Writing Will Happen

on Tuesday, June 29, 2010
This has gone on for far too long.

Break's over, time to start writing again.

So, readers (all 13 of you), my commitment is thus: Starting this Friday at the latest (July 2nd), I will resume daily writing and keep a word-count goal.

The current goal will be set low as I get warmed up again: 1,000 words a day, minimum. As I gain confidence in whatever it is I decide to write (be it Effulgent Corruption or Graffiti), I'm sure the number will go up.

This will happen without excuse (waah I have a test next Tuesday!), complaint (I had family reunion all last weekend!) or otherwise (my toes are cold!). So, expect that shortly.

I am also still working on Dresden and co, but my pace will probably not be as relentless, as I don't have as much free time to sit around being antisocial anymore. So, there you go.

Onward. Time to write a fifth novel.

BOOK REVIEW - Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

on Monday, June 28, 2010
By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Blood Rites

Blurb Review

While not as strong as the last few installments, Blood Rites is a dramatic book for Harry. Key elements regarding his dead parents, potential family, and relationship with Murphy and Ebenezer all play vital roles in this novel. While the book is far from terrible, it seems less driven by the book's own story, and plays more as an outlet for Jim to expound on Harry's past.

Full Review

Time for the recap! (ignoring the fact I've done this every review, some of which are only a few hours apart). Book 1: Sorcerer/Warlock. Book 2: Werewolves. Book 3: Ghosts. Book 4: Fairies. Book 5: Fallen Angels.

So, Book 6? Vampires! Yes, while they show up from time to time in other books, they finally get their own book. But they aren't vampires of the Red Court this time (the ones involved in the war). Instead, they are of the White Court, which is significantly different. I'll get to why later.

The book starts with a classical example of why Dresden is clearly a hero and not a villain: he saves puppies from a burning building while being chased by monkeys who throw flaming poo at him. Yeah, really. A bit goofy once you think about it.

You think that's over the top? You haven't seen anything yet. Next thing you know Thomas, a vampire ally (kind of) whom he met in Grave Peril and returned (sort of, more like a cameo) in Death Masks is back and needs some help. It seems he is working with a bunch of guys working on an adult movie (yes, it's a porno) and he needs Dresden to find out what's going on. People are getting offed, apparently by an entropy curse (which is essentially a "bad luck" curse, which usually results in people getting killed in weird ways. I'm guessing Butcher watched the Final Destination movies before inventing that spell) and Harry needs to find out what is going on.

So first he's saving puppies from a building, and now he's hanging out with porn stars. Butcher isn't cutting any slack this time.

To be fair, for him working on a porn site, there is a surprising lack of sex in this book (probably because Susan is gone), and the scenes involving the films are surprisingly tame, and limited to only a single page. While it isn't something I'd show to my mother, I didn't find it nearly as appalling as some epic fantasy I've had the unfortunate pleasure to encounter recently (Rhapsody's prologue is essentially a sex scene between two 14-year-olds. Yeah. Ugh.).

Anyway, stuff goes crazy and it all ends up tying with vampires. See, there are three types of vampires in Harry's world. You have the Black Court, which is traditional "Dracula" type vampires that eat people, have weird powers, and are essentially immortal unless you lop off their heads or stake them through the hearts. Most of these guys are gone because, apparently, the book Dracula promoted tons of vampire killings. Way to go, Stoker. You have the Red Court, who are at war with the White Council and pretty much hate Harry. These guys are more traditional bloodsuckers, who are actually demonic monsters under the fleshy, beautiful "skin masks" they wear over their bodies. The last are the White Court, which Thomas is a part of. These guys are just as sexy/seductive as the first, but they feed differently. Rather than eating blood or body parts, they eat human emotion. The more powerful the emotion, the easier it is to eat, and since they are great at seducing, they usually feed during sex. Yeah, really, they kill with sex. It makes sense, I guess.

