No Zero Days – The Key to Finishing Your Novel

I was speaking with an associate recently about motivation, finding time, and just making progress on a goal, and he shared a technique with me that is helping him achieve what he wants.

For myself, this goal would be finishing my novel, Isle of Elandia.  Chapter 3 is complete, and now that the new school semester has started I have not been able to find much time to even open my Scrivener to begin chapter 4.  It’s not that I don’t know what happens in chapter 4, I just can’t seem to put aside enough time during the day that I think will be beneficial enough to make a dent in it.  After speaking with my colleague though, I’ve realized that I may have the wrong mindset about what it takes to make progress.

What I’ve realized is there will always be something more important than my novel, such as: working, my child, dishes, yard work, laundry, a shower, walking the dog.  The list of things that take priority over novel writing is endless, and that list will never shorten because they’re ongoing tasks.  Until I retire, my child goes off to college, global warming destroys all vegetation, I join a nudist colony, my dog goes to the eternal rabbit fields, and I buy into the idea that the bacteria on my skin cleanses me, I will never have free time to write my novel.  And isn’t this the truth for all of us who haven’t written a word in ages but always plan to?

So back to my associate.  He told me about this concept of “No Zero Days”.  It’s premise is simple, don’t go a day where you make zero progress towards your goal.  You don’t have to devote an hour or two hours to it, and you don’t necessarily have to not do something else critical in order to accomplish it because the concept of No Zero doesn’t have a time limit, it’s just do something.  It can be a thought, a sentence, a detail of a landscape setting, a unique marking on a character, or something as simple as deciding how many chapters to have in your book.  Too often we set lofty goals for progress, (this week I’ll finish a scene!  …yea right) and become overwhelmed by how much effort or time it will take to complete it, so we put it off “until I have time.”

In contrast, there is no overwhelming goal with No Zero Days.  And even the busiest of us must admit that there are periods throughout the day where we are inevitably forced to do nothing, and which could be transformed into No Zero Day time.  One great example is going to the restroom.  We all have to do that every single day, and there is literally nothing else to occupy your time doing it besides thinking, so put those moments to use.  Think about your novel, iron out a plot detail, and make it a No Zero Day.

To help keep track and make this a visual goal, print out a calendar sheet and tack it up somewhere that you will see it throughout the day to help remind you to take a moment and think about your novel.  Maybe, just maybe, you might surprise yourself and find a few minutes while waiting in line for your coffee to jot down a scene, or a dialogue, or resolve a key plot hole or piece of character backstory.

There are tons of calendars out there on Google images for free.  Or if you don’t have a printer at home, set a daily reminder on your phone’s google calendar.  Not close to paper or pen or your laptop?  I bet your cellphone is handy though! Use the memo feature to record your progress.

The main point I’m making is this:  Progress doesn’t have to be big, it can be small, but it needs to be progress or else that novel won’t get written.

There are many great writers who have employed a similar technique and were successful at completing many novels.  One writer that comes to mind right away is J.R.R Tolkien.  I don’t know if he called it No Zero Days, but he was no stranger to making small amounts of progress at a time.  His The Hobbit  began while he was grading a student paper.  He took one moment to collect his thoughts and came up with the sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” that blossomed into the tale we know and love today.  That didn’t take an hour or two hours, and he didn’t even set aside a special time for writing, he just took a moment and made it a No Zero Day.

So, if you’re serious about completing your novel, then you have to start, and you have to do.  Forget about carving out time because most likely it’s not going to happen.  So don’t worry about making time, make progress, even if it’s just a one liner that you think about in between grading papers, answering phones, typing emails, walking the dog, or taking a dump.  Just make today a No Zero Day.

 

Review: Long Grows the Dark, by Catherine Labadie

A couple of years ago I reviewed Vixen by Sarah Catherine Muth.  This author has recently published a new novel under the name Catherine Labadie, and I was stoked to receive her request to review it!  I purchased the 427 page hard back edition of Long Grows the Dark and finished it in 3 days.  Suffice to say I was hooked from the start.

The back cover reads:

Glenna marveled at the increasing chills creeping up and down her arms. She tried to close the book, first casually, then attempting to force the covers together with both hands. Neither of them budged or gave the remotest indication that they would close, and the words seemed to be etched onto her mind’s long after she’d stopped focusing on them. To her horror, the book flipped to the opening page of its own free will and began repeating the message, over and over and over again in increasingly bright ink.

Red is the color of Fate, and Scarlet the color of the Blood, Glenna thought, the words not entirely her own. Crimson be the tide that will sweep over the land should hope fade to dark.

The room grew warm, then hot, as if bonfires were burning in the vicinity. Yet her chills remained, wracking her body with shivers she could not explain. When the book flipped to the last page with t-t-t-t noise as the parchment fluttered against itself, she felt the cold settle into her bones.

Prepare Yourself.

****

An interesting preview that gives the reader an idea that there is magic and mystery between the covers.  The words “Glenna thought” while she’s actually reading the text though bothered me a bit, but alas, it didn’t keep me from delving in.

This book has something for everyone, medieval fantasy, urban fantasy, supernatural beings, magic, romance, intrigue, creativity, good dialogue, battle, and more!

Long Grows the Dark follows Glenna, an enchantress from many centuries ago who is in love with her best friend’s fiance; and Gwendoline, a college student living present day who is actually (slight spoiler) Glenna reincarnated.  Both time threads center around Glenna/Gwendoline’s relationship with her best friends, and we soon learn that Glenna and crew failed to vanquish an evil in the past, and now it’s back in the present, and Glenna must figure out how to not fail this time and save her friends.  Each chapter switches between Glenna and Gwendoline’s POV and lays out the dilemma of yesteryear and today with a nice flow and at a great pace.  About 1/4 of the way through the book, the magic of a fated spell book unites the two timelines in the present, giving us just enough to connect with the past and to understand the peril without taking anything away from the present conflict.

I will try not to give away any spoilers, but I will say a few things that I really really liked about the book.

