Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

The Non-Biased Sister Review

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It’s obvious why friends and family shouldn’t leave reviews. They over complement, they aren’t the target audience, and they’re totally subjective. I like to think this doesn’t apply to me. I’m very objective, and I don’t sugar coat my opinions, especially when I edit. I want my sister’s books to be awesome, which means sometimes I have to be cruel to be kind. Not that I make her cry or anything. If anything, she thinks I could be harsher.


 

In light of today being the start of the Kindle Countdown Deal for The Wizard’s Gambit, I’ve decided to post my totally non-biased sister review.

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Story

I’m not going to give a synopsis. If you want, it’s here on Amazon. What you want is my opinion, so here goes.

To sum it up it’s like if Hunger Games meshed with the Lord of the Rings. Representatives from every race and Kingdom battle to the death in search of a hidden item: an item that will give the champion power over all the other races. The competition is the result of a wizard’s last ditch effort to make everyone get along. However, a solution is only ever as successful as the plan–and considering he didn’t give it much thought …

I like the story, personally. It’s based around just enough fantasy tropes to be familiar, but it’s not overly predictable. You might think it is at first: a man with a mysterious background, a blacksmith, a prophesy, wizards, etc. I know what you’re thinking, a blacksmith with a mysterious past must fight to win the competition. After defeating all of his enemies he is found to be the one true king.

Trust me, it’s not that predictable. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you think you have it all figured out by the end of book one, just wait for book two to pull the rug out from under you.


 

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this series. Not quite as many as Game of Thrones, but pretty close. This is not a complaint of mine, as main characters and major supporting, minor supporting, and so forth seem to be clearly identified. Also, there aren’t too many POV’s. Only main and major supporting get POV’s.

Even though they derive from tropes, they are all her own creations and not borrowed from the bookshelf.

For those of you who thought Pig was a funny name, meet Mongrel. Mongrel is the main character. My sister worried he would be annoying and “too nice,” but to be honest, I think he’s dorky and fun, kind of like Chris Pratt. I’m bored of reading about dark, brooding, bad-ass anti-heroes who seek revenge and murder without emotion. This isn’t to say that Mongrel isn’t flawed. He’s not your traditional good guy either. He isn’t noble, wise, and always right. He’s a relate able good guy, the kind that wants to help and do right, but blunders and missteps along the way.

Following Mongrel on his quest are some familiar and like able characters mainly based around your typical trope fantasy quest types.

  • Elves: Instead of the noble, wise, magically gifted archer, we get a cowardly social climber who is inept at fighting and using magic.
  • Dwarf: Little Hammer is almost your standard issue dwarf: she’s stubborn, gold-hungry, elf-hating, and booze-loving. But I can’t imagine a dwarf being any other way. This is what we’ve come to love. Nuances make Little Hammer original. For once we get a woman instead of a man. The name system is interesting too. And she doesn’t carry the standard issue ax. In fact, most of the dwarves carry their own special weapons.
  • Humans: We actually get a variety of humans in this parody, not just Caucasian. The characters skin tones range from the very light to the very dark.
  • Ogres: What can I say? To summarize: Not like an onion. Not like Shrek. More like Ludo.
  • Wizards: Not so much like Gandalf, but more like Radagast or Merlin from The Quest for the Holy Something or Other. They’re in charge of keeping order, but sometimes they need to pull their heads out of their hats.

As far as my favorite character, I’d have to say it’s Margo, the apprehensive wizard in training. She’s shy and unsure, but she is certain of one thing: Mongrel is the only one who can unite the seven kingdoms. What I think I like about her (aside from the fact that she’s my secret ship) is how much I related with her when I was her age. She’s awkward and undecided about her future while the future of the world hangs in the balance. She’s just noticing boys and missing home and worried she’s made the right career choice. Who wouldn’t relate with that … except for maybe that bit about the future of the world hanging in the balance. But to be honest, I related with that part too. I was in my teens when the two towers were attacked. After that, even though the entire world seemed to be at war, I still worried about my own problems: family, college, leaving home, boyfriends. That’s how the mind of a teenager works.

Another thing that I like is that there are multiple villains. The problems aren’t caused by one person, but by at least one rep from every kingdom. Most of the leaders of the kingdoms are pretty villainous, especially Empress Eiko, Lord Lindolyn, and Walder. my favorite villain is probably Gwyndor–or Gwyn for short. He’s pretty determined to win the competition and doesn’t let anything stand in his way.