Anyway, it isn't bad enough the Reds want Harry dead, a bunch of Blacks from Grave Peril are back and pissed, so they are hunting Harry too. With the help of a bounty hunter from Death Masks, Murphy (Harry's Chicago PD friend and ally), and some others, all hell breaks loose.

One big positive for this one: The humor is much improved. Harry is witty, clever, and his references make sense. None of the jokes seem forced; in fact, I laughed a few times at some of them because they were very well done. The sort of oddly placed jokes in the series is a staple; Harry's ability to laugh even in the face of extreme danger is both entertaining and unbelievable. Butcher has figured it out perfectly (at long last!), making Harry's dialogue a joy to read.

The pacing is also very good, again, and the final fights are exceptionally well done. The reveal isn't as well hinted as in Death Masks, but it works and the synergy between characters is great, though many sub-characters don't get nearly as fleshed out as I'd hoped they would.

Lastly, I love how Harry (and Jim) become self aware at how absurd the situations Harry was in during the previous books. One character mentions, in passing, how Harry essentially saved the world twice (in both Summer Knight and Death Masks), to which we hear about how Harry does other things (between books) that aren't as crazy. It's good that this next one wasn't so insanely "Harry saves the world" again, and is more personal with Harry's life.

A few things bother me about this book. First, the amazon copy of the cover (see link above) as the text as red. But the copy I have and the cover dug up on google images (see above), the title text is purple. What the crap?

Seriously this is weirding me out.

Anyway, back to the review.

As stated, there's TONS of reveals in this book. You can't skip it if you are following the series. The problem is, while the reveals are great (the big one happens in the middle of the book), the rest of the book is just...bland. It almost seems forced. Sure there are some great fights, including squaring off with a villain I've wanted dead since Grave Peril. But when the end rolls around (minor spoiler), you find out she isn't dead, actually. She comes back in Dead Beat (so Jim didn't have to write another villain; just carry the same one over), making the totally rad battle against her moot. Lame.

Also, the whole saving puppies (one of which Harry keeps and drags around in his coat for half the book, clearly showing everybody what a hero he is and leading to adorably awkward moments with the thing), working with porn stars, and just general "look at all these innuendos and sexual references, ha ha" that coat the book seems really forced. We do get a really good scene with Murphy, a character I feel is too neglected and (up until this point) entirely a two-dimensional "amazon woman-cop" character. We get to see another side of her, which is great, though she does slip back to the previously stated "hard-broiled cop with a heart" that is extremely cliche.

As a whole, there are tons of scenes that long-going fans will love. The problem is they don't have much to do with and don't benefit the self-contained story in Blood Rites. It seems tacked on, which is unfortunate.

However, it certainly isn't the worst Dresden book (it's still better than Storm Front and Fool Moon), and I loved all the incredible twists and reveals, mostly because I was curious how they'd influence future Dresden books, rather than the one I was currently in. It's a pity Dead Beat (the book I'm currently in), isn't much better (in fact, based on a 1/2 way analysis, I'd say it's the worst one besides Storm Front). But, for the sake of blog integrity I shall plod on, hopefully making it all the way through Changes before the summer is over.

BOOK REVIEW - Death Masks by Jim Butcher

By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Death Masks

Blurb Review

Taking what he learned from Summer Knight, Jim Butcher throws back in all the main characters you knew and loved from Grave Peril into a brand-new adventure. Showing the best of both Grave Peril and Summer Knight, combined with an improvement of wit easily noticeable in the prose, Death Masks marks a great next book in the already fun and furious Dresden Files series.

Full Review

First off, I don't know why this one is called Death Masks. All the others have some cute connection with the monster of choice, usually some sort of pun (Fool Moon? Get it?), but this one...no idea. I am fully aware of what a death mask is, I'm just not getting the title.

Oh well, on to the review.

So, time for the Dresden monster-killing recap! What have we got so far? Crazy sorcerer, check. Werewolves, check. Ghosts, check. Fairies, check.

