NaNoWriMo 2021!

Ready for an exhausting month? Day 1 begins today!

NaNoWriMo is a special time of year for writers. Daily word counts at least 1700 words! Hours devoted just to writing! Sound like a writers paradise?

It usually doesn’t quite go down that way.

NaNoWriMo can be a very rewarding time of the year for writers. The writing community is always super energized, and truly motivating and inspiring for me. It is why I formed Augusta Writer’s Critique Group and why I have chosen to devote more of my time and energy to writing and writers.

Although you will find many friends and colleagues in the writing community to cheer you on, family members and friends who don’t write may not understand why you’re suddenly not responding to their texts, passing on grabbing coffee or lunch, or shutting yourself up in a room all by yourself at night. So I recommend letting family and friends know that you’re going to be prioritizing your writing this month if you are planning to participate.

There may be some people who say that if you’re not officially signed up on the NaNoWriMo website and planning to write a new novel that you’re not really participating, or you’re not participating “correctly”.

Ignore those people.

NaNoWriMo is about prioritizing your writing to achieve the goals that have been on your “if I just had a month to myself” list for the last year (or longer). I cannot reiterate enough that just making time every day, even 10 minutes, is imbuing the spirit of NaNoWriMo.

So whether you’re a beginner writer wanting to start a new novel for the first time, a seasoned NaNo’er with a detailed plan and a library of lessons learned to help keep you on track, or if you’re like me, and you’re planning to edit the novel you wrote last year; NaNoWriMo is that time of the year where you can find someone to embark on this journey with you, and together create something truly magical.

Everyday for the month of November, I will be live streaming from my youtube channel for 10 minutes. I would love for you to share your writing journey with me in the comments everyday, and join me in devoting 10 minutes a day to writing. Check out my video below for more information.

Happy Writing!

~MJ

#NaNoWriMo #NaNoWriMo2021 #Writing #WritingCommunity

Content – When To Cut

You’ve worked diligently on your manuscript for months, maybe years, every word is where it should be, all of your scenes written perfectly to tell the tale. Right?

Wrong.

As you go back through to tighten up your book, it’s natural to find a few things that don’t flow. Maybe an idea you weaved in that didn’t go anywhere. So you tweak, cut, rework. These things are not so hard to part with.

What about entire scenes? Or even plot lines? Or whole characters?

It turns out that the first version of my book, after several beta readers gave me feedback, did not have as cohesive an ending as I believed, and in order to correct this, I’m going to have to cut out and rework some sentimental material.

The main beta reader takeaways were: Too many characters to keep track of, the main characters are scattered all over the map by the end, there’s too strong of a cliffhanger for an ending, nothing is really accomplished, and it feels more like “part 1” instead of book 1.

Ouch.

I’ve done a lot of research into how to end a series book, and there are no hard fast rules. However, there is one overarching guideline: Accomplish something/ tie up a main plot point by the end, reader advised.

This has forced me to reconsider a lot of things that happen in my book, and I’ve come to realize that in situations like this, huge chunks of writing may need to go away. Forever.

Sometimes, especially if you’re writing a series, when you’re really attached to the cut material, you can move it elsewhere.  Sometimes in can be saved.

Other times, it just has to go.

“But that character I introduce there is really cool.” Or “that fight scene that happens because of x, y, z is super engaging!” Or “so much information is revealed here.”

I know. I get it. But how do these scenes contribute to the overarching goal of book 1 (or 2 or 3)? Are they really important, or is it fluff? Is it “look at my cool writing skillz”?  Or does it reveal too much at once?  Is it an infodump?

In my case, I think I can put most of what needs to be cut out in a future book, change some names, etc. Even if I can’t, I have to gulp down my sadness and start slashing and reworking because the end result will be worth it.

My book 1 will feel like a book 1, instead of a part 1. And to my readers who have to wait on book 2, that is an important gift to leave them with as an author:  The desire to know what happens next, but closure for the time they have invested.

To sum it up, as an author we need to come to terms with our purpose for writing.

Are we writing for ourselves?  Then keep all of your scenes exactly as they are.

Or are we writing to tell a story to other people, who will then want to share it with their friends?  Then we’re going to have to evaluate each scene, each plot line, each character, and do some cutting.

We’re all in this together.

Happy writing!

