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NaNoWriMo 2017 Reflection

November’s come and gone, and with it, the excited frenzy of NaNoWriMo. I’ve posted at least once before about how much I love NaNo, and how it kicked me in the butt to start putting the stories in my head onto paper/screen, so of course I participated again this year. As long as I have a choice, I’ll participate every year!

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Hufflepuff, so helpful.

 

This time around, I decided to work on three *new* stories I’ve had simmering in the back of my braincave for a good while. It was more than just an itch to write them – I needed to free up some brain space and get some idea of which one to work on next.

Which would have been great…if I also hadn’t decided to try and up my word goal by a lot. Somehow I got it into my head that I could write 80,000 words. Previously my max had been 60.5k in 2015, so 60k became my min goal.

Now, projects! What have I been cooking up, and how much did I want to accomplish for them?

Project #1 = adult paranormal romance, commonly referred to as the Dryads project. I’m super in love with the main characters in this one. It’s much more lighthearted, fun, and funny than anything I’ve written thus far. Goal: 20k words min, 30k aim.

Project #2 = YA space opera involving dragons, thus called the space dragons story. I like the concept of this and had some ideas of scenes, but hadn’t really settled on a plot. Of the three projects, this one felt like the weakest or hardest going in. Goal: 10k words min, 20k aim.

Project #3 = adult cyperbunk or post-cyberpunk, code-named TC. This was the newest idea out of the three, but I was really excited to dive into it. Goal: 20k words min, 30k aim.

 

One other thing to mention before I get into the results – this year I decided to write pep talks to myself to read at word count milestones. I did this a week or week and a half before NaNo and sealed them up in envelopes, thus ensuring I would probably forget what exactly was on them by the time I reached the goal. These also had rewards on them for motivation, like buying a slice of cheesecake for myself or getting to buy a book off my Amazon wishlist.

I kind of wish I had thought of the personal pep talk thing sooner, because I really enjoyed getting to open up the note and see the encouragement from past-me. The me that was SUPER EXCITED to write three projects, putting down new characters and worlds on the page before realizing I should have prepped more.

 

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Pumpkin seeds, water, and a cocktail in the skull jar = writing essentials.

 

So, how’d I do?

Dryads = 38,282 words
Space Dragons = 5,321 words
TC = 5,270 words
Orobouros = 1,011 words

TOTAL (based on my validation file) = ~50,140 words. There is always a discrepancy between whatever word processor you use and NaNo’s actual validation program. I think I actually had around 50.4k combined between all my docs, but didn’t keep track of the last few days well.

But wait, what’s that? That extra project at the end? That, my friends, is another random project I’ve been sitting on for about a year. My brain spontaneously decided to give me the opening for it, and I couldn’t very well just let it languish.

As you can see, the results were 10k less than my min and almost 30k less than what I wanted. Still, if I’d been working on a single project, that 50k would be pretty close to half a book for me.

It’s hard to keep perspective of the words you have written if you’re comparing them with where you want to be. There was one particular Sunday during NaNo where I needed like 8500 words to break even on progress, and all I could manage over the whole day was something around 4100 words.

I was so frustrated! Sitting there, hour after hour, with words coming out but not fast enough to get where I wanted to be. And, I don’t know, after maybe ten minutes of stewing in that frustration and looking back over my word count/progress, it hit me.

I had written ~4100 words on the day. Four thousand one hundred words. Yet I was stuck on this incessant need, this fuckin’ wall I’d built up in my head to scale and haul myself over to consider it a successful day.

You want to know what my normal drafting average is? Probably somewhere between 1500 and 3000 words/day. Previously the most I’ve ever written in one sitting was ~4600 words. This November I had a 6k day (my new PR), a 5k day, a 4k day, and at least a couple 3k+ days. Word counts aren’t everything, but comparing my previous drafting counts to then/now? That’s pretty awesome progress, folks. I had no reason to be ashamed of falling short of that 8500/day goal, or to be hard on myself.

To reiterate: if I had written 80,000 words in 30 days, it’d probably be equivalent to a full first draft on the Dryads project. That. Is. Insane. But…I could probably do it. Possibly even in the next few years.

 

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And, you know, with a ton of coffee.

 

Unrelated to word count, working on these three projects revealed pretty clear strengths/flaws in my original plans:

  • trying to get 80k words from three different ideas is a baaaaad idea
  • I need to study Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series for POV/character weight before attempting to write TC again
  • Dryads will definitely be the next project up for drafting/revising after my UF is out the door
  • If I say I’m going to take all of October off to prep for NaNo, I SHOULD ACTUALLY DO THAT
  • personal pep talks are awesome, and will return
  • not all stories/ideas can be, or should be, fast-drafted

 

This last point is something that will sit with me for a while, I think. Dryads has been pretty easy to draft, so far, because the plot and characters have been solidifying in my head for five or six months. I have the feeling TC will be pretty easy to draft too, assuming I get the plot and POV ironed out. Both of those projects are closer to the modern world as we know it, so maybe that’s why.