What about fallen angels? Agents of Satan? Has Harry fought those? No? Well, we'd better get him on that.

Of all the Dresden books I've read so far, I think Death Masks is probably the best. Not sure if it is my favorite, per say, but it certainly is extremely exciting and does what I want it to do: Brings back all the characters I liked and throws them into a huge mess.

The Shroud of Turith has been stolen. Legend has it the artifact was the cloth used to wrap Christ in during the Resurrection. So, as you can guess, the thing is a pretty powerful relic. But that isn't how the book starts.

It starts in the first few pages with Dresden on a TV show, only to have a "mystery guest" be a devious Red Court Vampire (the Red Court is at war with the High Council, aka, all of wizard-dom, remember?). This vampire warlord makes Dresden a deal: duel him to the death, and the winner wins the war. If Harry doesn't agree, the warlord will systematically kill everybody Harry holds dear. Yikes.

Well, you can guess where that goes. Harry accepts, only to turn around a few seconds later to find Susan, his now semi-vampire girlfriend. She's back in town, and wants to help him. A few seconds after (or was it before? this book starts INSANELY fast), Harry is attacked by a Fallen Angel, only to be defended by a trio of holy knights, one of them being Michael from Grave Peril (who is one of my favorite characters, so: hooray! He's back!), all wielding holy swords. Michael grimly informs Harry that the fallen angels know he's after the shroud, and there's like twenty of them wanting him dead.

So, Harry has a duel with a vampire warlord, a shroud to find, his girlfriend who simultaneously wants to bed him and take a bite out of his neck, and over a dozen near-immortal fallen angels breathing down his neck. Oh wait, the Chicago PD found a corpse without a head or arms, and it somehow seems to be tied with this whole mess. Holy crap. Harry really should move to another city or something.

While Summer Knight showed Jim Butcher learning how to properly pace himself, Death Masks was the book were he figured out how to foreshadow perfectly, with an ending that actually worked. Well, sort of. Here's the thing: all the twists and reveals are handled perfectly. I remember at one point turning to my wife and saying, "All this stuff has happened and I have no idea how it's going to work out." Literally a page later, a huge reveal happened, and everything made sense. You know that feeling when you are reading when you have an epiphany, and you slap your head and say "Holy crap, this author is a genius. How didn't I see that? That was divinely clever!" Well, Death Masks has that kind of ending. While Summer Knight was a bit convoluted once the finale rolled around, Death Masks makes perfect sense. Bravo, Jim Butcher. You are getting real good at these Dresden Files things.

My only complaint about the novel (besides the fact that stupid Michael wasn't in town for like half of the book. Come on! I want more of him!) was that the "final boss fight" was completely ridiculous. Here's a super minor spoiler: a bunch of dudes (including Harry) fight some Fallen Angels. ON THE TOP OF A SPEEDING TRAIN. Yes. I don't know if that is the coolest thing ever, or just completely unbelievable. I'm unfortunately leaning for the latter, but whatever, it works.

The ending itself after that is also the best in the series thus far. It leaves tons of things unresolved, but resolves the main conflict. I really, really thought it was clever, and I immediately put the book down and started the next one, because I had to keep going. This was after the head-slapping part mentioned above. I love open endings. So great.

I also loved the sexual tension between Harry and Susan. Heck, most of this book was full of memorable scenes, made even more powerful because of the previous four book investment I've had with Harry. Really, really great stuff.

I am really enjoying this series. I'm also very pleased that these books are usually between 350-450 pages long, and are very quick moving, because it means I can devour one in a day/day and a half. It's also great that Butcher is solidifying that whole "TV Episode" feeling of each of the books. Each book is self contained, but stuff happens to continuing characters that you know will come up later, making you want to read the next one. Brilliant.