Editing tricks that don’t cost a dime

Editing.  It’s such a dirty word for authors because it means returning to  place you’ve already been, going back over something you’ve already done, and performing the tedious task of proofreading, grammar checking, rephrasing, rewriting etc.  In short, it’s a chore, one most writers despise.

I’ve read some articles and heard a lot of people say not to worry about editing until your manuscript is finished, and then to hire someone to do it.  I think this is a mistake.  While it’s likely true that you won’t be able to catch all of your mistakes or plot holes and you need a separate set of eyes, there are a lot of free avenues you can take to weed out as many inconsistencies as possible so when it comes time to pay a professional, you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

1) Write your manuscript in Courier or Courier New font.  This is old school typewriter font.  A few people have told me that it’s hard on their eyes or looks weird.  If this is you, then choose a different font, just choose one that is significantly different than Times New Roman, which most final drafts are submitted in.

2) Briefly edit as you go.  I’ve heard so many people say “don’t worry about mistakes, just write write write.”  I’m not a fan of this.  While it’s important to not get hung up on wanting it to be perfect (don’t do that!!  Read my article about that here), it’s also important for my own peace of mind to proofread sections during breaks in muse to correct spelling errors, replace redundant words, and rephrase things to fix flow if it’s a fast read through.  I don’t recommend spending more than 5 minutes editing a paragraph at this stage, do a quick once over to correct obvious mistakes, and then keep writing.

3) Reread your finished scene.  Again, so many people have told me to just keep going with my first draft until it’s complete and then go back over the whole thing.  But I must be honest, if I did 0 editing until the book is done, I would be rewriting my book over and over (which actually I have done 4 times because I followed the advice to go go go).  By rereading scenes as I go, I’m giving myself opportunity to figure out that I want a different cliffhanger, that I’ve already stated something in a previous scene, or that I want some other character to show up and do or say “the thing,” which will change the whole story.  Catching things like this after each scene can prevent the overwhelming book rewrites that are inevitable if you wait until you’re completely done with your novel.

Now, sleep on these changes and move on to step 4.

4)  For Scrivener users (if you aren’t one, I recommend becoming one!!), compile your finished scene into a standard double spaced word document using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  This will allow you to utilize Microsoft’s spellcheck/grammar check feature for the first time, and can help you find the contractions and mistakes that you missed.  Microsoft’s concise feature is also helpful in eliminating common wordy phrases that bog down your narrative.

If you’re not a scrivener user, then just change your font to 12 pt. Times New Roman and double space your doc.

Why? Doing this allows you to see a new visual view/line/word placement of your work, and can really help you see at a glance sentences, phrases, and words that hinder flow, sound redundant, or need to be reworked.

Now sleep on it and proceed to step 5 tomorrow.

5)  Compile your scene into a novel-formatted (usually 5×9 page size), Times New Roman, 10 point font .pdf file.  Again, this is providing you a new unique look at your scene, and one that is extremely close to how it will appear in print, the ultimate goal.  Being able to see it in it’s “published” form will help you weed out anything else you’ve missed up to this point.

Follow the same editing process from step 4, and proceed to step 6 tomorrow.

6)  Print the corrected version out.  Same as above, it’s a different visual of your story, and something about paper vs. computer screen really helps to further highlight things missed.  Make any necessary changes to your computer file.

7)  Find another pair of eyes to look at your scene.  At this point, you have looked at your scene from 4 different angles and made edits.  But it’s well known that writers still miss so much when it comes to their own work.  We’re too attached.  We know every line, and our brains sometimes fill in gaps or skip over things regardless of how different we make it look with page and font sizes.

Many suggest finding a family member or close friend to read over it, which is usually your quickest and easiest option.  Keep in mind though that family and friends may not be forthcoming about their true opinions of your scene, so I always recommend finding a non-biased person to review your work too.  A family member or friend also might not be very inciteful about writing style, genre tropes, or spelling or grammar because they may not be avid readers or writers themselves.  If they are, wonderful!

Critique groups are one of the best options for a non-bias perspective.  You get multiple pairs of eyes on your scene from avid writers (and readers) and they can help you with flow, plot holes, even weird cultural nuances and character vernacular that you may have not even thought about.  It also gives you a chance to share your writing knowledge with others and exchange tips and tricks (let’s face it, most family members aren’t interested in hearing about your writing process, but other writers might be!).  Best of all, critique groups are free!  Just find a group in your area and start attending.