  1. The very first chapter with Gwendoline told me a lot about her, not by info dumping, but through clever dialogue, attitude, and action.  Her interaction with her best friend was so natural that I was smiling because it reminded me of myself with my best friend – it was great
  2. The whole script was so naturally written that I didn’t have a hard time imagining the scenes unfold, and they weren’t forced on me either.  The author has a writing style that describes it enough to picture, but not enough to squash my own imagination.  I really appreciated that and give kudos, that is talented writing
  3. Magic is part of this world as much as people wearing clothes.  The author does not delve into detail about how magic works or why, she just uses it, everywhere, and trusts the reader to understand and accept it, and it works.  I was not disappointed, annoyed, or confused.  There are familiars, supernatural powers, enchanted objects, spells and curses and the author does not info dump at all and with her writing style she doesn’t have to, it was like magic
  4. The enchanted object named Niles in the present, and the knight named Niles in the past added a layer of mystery that kept me wanting to find out how they were connected, it was a little obvious that they were one and the same, which made finding out how that came to be intriguing and fun, especially since Niles is a very witty and charming character
  5. Describing separate timelines in the same world can be challenging to make distinctive and paint a clear evolution between the two that is believable to the reader, but Labadie executes this nicely.  I’ve read many novels where literally the only thing that separates centuries of time is clothes and cars, and that is super annoying to read, but Long Grows the Dark paints a believable transition even where the use of magic is concerned – a small difference with a huge impact
  6. There is a passage where Glenna is struggling with her enchanted book Niles and it’s giving her attitude.  The way she tells this struggle was humorous, not overly descriptive, and enjoyable.  It added a natural lightness to the flow and story that I really liked – so much so that I made a note of it
  7. The author knows how to write a tasteful sexual encounter.  There are two sex scenes and the author did an excellent job in not making them icky, cliche, awkward, or filled with grimace-worthy descriptors for private parts (thank you!).  Not an easy task.  They were also well placed and added to the story, which is a must for sex scenes in my opinion.  They weren’t thrown in as an extra because the book has a romance arc
  8. The realistic portrayal of friendship and its challenges.  I appreciated the way the author has developed her characters’ friendship in the past and present, and includes the ugly reality that no one really wants to admit exists.  Without any spoilers, there are some things that happen with the friendship in both timelines with far-reaching consequences.  A lot of books focus on friends ultimately vanquishing evil and becoming united, which this book does too, but after the dust settles the author focuses a lot of attention on the toll of the battle, the decisions leading up, and the scars that remain after victory.  This isn’t a book about defeating the foe and going back to the same grind or happily ever after, this is a war that has a lasting impact on the characters and their friends.  As I read it, I honestly did not know what was going to happen, the unpredictability was refreshing
  9. The final battle.  The climactic finale to the entire book was a really enjoyable read, there is significantly enough time devoted to it, it is action packed, the lead up was great and thrilling and page turning, and the moving parts all went very well together.  There is a ton of magical elements woven in that both add to the story and feel natural to the setting and not forced, and there’s even an encounter with a supernatural that is interesting and ties up some loose threads, and of course an action packed battle scene with good choreography and tension

Now on to a few things that I felt detracted a bit from the story:

  1. Throughout the novel there are several places where it could have used a beta read and spellchecking to identify a few inconsistencies.  For example, at the end of chapter 6 Everleigh is looking at Niles with a fiendish expression, but then the beginning of chapter 7 states that she hadn’t noticed him yet, so that seemed a little inconsistent to me.  It was minor, but it made me squint
  2. The use of “exact replica” to describe the resemblance between Glenna and Gwendoline.  The word replica to me doesn’t seem like a fitting word to compare two people, and it felt a bit lazy.  Bringing this detail out in dialogue or even just a thought in Niles’ head would have sufficed, once.  The description that the bad guy has pointy teeth is a little overstated as well
  3. In one scene, Gwendoline casts a protection spell in her yard in order to practice fireballs, but when the fireball goes into the neighbor’s yard and destroys the trash can I was a little confused what good the protection spell was for.  I still enjoyed the scene, but this made me pause
  4. One of the heroes dies in a dual, (kind of spoiler???) and during the fight there’s excellent action, I’m on the edge of my seat and then….. he gets distracted for several moments and gets killed.  I didn’t find this realistic at all for a trained warrior to be in a life or death situation with one opponent and then just squirrel out and die – I was very upset.  This was a good character, and it seemed like such an uncharacteristic rookie mistake for him to make
  5. At one point the author describes Glenna’s reaction to finding out she is a reincarnated sorceress as “The story founded fantastic, unbelievable to the extreme even for a magic based world”.  This sounds like commentary more than character POV, and using “Magic based world” as how Glenna perceives her own world (the only one she knows, or at least, the only one that we know she knows) seemed odd, what other world would there be?  It just seemed like the author was trying to justify her magic to the reader when she didn’t have to
  6. There is a place also where it mentions the bad guy biting the neck of the princess in some kind of bonding ritual, but then the bond obviously didn’t stick and it was not fully explained what exactly biting someone would do nor why that was necessary since he isn’t really a vampire.  The other magical elements needed no explanation but this one could have used a bit more.  It’s only mentioned once or twice in no great detail so it seems weird to be there.  Perhaps it will be explained more in book 2
  7. The final battle.  I’ve already stated that I enjoyed the final battle scene and the lead up.  The part I had an issue with was the Deus Ex Machina – at the last second Gwendoline understands how to use her superpower without any guidance or training or….anything….and through this knowledge is able to defeat the bad guy.  I may have been able to let it slide except that this final blow to the enemy is a pretty complicated maneuver to just happen to figure out on the fly, and her much more sophisticated and magic savvy past self didn’t come close to figuring it out.  The move itself definitely worked, tied up some loose ends, and was badass, but I really wish that Gwendoline had maybe come across a passage in an ancient script or some mythology article she’d read online, a TV commercial (kidding…?), some hint that alluded to this superpower that she could recall later, or that at least would help her piece together the final move in a way that wasn’t just horribly convenient.  As cliche as that would have been, it seemed unlikely to just “know”.  Despite the adequate attention and lead up given to this final confrontation, this one thing made it feel a bit unfinished.