Having already finished Blood Rites (the next book in the series) and working on Dead Beat, expect reviews for both shortly. Just know that I usually shy away from series knowing it contains a whopping 12 books, but now I'm seriously worried that 12 books won't be enough to contain my Dresden fever. Seriously. They are that good.

BOOK REVIEW - Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

on Sunday, June 27, 2010

By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Summer Knight

Blurb Review

While Grave Peril could be compared to a Michael Bay film in terms of relentless action, cheesy jokes, and blasting fast pacing, Summer Knight takes a different approach. Dropping almost all the staple characters from the previous novel and bringing back old ones, and focusing more on detective work rather than plain action, Butcher shows that he can handle both sides of his craft. A fine balance of action, magic, and mystery; Summer Knight easily outdoes its predecessor in nearly every way.

Full Review

Same disclaimer as Grave Peril: I listened to the audiobook; I didn't actually read the book. However, the rest from here on out (assuming I can get a copy of Changes once I get to it) will be in text format.

I've mentioned in my previous review of Grave Peril how much I liked the novel. The first Dresden book was a good idea but dull execution, the second picked up but didn't hit the nail on the head. The third really starts something fantastic off, with blisteringly fast action, and one thing happening right after the other. It establishes (and does horrible things to) its main characters, as well as introduce a few more: Susan, Dresden's girlfriend. Thomas, a vampire of the White Court who is a bit of an unstable ally for Dresden. Michael, a holy warrior and good counter for Dresden's carefree, "consequences be damned" attitude.

And, in Summer Knight, he dumps all these characters. They aren't anywhere in this book.

Truth be told? It's better for it. Let me explain.

While I consider Grave Peril to be were the series really starts off (seriously, Storm Front and Fool Moon seem like prologues, while the real story is just beginning), I'd argue that Summer Knight is where the series gets good. I don't mean good as in just good reading. Grave Peril was a fun book but, ultimately, it was a popcorn novel. It had lots of fun, one-shot ideas, tons of crazy twists, and was a blast to read...but it seemed to be lacking on substance. It was goofy fun, which made a lot of the more dramatic scenes seem a little jarring or even forced.

Summer Knight takes the world and formula established, and slows it down. Having already read Death Masks (I read it in one day), I can also say that the pacing and style he establishes carries over to future novels, and this is a great thing. It is a sign of a good author that, when faced with all these brilliant ideas, to know he can't put them all in one novel. Summer Knight puts Dresden back doing what he does best - detective work, mixed with magic - rather than having him simply Fuego! (aka fire burn) every supernatural beastie he doesn't like.

So, let's go down the list again. Storm Front was a crazy wizard. Fool Moon was werewolves. Grave Peril was ghosts. So, what can Dresden fight now? What about Fairies?

Yeah, fairies. No, they aren't lame Tinkerbell things (well, a few are). They are manipulative, creepy, and bound to lots of odd rules which Dresden takes full advantage of. Another great point about this series is that it isn't just the magic that feels natural, so does all the rules binding the magical creatures. Fairies can't lie. They can bend the truth, but they can't lie. They like to bargen for things, usually involving trickery. If anything can be said about Butcher, it's that he makes certain you don't get lost in his modern interpretations of beasts of myth. Every new rule is presented in great detail and, for whatever reason, makes sense. It's a sure sign of his skill as an author.

At any rate, Dresden's life is pretty much hell again. In Grave Peril he (potential spoiler) kind of sparked a war between the vampires of the Red Court (read: nasty, demon-looking things wearing human flesh masks) and the White Council (essentially the group of wizards which Harry belongs to). The vampires said they'll stop the war if Harry is delivered to them, so the White Council calls a meeting to figure out what to do. It eventually turns out Harry, in order to save his own neck, needs to prove his loyalty to the wizards by securing an alliance with the fairie kingdom of Winter (the two houses in fairie land being Winter and Summer). Unfortunately, Winter and Summer are currently at war, so it is up to Harry to figure out why, who killed somebody important to both sides, and how he can use this to save both his own skin and a lot more on a much grander scale. Except Harry's a grouch after what happened in Grave Peril, pissed off his girlfriend Susan is gone, and is generally being a useless piece of crap. Hey, we all have bad days. Harry's just usually involve huge supernatural catastrophes.