Space Dragons and Orobouros will take longer because even at this stage they have  richer and deeper voices. I don’t want to sacrifice that to get all their words on the page, if it means I’ll have spend months rewriting them. My goal is to write cleaner first drafts so rewrites and revisions don’t eat up gobs of my time. For some ideas that means plotting or outlining better from the outset; for others it will mean writing slower in what snatches of time I find between other projects.

Or it does for now, since I’m not under any deadlines but my own!

 

My take on NaNoWriMo is that it’s worthwhile to participate so long as you learn something from it, even if what you learn is that you don’t write well under pressure or need to have some extensive outline before starting. Though the default goal is 50k words, word count really does come secondary to the writing itself. And through the writing, putting yourself in that pressure cooker up against a deadline with a suggested word goal, I have a feeling you’ll learn a fair bit about what does and doesn’t work for your process.

If you did NaNo this year – congratulations! Whether you wrote one word or one hundred thousand, that’s still more words than you started with.  If you haven’t tried NaNo yet, do it! Give CampNaNoWriMo during March (or is it April?) or July a whirl. You can make your own goals for camp, but still have a deadline. It might help you ease into the frenzy that comes back around every November =).

 

 

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Fall Update + The Mighty Pens

Hi everyone! It’s been a while, but I actually have writing updates and stuff I can post about. Let’s get those out of the way before we talk about my favorite writing time of the year.

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Obligatory floof with some of this year’s new releases.

First and foremost – I FINISHED THE MOTHER F’IN REWRITE!

Eighteen months from start to a complete second draft, and I am THRILLED that is behind me. Draft 2 came out to 110k words, seventeen chapters total. I can’t remember the first draft count off the top of my head, but it doesn’t sound like much of a cut.

Much of the overall plot remained the same, but it was tightened a fair bit. I cut characters, added new ones that made sense. Added A TON of setting details and character stuff I neglected in the first draft. The resulting story is far and away a better version of what I originally wanted and envisioned. It’s finally *my* vision of Charleston, the main characters, and the plot.

Long story short on other things (because I really want this to be a shortish post):

  • Entered Pitch Wars, didn’t get picked*
  • Put up a blurb during #CPMatch and ended up with three new CPs
  • Pitched during Pitmad for the first time
  • Bought a new house!
  • Sold our old house!
  • Adopted a new kitten!

Before I move on, one other note and shout-out regarding my rewrite: I have been so, so lucky and am eternally grateful for my writing buddies/critique partners – Leah, Amy, and Lindy.

Leah, Amy, and I met at DFWCon 2015. We don’t write the same things, but we’re always there to support one another (oozing confidence is our thing). Lindy joined the fold after DFWCon 2016, and she’s been my alpha reader/confidante/sounding board pretty much ever since. She helped me hone my pitch, and read ALL of my chapters as I rewrote them for the WIP. Like, the last year of the rewrites were so much more bearable – AND PRODUCTIVE – because of her. All three of these wonderful ladies’ enthusiasm and support have helped keep me afloat; my tribe means the world to me, guys.

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Yuri On Ice ties with Pride and Prejudice (2005) for best-stress-reliever.

Okay, onto the other important thing.

I love NaNoWriMo. No, seriously, I do. NaNo taught me how to get shit done. (The drafting part, anyway.) I like charity and helping people in need when I can, too.

So it’s really cool that two awesome authors, Kat Brauer and Susan Dennard, put together a group (The Mighty Pens) which joins the writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo with fundraising for an awesome cause: the Malala Fund. You can read more about the group and fundraiser in the links posted, but in short, the Malala Fund is dedicated to providing twelve years of safe education for girls.

How does this relate to NaNoWriMo and/or me? Like a race or something like Jump Rope for Life (if you’ve heard of that, not sure they’re still doing it), people get sponsorships of donations depending on how long they run, or how many minutes they can jump rope. The Mighty Pen has a similar goal – drive donations and/or sponsorships based on how many words we write for NaNoWriMo.

MY GOAL:

  • 80,000 words, all of it for new projects. This isn’t for one book, either. I have three stories (technically more but I have to at least strive for an intact sanity by the end of November) I want to get started so that when I am finished with revisions, I have headway into new words. My ideal breakdown is:
    • 30,000 words on a paranormal romance
    • 30,000 words on a cyberpunk sci-fi
    • 20,000 words on a YA space opera

If you’d like to sponsor me, whether it’s $1 per 10,000 words or $10 for every $10,000 words, I would be so, so grateful and you’d be helping girls all over the world!

 

How will I know how many words you’ve written, or current progress?

  • I will be updating my word counts on my NaNo profile with each writing session.
  • Though I am going to try to stay off of Twitter and other social media to maximize writing time and reduce distractions, I will do my best to post my word count at least once a day.
  • Ask me!

