventure. The characters actually have downtime for development in between raiding labs and rescuing people. And when the action gets going, it REALLY gets going. The cities on this alien planet are fascinating, a little bit dystopia, but not too much. It kind of reminded me of Fifth Element with the Firefly characters running around in it. With River Tam, even!

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Anyway, this is a super fun book. Kind of soft sci-fi, because the hard science isn’t explained very much. It’s just a good, entertaining read.


Buy it on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo

Spring cleaning writer challenge and Joke de-recommendations

I was tagged by Jennette in the Spring Cleaning Writer’s Challenge. I thought it sounded like fun, so here we go! Mostly, it’s an excuse to talk about what we’ve been working on.

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1. Dust bunnies and plot bunnies: Reorganize your writing goals or make new ones.

My writing is kind of in limbo at the moment. I submitted a book to a publisher, and until I hear back yay or nay, I don’t know whether to dive into book 2 or wait to do revisions on book 1.

I did have two stories published in anthologies recently! I contributed a sci-fi story to an anthology themed around battles on Mars, and I contributed a story to a humorous fantasy anthology exploring how telepathy would be uncomfortable and full of too much information.

I also took a good, hard look at the four fanfics I recently finished. Aside from the characters, the worldbuilding and minor characters are mine, as well as the major conflicts and character arcs. So I’m in the process of changing the names and heavily revising them to turn them into fantasy. The premise is: Atlantis was a continent that sank centuries ago, leaving a chain of islands inhabited by people who salvage technology from the ruins. The heroes all have minor magic powers, and get mixed up with an Atlantean flying construct that they accidentally wind up being the crew of. Then they have to fight bad guys with it. It’s awesome.

2. Which stage am I at?

According to Deborah O’Caroll’s metaphor:
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

Definitely the “polishing and scrubbing” part (editing). Editing all the things. The nice thing with these fanfics is that they’re completely finished, so I can go back to the beginning and put in all kinds of nice foreshadowing.

3. Treasure from the back of the closet: Snippet Love.

From my not-properly-named urban fantasy book, currently waiting in the slush pile at a publisher’s:


Indal’s ears were forward, like a friendly dog that had been out for a run. But as I stepped toward him, the ears flattened and his lips curled back from his fangs. Those teeth were like white knives. A growl rolled out of him that froze me in my tracks. He crouched, the muscles tensing as he prepared to spring.

I tossed the Hot Pocket.

The werewolf flinched backward. The Hot Pocket rolled across the leaves. He did a nervous sideways step and sniffed in its direction. It must have smelled good, because he stepped closer and sniffed it again. Then he ate it in two snapping bites, like he was starving. He returned his attention to me, licking his chops, ears forward again, probably hoping I had more.

Well, that was as far as my plan had gone. I was scanning the nearby trees for a branch I could grab, when the wolf made a funny sound. He moaned and licked his nose several times. He shook his head, pawed at his jaws, then slowly sank onto his side.

Xironi hadn’t moved from her place behind the tree. “What was in that Hot Pocket?”

I thought of the giant pill. “A sampler of all his new meds.”

She heaved a sigh of relief and exasperation. “One of those bottles was a tranquilizer.”

The wolf body began to shudder and shrink back into human form. Indal’s eyes were closed—I think he was already unconscious. His face was human before the rest of him was. I stood between him and Xironi, just in case he woke up and wanted fresh meat. But the drugs had knocked him out.

I exhaled, the tension in my muscles relaxing. “That worked well.”

Xironi walked up to stand beside me in her tiny nightgown. “You turned a Hot Pocket into a medication grenade.”

“I did have to bake it first,” I agreed.


3.5. Bonus: Do some actual spring cleaning of your writer self. (And share a picture!)

I’m sitting here sick and wondering how I’m going to clean house today, so no photos, please. :-p


I’m going to tag Bethany Jennings, H.L. Burke, and Janeen Ippolito!

Rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5. Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them (via comment/message/email or hey, even carrier-pigeon or smoke signal; I’m not picky)

Questions:

1. Dust-bunnies and Plot-bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)

2. Which Stage Are You At? Expound!

a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

3. Treasure From the Back of the Closet (Share one to three snippets you love!)

3.5. Bonus: Do Some Actual Spring Cleaning of Your Writer Self! (And share a picture!)


And now, for the second meme. RJ Conte did an April Fools joke on her blog where she de-recommended her own books. Like, humorously listing off why you don’t want to read them. I thought it was hilarious, so here’s my own books with the same treatment.

Turned: A werewolf love story. A couple of rich people get bitten by werewolves and become homeless. And they don’t even kiss! What kind of shifter romance is this?