 

My Favorite Scenes

There isn’t a scene I don’t like. If there was, she would have cut it.

I think one of my favorite scenes is where Mongrel enters the city. It’s told through the viewpoint of Jared the gatekeeper.You truly get an idea about how odd Mongrel is through the eyes of this average Joe. For some reason this scene is just dripping with humor. One of my favorite lines is where he notices Mongrel is barefoot (I told you he was odd) so he decides to “bypass the customary “‘oo goes there” to confront the issue at the forefront of his mind, “Ain’t yer feet cold?”

Another favorite is where the kingdoms introduce their competitors and they all start arguing and bickering about what’s fair and who is breaking the rules. It just really shows how petty they all are and how easily situations involving everyone get out of hand.

I also like many of the battles, especially the show down between Eiko and Walder and the North tribe vs the elves where they start summoning their animals with their amulets. It’s like a pokemon battle gone awry.


 

The Humor

My sister and I have very similar taste in humor, so naturally I’m going to like the humor. Heck, I wrote some of the jokes. I’m even mentioned in the acknowledgement section of the book where she credits me for the “horrible insurance jokes” that either “saved or ruined” her story.

The humor isn’t in your face or slap stick. Most of the humor is situational or from the dialogue. The style is definitely reminiscent of Monty Python or Terry Pratchett though I would say more American and modern.

I like that the humor is often used to make a point or poke fun at a trope. For instance, we’ve all read fantasy books where it seems wizards and other magic users have incredible power, but don’t seem to utilize it to defeat the villain. Margo summarizes it well:

“The problem with wizards is that they never fully utilized their powers, at least not when it came to something important. Levitate a chair, transform an inanimate object, gift human speech to a cat–useless tricks for no purpose whatsoever! What good was magic when it couldn’t be used for something meaningful, like stopping a war, perhaps?”

One of my favorite humorous lines:

“Consider these events: the crowning of a king, the dethroning of a dark lord, and the invention of the fish taco; what do they all have in common? … All of these events occurred, by the will of destiny, with the help of a wizard.”


The Cover

The Wizards Gambit ebook cover

They say never judge a book by its cover, but come on, this cover is awesome. I’m going to take a little credit for this one. I doodled the idea on a piece of paper and gave it to my sister, who explained what she wanted to her cover designer–and BLAMO–she got an awesome cover.


 

Flaws

All books have flaws. The book’s pace might be a little slow, but to be honest, I wouldn’t call it slow. I would call it comfortable.

They say a book should start when the action starts, but you do need to understand the character and their world before it’s threatened by the conflict.

I get that readers are becoming impatient, but I’m sorry. I want some setup. I’ve read too many books where I’ve just been introduced to the main character and by paragraph two–BAM–they’re being attacked, a dog dies, or something explodes . Too much.

This was a concern of ours during the editing phase, but to be honest, I’m not sure what to cut that wouldn’t detract from the story. I’d say, like Quest, the main quest doesn’t get started until about 20-30 percent of the book, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t moving forward. In all fairness, it does follow the traditional formula: introduce main character, show their world and what’s at stake, introduce conflict, main character refuses the call, something happens to make character follow the call, and action.


 

There you have it. My honest opinion. If it sounds like a story you’d like, now ‘s the time to order your copy. Better hurry, because the countdown has already begun. Just three days!

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Are You Going to Read Go Set A Watchman?

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Harper Lee is no longer a one-hit wonder. Fifty years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, the long-anticipated sequel Go Set a Watchman is available in bookstores.

Was the fifty-year wait worth it? So far, the book has received mixed feelings from critics and readers alike.

The sequel has been labeled a poor stand-alone, that it would not have even been published if not for TKAM. On the flipside, it’s also been  praised for being more ambitious.

I’m not in a hurry to read it, but I want to know your thoughts. Please take the poll or comment below. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever seen a runner trip in a pothole? They’re in the zone, focused on the path ahead, running to the rhythm of their music when all of a sudden they stumble in a pothole. It jars them out of their trance and throws them off their running groove–not to mention hurts like heck.

The same thing happens to readers when they stumble upon a plothole–though it’s less dramatic and doesn’t usually require stitches or Bandaids.