One drawback (and advantage – it’s a double edged sword) to critique groups is that members aren’t shy about voicing their true opinion.  In the moment, this can be hurtful, especially if several members are commenting on the same thing, or they flat out tell you they don’t like it.  Members of critique groups don’t have a personal connection with you like your family and friends do, so be prepared to receive some criticism, but be confident that the feedback you receive is given by fellow writers and readers who are genuinely trying to help you improve your story and style.

Of course, also remember that you can take or leave anything they say.  You’re not under contractual obligations to make the changes they suggest.  Make notes, thank them for their feedback, and then decide what to do with the information.  If they have identified confusing segments though, consider carefully how you can correct these in your story.  Odds are, other readers (agents and editors too) will encounter the same issues.

If you’re unsure how to find a critique group, a good place to look is google, the meetup app, your library, or local college, or even Inkitt.  And if none of these options produce fruit, start one yourself!  I started the Augusta Writers Critique Group last October via the meetup app and it now includes 150 members.  There are always attendees at meetings and the feedback has been phenomenal!

After all of this, your scene has been edited and revised many times over and is in great shape.  Once every scene goes through this gauntlet and you’ve come to the end of your novel, reread your entire manuscript and tie up any loose ends you may have missed.

8)  Find a beta reader to read your book from start to finish.  If you can find someone to read your entire finished draft for free and give you their thoughts, fantastic!  Again, family members are prime suspects, or even a member of your critique group may volunteer.  There are also several online websites such as fiverr where you can find beta readers for free or for a small fee who will read your entire manuscript.  This step is important for evaluating the overall story plot and execution, which can be hard to do in a critique group where only one scene at a time is shown to a varied audience over a long period of time.

But now, if it’s in your budget, is the time I recommend hiring a professional editor to go through it and make suggestions.  Professional editors can be pricey:  4 cents/word is a common price I’ve seen, which is $3,200 for 80,000 words.  Ouch.  According to freelancewriting.com, basic copyediting on average charges anywhere from $25-40/hr and tackles 5-10 pages/hr.  More strenuous editing could cost even more for fewer pages.  Once your book reaches this stage, you want it to be as polished as possible to get the most bang for your buck.

The bottom line:  You don’t have to rely on expensive professional editors to produce a polished manuscript.  Further, skipping free ways to improve your book means that the intricate details a paid professional could find may not be found because of surface errors that you could have corrected yourself.  Also, a professional editor is still just one set of eyes, and one point of view, and no amount of money you spend on them will change that limitation.  The more opinions you have, the more fleshed out your manuscript will be.

This process has personally improved my writing by leaps and bounds, and has given me confidence to continue moving forward with my story.  I do not plan to completely scrap and start my novel over again from the beginning, and these steps are helping to ensure that the story I’m telling is readable, interesting, engaging, and free of mistakes, inconsistencies, and plot holes as much as possible.

Happy writing!

 

Writers Block :(

Writer’s block happens to the best of us, it’s inevitable.  We go strong for a bit, churning out page after page and then suddenly we get to a place where the creativity takes a vacation.  I’ve been stuck on one scene for about four months.  Four months!  That’s a long time to be stuck in one place.  How many pages could I have written if not for this problem?

We experience writers block for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we just get too busy with life.  We start a new job, have to go out of town, a new semester of school begins, grass and hedges grow, or grandma bought us a new guitar for our birthday and wants us to learn how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb.  The reasons why we halt writing are endless.

Sometimes though we are genuinely stuck.  Life settles down and we have time put aside for our craft, but we spend it all staring at the screen until we feel like our eyes are melting in their sockets.  Our story refuses to come out.

This scene that I happened to be stuck on was a very important one.  It’s my main character’s first real scene, and it’s a pretty pivotal moment in the book.  A lot is riding on getting this right.  I’ve established several characters already with unique personalities and intricately woven story arcs that have ushered readers from page 1 to this very point in time.  Now it’s my main character’s turn to take the torch and shine.  So amid all the weeds to pull, babies to feed and read to, work to be on time for, groceries to buy and put away, somewhere in there I have the responsibility to my readers, myself, and to my character to write a first impression that is both engaging and intriguing–to create a new reader favorite.