The Bramblewood Werebear. A girl travels across the country to marry a rich dude who forgot to mention that he turns into a bear. And he’s feuding with werewolves. Again, no kissing! What a lame shifter romance this is!

werefox-artistic1fullsizeOutfoxing the Wolf. A werewolf prince uses a poor girl in an alchemy experiment and turns her into a werefox. They fall in love. Do they kiss? I don’t remember! What a terrible author I am, if I can’t remember things like that!

Malevolent. A guy who might be undead and has no emotions falls in love with a sick girl who is determined to prove that he’s a vampire. This book has a necromancer in it, and necromancers are evil, so DO NOT READ.

Malcontent. The guy and the girl now accidentally share a soul, whoops, how’d that happen? There’s a lot of gooshy romantic stuff that happens. And zombie dogs. And cats. Making animals into zombies is cruelty to animals! Not recommended! It’s probably that necromancer’s fault, anyway. Warning: kissing.

Malicious. The hero gets turned into a monster and the girl has to save him. There’s a small zombie apocalypse. This book is scary and dark and zombies are scary. Also there’s pretty hot kissing. Do not read under any circumstances.

Fire and Ice Cream. People only want to read cozy mysteries if they’re about witches! Who wants to read about a detective who can turn into a small dragon that breathes ice? Nobody, that’s who!

A stitch of honor. A short story about a space captain who knits scarves for his dying crew. This story is practically guaranteed to make you cry, so DON’T READ IT.

A kitsune and a dragon escape from a zoo. Nobody knows what a kitsune is, anyway.


And that’s it! A list of my books and stories and why you should avoid them!

Bad cozy mysteries are educational

Over the weekend, the kids and I hit the library. I’ve had a hankering for a nice, fun cozy mystery, so I browsed around and picked up one at random, pretty much because of the cover. I won’t give out the name of this unfortunate book to keep from embarrassing the author, but it’s probably nobody you know.

I started reading, and … well, oh my. It’s pretty bad when the detective commits almost as many crimes as the killer (and victim, in this case).

The premise is that the heroine runs a restaurant (like most culinary cozy heroines). She has the bad luck to find her shady business partner dead in the kitchen.

At this point, most books would go into the crime scene, the clues, all that jazz.

Not this one. The heroine and her sister grab the body and drag it into the alley behind the restaurant “so as not to ruin business”.

I was astonished at this, and utterly certain that this would come back to bite them. So I kept reading in suspense.

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Apple pie via Wikimedia Commons

The heroine’s lowlife sister steals the dead man’s wallet and goes on a shopping spree with his credit card, leaving a plain trail for the police. This puts the spurs to the heroine to solve the mystery before the cops close in.

Continually astonished at the stupidity of these characters, I kept reading, waiting for the hammer to fall.

The body disappears, then reappears in a lake up the road. The investigation begins. The heroine is sweating bullets. The suspense mounts. Clues contradict each other and many secrets come to life as the suspects sing like canaries. Typical mystery stuff.

And then … the killer is found. And for some reason, the cops stop asking questions about who moved the body, and they quietly stop investigating the credit card fraud.

WHAT.

I got all the way to the end.

No consequences for the heroine and her sister’s asinine actions. The police just drop everything. Tampering with a crime scene is a felony! Credit card fraud is a felony! There should have been some kind of repercussions, but … just … nothing.

I got on Goodreads and found that a lot of people threw the book at the wall over this. I also learned that in book 2, the heroine steals the victim’s car. So … I think I’m done with this series. The detective can’t run around committing crimes and getting away with it. If she’d had to pay a fine, at LEAST, I would have bought it. But … just getting away scot-free?

Let that be a lesson to you, authors. Don’t let your characters get away with anything. Let them make bad choices, sure, but then let the consequences come back to bite them. Otherwise, readers will be throwing your book at the wall and saying nasty things on Goodreads.

Here are some other cozies you should read instead:


Book review: Ferromancer

I’m in a historical fantasy group on Facebook, and they have recommended reading books each month. As I was browsing the list of books, Ferromancer caught my eye. I’ve seen the title here and there, but this time it appealed to me. Plus, it was only a buck. If I didn’t like it, I hadn’t been ripped off too badly. As it turned out, I enjoyed it so much, I immediately bought book 2.

Here’s the official summary:

Solutions aren’t always black and white—sometimes they come in shades of iron gray.

Captain Bridget “Briar” Rose wants for nothing. Each day is a new adventure, living the life she loves, running cargo on the Ohio & Erie Canal. That is, until her cousin decides to sell the family boat to finance a new business venture. He wants to build locomotives for the railroad—the very industry that could put the entire canal system out of business.