The things I mentioned are certainly not deal breakers.  This book was a fun and thrilling read, and I’ve already recommended it to a few friends.  Despite raising a 1 year old, working full-time, and going to school, I found time to read this book cover to cover in 3 days.  Long Grows the Dark was creative, interesting, easy to follow and smooth to imagine without forcing an image into my head.  The dialogue was funny, descriptive, relevant, and natural.  I really enjoyed having my imagination fully engaged and I could very clearly see how much original thought and talent went into this book.  It was hard to put it down, and I scarcely did.

I will continue to watch this author to see what she writes next.  She is two for two, as her first novel Vixen was also a great read.  If you wish to purchase this book and read it for yourself, you can click this link – Long Grows the Dark – Catherine Labadie.  You will not be sorry!

Inkitt: Is it worth a try?

A couple of months ago I stumbled across Inkitt.com, a reader directed publishing platform that has seen popularity in the UK.  After researching a few publishing houses and having already tried my hand at self-publishing, I was open to new ideas.

Inkitt’s premise is that writers can publish on their site for free.  The books that generate the most interest are offered a publishing contract with them.  The founder created this site after learning that J.K. Rowling was turned away by big publishing houses more than 10 times, and was only considered by one when the editor’s daughter took an interest in the book and began sharing it with her friends.  Appalled by this, the founder of Inkitt decided to create a publishing solution that would allow books like Harry Potter to be discovered immediately and published.  In effect, weeding out publishing house error.  What a fantastic idea!

The terms and conditions to use their site is short and simple.  The author retains all rights to the work, can remove their content from Inkitt at any time, and other such author coveted ownership guarantees.  Another great aspect, is that you can publish your book as In Progress, so you can receive feedback from readers while you are writing it, which is awesome!  The Publication contract, should your novel be popular enough to be offered one, is also available to view.

The best part is that all genres are welcome, including fan fiction, and it’s free to read any novels!  It’s like having a Kindle Unlimited without having to pay for it, or a Library at your fingertips.

The user interface is also pretty easy to navigate.  There is an easy fill option for everything so you don’t have to worry about moving things around or arranging text boxes “just so”, it’s all done for you and is standardized so that the novel content is what is truly being evaluated, not how much it appears like a “legitimate” novel in comparison to the others on the site.

You have to have a cover image (and they do have a cover creator you can utilize if you do not have your own image), a teaser, and a hook.  These are excellent to supply on this publishing platform because those are what grabs the reader’s attention, so having reader feedback is invaluable to helping you get it right before you publish. It’s literally having beta readers galore!

I know what you’re thinking though.  “My work is just hanging out there for anyone to steal and claim as their own.”  I thought the same thing once upon a time.  The truth is, once your work is on the internet, it’s copyrighted, timestamped, and yours without dispute.  Having your work out there on Inkitt.com protects your work even more so simply because it’s a legitimate platform lauded by the BBC, The Guardian, and several other big names, and it’s blatant that you, and no one else, are the author of the work.  No one is going to steal your story, even if you aren’t technically “officially” published yet.

I also want to mention the Analytics page which allows you to track how many people have read your novel, and how many times each chapter has been read so that you can see trends and improve your story where you need to.  So, if you have 20 reads for chapter 5, and 4 reads on chapter 6, it’s a sure indicator that you need to make some adjustments somewhere between 5 and 6 so more readers won’t abandon you.

Additionally, Inkitt offers several other valuable tools for writers and authors.  A novel writing bootcamp hosted by the editor of the Song of Fire and Ice series, a writer’s blog full of helpful articles, and a list of promotional websites and tools for you to get your book more publicity and visibility.  I actually discovered and read a fantastic book –Bridge of Sighs and Dreams–  through one of those very links, and I will be posting a review on it soon, so stay tuned for that!

And it’s all free!  Just sign up with your email address and voila!!!!

I decided to give it a shot and test the experience.  My sister painted the cover for my novel a few years ago and it looks stunning and was simple and easy to upload!  Inkitt even throws in an ominous background (a distorted portion of your cover image) that makes the book resemble a promotional poster.  I am pleased with the way it looks on the website.  The featured image in this blog is a screen capture of my novel from Inkitt.

My novel “Isle of Elandia: Bloodline” is on the site as a work “In Progress”.  Currently, only the Prologue and first 2 chapters are uploaded, and since its debut on November 15, I’ve had a total of 19 readers.  None, however, since November 19th.  So that tells me that once a book has been out there for longer than a few days it probably gets buried beneath a heap of new publications.

Also of note: 19 readers is not enough to report chapter data.  I’m not exactly sure if this means that those 19 readers didn’t go beyond the prologue and therefore the chapter data is 0, or if there is a reader threshold higher than 19 that must be met to initiate, or  if there is a certain number of chapters that must be published in order to trigger a report for this more specific analytic.  I don’t know!  Time and experimentation will reveal, but I am definitely going to continue to experiment with it!

In a few days I will upload chapter 3.  My hope is that the new chapter addition will unbury my novel and put it back at the top of the list.  If I start seeing the reader number go up then I can assume that adding a chapter refreshes the book’s location.  If it stays at 19, well…. I will need to explore other methods to try and boost it’s visibility to readers.

I will continue to update my blog as I learn more through my publishing experience with Inkitt.  To learn along with me, please subscribe!  And definitely check out Inkitt.com for yourself, if not to publish, then at least to enjoy a free read on a fresh novel!

Review: The Immortal Serpent – K.E. Barron

I was very thrilled to receive an email from the author of Eye of Verishten requesting a review of her second book, The Immortal Serpent last year.  Due to having a baby and some other life changing events, I haven’t had the opportunity to review it until now.  I’m also very flattered that she gave my blog a shoutout on her front page.  So, here is the long awaited review of The Immortal Serpent!

The synopsis reads:

Always forward; Never back

Jeth, cursed at birth, is forced to leave his homeland and find a place for himself in a world descending into war.  Overnight, he goes from fervent soldier to desert thief who now must lie, cheat, and steal to survive in a hostile, foreign land alongside an enigmatic and sultry companion.

Across the ocean, Vidya undergoes a harrowing transformation into a winged weapon that will avenge her mother and save her island nation.

