Good storytelling owns all

No art to show this week! I’m working on some, but it’s not done. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, I wanted to write about something that I don’t want to write about. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this blog post. Because I don’t want to admit that maybe, just maybe, all of the education I’ve given myself on how 2 rite gud is more or less worthless.

I won’t say that learning story structure and characterization and grammar and the rest of it is meaningless. That’s the basics of the craft, after all. All those are important for a writer to know.

But there’s a vast chasm between writing and storytelling. And a good storyteller can tell a story despite their lack of craft chops.

This is a hard pill for me to swallow. I’m a literary snob. When people misspell things or use bad grammar, I snicker at them. This author actually said “She was such a beautiful site”. Haha.

And then those books go on to be bestsellers. My literary snobdom means nothing.

When I was in high school, one of my assigned reading books was Smokey the Cowhorse by James Will. At first, I thought it was the worst-written book I’d ever seen. Here is the first page.

As a know-it-all teen, I rolled my eyes at this vernacular. Oh gosh, what pile of trash am I reading THIS time? I moaned. But it was assigned, so I kept reading.

And wouldn’t you know, it turned out to be such a good story, a kind of Western Black Beauty, that I stopped noticing the vernacular. I was hooked, and to this day, this book remains one of those shining reads in my mind.

The other day, I was poking around fanfiction dot net for something decent to read. I ran across a Destiny story that sounded interesting, took a look, and after a few pages, was hooked. I read all ten chapters and I’m waiting breathlessly for more.

And yet, this is the first page.

There’s passive voice. There’s boring description. The paragraphs are long and dense. There’s very little dialogue. And yet, the story being told is absolutely riveting. You wouldn’t even know it’s Destiny, because it’s set about five hundred years before the game, after civilization has collapsed, and humanity is ruled by these warlords. It’s like medieval fantasy post apocalypse science fiction, and it’s great.

The writing, itself, is obtuse and hard to follow. But man, the story. I would drop cash to read this story. It’s called The Lords of Ambros, if you’d like to take a look.

All this is to say, the writing community obsesses about adverbs and character arcs and all the other minutiae of the craft. In the end, only story matters. As a literary snob, this galls me to say. But it’s true.

The January slump

Here it is, the middle of January. And I’ve hit the slump. And a lot of my friends have hit the slump.

January gets cold and dark from the snow and storms. I think the lack of daylight contributes to the slump, as well as the cold. You just want to stay bundled up and not move. Screw exercising and eating right. All you want are high-calorie foods to help keep your body warm.

Holidays seem to start in October, with the Halloween madness. Then we charge through Thanksgiving and onto Christmas, with all the shopping and parties. Then we hit New Years, with the resolutions and year-end analysis. And then … nothing. For weeks. Cue the slump.

It might also just be burnout from all the madness and bustle on top of our already busy lives. It’s just nice to kick back and do nothing. But after a while, the resting becomes slumping.

So how do you kick the slump?

People usually suggest exercise at this point. Get off your butt! Move your muscles! Get that circulation up! And those are good things. The brain is connected to the body and exercise fires it up.

For me, I embrace the slump and use it to absorb books and movies that I’ve missed. Kind of like storing up fat for the winter, only it’s stories. As a creative, you’ve got to fill your tank with the things that delight you. And when it’s cold and you don’t want to move, what better way to embrace it than with books or movies?

This is the time of year when my family used to binge-watch the BBC Jane Eyre, or the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice. (Or the BBC Hercule Poirot … yeah, we did the BBC in our house.) In later years, it became the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings.

This is the time of year when I read really huge, thick books. I’ve been thinking fondly of going back to Bleak House again. The book is massive, and also like watching an entire TV series in a book. But I also have a ton of books on my Kindle to catch up on. Marc Secchia has some satisfying thick dragon fantasy books that I’ve bought and not read.

So that’s how I cope with the slump. I embrace it! How about you?

Money – the ultimate success metric?

I was looking over my blog post Writing Books of the Heart. It springboarded off a blog post by Kris Rusch, who talked about writers burning out, writing in a genre they don’t really like, but can’t stop writing, because it pays the bills.