Don't throw the reader off their groove!!!

Don’t throw the reader off their groove!!!

What is a Plothole?

The short definition is anything that can be asked but not explained, or poorly explained (not to be mistaken for an unanswered question like in a cliffhanger).

  • unlikely/impossible events
  • mistakes
  • contradictions
  • forced situations or character reactions for the sake of plot

Examples The Hobbit: In this example I’m talking about the movie. If you didn’t read the book before watching the final installment of the films, you may have asked, what happened to the Arkenstone? In the book, it’s placed on Thorin’s grave. In the movie, supposedly it’s still hanging out in Luke Evan’s shirt. Not a bad place to be necessarily.

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield, or wedged between Evan's pecks?

The Arkenstone: returned to Thorin Oakenshield or wedged between Evan’s pecks?

Harry Potter: Usually I pick on George R.R. Martin, but today I’m going to pick on J.K. a little. The time turner is a prime example of why time travel almost always leads to plotholes. Why didn’t he keep using it? He used it to save two people, which seems like an insipid abuse of time travel in the grand scheme of things. What about the other people who died later in the book. Why not go back and save them?

Aladdin: One of my favorite Disney movies of all time. I’ve watched it a hundred times and suddenly I notice a whole new plothole (pun intended). Aladdin uses a wish to become a prince and yet it is considered lying when he tells Jasmine he is a prince. Um, excuse me, he didn’t ask the Genie to make him look like a prince, he asked him to make him a prince. I think he got ripped off. Also he could have given Jasmine the lamp in the end so she could wish him back into a prince, but now I’m just being picky.

Deus Ex Machina

Ok, this is more of a plot device than a plothole, but I think you don’t get one without the other. A deus ex machina is basically where an unsolvable issue is suddenly solved by a new event, ability or super power, character, or God. Essentially, it’s when a writer has written themselves into a corner and doesn’t know how to resolve the conflict.

The result: the resolution is unsatisfactory and the reader is robbed. A prime example of this can be found in (I’m sad to say) The Return of the King. Tolkien wrote himself into a corner by making Sauron’s army undefeatable. Realistically the army of Gondor, even backed by the soldiers of Rohan, a wizard, and a few shire folk could not defeat them. I imagine Tolkien spent hours scratching his head before inventing a ghost army to defeat them. After all, ghost can’t be killed. So last minute, they use the ghost to help defeat the bad guys. It would have been a more satisfactory ending had the characters come up with a battle tactic to defeat the larger army.

Checkhov’s Gun

This is the notion that if you describe something, it better come into play at some point. For instance, if you describe a chair, it better be flipped, thrown, broken, or at least sat on. If it’s described, it better be part of the plot or else you’ve created false promises or suspense.

I’m not a firm believer in this. I do see where too much attention to a seemingly significant item would be jarring if it never came to use, but something like a chair or table is sometimes just necessary to give the reader a sense o place. This is why it’s always a good idea to describe your scenery as the character interacts with it.

A great example of Checkhov’s gun. In A Game of Thrones, Sam gets a blade that several seasons down the road kills white walkers. Also, the necklace given to Sansa in season three or four is used to kill Joffrey. Those are some great examples of Checkhov’s guns coming into play.

Continuity

Lack of continuity is a major cause of plotholes. This could be something small like a sudden change in appearance, or something even more jarring like a character referencing an event they have no idea occurred. It could also be a sudden change in motivation, even age.

Example: Merlin (the television series). Mordred appears in season one as a child, but by season five, he returns as a teenager or young adult. Realistically the oldest he could be is 13, but he is at least 16 if not older when he reappears. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters have only aged 3-5 years. Soap operas do this a lot, because let’s face it, babies get boring after awhile.

When is a Plothole not a Plothole

Sometimes readers believe the unbelievable, especially in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. These genres create a lot of their own rules, abilities, creatures, etc. Just because something can’t happen or doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it’s a plothole. When you event something (like magic), you are relying on your reader’s ignorance of a subject in order to make them believe it. A world with two moons and seven suns probably couldn’t exist or sustain life (could you imagine gravity?); however, your reader is more likely to accept that than if your character’s eye color suddenly changes in chapter two.

This is because of the suspension of belief. You can create super human beings, magical powers, fantastical creatures, as long as you make it as believable as possible and keep it consistent.