 

That’s all I have for now. For any other writers – I hope to see you burning up your keyboards or notebooks with how quickly your stories are coming out of you. May your words flow bright and strong!

 
*I hoped I wouldn’t be picked, actually, which sounds sort of… counter productive, but I can go into that more sometime later if anyone wants. I definitely wanted to apply just to give it a shot, but was less stressed about not getting picked than getting picked.

 

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Rewriting…still

I’ve been working for a full year now and still haven’t finished the second draft of my UF book. Let’s just say it’s been a steep learning curve, and various crap happened throughout the year that didn’t make it any easier.

But – and there is a silver lining here – I’ve learned a lot. Just like a first draft, you kinda have to figure out a process for second and later drafts by doing it. Otherwise you’re flailing and wasting time and letting the voice of doubt sink its claws deeper into you….

I know, I’ve been there. I still flail, waste time, and want to burn the scene I’m trying to fix at least once a week. I don’t, though. I cut the words, re-write them over and over if I have to, until they make more sense.

Surely drafts three and on will be much, much easier.

 

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Assuming this guy lets me have some peace at the desk!

 

In any case, I’m sure there are tons of you out there looking at your NaNo or some other WIP first draft, positively cringing (or crying) from all the problems you see. Good news! NaNoEdMo is coming up in less than two weeks! Like NaNoWriMo, there’s a community undertaking the journey with you of trying to fix those words. Instead of 50,000 words, the goal is 50 hours of editing. That’s a little over 1.5 hours per day. Sounds totally do-able, right? Head on over to the website and sign up!

Having said that, I really, really don’t suggest diving in without some kind of plan.By that I mean jumping in feet first without looking over the first draft, thinking about what needs to change, characters that need to be moved, making notes, etc. It’s overwhelming. But if you’re looking for a place to start, this is what I tried:

  • Let the book sit (hopefully you’ve let it rest for a few weeks, if not a month, since finishing the draft)
  • Highlighted sections in different colors based on what changes were needed (green for setting, orange for plot, etc.)
  • Wrote each scene on a notecard
  • Made an outline for what actually happens in the first draft (even if you went by an outline while writing, it may be good to make this just to catch any differences that cropped up by accident)
  • Made an outline for draft two based on what needed to be moved/changed
  • Came up with an arbitrary date to finish the draft

 

What actually worked:

  • Outlines — these have made the biggest improvement, I think. Every time I changed something or got feedback from an alpha reader/critique partner, I readjusted the outline and was able to stay on track much better.
  • Scene cards — these helped to an extent. They’re nice if you want to lay them all out and see what happens when you move pieces around, but for me, there was too much information on them. My scenes were too big, so about a quarter through I stopped using them as my guideline.
  • Alpha/Beta reader — to be fair I didn’t have a reader/crit partner until about halfway through the year, but I highly recommend having someone read the revised/rewritten chapters as you get through one.

 

What didn’t work:

  • Highlighting the first draft — there was simply too much that needed to be reworked. Since it’s first person POV and the main character didn’t cooperate very well in the first draft, a lot of it couldn’t be salvaged word-for-word.
  • Word/scene goals/timeline — hahahaha. I have broken pretty much every one of these I made. I underestimated how long it would take to rewrite everything, because my brain isn’t in first-draft-vomit-mode. It’s in make-everything-pretty mode. Luckily I’m not on a contracted deadline so I can take as much time as you want.
    • If it takes you a day to fix 50 – 100 – 1000 words, THAT’S OKAY. You don’t have to try to do a scene a day.

 

I also read quite a number of articles on rewriting, editing, the second draft, etc. Many, many of them will be much more helpful than me, both in terms of process and motivation/inspiration. The edit caves are deep, dark, and full of hidden bears that will gobble you up if they get the chance… take a torch and a shotgun with you:

 

Chuck Wendig has three good write ups about editing/rewriting/second drafts. Hopefully you get a kick out of the profanity as much as I do.

Susan Dennard has a treasure trove of writing posts, from planning a draft to fixing one.

Delilah Dawson, whom you should follow on Twitter, often takes questions and runs through scenarios like starting a short story or what her process is for revisions. Might be a little difficult to find the edit/revision posts but worth a look.

NaNoEdMo has a ton of posts from previous years to go back through. One of my favorites is this one by Julie Hutchings.

 

You can also look up Rachel Aaron (Bach), Kristin Lamb, and Holly Lisle to fill your brain with more revision gooey-ness. There are so, so many others too.

Catch you all at NaNoEdMo!

 

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Top 5 Songs via Spotify – 2016

 

Late last year I switched from Pandora to Spotify for writing music, and for the most part I couldn’t be happier. Spotify is leaps and bounds better at finding new music based on tracks you already like. They’ve added customized suggestions too, like the Release Radar that updates late Thursday/early Friday every week and recommended songs at the bottom of your individual playlists. My ears have never been so happy, except when they keep putting rap metal into my weekly Discover Playlist.