Not one to give up without a fight, Briar does a little snooping into her cousin’s new business partner. When she gets a sneak peek at the locomotive plans, she suspects that the man is either a genius, or a ferromancer—one of the dreaded metal mages of Europe’s industrial revolution.

Determined to reveal her suspicions, Briar takes the plans and heads for the newspaper office in Columbus, stealing the family boat in the process. Kidnapping her cousin’s handsome business partner wasn’t part of the plan, but when he shows up, demanding the return of his property, she can’t let him go. After all, if Briar can prove that the railroad is using ferromancy, she could save more than her boat. She could save her way of life.


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Cyborg by elGuaricho

I thought, hey, canal boats vs. railroads? I’ll give it a shot. I like reading about that period of history, anyway.

My review:

The historical setting of early 1800s America, coupled with the mythos of the magical ferromancers, is somehow massively pleasing. I enjoyed this stroll along the Erie Canal, seeing the conflict between the boatmen and the up and coming railroads. At the same time, the ferromancers are understated, intriguing, and often terrifying.

I’m not sure, even now, if I like Grayson or not. At least he’s not like some of the psycho, abusive heroes urban fantasy often features. I think it’s the potential of what he will become, down the line, that worries me. But then, saving him from himself is the aim of the story, isn’t it?

Briar is a spunky heroine without being the man-hating feminist stereotype that so many heroines fall into. She brawls with her fists, because that’s the culture of the boatmen, but she also abides by the rules. For instance, women only brawl with women, and men only brawl with men. Whenever she tries to take on a man, she’s hopelessly overpowered (especially when the men are ferromancers or their constructs, because you can’t beat someone who is made of iron).

The worldbuilding is explained so very briefly that I got to the end, still scratching my head about what had happened. But much is teased about the next book, namely, that Briar will find out more about the mysterious world of ferromancy. So I grabbed it. One way to really hook me is with good worldbuilding, and this book delivers … in tantalizing trickles.

Why villains need horror

I had a bit of a revelation a few months ago.

I don’t consider myself a horror writer. In fact, I can only read straight horror about once a year, at Halloween. And even then, I only do psychological thrillers. (Turn of the Screw is still excellent.)

Then somebody remarked about my fanfics, how the mind control aspects that one character dealt with ‘was such excellent horror’. It had never crossed my mind that this was horror. I was writing about the abuse of technology, and using it to make for some really excellent conflict.

Then I read Mike Duran’s Christian Horror: On the compatibility of a Christian Worldview and the Horror Genre. It was really eye-opening for me. Basically, horror is just sin, and the punishment of sin. In horror movies, there’s always a monster or a killer to overcome. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires are all staples of horror because they are a corruption of humanity.

While I don’t like to read a straight up horror novel, having some horror elements is like adding extra spice. You say you have a hero who animates zombies? Or a hero who is a werewolf and wrestling with his monstrous nature? Tell me more!

Kids books often have an element of horror. How about that moment in the first Harry Potter book when Quirrell unwraps his turban?

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Oh yeah, deliciously horrifying. Or how about any of N.D. Wilson’s villains? In Outlaws of Time, the bad guy has interdimensional graveyards where he buries the bodies of people he has killed multiple times, and he visits them often. It’s creepy and awful.

But then, the villain isn’t a threat without some kind of horror. Look at every Marvel villain ever made. There’s an element of horror to everything they do and represent. They want to do truly awful things on a large scale, which is why the heroes have to stop them.

In my last story, I essentially did the chest-bursting scene from Alien. It was to underscore just how bad the villain was. It also turned another villain into an anti-hero. It was gross and awful, but it was also a huge turning point. The horror was necessary to drive the characters into the final confrontation.

So, what happens is, I find myself subconsciously studying horror. Not because I enjoy it, so much, but because it’s how you make your villains scary. You don’t want to overdo it, of course, but … if your villain’s not scary, then he’s not a good villain.

My husband and I have been watching an anime called My Hero Academia. Basically it’s Hogwarts for teen superheroes. It has all the interpersonal conflicts and cool power combos that I love seeing from my superhero fiction.

But the villains, in particular, are outright horrifying. There’s this one guy who is covered in severed hands. If he touches you with one of them, he disintegrates you. But when he gets upset, he loses control and starts scratching his neck like a tweaker. He’s scary as heck and also weirdly fascinating. Again, the horror element comes into play. It’s both the frightening appearance, and the kind of threat he represents.

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So … I’ve been pondering my own relationship with the horror genre. I do enjoy many aspects of it. I mean, how else can you paint evil as evil? I don’t think I can ever write anything that is straight horror, because I tend to laugh at it. But a little bit used here and there? It becomes a delicious spice to add to the main dish of the rest of the story.