Their fates are entwined by the infamous Overlord of Herran.  One is running from him, the other is hunting him.  Neither can escape the Immortal Serpent.
Pretty attention grabbing description.  I’ve read the Eye of Verishten (EOT), written by this author, and was blown away by it, so I was very excited to read this one.  Just like with EOT, this author has created her scenes with familiar hollywood imagery that makes it easy to imagine, but in a way that sets it apart and makes it stand on its alone.  I’m going to first talk about the things I loved about this book.

The story begins with Vidya and her transformation, and it sucked me in immediately.  The intense imagery, the violence, the mythology, the emotion of the scene, it was all so intriguing I was hooked.  A very well done opening.  I’m a huge mythology — especially Greek mythology — buff.  And while the Siren colony in Immortal Serpent isn’t exactly like the Greek myths, it certainly resonated with me, especially being at the start of the book.  I love how the author took a well known concept and transformed it into something unique.

Then we switch to Jeth, the main character, and who we met in EOT where he played a side kick/comic relief role.  The author has maintained the comedic witty character here, and I’m happy that I recognize him in more than just name between the two novels.

The first thing I’ll mention is the dialogue.  There were so many excellent interactions throughout the book between Jeth and the other characters, and the scenes felt very organic and real.  The author is very talented in coming up with realistic conversations and witty phrases, and I was really drawn in by them.

I also appreciated the subtle references made to EOT, like little Easter eggs for fans through phrases here and there.  They were not overdone and were interesting.  Even with these references, they’re so subtle that this book still stands on its own… for the most part.  More about that later.

The map at the beginning of the book was a nice addition, it put everything into perspective as I read and eliminated the need for boring drawn out descriptions of where the characters were going.  There was a lot of traveling around in this book, and the map made it very easy on the eyes and brain to keep track.

Where EOT focused primarily on Ingleheim, this book weaves together many different regions, and she does it quite seamlessly.  There is a lot going on, but it’s balanced well.  At the root of it all and bringing all these regions harmoniously together is the mythology.  About 3/4 of the way through the book, this mythology is clearly laid out in one scene that I absolutely loved.  I really appreciate a good mythology, and the author has created a completely new world, with new gods, a new creation story, a new Apocalypse —  it’s fantastic.  I really enjoyed this piece and the book really picked up speed after this mythology is explored in depth, and I could not put it down after.

I really appreciated several of the supporting characters in this book, namely Snake-Eye, who at first seemed to just be a powerful overlord type but really ended up being a complicated figure more central to the story than I expected.  I also found humor in the fact that Jeth and Vidya held differing opinions on whether Snake-Eye was a male or female, which was never truly revealed to the reader, and that added some lightness to this character and mystery that I enjoyed.

I also liked the character Melikheil, the mage.  He is mentioned in EOT and is painted as a rather unsavory character there, but in the Immortal Serpent, his moral character is left to the reader’s interpretation, and we’re only allowed to watch what he does and judge him based off of that, which I appreciated.  I still feel like he’s a nasty person, but what he does in this book makes me wonder about his true motives, and it’s a good kind of curiosity.  So well done on that point as well.  I have a feeling that the author has a special place for this character in her world.

The book ends well and wraps up the main story arc, while still leaving a few things left to explore for book 2 – namely the origin of humanity according to the mythology, which I am very interested to learn about – and it also opens a new arc for Vidya and her conquest to save her island.  I find it fitting that the book should both begin and end with her, and both ends leave the reader wanting more.

Now onto a few things that I had some issues with.

Jeth’s love interest, Anwarr, is introduced as a sly, sexy, sophisticated woman who is out to get what she wants and is not interested in looking back or feeling sorry for whoever gets in her way.  She is a very strong character at first, and I liked her a lot.  As the book progresses however, she morphs into a sort of whiny, sensitive type that is common in most romance novels, and she quickly lost her sophistication and mystery, making some of the scenes with her and Jeth drag on.

I didn’t feel a real connection between them, and in fact, the whole time I thought their relationship was temporary until Jeth’s first love mentioned at the beginning of the book came into play.  When she never did, I felt a bit misled.  I would have invested much more interest into Anwarr and Jeth’s relationship if I had not been holding out for the other girl to arrive on the scene.  After finishing the book, why she was even mentioned at all is confusing to me.  There was very little conflict with Jeth in letting her go and starting his relationship with Anwarr, and it made him seem very shallow, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of his personality.  This other love interest was never mentioned again, and it felt like a tiny loose end that had a huge impact on how I viewed the entire story.

There’s also a very erotic sex scene that comes out of nowhere and does little to enhance their relationship or move along the story, and there is nothing for the reader to imagine since it is so choreographed and detailed.  The style isn’t consistent with the other sexual encounters Jeth has in the book either, making this one seem really out of place.  It didn’t help that I was a disenchanted with their romance at this point.

Anwarr’s true importance to the overall story snuck into the last quarter of the book.  The mystery surrounding her at the beginning was highly warranted for her part later, but somewhere in the middle it took a vacation.  I was honestly expecting her to disappear forever at one point, and not have such a key role.  Her final scene in the book was very heart-wrenching, shocking, and again, came out of nowhere, which redeemed her a bit, but Anwarr’s character seems to change and shift so suddenly throughout the book that she just seems lost between her great start and gripping ending.

More about the middle of the book:  There are lots of scenes where Jeth and/or Vidya are getting into arguments or fights with each other or another character, the typical “that’s my girl not yours” type arguments from Jeth, and the “I’m a badass chick who can snap men like twigs” type scenes from Vidya.  Scene after scene of brawls, thrown fists, snide back talking that turns physical, tables and shelves etc that are dislodged by some altercation or another, bodies flying, that it really became reminiscent of a 90s TV show, Xena came to mind.  Every episode of Xena has a fight scene in it, and every chapter, or so it seemed, had some kind of exaggerated tension, and much of it didn’t move the story along at all, it just slowed my progress through the middle significantly, and was very unnecessary for character development.  It is very clear by the opening scene that Vidya is bad ass female.  Same with Jeth, his strength, skills, and devoted personality is so well laid out early on that these scenes were repetitive, not to mention super choreographed and reminiscent of a screenplay more than a novel.