Nowhere did I sign up for rap metal, end of story.

Anyway, I thought it’d be neat to go over the songs I found through Spotify this year and make my own Top 5 list. They have a playlist of top 2016 tracks for me but I don’t agree on the order, so nyeh. Anyway, these are the songs that have most influenced and helped with my writing this year:

 

#5 Tie between Lifelines by I Prevail and Happy Song by Bring Me the Horizon

Lifelines is upbeat and a little on the lighter side, but has a killer chorus. Brings to mind fight or action scenes wherein the MC is finally victorious or has some kind of epiphany after screwing up so many times.

 

Happy Song doesn’t exactly sound happy… unless you have a bit of a dark heart (like me!). But it’s inspirational, in its own way. From just a normal, non-writing perspective, the lyrics really hit home; no matter how shitty a day has been, or how bad my mental state is, all it takes is one song – an anthem for that moment – to escape the maelstrom and survive.

Gnarly bass, heavy guitars – be still my beating heart. Great background music for an anti-hero getting ready to kick some ass, or anyone for that matter.

 

 

#4My Soul is Empty and Full of White Girls by Slaves

No, I have no idea why it has this kind of a name. What I do know is that I love the bass line. The chorus is uplifting bordering on ethereal, kind of a magic in itself (which doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to visualize spells and magic). It’s been hugely beneficial when I get into a rut about my MC, specifically on the urban fantasy project, and need to remember where she’s going in the bigger picture.

 

 

#3 – Talking Body by Don Vedda (Tove Lo cover)

Going to slowwww it down a bit with this one. Covers are often hit or miss when they come up on the playlists, but this one gives my current favorite (Chandelier by Normandie) a run for its money. Once again, the bass line drew me in and the guitar solo sealed the deal. Like #4, this song helps remind me the story’s a marathon effort, not a sprint. Also not to rush the romance arc… which is how I ended up writing the payoff scene intended for one of the sequels. TLDR – great for romance arcs!

 

 

#2 – Mad at Myself by Issues

I had such a hard time picking between Talking Body and Mad at Myself for this spot, but ultimately had to go with MaM. Dare I say it? Loved the bass and guitars, and the switching between clean and screamed vocals. The dual personality fit MC well, given the two worlds she’s trying to fit into. It’s a messy sort of character anthem, and hella fun.

 

#1 – *Moth by HELLYEAH

Where do I even begin with this? It’s one of those rare unicorn songs that just fits perfectly with damn near everything. Dark, heavy, lovely; seriously I listened to this on repeat for almost a month straight when it first came on, and STILL haven’t worn it out.

Moth is one of those songs I expect will be on almost all of my playlists for sci-fi/fantasy writing projects. Midpoint/mirror moment? This song’s for you. Negative character arc? This song’s for you. Good vs. evil or grey vs. black climax battle? This song’s for you. Betrayal, loss of hope, renewal of hope, a thousand other things – this song’s for you.

*Warning – video contains bugs (moth and pupae), suggestions of domestic abuse and cutting (aftermath, not actual acts), and guy holding a string of fake severed ears for some reason.

 

And that’s it! Enjoy the songs, and hopefully one of them will spur your own creativity and imagination. The actual “Top Tracks for 2016” playlist that Spotify made for me can be found here. If the link doesn’t work, give a shout in the comments. And if there are any songs that really inspired you this year, let me know!

 

Happy Holidays to you all, and see you in 2017!

 

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How writer brains work

So just a quick post – sort of gushing about another “Ah ha!” moment, while also to show how your brain comes up with shit that will work if you don’t hamstring it.

I’m trying to finish all remaining rewrites (a.k.a. draft 2) on the urban fantasy project by end of June, plan being to send CPs/Betas the first half by end of May.  Which meant starting from the beginning. I rewrote chapter 1 and the first scene of chapter 2 in February or March at some point, then dropped them. Because the second scene in chapter 2 just wouldn’t work.

Can’t exactly avoid it any more, though. It has to get done or other goals this year *coughPitchWarscough* won’t happen.

I was supposed to finish it yesterday. Didn’t happen. The new words sounded just as boring and overdrawn as the first set. To bypass some of the stress and anxiety of missing yet another deadline, I decided to plow ahead to chapter 3 and come back. As I started jotting out the first scene in chapter 3, this is what happened:

“Okay, where exactly are all these things in this container?”

*Tries to sketch out how it’s laid out. Looks up cargo container packing pictures.*

“How is there any room for her to move in there? And why would they pack the stuff that they need to unload and hide IN THE BACK?”

Brain – What about making it a pirate ship instead?

“Don’t be silly, there can’t be any pirate ships in this thing. That makes no sense-”

*Googles old merchant ship holds.*

“How can I make this fit the rest of the world? How can a pirate ship fit in an alternate, modern Charleston?”