Something I was glad to see was, despite the fact that none of the characters from Grave Peril made an appearance, the friendly werewolf pack from Fool Moon did. I was beginning to wonder where those guys went, and they don't fail to impress. Especially since they play Dungeons and Dragons. Like, come on. You are werewolves. Pretty sure real life for you is much more exciting.

Summer Knight is a great book that fixes all the problems that I found in Grave Peril. More importantly, Butcher takes a very dramatic and much needed step in the series. He knows where the story is going, and he knows how to deal with it maturely. There are some genuinely dramatic choices Harry and his allies have to make in several dire situations. A lot of the "stupid popcorn flick" from Grave Peril is gone, but it's replaced with a mature voice that really makes these books shine.

As stated, I've already read Death Masks, so I will review that shortly (I'm also about half way through Blood Rites, which is also quite good). Just know that this series only keeps getting better, a fact which I'm very grateful for, since I'm determined to read 9/10 of the books before July 15th.

Mission Accomplished

on Thursday, June 24, 2010
Happiness is:
Finding every Dresden Files book from 5-9 in the library, two of which were just bought and put there today.

Yes, I checked them all out for myself because I'm a terrible person. And, yes, I'm going to read them ALL in the next three weeks. Don't judge me!

Now I just have to go through 8 more audiobook hours of Summer Knight since that (and Grave Peril) are the only two the library doesn't have in paper form available.

Edit: Ha ha, after digging through hardcover, I found Turn Coat and Small Favor, the last two. That's all of them, except Changes, which just came out. The check-out girl just about freaked out after being assaulted by eight Dresden Files books, all with some creepy looking Harry Dresden on the cover in various, similar poses. I have until July 15th to read them all (assuming I can't renew them). Let's see how this goes.

I'm going to take a picture tonight, ha ha.

Why are we so obsessed with first sentences?

Here's a random question: Why are so many authors (and readers) completely caught up in having great first sentences?

Often times I'll read blogs of other writers, or writing advice in general, and the whole "first sentence" thing is huge. Often times magazines like Time have one-page articles containing some of the "Best First Sentences of Famous Books," and others do the same as well. Honestly, it's gotten to the point of obsession to a few, with people refusing to read books if the first sentence isn't gripping.

What is up with this?

And I'm by no means saying I'm not guilty. As based on the previous exercise mentioned in the last blog post (as well as my recent push to think of important "hook" sentences), I'm just as obsessed with the perfect starting sentence as anybody else. But why is this?

Or, a more important question is: Why aren't we more obsessed with the last sentence? Shouldn't that be the one we are focusing on? It's the one that we'll remember after, verses the first sentence which might pull us in, only to be quickly overshadowed by the story that follows?

Here's an exercise: Grab one of your favorite books, and read the last paragraph (if you need a suggestion, try Mistborn, which has one of the best last paragraphs of most fantasy I've read). Isn't that what you want to remember? Isn't that where the novel reaches its final climax, a combination of both a jolt and a soothing salve to ease you out of the story you've invested so much time into?

Don't get me wrong, I still think first sentences are important. I just think everybody is getting too caught up in them. If I ever get to the point where I'm judging an entire book by the first sentence, I want you to come slap me in the face. It's a writer and reader fad, that's exploded out of control. Who cares? I'd say the first chapter would be a better indicator.

I think the reason is we like to have something short, concise, and easy to copy/paste to a blog to point out how clever it is. Take the opening of Elantris, which is a great opening, but is also a huge viewpoint error. I'm willing to bet you the editor let it stay because it was a good starting sentence, especially with this whole "starting sentence" craze that's getting all over the place. Yeah, it's great, but it also is in error.