I mentioned earlier that this book, though taking place in the same world as EOT, mostly stands on its own.  Where it deviates from this is the part of the timeline where Jeth goes to Ingleheim.  The readers who have not read EOT will find this very confusing.  In the space of a paragraph, Jeth goes to Ingleheim and returns, and characters he meets in EOT are mentioned as though the readers of Immortal Serpent know who they are.  For fans of the author, this is not really a problem, and the Easter eggs may bring some nostalgia.  But for new readers, this would be highly confusing, and would seem to introduce new characters and story arcs that fizzle out immediately.  There is also an EOT bad guy named General Nadila who is brought in at the end and given no introduction, even though his interaction with Jeth makes it obvious that there is a previous relationship.  Readers who have not read EOT will be very confused.  Given that this book is marketed as a standalone, I really think it detracts a lot from the story.

In the end, the gods of the mythology actually start battling which I thought was super duper awesome!  I love bringing higher powers into mortal conflicts, it really makes me tingle, especially when the mythology is as good as the Immortal Serpent.  However, it felt rushed, and was given less attention than the brawl scenes that encompassed page after page.  For the overarching impact this battle had on the story, the attention given to it was severely underwhelming, and it had so. much. potential.  This was the climax of Jeth’s entire journey, and I wanted it to be EPIC.

Overall, despite the issues I had with it, I really did enjoy this book, especially the first half and the way the author wove her complex world together with so many different cultures.  The mythology, wit, charm, and mystery surrounding the novel’s main theme was very complex, well thought out, and kept the pages turning.  I will definitely be reading the sequel when it comes out.

The Immortal Serpent, by K.E. Barron, can be purchased on Amazon and through her website www.kebarron.com.  There is also some pretty awesome book art that she has up on her website too that brings a little more magic to her novels.

If you enjoyed this review, please subscribe!  And please feel free to suggest more self-published books for review!

 

2018 SC Writing Workshop Takeaways

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop in South Carolina.  I learned so much about writing, publishing, agent pitching, and even self-publishing.  As stated in my last blog post, I don’t know very much about being an author outside of typing words into a manuscript, and I feel like I’ve come away from this experience with a far better understanding of what it takes to make it as a writer, and put several fears to rest which seem to be saturating the web.  I’m going to discuss my six key takeaways for my first ever Writer’s Workshop.

  1. The real importance of Platform.  I’ve been hearing about platform for several years now, how it’s crucial to your success as a writer and if you don’t have one, then you need to spend time building one.  Honestly, this sounds daunting.  I already struggle to find time to write my book, and now I have to build a “platform”?  And this platform generally consists of building twitter followers, instagram followers, facebook friends, blogging regularly (the struggle!) ugh.  I hate facebook as it is, and now I have to have twitter and instagram too and devote hours of my life to this????  No thank you.
    • Well, what I learned from this conference is that platform is more crucial to non-fiction writers and self-publishers, which makes sense because who wants to buy your life-story unless they’re already interested in you and have heard about you?  And as a self-publisher, your only advertising is yourself, so yes, build that platform!  But, but if you’re a fiction writer seeking a traditional publisher, platform is highly unnecessary.  So long as your book is relevant to the current market, your book will sell.  So for my own peace of mind I need to make a decision that if I want to self-publish again I need to build this platform, or else do my best to find a traditional publisher.
  2. Value of another set of eyes.  During the conference, a panel of four agents listened to the reading of the first page of several manuscripts submitted by the attendees, including one submitted by myself.  During the reading, if two agents raised their hand the reading stopped and the agents explained what issues they had with the reading.  This was sooooo informative, especially when they read mine.  I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with it before, but after they discussed it, it clicked and I was able to make it much better.  This critique panel is not unlike what a critique group in your area will provide you, namely, a new set of  eyes.  So if you haven’t taken my advice from my previous blog post, please do and join a critique group.
  3. Showing vs. telling, and what that really means.  I’ve heard this before, but no one really did a great job of explaining it to me.  Obviously, you can’t “show” everything, but it’s important to scour your manuscript and rewrite what you can and make it a more familiar and relatable experience for your readers, so they feel like they’re actually at the scene watching it unfold instead of sitting around the campfire listening to story being told, there is a big difference.  A big part of accomplishing this is simply eliminating info dumps.
    • Info dumps are lines of information and details jotted down about a time, place, or person that are not actually occurring at the moment of the scene.  So, for example, explaining the backstory of a child breaking her leg five years ago during the scene where she’s eating cake on her 8th birthday.  No doubt relevant to the story somehow, but not overly interesting to the reader and not pertinent at the moment when she’s cramming her mouth with cake and tasting all the sweet flavors of chocolate and vanilla swirls.  Usually details like this can be effectively woven into dialogue somewhere else in the story, for example at a checkup visit at the doctor’s office or something.  Point is, infodumping loses the reader’s interest and takes them out of the current scene instead of draws them into it.  Agents consider infodumping lazy because it’s a non-creative way to explain things.
    • That being said, during your first draft and brainstorming session, infodumping can be key to getting your thoughts down before they disappear forever, so in those birth stages, info dump away!  Just make sure you go back and rework it for your final manuscript.
  4. Character voice is key.  What is your character thinking?  But it’s more complicated than simply adding a line in italics, (although do that) it’s about breaking the fourth wall on paper.  Not an easy feat, and it’s even harder to describe.  An example of this could be:
    • ‘Chills raced along Farwen’s spine as the door groaned to a close behind her, shutting out the developing chaos outside. Had she really made it here in one piece?’
      • The “Had she really made it here in one piece?” is the breaking the fourth wall part, it’s getting the reader inside of her mind while at the same time staying out of it.
    • It could also be written as an inner thought in italics:
      • ‘Chills raced along Farwen’s spine as the door groaned to a close behind her, shutting out the chaos developing outside.  How did I make it here in one piece?’ 
    • I personally like the first example better, but both establish strong character voice and need to be woven into your work somehow.  I’m still learning myself how to effectively work this into my writing and develop my scenes to captivate the reader.  It’s hard, but this workshop really helped me to understand it more and at least provide me some guidelines to go off of as I’m evaluating what I have and experimenting to make it better.
  5. Networking platform building and exposure to new opportunities and tools for writers.  This conference not only had writers from all over America, but it had legitimate agents instructing the workshops, and it also had special guest speaker Hollis Gillespie, comedian, published author, and owner of the Shocking Real Life Writing Academy.  Hollis Gillespie has been on the Tonight Show, multiple radio shows, and is devoted to helping authors improve their manuscripts.  She also hosts writer retreats and special workshops through her academy.  Check it out at www.shockingreallife.com.
  6. Other random writing tips I learned:
    1. dialogue on the first page of your manuscript sparks interest
    2. don’t introduce too many names in the first chapter
    3. excessive use of adjectives is bad, bulky, and loses reader interest
    4. know how to write for your intended audience.  Not only is appropriate content a factor, but writing style is big too
    5. RUE:  Resist the Urge to Explain – aka infodump/repetition/excessive detail
      • trust the reader – if they’re reading your book, it means they read, which means they have some powers of deduction and can