Brain – Here’s all you need to know to tie it into this moment and recent past.  *Dumps out ideas and possible subplot threads.*

“…NOW CHAPTER TWO WILL BE SO MUCH MORE FUN!”

 

And now (well not right now) I can go back to chapter two and give it the oomph it deserves. It won’t be pirate ships… exactly.  Mwahahah.

Moral of the story: don’t quash the little voice that offers up what sounds, at first, like an outlandish idea. It might be the solution you’ve been banging your head on the keyboard for.

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Over the middle and through the words…

March is halfway over now, which by association also means I’m on the downward part of the NaNoEdMo hill. In 17 days I’ve rewritten around 6 scenes. I say around because the final fight isn’t cut into neat sections.

Six-ish scenes in almost 28 hours of work.

It doesn’t look like a lot when you compare the numbers, but it is. I’m rewriting pretty much every chapter in this draft. And if I’m going to rewrite a chapter to fix voice, I might as well widen the stroke to fix other major issues. Plot beats and structure are being hit too. The foundations for setting, world, and secondary characters are getting reinforced.

When I *tried* to start revising in February and wanted to bang my head on the keyboard, two of my friends suggested to try approaching it as another first draft. I had no idea what they meant at the time.  Now I do: give myself permission to write complete shit, AGAIN.

The funny thing, though, is that it’s less shitty the second time around. Maybe it’s been given a pat on the back and upgraded to crappy. I’m still way over-writing scenes and struggling to find the POV heroine’s voice, but there’s a bit of light poking holes in the angry revision cloud of doom.

Obviously I’m not going to finish draft two within 22 more hours of work. Or even by the end of the month. If I can find a revision process, and lowering the amount of time it takes to rewrite a scene or chapter, I’ll be ecstatic.

 

I actually decided to update my writing schedule a.k.a. goals. Clearly I am crazy because, again, I’ve only rewritten 6 out of god knows how many scenes for this freakin book. This is what I’m talking about:

 

  • March thru April (…June): finish draft 2 of UF #1, send to betas; write query, synopsis, and pitches for Twitter
    • April 23 – 24 = DFWCon (not planning to pitch or consult w/ any agent)
  • June thru July: outline & flesh out DF idea
    • June 9 = Pitmad for UF  #1
    • June ?? = SFFPit for UF #1
  • July: Draft DF book for CampNaNo
    • start prepping PitchWars submission
  • August thru September: complete draft 3 of UF #1; work on query, synopsis, blurb, etc.
    • August 3 = PitchWars subs open (!)
  • September thru October: complete draft 3 of UF #1  if not finished, send to CPs/NTSFW; additional plotting/planning for UF #2
    • PitchWars revisions (if picked)
  • November: finish draft of UF #2 for NaNoWriMo; work on query, synopsis, Twitter pitches, etc. for UF #1
  • December: finish draft of DF; work on draft 4 for UF #1
    • December 1 = Pitmad for UF #1
    • December ? = SFFPit for UF #1

 

So yeah. Wouldn’t that be nice if all those things got done? I’d probably hate myself next Feb. with all the revisions I’d have to look forward to. But it’d be so worth it.

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Ready, set, NaNoWri- , er, NaNoEdMo

*Crawls out of first draft slag.*

Suffice to say neither January nor February went according to the revision plan, but that’s the good thing about being an unpublished, un-contracted writer – you determine the deadline. If you need more time to fix the story, or talk yourself off the “All these words are complete shit” cliff about fifty times, you have it.

Finding a revision process that works for me has been the most frustrating thing. I’ve littered my desk with scene cards, post-its, notebooks, and craft books. I still don’t know if any of that will do any good, but hey, at least I’ve got a more cohesive, concise outline! I’ll just have to throw myself off the deep end and figure out what works. Much like drafting.

And to help kick me into the pool’s edge, NaNoEdMo begins tomorrow! It’s similar to NaNoWriMo, only it’s for editing/revising rather than drafting, and the goal is 50 hours rather than 50,000 words. Granted, 50 hours doesn’t sound like a lot… until you’re staring down the barrel of a character who won’t cooperate. Now, I’m not very good at making and sticking to my own writing goals, but NaNo’s have always worked for me. So thank heavens NaNoEdMo has a similar suggested structure. Just a touch over 1.5 hours a day for 31 days will get you to 50 hours. Substantial rewrites, grammar/spelling errors, and the like all count as acceptable “edits” for the event.

If you’d like to join me in revision nightmares funtimes, you can sign up at http://nanoedmo.com/ .
** If you have problems registering, contact the Webmaster (see Contact Us page) and he can help set you up.

 

See you all after the first breakdown! Har har har….

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2014 / 2015 Housekeeping – Pt. 1

Let’s just say I’ve fallen behind on putting up book reviews. I mean, behind. We’re talking 10 books from 2014 and 3 from 2015 – by release date, because I’m pretty sure I read more than three books this year…

Anyway, in the spirit of moving to a new year, time to get those puppies done! *Note – may be some spoilers in the reviews, so be warned!