I had another thought percolating related to this one. I was lurking in a writers’ discussion where people were talking about why they write.

People have a lot of different reasons for writing. A lot of them want to change the world, or help/encourage people in some aspect of their lives. Some people talk big about “if I help ONE PERSON then this book will have been worth it!”

Then they turn around and talk about how they made four bucks in book sales last month. Everybody shrugs and laughs, embarrassed.

And I’m over here thinking, but what if those four bucks came from that ONE PERSON who really needed to read your book?

But no, the only metrics that matter, when you get down to brass tacks, is the money. The numbers of books moved doesn’t matter. It’s pretty well known by now that free book giveaways don’t do anything, because readers never read something they picked up for free. You can move a million units and nothing happens.

But when people buy a book, they’re more invested in reading it. Aha! Writers latch onto those sales as a measurement of worth. Somebody wanted my book bad enough to pay ACTUAL MONEY for it.

And let’s not even get into the rabbit hole that is reviews.

So, I’m curious, now. Which is it? Are we writing to help people, seeking validation that way? Or are we only validated by making gobs and gobs of money? Or are we only helping people when they’re paying us gobs of money?

Strong Women and Weak Men

Oh boy, here I go again! More of my strange views of men and women, particularly as regards to fiction.

What set me off this time was a book blog I was reading. The book premise sounded interesting, so I clicked on to see if the author could sell me. I was almost ready to pick up the book when the author started virtual signaling. She talked about how she changed up the myth she was using because “she only writes female characters”.

Nothing irritates me more than virtue signaling.

So I quit reading and tried to figure out why that had gotten under my skin the way it had. I’m writing multiple stories right now. The female characters in both of them are stronger than the men, mentally, sometimes physically, and as relates to their powers, definitely. I have nothing against strong women. As I mentioned in one of my other blogs, I don’t actually know any weak women.

But it’s writing them in a vacuum that bugs me. Guys are people, too. When I read, or write, or, heck, hang with friends, I want a mix. Men and women have different perspectives, and the interplay between them is so fascinating.

I looked at the books I like to read and write. And … aha … there’s a pattern.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Sophie is a Strong Woman helping a Weak Man who is under just as bad a curse as she is. Howl has more magic than she does, sure, but he can’t save himself without help.

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The Lake House, by Kate Morton. The main characters are all women–Alice the author, Sadie the cop, Eleanor the mother. All of them are mentored, helped, or in the case of Eleanor, desperately trying to help the men in their lives. The men are critically flawed in endearing and sometimes frightening ways, and these women shoulder impossible burdens to help them.

The Beaumont and Beasley series by Kyle Schultz. Although these books are told first person from the male perspective, Beasley is hampered by his sheer logic. Magic can’t exist, therefore, it doesn’t. Lady Cordelia comes along and wrecks that paradigm by accidentally turning him into a Beast. She’s better educated than him, knows magic, and has all kinds of magical connections. But they need each other, because she’s trying to break his curse, and he’s the detective who still reasons out motives and puts together clues. (Great series, too.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the argument about Strong Women isn’t stated very well. A Strong Woman is Strong, not when she can beat a man in a fistfight, but when she can reach out to a Weak Man and help him become strong.

Everybody needs help, men and women alike. In Proverbs, Solomon observes that an excellent wife will do her husband good, not evil, all the days of his life. He also points out that a wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her hands.

In books, part of a character arc is that a character must start in a place that demands that they change in some way. Sophie acted like an old woman before she was cursed to become one. Alice believes she’s responsible for the disappearance of her baby brother. Beasley thinks he has reality all figured out. They all start in a place of weakness. But that’s part of the joy of fiction–that journey from weakness to strength, or acceptance, or whatever the goal of the story is.

When a male character is weak, often a Strong Woman can come along and help him out. This leads to the complex interplay between genders, that push and pull of attraction and affection. Conversely, a Weak Woman will need a Strong Man, but that’s taboo in our culture, for some reason–admitting that a woman might ever be weak for some reason.