Honestly? I don't remember most opening sentences of books. The only ones (besides my own) are from the book I am currently reading, Summer Knight, which I remember because I read it about a week ago.

"It was raining toads the day the White Council came to town."

Clever, yes, but only because later you find out it was literally raining toads. But that's a different story entirely.

So, this question is poised to all 13 of my followers (you are an elite group and you know it): Why do you (or don't you) care so much about this? Why is this so important?

And if you say "It's the hook that brings you into the story," that's the cheap answer out, because I'd really hope people would read the entire first chapter (at least) before deciding whether or not to chuck the book.

I'm not saying we shouldn't care about first sentences. I know full well there are plenty of bookstore browsers that just read the first sentence and then decide whether to continue. I'm just curious as to why. Is our active, modern lifestyle so crazy we can't spare more than five seconds before approving or condemning a novel? Hmm?

BONUS: My first sentences! I'm giving into the fad! Yay! Who cares! I'm even going to put Prologue and First Chapters, because I know some people look at both. This is more for my own interest, because secretly I've completely bought into this first sentence thing, but ranting about it makes me meta and nonconformist.

"Antium’s wings fluttered slightly as an icy burst of wind penetrated him." - Lacrymosa, Prologue
"“Lilly! Time to wake up!”" - Lacrymosa, Chapter One: Morning

"The hooded figure had no idea she was being hunted, her stalkers only a few feet away in surrounding bushes and behind trees." - The Reigns of the World (Lacrymosa 2), Prologue
"“Are you going to torture me today, or should I come back?” Elihu quipped sarcastically from his perch." - The Reigns of the World, Chapter 1

"The corpse was headless, and most of the remaining flesh had already been picked away by the vultures." - Harbinger, Prologue
"The saloon's doors squeaked as the woman strode in, covering the dingy bar with bright shafts of sunlight." - Harbinger, Chapter 1

"“Ok, now this is why you don’t put a woman in charge of your finances," Jeremiah Arcadiana, mercenary, thief, and self-proclaimed mastermind of schemes both evil and devious, stood arms crossed facing the entrance to his shop." - Ringforger (dead), Chapter 1

"Princess Ailene’s brows furrowed as she stared out across her Condemned kingdom." - Where Gods and Mortal Dance, Prologue
"You wouldn’t think it, but there are benefits being the Useless god. For starters, all your drinks are free." - Where Gods and Mortals Dance, Chapter 1

""Push me!"" - Paradise Seekers, Prologue: The Dream
"The first thing I ever felt were the soft cotton sheets, their warm embrace gentle as I slowly awoke." - Paradise Seekers, Day 1: Paradise Seekers

"On the day the gods died, the Gangrene crystals appeared." - Effulgent Corruption, Prologue: A Note
"Drake's second life began almost exactly the same as his first: naked, screaming, and with excruciating pain racking his entire body." - Effulgent Corruption, Chapter 1: Marked

And a few random ones.
"The Ragged One crossed the desert, a straight line carved behind." - Canyon Story (Tentative Title)
"Believe me, if I had known Samantha was going to go straight for my neck, I would have never asked her out." - Vampire YA (Tentative Title)
"I never minded the Peacemakers, until one of them tried to kill me." - Graffiti (Tentative Title)...LOL?

I'd post last sentences to prove my previous point, but I'm fairly certain that would be too spoileriffic.

WRITING DAY - Report on my word puke

on Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Overall, I'd say today was a fantastic success in helping me out of my slump, even if writing group showed up a little later than expected (read: like three hours later).
At first I just did as I had planned: Wrote a few first chapters, one of an urban, vampire YA fantasy, and the other an idea I'd been harboring for a while. At this point, I got tired of doing it on my own, so writing group and I decided on a new tradition: First sentence writing prompts.