I found the workshop to be super super helpful and engaging, and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for more opportunities in the future.  Hope you found this post helpful to your writing experience.  If so, please subscribe and/or follow me on twitter @mjpankey1 (I finally got one, blah).

 

Critique Groups and Their Value

I recently went on a business trip and meet up with some of my colleagues from around America, one of them is a published author.  Not a very big author, but an author nonetheless.  I realized that there are many things that I just have no clue about when it comes to writing, largely because I have been rather lazy when it comes to my own writing.  After highschool, writing has taken a backseat to just about everything; college mostly, work, dating, marriage, and now raising my very own little man, and even more school.  Throughout all of these life changes however, my imaginary world has been on my mind, always on the to-do list behind washing the dishes, always rubbing elbows with the little gray cells, scrambling for some priority that just rarely comes.

After some considerable thought, I have taken my self-published book off of the market because I realize that it just was not ready for publication yet.  It is now in the midst of its of 5th revision, although this time it is focused more on editing than for total overhaul.  Back to the initial topic…

During the business trip and my encounter with this author I learned about critique groups, something that unbeknownst to me, is fundamental to every author.  Basically, a critique group is a group of authors, aspiring authors, or beta readers who get together to read each other’s work and provide feedback about writing style, grammar, word usage, flow, and other important aspects that every author should be concerned about.  This concept of a critique group is an astonishing idea that somehow never crossed my mind before, largely because I was just too busy with life to learn about even the most basic tools available for authors.  There was just one problem though, a critique group did not exist in my area.

So I created one.

The Augusta Writer’s Critique Group was founded via Meetup on August 21st, 2018 and now has 50 members.  Tomorrow is our third meetup and I’m excited to say that I have learned so much from speaking with other authors and aspiring authors in my area.  Favoring ancient poets and fantasy writers, I have not allowed myself to wander into different genres very often, and I find that this significantly limits my own potential for writing and places me even more in the box that a new writer is already challenged enough to try to climb out of.

The purpose of this blog is two things:

  1. If you are serious about writing, and wish to eventually complete a book (never mind publish one, self-published or otherwise, just complete it), it is extremely important that you prioritize writing in your life.  Carve out a special time once per week, twice per week, every day if possible, to devote to writing, or just to thinking about writing.  If this is not done, kiss your dreams of being an author goodbye because despite what you’ve heard, the book does NOT write itself.
  2. Learn about what tools are available to help authors succeed in your area.  It can be something as simple as carving out an hour and a half once per month to meet with other authors in your area for a critique, or it could be attending a writing workshop.  Because I established the AWCG, the 2018 Writing Workshop of South Carolina reached out to me to spread the word about a writing workshop taking place in November that I had no idea about.

So if you are an aspiring author, an established author, a self-published author, or just someone who is thinking about putting your imagination onto a shareable medium, then prioritize thing 1 and thing 2.  It doesn’t have to take precedence over raising a baby or turning in your homework, it just has to make it onto your calendar.

Thank you for reading.  Please subscribe!

 

Vixen, by Sarah Catherine Muth – Review

I stumbled across this self-published book quite by accident. I was at a coffee shop called TeaLoha and on the bulletin board next to the restrooms there was a business card advertising this book. That caught my attention, and giving the author props for this advertising helping me stomach the $24 including shipping costs to purchase it from Amazon. That being said, this book is a whopping 454 pages, so it will keep you busy for awhile.

The author’s description on Amazon is as follows:

In a post-war world, Sierra Maurell and her three fox attribute brothers must use their cunning to endure the cold racism of the pure-DNA human race. When a new desegregation law forces Sierra to spend her last year of high school at a formerly human-only institution, racial antagonism compels her to lead her fellow half-breeds towards equality. But one human refuses to treat half-breeds as less than human, and their meeting creates a new line of fate which might change Sierra’s world forever.

Okay, so immediately this book is not my typical genre that I would gravitate to in a bookstore. The description and cover of the book screams “Furry” and highschool romance, and anything to do with a highschool romance between two people of different “species” if you will, suggests a strong Twilight influence, a notion that is quite sad and false in many cases. Highschool romance was not invented by Stephanie Meyer, but she certainly did ruin it for many, including myself, and it makes me wary to read anything which might have similar themes. The Furry culture has never interested me either, but I’ve been open to new genre’s before and have been pleasantly surprised (The Eggless Club), so I decided to be completely open-minded about this book and give it a shot.

The premise of the book surrounds a world where pure-humans and half-breeds dwell together in a very politically fragile system. Pure-humans are of course just humans, and half-breeds are humans with DNA mixed with animal DNA. Humans think half-breeds are beneath them and they are very often mistreated, have lousy jobs if any, and are not afforded the same quality benefits or schooling. In some decades past, there was a war between humans and half-breeds, and half-breeds obviously lost, or a cease-fire was met, or something, it was not fully explained. It was recent enough however that the main character, a half-breed fox girl named Sierra, remembers her father fighting in the war. Considering that she is only 17/18-ish, this is pretty recent. The author literally spends no more than 3 sentences explaining why there are half-breeds, which I found somewhat disappointing. The whole book I was wondering why this had occurred, and finally I was afforded a vague explanation with no real details or insight that left me unsatisfied and wondering if it was a hurried input because she realized that she needed something in there to quell the curiosity. Perhaps she will go into more detail about the origins of half-breeds if she writes a second book.