Example: Superman For decades, people have accepted that there is a superhuman man who comes from another planet, but they don’t believe that he can disguise his identity with glasses alone.

yeah, you're not fooling anyone, Superman

yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, Superman

How to Prevent Plotholes

It’s easier to prevent a plothole than to fill one.

  • outline your story
  • create character sketches
  • outline the rules and limitations of your magic systems
  • research before writing
  • keep track of the time of day, hour, month, season, and year of your story so you don’t accidently skip summer and fall and go straight into winter.

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How to Fill Plotholes

Break out the shovels!

Break out the shovels!

  1. Identify your plot holes. Read through your MS and look for unanswered questions and things that couldn’t happen
    1. Your character could not have survived that fall
    2. Your character’s hair changed color
    3. Your character is angry in this chapter but fine in the next
    4. Your character’s worst fear is being shot, but you have her bravely confront an armed robber.
    5. Your character can’t swim, but saves a child from drowning.
    6. Your character’s dog went missing. You never explained what happened to it.
  2. Create setup: make sure you lead up to the event so it can realistically unfold.
  3. Make changes: no one likes to make big changes, but think of the big picture. You may have to adjust the setting, events, even drastically change your character so that necessary events can occur.
  4. Ask an outsider. Beta readers are far more likley to identify and resolve a plothole.
  5. Think on your back: they say lying on your back helps you think
  6. Step away from your WIP. Distance can help you see clearer. The solution may even come to you when you’re not thinking about it.
  7. Keep it simple: When filling plotholes, don’t make it difficult or over complicated.

It’s like Yzma’s plan to get rid of Kusco in the Emperor’s New Groove. She’s going to turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then put that flea in a box, and then put that box inside of another box, and then mail that box to herself, and when it arrives smash it with a hammer. She changes her mind–not because the plan was convoluted–to save on postage. She goes for a simple route: poison.

Recently I filled a glaring plothole–in the beginning of my book  no less–by using the methods above (mostly lying on my back and talking to my sister). What’s the biggest plothole you’ve ever had to fill?

Yes! It’s A New Book by Tolkien! ‘The Story of Kullervo’

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Good news for Tolkien fans!

A Tolkienist's Perspective

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In what seems to be a yearly tradition, the Tolkien Estate is treating us to a new book by our favourite author.

If you’ve done some reading about the Professor (beyond Middle-earth, that is), you may have encountered many references about Tolkien’s love for the Finnish epic tale of the Kalevala.

Well, turns out when he was a young man – already teeming with ideas and exquisite writing skills – he decided to write his own version of the book.

Here’s what an excerpt of what Harper Collins had to say on their site:

Kullervo son of Kalervo is perhaps the darkest and most tragic of all J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters. ‘Hapless Kullervo’, as Tolkien called him, is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny.

Tolkien himself said that The Story of Kullervo was ‘the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own’, and was ‘a major…

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Writer on a Warpath: Dylan Saccoccio Rampages against Reviewer

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There’s only one way to respond to a negative review: DON’T

Authors who challenge a review do nothing in the way of damage control. Quite the opposite, actually.

This is a major writing faux pas. At best the author comes off defensive or childish. At worst, the author comes off psychotic, especially when they threaten to post revenge reviews or even file a lawsuit.


On the offenders registry are authors Stephan J. Harper, Carroll Bryant, Emily Giffin, Chris McGrath, and now Dylan Saccoccio.

Today, I’d like to focus on Dylan Saccoccio (author of The Tales of Onora) for going on a rampage against a recent reviewer.


dylanDylan is an author I’m rather familiar with, having purchased his book based on the number of reviews, comparisons to Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, his impressive Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and the fact that I’m a sucker for an attractive cover.

You’ll note I did not determine my purchase based on the number of positive/negative reviews.

Similar criteria attracted the recent reader who left a less than positive review.

How Dylan responds is absolutely cringeworthy. See for yourself. If you’d like to see a train wreck, follow the link here.

His arguments aren’t even valid. He accuses negative reviews of being damaging to his novel’s success and a reflection of the reviewer instead of the author or book.

What I find funny: It’s his response to the negative review–NOT the negative review itself–that risk damaging his book’s success and his reputation as an author. So essentially he’s causing the very thing he is afraid will occur.