The idea is simple and not exactly novel, but it is certainly fun. One of us (pre-designated in the future, but it was me today because it was my idea) would give a first sentence for a novel, story, chapter, whatever. Then, we'd have fifteen minutes to plan, and an hour and a half to write. We then pass the writings around, mostly for fun, and give basic feedback.

Anyone who has written can get why this exercise is helpful, and fairly common. It helps get the creative juices flowing, as well as help one become a better discovery writer. It also can be entertaining to see where things go: Mine was (as expected) a fantasy with snippets of sci-fi (an idea I'd had for a while but had never taken flesh; this allowed it to come to life); Derek's was a sci-fi pseudo distopian; and Jason's was...well, let's just say the main character was the source of all entropy in the universe, and his parole officer was Death. Yeah, it was interesting.

For those wondering, the sentence I chose was: "I never minded the Peacemakers, until one of them tried to kill me." I figured it offered a bit of preemptive world-building (what with a class of people titled "Peacemakers"), as well as forcing us to write in first person. Needless to say, success.

On that front, the thing I wrote actually might be what I keep writing. I presented the first chapters to writing group (and my wife, who I guess is part of writing group too so I didn't have to give her special mention, but she's my wife so it's all good) and asked which they liked best. The vampire YA (I can't believe I'm writing vampire YA) and the writing prompt bit, currently under the file of "Graffiti" (which is the name of the magic/tech used by the characters), won out. So, for the future, I concluded I'd write a second chapter in each, send that off as well, and see which wins out.

Personally, Graffiti is winning. I like the magic and there are already three characters that show terrific synergy. However, we shall see.

You might wonder what this means for Effulgent Corruption. I'm wondering too, believe me. I think the problem is I'm not ready to take on such a huge task as of yet. Planning for EC made it look like another 200,000 word monster, and it is also the first in a two book set. The ideas and settings are probably the "coolest" I've thought up, but that should give me all the more reason to put it aside for a while and hone my craft until I'm prepared. Just know I am not completely abandoning the story, I like it too much for that. However, it might have to wait a few months (or one month, depending on how into these stories I get) before I finish it up.

In other news, I've gotten a little more Paradise Seekers feedback, but there are still a few quiet Alpha readers. Get on that! (I mean that in the nicest way possible) My goal is to have it revised and done before the middle of July, and then start sending it out.

And now, a very brief quote from Graffiti.

" Good Techtappers were hard to find; most could only use two or three fingers and create basic shapes and objects. Exceptional ones could manage three, usually the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers. Rosemary took to the art like a fish to water; the Tips on her fingers glowing miraculously as she drew living energy with her left hand. I’d heard rumors that, at the heart of the Steelgod’s empire, there lived Techtappers who could use both hands to draw.
Watching Rosemary, I couldn’t see how this was possible. Her fingers moved with a grace and precision I couldn’t hope to ever match in my lifetime. Piano players, harp players, and even the most skilled bards and minstrels all paled in comparison to my step-sister. Her fingers drew beautiful lines, some glowing, others not in the still night air. They throbbed with her movements, a few fading away as she erased them with a rub of her thumb. "

Expect an update tomorrow on what I decide to write.

BOOK REVIEW - Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

on Tuesday, June 22, 2010
By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Grave Peril

Blurb Review

In Grave Peril, Jim's realization of both the world and Harry Dresden's character comes to life with incredible finesse. Combining white-hot action with clever magic and genuinely interesting characters, Grave Peril is the best book thus far in the Dresden Files. Those looking to start the series can't do any better than Grave Peril. 

Full Review

At long last, we finally see Jim Butcher at his best. After a debut that worked in concept but not on paper, a second novel that improved on the formula but didn't quite nail it, Grave Peril is what we've been waiting for. This is one of the funnest, cleverest, and downright most reckless books I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

One main comment though before going into full-on "review mode:" I didn't actually read this book. I listened to the audiobook, because I wasn't able to find a paper copy anywhere. The audio recording I listened to had one of the best readers I've experienced, who both knew how to emote expression in the dialogue, as well as do clever voice cues so you could tell characters apart. Because of this, I didn't notice the prose as much, instead focusing more on the story itself. I'm certain reading it would be a completely different experience, but from the audiobook side: it works. And works well. 