There were a lot of themes I really appreciated in this book. Though it was half-humans and pure humans, rather than whites and blacks and hispanics etc, the strained relationship between the two races translated extremely well into real world racial problems every country currently faces in some form or fashion. I thought Sarah did an excellent job portraying the hatred and emotions between both groups, as well as the dialogue throughout. Outside the school scene, Sierra’s brothers, Harold, Wade, and Eisen all have jobs and there is a constant wariness that they must be very careful not to give their employers incentive to be fired, since they know because of their race that they are under more scrutiny than pure humans, and jobs which will even hire them are extremely difficult to come by.

The first half of the book deals with these issues pretty well, and I did find it interesting to read. The second half of the book though is significantly different. Sierra meets her love interest, Duncan, in the first half and by the second half they are together as we expected. Her love interest has a special secret that he reveals to her and of course it’s something world shaking. From here is where the Twilight saga begins. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who may choose to read this book so I won’t tell what the secret is, but I will say that it really diminished the significance of the racial themes in the book for me. I don’t know what the original intent of Sarah Muth was for this book, but reading the first half I was genuinely enthralled by how insightful the racial struggles were, and once she reveals Sierra’s love interest’s big secret, the opportunity vanishes somehow to continue that racial struggle from a romantic level.

I was raised in the southern United States. Racism is rampant everywhere there and it’s truly disgusting. Whites dating blacks is still frowned upon and I’ve heard the most ridiculous nonsense come out of “respectible” people’s mouths about how it is wrong, evil, and sacriledge to mix races and other absolute trash and lies surrounding the purity and innocence of humans falling in love with other humans. Once Duncan’s secret is revealed the opportunity to expound on this common and still controversial aspect of racism which still runs rampant in today’s day and age vanishes, even though she tries to keep it alive, and I was truly disappointed. But I digress. The secret does introduce opportunities for other interesting plot twists, even if it squashes this one.

From this point on though, it is literally a sappy highschool love story. Of course, there is a love triangle introduced which thankfully does not go on forever as it did in Twilight. The other love interest is a half-breed, and she entertains the idea because of this reason as well as because her friends are pressuring her to give him a shot. I did appreciate how Sarah described Sierra’s emotions and feelings about it. Having been in a similar situation before, I appreciated how accurate Sierra’s feelings were and it made this triangle thing interesting, as I’m sure anyone who has ever been in a similar situation can as well.

The book ends setting up quite well for a second book. I won’t spoil anything here but there is definitely enough content to keep readers interested for a second book.

There are a few inconsistencies I noted in the book. One was the comment she added in about half-breeds being unable to pass their animal attributes onto their children. The exact comment when referring to a mixed breed couple, a bear boy and a poodle girl, was “At least our animal DNA doesn’t really blend into our reproduction processes…that would be an odd mix”. I found this extremely contradictory, since half-breeds are born half-breeds and this does in fact suggest that their attributes pass on to their kids. So if bear boy and poodle girl have a kid, it will be human? or….????? This is definitely confusing and I feel as though this may have been an earlier idea that somehow escaped revision. Most of the families in the book exhibit a particular type of animal DNA, she and her brothers are all part fox, and her best friend’s family are all part cat. But there is a family with mixed animal DNA that does not fit this mold, one sister exhibits parrot DNA, the other some type of reptile, and the brother mentioned very briefly I believe has wolf DNA. So this is also somewhat confusing. Sarah Muth does not go into detail why this family exhibits different DNA among its members, nor why others are all the same type of animal, and none of this is explained at all by the comment that animal DNA doesn’t really blend into the reproductive processes. But hopefully this will be ironed out in book 2.

One thing I found absolutely annoying was every single piece of technology was SMARTinsertdevicehere. SMARTcall for cell phone, SMARTvision for TV, SMARTnote for computer. I think there were other examples but I forgot them. Literally every single thing was a SMARTsomething or other and this was incredibly annoying. One thing was interesting about this though, every SMARTwhatever was government issued which leads me to think that either Sarah Muth is low-key lashing out against this day and age’s explosion of smart devices and trying to attune readers to the fact that our own very real devices are probably being monitored, OR, she is advocating the use of these devices because it seems that everything in our real world labelled “smart” is somehow associated with energy efficiency. Either way, the real intent is unclear, but whichever it was, she was definitely seeming to advocate for one of these opinions, and if you own anything that is a SMARTblank, you’ll want to bust it with a hammer when you’re done with this book.

Another obvious contradiction in the book was the fact that half-breeds do not wear cologne or other artificial scents, and it is one of the ways that half-breeds can always tell the difference between humans and half-breeds whose animal DNA is not as prominent as others. This idea is used frequently throughout the book in several key plot twists. But then somewhere towards the end her best friend who is a cat girl was wearing rose scented perfume. Probably just an oversight, but it made me squint a little.

All in all I enjoyed the book. It is written in first person, which is also not my favorite, but it worked out pretty well. The themes in the book are very well done I think, and though it did exube a little Twilight-ness towards the later half it was still a good read. The editing was also very well done, except for the slight oversights I have already mentioned. But there were no spelling errors that I noticed and maybe only once or twice did I come across a double word oopsie, and it did not take away from the book’s story at all. Honestly though, nearly every book I have read from University published textbooks to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series has had numerous spelling or grammatical errors in it. For this being a self-published book, I thought Sarah Muth did an absolute fantastic job with the editing aspect.

I do recommend this book. I think the Furry culture will find this to be an absolute favorite because it definitely delves into the world of mixed DNA people and it is visually interesting trying to wrap your brain around what these characters look like. And honestly, anyone who doesn’t live underneath a rock can appreciate the very well done racial struggles of the half-breed race in this book. I will read book 2 when it comes out, as the ending of this one did leave my mouth open, and I hope you will also give this book a read.

This book is available on Amazon for $15.99 and $3.00 for Kindle can be purchased through the link below! Please share or comment if you wish!