 

1). Crimson Son by Russ Linton – A superhero story that doesn’t center on the super hero, Spencer is the son of Crimson Mask (the world’s most powerful augment), but doesn’t have any powers. Spencer’s one part cynic and two parts hormonal teen, which made connecting with him a bit of a struggle. The pacing, at times, seems to drag despite the urgency of Spencer’s quest. But the extended list of characters, from Hurricane and Hound to the Black Beetle himself, help round him out. It’s a story of survival, finding the truth, and, in a way, coming home. The truth and reality Spencer gets in the end aren’t butterflies and rainbows, but it’s enough for him to begin to heal.
Rating – 3.5

 

2) Premonitions by Jamie Schultz – I don’t know whether to call this a supernatural heist book, or maybe just urban fantasy heist? In any case, it was a fun read. Getting to know Karyn and co. takes a bit of time. There’s kind of an obligatory typecasting – there’s a silent guy who serves as the muscle, a magic-user who’s a bit more neurotic, Karyn as the leader and pre-cognitive Ace-in-the-hole. And then you have Anna. I still don’t know what Anna’s purpose is, other than a foil to Karyn and possibly the main gun. Strange to say, the highlight of the book is Karyn’s addiction. To keep her pre-cog abilities from rendering her to a comatose state, Karyn has to take an illegal drug called Blind. Her source dries up at the time shit is really hitting the fan. Seeing Karyn’s breakdown and flight from her team hit all the right notes. Her struggle is what brings the book together, and whether she gives in or overcomes it, well… you’ll just have to read!
Rating- 3.5

 

3) Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier – As always, Juliet is a master of elegant prose and fantasy with a historical feel. Blackthorn and Grim are two unlikely companions, but work well together. The premise promises to be interesting throughout the series –  saved from execution by the Fae, Blackthorn must give help to anyone who asks. If she can do this for seven years, she’ll get her revenge on the very man who imprisoned her in the first place.  Her first task is to help save a company of women nearly drowned in a local pool. It turns out one of them is betrothed to a local prince, and when she doesn’t fit the mold or personality he expected, he elicits Blackthorn’s help too.  It’s not a heart-pounding pace, and sometimes Blackthorn’s attitude makes it difficult to sink completely into the story, but has a happy ending typical of Marillier’s work – somebody ends up happy, but maybe not the titular character.
Rating – 3.8

 

4) Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews – This is the one we’ve been waiting for, guys! The book where we finally get to meet Roland, Kate’s notorious father who eats, sleeps, and breathes magic – and it lives up to the hype, though in a different way than expected. Kate is as sharp and sarcastic as ever as she tries to unravel the mystery of who actually killed a Master of the Dead. Hugh returns, still a giant pain in the ass. Packed with action, sprinkled with a few dark moments, and we get to see more of what’s in store if Kate fails against her father. It didn’t hit me as hard as Magic Slays or Magic Rises, but from this point, the clock starts ticking to when Kate will have to actually fight her father.
Rating – 4

 

5) The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley – Wow – this one was a ride. Plant magic, parallel worlds converging, and gender-bending societies made this a helluva standout in epic fantasy. The multiple POVs lend well to the broad scope of the problem – to the worlds converging and the threatened destruction/subjugation. Though Lilia is a problem child, she promises to be more important as Oma grows closer in the sky (meaning book 2, Empire Ascendant). Parts of the book reminded me of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in the way Hurley deals with gender identification and roles. The ending did feel a bit rushed, and not as clear as it needed to be in explaining what Lilia was doing. That said, it’s a refreshing addition to the epic genre.
Rating –  4

Side note: Hurley is one of the writers whose blog you should be following if you aren’t already. She gives bluntly honest, down-to-earth insight on her struggles and successes as a writer. Especially great for young writers or aspiring writers who think they’re going to make it big with one book and then not need to have a day job to support their writing.

 

6) Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews – Woooo buddy I needed a cold drink after this one. This new series by Ilona and Gordon promises to be a scorcher. They build another impressive world where magic is hereditary, and houses form out of the families with the greatest abilities. Nevada is good at being a private eye, helping keep her family afloat so they don’t lose their home and livelihood. Even though she gets in over her head, she does what’s necessary to level the playing field. She’s not a chosen one. She doesn’t come from a great house. She doesn’t get rescued. She’s headstrong, but not in the same way as Kate from the Kate Daniels series. With Mad Rogan in the mix, I can’t wait to see the fireworks in the future books.
Rating – 4.5

 

7) Clariel by Garth Nix (biggest letdown of 2014)