And so, I’ve been stuck.

In addition to life things that get in our way, as writers it’s easy for us to get so caught up in wanting a scene to be perfect that we allow it to be a stumbling block to our success.  So many pages did not get written because I was hung up on how perfect this scene needs to be.

The old saying “A house isn’t built in a day” is a perfect analysis.  That beautiful mansion was once just a patch of grass.  So too are each of our scenes.  Keep this in mind when you get stuck, especially if it is because you really want to the scene to be perfect.

I finally completed the scene by writing a little bit at a time, and boy was it ugly at first, and at second, and at third.  A couple paragraphs here and there, some rework here, some scrapping there, and some tweaking all over took it from a patch of grass to a house with four walls.  It still needs paint, but the foundation is there now for what I had envisioned as the perfect scene.  And the most important part is that it’s done, it’s written, and I can finally move past this point in my book.

Writers block will happen, just accept it now.  And when it does, don’t ignore it, or it could set you back four months or even longer.  Some writers have given up on stories because of writers block, because the scene isn’t perfect, because the mansion is just a concrete foundation and studs.

I’m telling you as one writer to another, that it’s okay to write a scene that’s ugly, rushed, devoid of detail and emotion.  It’s okay if you have to scrap a couple paragraphs or even the whole thing.  These are not wasted efforts, it’s part of the process of beating writers block.  Embrace it, push through it, and keep adding to your house until it becomes a mansion.

The only way to finish your novel is to keep writing until it’s done, even when it’s ugly, even when you feel that the scene you’re working on deserves so much better than what you can currently do.

You will polish it to perfection.

But first, just keep writing.

Soul Searching for Character Development

One thing I’ve learned over the past several weeks is that life is full of surprises, excitements, and disappointments.  Sometimes life seems dull, but others it’s like an emotional roller coaster.  Those moments, the tough ones, the emotional ones, are an invaluable source of inspiration for your novel, in particular: character development.

I’m now several drafts into my novel, and looking back over my previous drafts I can see the stages my thought process went through, beginning with action scenes and quick dialogue to get to the next action sequence and move the story along.  Stage 2 added a little more thought provoking dialogue, a little more backstory to help the reader understand why these action scenes were taking place and to give a little more substance to the wider story arc.  Stage 3 was about tying up loose ends, embellishing certain scenes, smoothing out some rough edges and cutting out some redundancy.  In these 3 stages though, the most fundamental aspect of a reader’s experience was missing or sorely lacking: character development.  Sure, my characters did and said things and the reader usually knew why, but the feelings described were hollow or non-existent.  They didn’t feel real.  The human bond of emotional connection was missing between the reader and the character.

Character development truly makes or breaks a novel, and it can be tricky trying to figure out how to do it successfully.  Loss, grief, fear, anxiety, love, desire, hatred, thrill:  Real emotions which derive from real experiences and real relationships are paramount to character development.  But MJ Pankey, you say, my character did experience loss, his best friend was just badly wounded in front of him!  But as you read that scene, do you feel like your best friend was just badly wounded in front of you?  Tap into your inner psychologist, and tell me what that really feels like.

The emotional struggles make us who we are as individuals.  How we process those emotions, work through them, and overcome them is how we can connect with one another as human beings, and it’s also how we can connect and invest in fictional characters, even if their experiences aren’t real.

Every character who is important to a novel needs this internal struggle.  While my heroine can’t necessarily experience being offered an amazing job and then it falling through a week later in exactly the same way (being a fantasy novel kind of messes that up), I can still incorporate the familiar feelings of excitement and hope for the future, and then the following disappointment when it does not go according to plan.  I know what that feels like, and I can give that to my character.

Describing the internal conflict as actions happen and as scenes unfold is what character development means.  How does this character become better by these experiences, by these scenes, how does this event impact them now to have such a marked influence on a future thought or action?  And the best way to figure that out and get it on paper is to dig deep into your own experiences and describe how you feel/felt/would feel in a similar circumstance, and how did it change your expectations/circumstances/behaviors/beliefs moving forward?

To recap, a story is more than just events, places, things, and actions, it’s about people; real experiences, real emotions, and the kindred connection that a reader has with the character.  To create character development in your novel, you need to do some serious soul searching from your own life experiences.  When was a time you felt embarrassed?  Describe it, give it to your character.  When was a time you felt betrayed by someone?  Describe it, give it to your character.  You get the idea.