Vixen: A Fox and Hound Novel

 

 

The Phantom of April, by Heath Frye – Review

The Phantom of April is a 235 page novel written by Heath Frye.  The author’s description reads:

As an Evangelical Christian, Jacob Lumin has it all: a wife, a young daughter, and a promising career as an officer in the Army and part-time youth minister. When adversity strikes and a series of unforeseen tragedies befall him, Jacob begins a personal journey to find answers in a confusing world. From Evangelical Christianity, Wicca, and atheism, Jacob’s journey will take him on a path to truth. Rich in symbolism between the Bible, mythology, and 19th century German philosophy, the result is a discussion that transcends all religions. From Clarion Review: “Jacob is led on a journey of self-discovery and down a path to a truth that transcends any one philosophy. Coupled with his education—he holds two master’s degrees and numerous industrial certifications—the author’s knowledge of foreign cultures is evident in this novel that seeks to illuminate the tension between good and evil. The story is compelling, thought-provoking and meaningful, and would appeal to fans of philosophy and world religion and to readers who like books such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

Right off of the bat, this is a book that typically would not excite my interest.  I am not a very avid Christian book reader.  But because of my new found devotion to self-publishers, I’m beginning to find that reading books outside of my norm is actually very rewarding and eye-opening.  To sum this book up in one sentence, The Phantom of April is a riveting story of a realistic tragedy.  On to my long review.

The book starts out with a short prologue.  We’re following a girl into a book store, her heart is heavy and it is very obvious that she’s just had her heart broken.  Having had my heart broken a time or two before myself, I can really identify with the thoughts of this girl and Heath Frye does a good job of drawing the reader in with this realistic intro.  The rest of the prologue however, is very confusing, and I’m still scratching my head a little about what exactly happened in the rest of it.  There’s a confusing conversation that she has with an old man there that does not make a lot of sense to me, but it’s not enough to dissuade me from continuing on, and actually encourages me to do so.

Chapter one begins with a man named Jacob Lumin.  I am going to sum up his character as best as I can without spoiling anything.  This guy is socially awkward and totally clueless, his philosophy is to do the right thing and happiness will come to him as a result.  Of course, happiness is not that easy as we all know.  He starts out believing wholeheartedly in God and practices his faith very enthusiastically.  Everything he goes through, good and bad, he sees God’s hand at work in his life, and it only serves to strengthen his faith in God, even when he is taken advantage of.  He is in the Army, and he has many friends who do not believe the same as he does, and there are so many conversations in this book between him and non-Christians that are absolutely fantastic.  I found the theology discussions superb.  There are many hard questions and topics regarding the nature of God that every Christian should be able to discuss freely and confidently, but like Jacob Lumin, any devout Christian will find those answers are very complex and difficult to provide an answer to, but no less worthwhile to explore.

As described in the author’s description, tragedy strikes Jacob.  I’m not going to spoil anything because when I read it I was absolutely shocked and I don’t want to take that experience away from anyone.  It’s very rare when I read a book and I don’t have at least a slight inkling of what’s about to happen.  But this is one of those that blew me away.  It really shocked me, and that’s great.  I loved that about this book.  This tragedy leads Jacob Lumin to question everything that he’s ever believed up to this point.  Let me tell you, this is where the discussions about God get really good.  Sadly, this is also where many Christians would stop reading this book, because there are no good explanations for what Jacob is going through, and many Christians might see this as an attack on their faith, rather than something that merits legitimate consideration.  I know that these questions will stump even the most theologically savvy individual, but truthfully, it is absolutely fantastic and worth continuing to read, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything being said or every conclusion that Jacob Lumin arrives at, it’s definitely worth reading and appreciating the sheer depth and the gravity of the emotions that literally fly off of the page.  Heath Frye nails it.

From this point on, the book kind of goes off in a whole different direction.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do feel like I’m reading a different story now, which considering what the character has been though, isn’t surprising.  But it focuses less on theological discussion, and more on the character now.  It’s a few years in the future, Jacob is dealing with his horrible past the way that many people do, by becoming angry at everything, including God, or rather, especially God in Jacob’s case.  Now he is looking for a reason for it all, and this takes him on an exploration into Wicca.  This isn’t a spoiler because the author mentions this in the description.  The author doesn’t go into too much detail about Wicca though, not like he did Christianity in the first half of the book, but there are a lot of coincidences which happen and which fuel Jacob’s journey into the world of Wicca forward.  He meets someone in this later half of the book and the relationship between the two of them is not dissimilar to a relationship I once had myself, and maybe this is what made it difficult for me to read.  Jacob’s behavior in this part of the book made me want to throw it out the window the way Pat Solatano throws Hemingway out the window in the Silver Linings Playbook.  This too though, despite my frustration toward this character, is very realistic and very well done.  Heath Frye, even though I now hate Jacob Lumin just a little bit, nails it again.  The behaviors and the thoughts on the page are very realistic and once again, I don’t know what’s going to happen.  It’s one of those situations where we have an expectation of what the ending has to be, but because of what we’ve read so far, we have no idea if that’s how it’s going to turn out, and at this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted Jacob Lumin to have a happy ending, and I’m not going to tell you if he does or not, because that’s part of why this book is great.

The book ends with an epilogue.  Now we’re back in the book store with the young girl and the old man again, and once again I am confused with their conversation.  The meaning of the book is explained in a very hurried way, and I can’t help feeling that the way I feel after reading this is not the way that I’m supposed to feel.  This epilogue seems very rushed, and I can’t help but wish that there were at least a couple more chapters to explain it in more depth.  I felt like I read an entire book with so many layers all the way through, and the last bit was a small crumb which left me wanting more.

Overall, even though I was slightly underwhelmed by the prologue and the epilogue, I was glued to this book the entire way through.  Everything this character feels is identifiable at some level with everyone, and the conversations the character has with people along the way are riveting and have a very real world application in my mind.  The evolution of Jacob Lumin I believe is a very realistic representation and could literally be anyone’s life.  At every stage I could relate to him, with his emotions, with his thoughts, and with his circumstances, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.  This is not a fairytale, this is a book about life, and for that reason there is a surprise on almost every page that will keep you hanging on ’til the end.

I really did enjoy this book despite my mixed emotions concerning the character at different parts of the story, and the rushed ending.  The editing was also well done, I don’t recall seeing any misspellings or errors.  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future works by this author.

I recommend this book to those with an open mind and to those who enjoy reading books full of surprises.  This book is available on Amazon through the link below.

The Phantom of April – Heath Frye

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