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With over 100 reviews (60% being positive), a large twitter following, a loyal fan base, and a high Amazon ranking, it’s petty and ridiculous that he would even hone in on this one review.

He is so afraid of others threatening his writing career, he isn’t even aware he is committing career suicide. That’s like worrying about getting West Nile from a mosquito bite while smoking a cigarette.

Let’s look at the damage, shall we?

The review did no damage whatsoever; however, his response could cost him fans (new and old), damage his reputation, hurt sales, and lose followers.

Case in point. I used to follow him on twitter, but I simply can’t follow any author who behaves this way. Will he notice the sting of one bee? Maybe not. But if enough bees sting . . . you start to feel the venom.

So what did he accomplish in the way of damage control? Nothing but assuage a bruised ego.


So why did he respond to this review? The simple reason would be a lack of logic. He wanted the reviewer to remove his review because he worried it would damage sales. So in truth, he wasn’t trying to be a defensive man-child. He was responding to misconceptions of the dreaded negative review.

Misconceptions

Negative Reviews Discredit Your Book or Writing

Negative reviews add legitimacy to a book’s reputation. Case in point, I almost didn’t purchase The Tales of Onora because it had too much praise. Without a negative review, I’m led to believe that his friends and family (or paid people) were a majority of his reviewers.

Negative Reviews are Slander

Slander and opinion are very different things. Can anyone tell me what a review is? Yes, for those of you who said opinion, you would be correct. We live in ‘Merica where everyone has a right to an opinion–whether informed, well-constructed, or biased. Does the latter describe this recent review. Hardly. He simply didn’t like it, and to be honest, neither did I. And for a lot of the same reasons as this guy, I might add. I guess I’m glad I didn’t review it. I’d hate to be the target of damaged pride.

Reviews are Personal

Youve_Got_Mail_20917_MediumHere’s where he really lost it, accusing the reviewer of having no sympathy or humanity. As if the reader’s goal was to bring down his career. Most of the time, reviewers don’t know you. Your success or failure isn’t their concern–and it shouldn’t be. This isn’t heartless, it’s just a fact. They are interested in finding a good book that they will enjoy. You are not their focus when they leave a review. Reviews are for READERS, not authors. They are telling other readers why they liked/did not like a book and whether they think it is a worthy read. Their opinions can be hurtful, but it isn’t an attack.


For the record, the ONLY good way to respond to a negative review is to NOT RESPOND.

You could try NOT READING THEM, though I think an author interested in growth should read and consider all their reviews.

Instead of going on a rant, consider these alternatives to take the sting off.

  • take a shot for every negative review (non drinkers can substitute shots for chocolate)
  • frame them on the wall of shame
  • burn them
  • put a hex on the bad reviewer
  • determine if their negative response is in fact positive criticism and use that to improve your writing in the future
  • whine to a friend
  • re-read positive reviews
  • sing Let it Go
  • go online and distract yourself with cat memes

Well there you have it. I’m a firm believer in learning from other’s mistakes, so let this be a lesson to the rest of you. When you get a review–good or bad–be gracious, be humble, be prepared, and most importantly be quiet. Whatever your response is, keep it out of the spotlight. In the end, your success or failure relies more on you than your reviews and readers.

Do dishes, go to the gym, pick up child from school, write the next best-selling fantasy novel: You know, just your typical to-do list.

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The life of a working adult is busy, and writers are no exception. If anything, we’re busier than the average adult.

My to-do list today literally looks like this:

  • buy drano
  • get gas
  • blog
  • wash dishes
  • fill out forms for summer camp
  • clean car
  • put clothes away
  • finish outlining book one
  • edit chapter 9-10 of sister’s fantasy parody
  • pick up child from school
  • go to gym

Yup, just your typical to-do list . . . if you’re a writer, anyway.

A non-writer’s list stops at put clothes away, freeing them to watch Netflix or pursue some other pleasure in their–what’s that word again? . . . oh yeah, free time.

A list certainly helps categorize, order, even prioritize chores that need done, but a calendar is so much better. Join me Tuesday for my next Tuesday Tip which will be all about making a writing/life calendar. Guaranteed to help you turn your to-do’s into already done.

What does your to-do list look like? How many writing vs non-writing items are on your list? How many can you check off in a day?