So if your novel is lacking some depth, look deep.  Dig up the emotional moments and give your characters a small piece of yourself.  Show your readers the raw humanity we all share between us as a species, and bring your characters to life.

Happy writing!

 

Treading the line between Inspiration and Plagiarism

Every writer is inspired by another’s creativity, it’s just inevitable, yet everyone wants to have an original thought or idea, and no one wants to plagiarize, unless they are specifically writing fanfiction, but even that, as E.L. James has proven with her Fifty Shades series, originally a Twilight fanfiction, can be considered original enough with the proper tweaks.

For the record, the formal definition of plagiarism according to google dictionary is as follows:

“the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”

That’s pretty vague and the line separating inspiration and plagiarism is fuzzy at best.  Obviously everyone has their own ideas and concerns about the line, and I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought that it reminded me of another book, or that certain descriptions or names sounded really familiar to others in similar genres, as I’m sure you have too.  Is that plagiarism?

Well, I’m going to go through a few tips I use when I draw inspiration from other authors, and how I ensure that I don’t cross that line into plagiarism or some other muddled sibling.  And I’ll do it with an example.

One of the main sources of frustration I’ve personally encountered with my novel Isle of Elandia is writing battle scenes.  So, I decided to listen to an audiobook of the Iliad since it is one entire battle and one of the greatest books ever.

The Iliad is written so that the characters have unique personalities, the battle is expertly choreographed and visual, and it’s very heavy on the gore and details, I can fully immerse myself in the battle for Troy and that’s what I want in my own book!  So how can I do that without plagiarizing?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the differences between my novel and the Iliad, and every author needs to understand the same when they are drawing inspiration from another author.  For my own part, I don’t really want to drag out the battle scene, especially after several authors in my critique group say they skip battles that drag on and on, even when reading their favorite authors or series.  Obviously this point alone will make it a challenge to plagiarize, since a book length battle such as the Iliad is already far different than a mere chapter.

That’s honestly the biggest tip, recognize the differences between your novel and your favorite author’s.

Rather than copy battle verbiage or incorporate similar specifics, which would be very out of place in my novel in addition to plagiarism, zeroing in on methods the author used to draw in the reader and further the plot is an effective way to draw inspiration.  For example, at one point in the Iliad, the Trojans focus their attack on one part of the wall guarding the Greeks’ ships, which not only added strategy into the battle but also furthered the plot, since once the wall came down it introduced a whole new plethora of emotions, battles, and hero clashes, and it focused the heroes on an attainable goal for a short period.

The inspiration that can be drawn here in my own battle scene is to focus my heroes on a goal within the overall battle, such as sinking a particular warship, destroying a battering ram before it breaks down the gate, or some other strategic sabotage that will introduce areas where I can expand character development, further along my unique plot, and keep my readers’ interest.  My one battle scene is a scene, not a book, and because of this fact, adding extra details, gore, and lengthy descriptions of individual fights –while that drew me into the Iliad and made me feel like I was on the battlefield– it just will not work for my story because the purpose of my book is not to glorify war, and neither is my battle scene.  My battle scene’s goal is just to destroy this warship.

Sidebar:  I think too often authors try to describe too much in scenes, and some of it is more fluff than plot thickening and is due in part to trying to replicate another author’s ideas to accomplish the same affect and achieve the same success.  However, due to the fundamental differences between the two novels, it doesn’t have the same affect on your novel, and it’s borderline plagiarism and will lose your reader.  So again, recognize the differences, capitalize on them, and expand them in your novel.

So to summarize, plagiarism and inspiration can sometimes seem like a fine line.  But the first step to defining that line is to recognize the differences between your novel and the one you are drawing inspiration from.  Once you do, capitalize on those differences throughout your book.  Analyze the methods your favorite author used to keep your interest rather than replicating exactly how they did it.  Avoid sharing specifics in common, and avoid adding in extra details that don’t further along your plot.  Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you, and most likely it won’t.

If you find that there aren’t that many differences to capitalize on or that they are so minor (like only names or colors) that they can be overlooked, then it may be time to re-evaluate your novel.

Best of luck writing!

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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!

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