(This works in reverse, too–the strong one can tear down the weak one, and the weak one can undermine the strong one. These are toxic relationships, and aren’t the point of this blog.)

As part of the ongoing cultural discussion about Strong Women, I thought this was an interesting new angle to explore. Strength is fine, but it means nothing unless it’s used wisely, to build up others. That same strength can destroy and shatter. As writers (and readers!) it’s something to be aware of.

Failure: what drives the beta hero

Lately, I’ve found myself writing a lot about characters who are failures.

At this stage of my life, I’m now older than a whole lot of people. I have the leisure to look around at peoples’ lives, particularly the “failure” kinds. You know, the people who get on social media and weep that their book only sold four copies, so it’s a failure and they’re taking it down. And then they leave the group when people tell them to try harder.

Failure is such a nebulous thing. In school, you get a big fat F and have to repeat a class or rewrite a paper. That sucks. It’s like being slapped in the face. But all it means is that you didn’t meet a certain standard set by the teacher or the school. Kids don’t have this perspective. Failure is the END OF EVERYTHING OMG.

But once you become an adult, what is failure, really? When you go bankrupt? You’re still alive–you can start over. When your project doesn’t sell? When people say nasty things about you? What is the failure point? Those are all setbacks, not the END. The END is when you’re dead.

Success can feel like failure when it eats you alive and rockets you to an all new tax bracket. Talk to lottery winners about this.

So, in my pondering failures and what it means to fail, I sat down and wrote a superhero trilogy with a beta hero.

Beta males are fascinating to me, especially in a team dynamic. It’s the sidekick, the guy who is content to let somebody else lead. He usually has his own interests and ideas, but he keeps them to himself. He’s easy-going, and plays off the driven personality of the alpha male.

But what happens when the beta hero is forced to become the leader?

You guessed it: failure. Lots and lots of failure as he has to learn to make decisions. Sometimes he makes bad decisions because he’s not good at this leadership thing. This creates friction with his friends, and especially the previous alpha male, who can see the outcome of all these mistakes miles away and is gnashing his teeth at his friend’s perceived stupidity.

This is fun to play with in a superhero setting, because everyone on the team has some kind of power. They could all be leaders, and they all have ever-present stakes as they fight the resident supervillain. In a setting like this, forcing the beta male into an alpha role is even more devastating. He could get all his friends killed with one bad choice … and he carries this knowledge as a terrible burden.

So, I present to you Guardian’s Awakening, first book in the After Atlantis trilogy.

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Tane is the beta in his team of superheroes–the muscle who lets his team do the thinking. He and his friends defend their small town on the Atlantean Isles from the experimental robots of a neighboring mad scientist, earning enough bounty to live on.

When Tane discovers a mysterious gem that threatens to take over his mind, he accidentally drags his friends into becoming the crew of the mysterious Mercury Island. In addition, the island accepts Tane as its Guardian, making him the leader of the group. This sparks a cascade of conflicts between himself and the previous leader, Sebastian, who doubts and questions Tane at every turn. To make matters worse, they discover that a girl lies in stasis deep within the island–and she is the most powerful super of all.

Now Tane is in deeper and deeper trouble as the girl’s powers awaken, attracting the attention of supervillains and monsters alike. But she is the key to making Mercury Island fly again.

Tane has only begun to grow into his Guardian role, but his enemies–and allies–may kill him first.

Available here on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited


This book is a little heavier on the “Fantasy” end of superhero fantasy, but don’t worry. The next book will be heavier on the “superhero” end.

Book review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

Goodness, I’ve been an emotional mess lately. I blame the hormones. Anyway, I’ve been between books and kind of tired of everything in my to-read pile. Then my mom said, “Hey, get The Lake House by Kate Morton, it’s really good.” So, deciding that general fiction might be a nice change of pace, I grabbed it at the library.

Here’s what it’s about:

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories.

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. He is never found, and the family is torn apart, the house abandoned.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as a novelist. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old Edevane estate—now crumbling and covered with vines. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies from a masterful storyteller, The Lake House is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.