Nix’s Old Kingdom books were probably the biggest reason/inspiration I got into writing. The world is so different from the standard dragons and wizards; magic is free, potent, and dangerous not just to the living, but the dead as well. There are gates in death, and those who die aren’t truly at rest until they pass beyond the final one. I hoped Clariel, would give a greater picture of the Old Kingdom before the Great Charter Stones were broken with royal blood, before the role of Abhorsen became incredibly important. I guess it does, to some extent, but fails to explain any of it. Clariel is unlikeable throughout the whole story; she has virtually no arc or development. She continuously ponders about ditching her parents’ ambitions and living in the forest as a ranger, yet does nothing about it. The plot is shallow, and the antagonists’ motives/plans are so easy to read it’s honestly like watching Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith all over again. But those things, really, aren’t the biggest letdown – that award goes to the world building. The story takes place mostly in Belisaere, with Clariel’s mother taking position there in some respect to her goldcraft. Very, very little is done with respect to building up the guilds, their history, and their importance to the city and King. Basically all the magic and wonder created in the other Old Kingdom books is completely missing here. It’s just unpleasant all the way around.
Rating – 2

 

8) The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (favorite of 2014)

Part historical, part suspense, and with what seems like a speculative element thrown in – it’s an unusual, but fantastic combination. Nella begins as a romantic hoping her new husband will love her, and by the end she’s no token wife. She truly becomes a head of the household, at least what’s left of it. The miniatures are as stunning as the writing is beautiful. And I still don’t know who the miniaturist is! What floors me, though, is how much this book brings to mind British and American literature taught in late high-school and undergrad. Oddly, it reminds me of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. But better, way better than the Dickens, Chopin, and the like taught in college. Seriously a fantastic read,  and I can’t wait to read Burton’s The Muse coming out later this year.
Rating – 4.8

 

No, I didn’t count wrong. The other five reviews will be put up in the next week (probably while I’m procrastinating revisions). Maybe I’ll stop letting them get so out of control this year!

 

Read on, write on, eat cake. Happy New Year!

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Crimson Peak / Writing Epiphany

I was going to review Crimson Peak… until fellow DFWCon-er Rachel put up this post. She hits every point I could’ve possibly hoped to make, then adds a frigate full of sad-eyed kittens. Take for example –

I’d like to draw your attention to one other point that I didn’t notice until my second viewing, but when I did, it broke my damn heart. At the beginning, when Thomas takes Edith to the party and convinces her to dance with him, he says: “I’ve always closed my eyes to things that make me uncomfortable. It makes them easier.” Consider that for a moment in light of the abuse the man’s faced at the hands of his sister. And then consider the two times we see him in a sexual situation, with Edith he had his eyes open, and for all the animalistic sounds we hear leading to when he’s caught in the act with Lucille, he doesn’t.

I. Can’t. Even.  *Looks at Thomas Sharpe and mourns.* Damn you, Hiddleston, look what you’ve done to us!

Long story short – I loved the movie. Loved. The moth-eaten manse of Crimson Peak is creepy, yet stunning. Creaks and groans, red clay oozing from the walls, corridors framed with dagger-like protrusions. At first the spirits act like the trailers want you to believe – on the periphery, meant to scare or harm Edith. Which is a shame, because I spent way too much time (like a lot of people, I suspect) waiting for when the ghosts would do more, instead of absorbing the character turmoil on the screen.

Thomas, Lucille, and Edith, it turns out, are exactly what I needed to understand why my current WIP felt off.

(Okay, you got me. It was mostly Thomas.)

Up until this October, I had the worst time with my story’s MC (main character). From day one she’s felt more like a canvas I splattered with attributes and shallow feelings than a genuine human. I tried character questionnaires, and uncovered the parts of her back story pertinent to the story to no avail. It always seemed like my answers were forced on her. She makes it through each plot point, but there are times when I can’t tell if it’s because of her agency or my authorial hand pushing her through them.

Added to this was the sense that I needed to make the story darker somehow, and not knowing how to go about it.

Cue Thomas and Lucille, characters extraordinaire. The slow reveal of wicked things they’ve done to survive, glimpsing where those dark roots took hold and how they flourished to an eventual, likely unavoidable, fall. Their back story amounts to little more than breadcrumbs, but we don’t need to be shown more – their habits, motivations, and actions can easily be traced down that rabbit hole. Therein lay my answer, and also, the realization how desensitized I (and maybe we, as a nation) have become in our little bubble known as America.

I mean, how fucked up is that my mind went to some kind of magic event/apocalypse or making the world dystopic just to send the story on a darker path? There’s so much violence and hate in the world as it is… without any magic or other supernatural bullshit involved. People end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each day is a tragedy for somebody, whether it’s a car accident caused by a drunk driver or a kid accidentally suffocating him/her self trying to do some new fad stunt to fit in.

Needless to say, the events around the world since I started this post 1.5 months ago reinforce part 1 of the epiphany – the source material or “inspiration” needed to darken my fictional world already exists. I don’t need to make something else up when people are far too cruel to one another already.