 

I checked the categories for this book on Amazon, and was really confused, because it’s classified as historical fiction under “Australia and Oceana” … even though this is set in England. Sure, there’s a lot of World War 1 and 2 stuff, but mostly, this book is a mystery. Actually, it’s three mysteries, all intertwined.

The first page, an unnamed character is burying something in a large box out in the woods. So you know that something untoward is going on. You have to go almost the whole book to find out who buried it and why.

It’s also a shame that Eleanor isn’t mentioned in the summary. She’s Alice’s mother, and is arguably the most important character in the book, as well as the most fascinating. The whole central mystery hinges on her actions.

Meanwhile, Sadie is satisfyingly tenacious, driven to solve this cold case of the missing toddler by her own botched case involving an abandoned little girl. There’s a whole theme of missing and abandoned children throughout the book, which is awful, yet satisfying, as each plot thread is resolved.

There’s also another theme of poetic justice. Eleanor firmly believes that everything happens for a reason, and good is rewarded and evil is punished, even when it certainly doesn’t look like it. And throughout the whole book, you see people having justice dealt to them in surprising and satisfying ways. And by the end, you see that grace is actually better than justice. The sheer grace of the ending had me crying through the last chapter. And it’s not sad–it’s a lovely, happy ending. But oh, in my hormonal state, it really got to me. Kind of like crying at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.

The book is almost 500 pages, but it didn’t seem that long. Kind of like binge-watching a TV series in one shot, you just keep turning pages to find out what new twist will transpire. There were three big ones that looked like they had solved it … then I checked and went, “Nope, this isn’t it, because there’s too much book left.”

So, if you’d like a good read that’s part historical fiction, part mystery, part good ol’ general fiction, this is a great summer read. Heck, it’s a great winter read … or any time read.

New dragon cozy–all the new things

I’ve been super busy the last week or so. Let me show you the list:

I’ve got the paperback of Malicious formatted and almost ready to go. Just waiting on my proof copy to show up. Not quite ready for sale yet, alas!

The whole Puzzle Box trilogy, Malevolent, Malcontent, and Malicious, are available in a single omnibus now. I’m debating turning it into a paperback, because it’s kind of a tome. For sale now on the platform of your choice! Except Smashwords. Smashwords is a pain.

I also got off my tush and finished the edits on the second dragon cozy mystery I’ve been working on. Here it is!


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A fad diet has swept Carefree, Arizona. Tianna, drake shifter, has her hands full trying to invent a type of ice cream that meets the diet’s rigorous standards before the celebrity creator arrives. But when the diet creator turns up dead, Tianna must call upon her drake skills to sniff out the culprit.

A whirlwind of intrigue sweeps her in, from shifty cameramen to secretive publicists, as well as an abandoned chihuahua who knows more than she lets on. Helped (and hindered) by her friends Katie and Bruce, Tianna must find the killer hidden among the tour team before they leave town, letting the killer escape and strike again … or before Tianna gets too close and winds up on ice.

Available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!


 

There you have it, folks. Where I’ve been when I’m not shmoozing around social media … working! Next project is launching this superhero trilogy. Still working through edits on that, as well as building covers for it. Trying to make it look as epic as the story inside truly is. 😀

Book tour: The Electronic Menagerie

Today I’m participating in a blog hop for a fantastic new book called the Electric Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder.

About the Book

The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt.

Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively — but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially — but none of the scruples.

To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, a shot at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians —but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize.

Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide… and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.

Dazzles from start to finish. In Carthage & Huxley, Sherlock & Watson fans will find another dynamic duo whose ready wit and sizzling banter (and inevitable personality clashes) never fail to delight. You’ll be calling for an encore performance.” Gillian Bronte Adams, author of The Songkeeper Chronicles

“The stuff that fandoms are built on.” Kyle Robert Shultz, author of Beaumont & Beasley

Purchase on Amazon

About the Author

Mollie’s first job was with a major theme park, where she operated a roller coaster, fixed parade floats, and helped Scooby-Doo put on his head. Now, Mollie is a movie producer and the author of character-driven science fiction/fantasy novels for adults who never outgrew imagination. Her favorite things include Jesus, dinosaurs, and telling cinematic stories that blend glitter and grit.