For part 2 – as will happen with epiphanies, I can’t really put into words -why- it clicked on a character level. All I know is that after seeing Crimson Peak, I understand my MC. She isn’t just a skeleton. She’s not whole either, but she feels much more real and separate from my own self now than she ever did. Once I started seeing her as a person, shaped by her past, present, and her goals for the future, she started answering the questions I had for her. She is more cohesive in my mind, more apparent (I think) in the narrative. The choices made in regards to obstacles (plot) feel more like what she would do and less like me pushing her in the right direction.

Granted, all of this came about after I finished up the 1st draft of book one. So I’ve been putting this newfound insight to practice for book two (my 2015 NaNoWriMo project), but this also means extensive edits for book 1.

*Sighs. Buys all the coffee.*

 

If there is one moment in Crimson Peak where, I think, the epiphany on creating whole and real characters took hold, it would be when Thomas has to break Edith’s heart. It’s a cliché moment – he crushes her romantic ideals for the two of them so her father won’t reveal Thomas’s secret – but then veers from the stereotype. Thomas asks her what she knows of love and goes on to berate her overly optimistic, childish view of it, yet it’s almost like he’s speaking to himself. Like he’s afraid of the spark Edith ignited in him – warm, bright, the promise of acting in his own interests. This is a completely alien concept compared to the love Lucille has shown. And as much as he fears Edith finding out their secret, he’s more afraid of the change she offers. She rattles his core foundations. Doesn’t Lucille know what’s best? Hasn’t she protected him all this time?

His emotions aren’t just stemming from having to break Edith’s heart, but because he knows the bleak course he will return to without having her in his life.

 

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NaNoWriMo – Week One

So it’s that time of year again. No, not the time of pumpkin spice everything and Uggs, but for NaNoWriMo. (For more info on NaNo, you can go here.) This is my second year participating, and I am loving it. Of course, I decided to do this year a bit differently by actually prepping in October. Said prepping led to accepting that I’ve done a piss-poor job on the world-building side of this project from the get go. The remedy will be an ongoing process that will require numerous edits and drafts to fix. Book one is a serious problem child, but it’s on the back burner for now.

What is this year’s NaNo project? Why, it’s book two of my urban fantasy series project. I started book one in last year’s NaNo, and finished up the draft just a couple months ago. I think I’ll be able to get book two drafted in a shorter span, though we’ll see how that goes when I dive back into revisions of book one.

Anyway, so far take #2 of NaNo has been a fun experience. The world and characters are starting to make more sense. I’ve been very adamant about my writing time, and it’s paid off (except for yesterday, thanks to a trip to an Irish pub and general exhaustion). I reached my highest daily words written today – 4588! Having NaNo start on a Sunday -Daylight Savings to boot – also paid dividends; I stayed up til midnight, got some words in, then continued on in the later afternoon, to the tune of 2500+ words for opening day.

Not going to lie, ending up with 4 – 6.5 hours a sleep several nights on end isn’t easy. But late at night is the best time for consistent writing that I’ve found. Until I can make a new pattern that results in similar productivity earlier in the day, it’ll stay that way.

 

Some things that have helped make this first week a success:

  1. better understanding of the MC and world I’m trying to make. (This ties into my Crimson Peak review/epiphany post that is still in-progress)
  2. a short list of scenes I know I want in the book, or at least want to write
  3. new music thanks to Spotify (spurred on by Delilah Dawson’s post on finding new music; I too had the same issue with using Pandora, but no longer!)
  4. asking a friend to give me an idea what to write and ditching it, but coming up with a plausible alternative that spider webbed outward
  5. coffee
  6. jotting down ideas, or at least thinking about the story every day (especially at work)

 

Short of the pre-NaNo meet and greet that was held by our local chapter a couple weeks ago, I haven’t gone to any write-ins. It makes me feel pressured – to be funny or charismatic, to write something off the top of my head. It’s an odd feeling and I don’t know how to tell my brain to stop, so I’ve just stayed home. Even though the cats bite my toes and plop in my lap to mess with my earbuds, the writing space finally feels like my zone. I’m in my groove. Characters are working. Things are breaking. The story is stitching itself together like a hodge-podge quilt.  That’s not to say I don’t get out and socialize with other writers, but that it takes me a long time to feel comfortable. And the more people you throw in that pot, the longer it’s going to take me to reach that point. Maybe towards week three or four I’ll try a write-in, but at the moment it just feels like a bad idea to divert from the pattern and expect the results will be less than stellar.

 

Anyway, week one tally: 15123 words. I’m ahead of NaNo’s goal by one day, and have been toying with the idea of trying to get to 60k instead of 50k by the end. It’s a stretch, I think, but would only take a bit over 2k / day to reach it. Hard, yes; do-able, I think so. Just have to keep writing with reckless abandon.

Its all going to be crap when it’s over, but there will be nuggets in there somewhere, too.

 

Are any of you out there doing NaNoWriMo? How’s it going? What are your steps to success, or, what do you feel like is pulling you down? Need any musical inspiration? I’m all ears, let me hear what’s going on with ya!

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