Website — Twitter — Instagram


My review:

I’ve gotten to be kind of world-weary when it comes to reading fantasy. Between epic fantasy that wants to be Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones (or both), or urban fantasy that is one more Dresden send-up with wizard detectives … I’ve been kind of tired of the whole genre. So when the author mentioned the concept of this book, I perked up. Two guys with a train full of steampunky robots giving performances and trying to solve a mystery? Sign me up!
I got behind and haven’t finished the book as of this writing, but I’m hugely enjoying it. For one thing, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you picked up a Historical Fantasy. I adore historical fantasy. This one is set toward the end of the 1800s, I’d say. Top hats, ladies in fancy dresses and parasols, everybody travels by train.
But the worldbuilding is fascinating. In this world, it’s all islands floating in the sky above the ether sea. The trains travel between them on invisible sky rails. The Stars move and occasionally fall and create new islands. There’s some kind of warring political factions I haven’t gotten into yet.
Not to mention the conflicts between Huxley and Carthage, their opposing worldviews and motivations, and the way their backstories are creeping up to bite them. And all the other weird performers in this competition, all doing weird things. Oh yeah, and the Lipizzaner horses actually fly.
So yeah, I think by the time I’m done, this will be a five -star read. It’s different enough to feel fresh, yet it’s a conspiracy plot to murder the performers in this contests, which we’re comfortingly familiar with. Put them together, and you’ve got a smashing good read.

Giveaway Time!

Explore the world of The Electrical Menagerie by entering to win this Celestial Isles prize pack, which includes: “High Victorian” playing cards by luxury playing card company Theory11, handmade galaxy mug by DeVita Designs, Science & Engineering Themed Pocket Notebook Set by CognitiveSurplus, and a tin of Electrical Menagerie themed tea (over a $50 value)! (US only.)

>>>Entry-Form<<<

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 4th   

Tuesday, June 5th  

 Wednesday, June 6th 

Thursday, June 7th 

 Friday, June 8th 

 Saturday, June 9th

Monday, June 11th 

Products or quality entertainment: what are we creating?

Ah, Dean Wesley Smith, so much food for thought while challenging paradigms.

Anyway, he pointed out in a recent blog post that writers get really fixated on creating a product. We want to crank out books like bottle caps on a conveyor belt. More is better, we’re told. Make it a great product so customers will keep coming back.

Then I read an interesting thread on the Writer’s Cafe on kboards. People were talking about the low quality of these books being cranked out. Particularly the short stories or secret series prologues that are given out as bait for getting people to subscribe to mailing lists. They’re referred to as reader magnets.

One person said:

Most readers don’t want free or cheap books so much as they want entertaining books. Most of these reader magnets are marketing tools that offer little appeal to the reader.

Value is such a nebulous term as to be almost meaningless, but I think the shortest answer is this: the reader magnet should be your absolute best work. What I see, instead, is authors giving readers a blah free story, then wonder why readers don’t come back for more (often accompanied by a proclamation lamenting “freebie hoarders”).

Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap (tongue in cheek, of course), but I’d suspect that rate is more like 99% for the reader magnets I see. Your magnet has to be a pro-quality product that you could charge money for, and I don’t see that with most of them. If we are being honest, most of them are written because some person on a forum or book said we needed one, and it was just a little thing to tick off on the massive to do list. This is generally not a recipe for compelling fiction.

Source


Between that little discussion about good quality books, and Dean’s observation about how authors fixate on product over story, it’s given me a lot to think about. Do I want to be an author who cranks out Products? Or do I want to be an author who takes care to craft a really engaging, entertaining story that is a fun, fantastic escape?

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Baby dragons, by Sandara. Quality art from a quality artist.

As a reader, I respect the heck out of my own readers. I want to give them a great experience when they crack one of my books. It’s why I took down the Spacetime books. If I couldn’t stand to read them, what reader would? They weren’t a good experience.

So, what do you think? Would you rather read a Product? Or a book that an author had worked very hard to make Quality Entertainment?

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.