Ok, the review. Grave Peril starts off in the middle of the action. Harry and his new friend Michael, a Christian zealot, are off essentially ghost-busting. Yes, this novel is about killing ghosts, primarily. Michael is a great example of why I love the magic in the Dresden files. While he doesn't actually contain any himself, Jim attributes such abilities as great faith as a power unto itself. Michael's incredible belief in God gives him a power that could potentially rival Dresden's. It makes near perfect-sense, as does all the magic in the book: there are multiple sources of magic in the world, faith being one of them. It works because it's natural, and because we want it to work.

Anyway, Michael is a great character, because of how different from Harry he is. While Harry is a hard-broiled, world-weary, morally ambiguous wizard; Michael is a god-fearing family man who abhors swearing and any form of commandment-breaking. How these two became friends is beyond me, but they play off each other extremely well. 

It is while busting this ghost where we meet another incredibly unique twist on something we already know: Harry's fairy godmother. This isn't what you think, all "bibbity bobbity boo" and what not. Harry owes his godmother a debt, and his godmother is some hugely sexy woman who wants Harry's body (and all that entails) and will stop at nothing to get it. Not the fairy godmother you remember, right? 

At any rate, things start getting crazier. A renegade ghost starts terrorizing Harry's friends, and he doesn't know why. Fight after fight eventually leads him to one of the best scenes thus far in the novel: Harry appearing as a guest of honor at a vampire masquerade party. Again, Butcher does the mythology right and makes vampires both incredibly desirable and inexplicably terrifying. It all culminates in a final showdown makes the other two books look boring in comparison. 

I really enjoyed this book. The blend of action, hard-broiled cop, magic, and noir was near-perfect. I found myself staying up until 2 in the morning listening to the dang thing, wanting to know what happened next. It was intoxicating.

However, it isn't perfect. First off, the breakneck pace is great, but sometimes I felt it was going too fast. This is especially evident by what is perhaps the book's biggest flaw: If Harry ever thinks, "I sure hope x doesn't show up" or "There's no way y will happen," it always does. It gets to the point where it's almost a joke how predictable it becomes. Yes, it makes the book relentlessly exciting, but it's just too obvious. I swear Harry couldn't even walk to the supermarket to get some milk without being assaulted by demons, fairies, vampires, and who knows what else. Everything that could go wrong tends to, and it becomes cliche by the end. 

The other issue is the goals of the characters, particularly the villain. Without spoiling anything too much, somebody wants Harry dead. However, the way they go about it is so convoluted and "clever" (this pertains to the final reveal) that it really makes you wonder: why didn't they just hire some ex-marine with a sniper rifle and off Harry that way? If you send magic at him, he can detect it. I'm pretty sure he couldn't detect a bullet from several hundred yards away going for his skull. Don't fight a wizard with magic, you idiots!

Lastly, while it made sense that Harry gets beat up all the time (what with everything going bad for him at every possible moment), he seems to recover awfully quickly. In the first book, Storm Front, Harry gets the crap kicked out of him a lot. In Fool Moon, he loses some magic ability. Wanting to one-up it "for the win!", Butcher makes Harry lose some of his magic and get beaten up over and over again! It makes it better, right? Well, not really, especially because he seems to have no recovery time. Or, when he does, he'll be groaning and struggling to walk from his bed one second, and blasting magic everywhere the next. Maybe magic makes you regenerate really fast, I have no idea. But, while the joke was funny the first two books, it is becoming a little harder for me to suspend my disbelief. (Luckily, only a few chapters into Summer Knight, and he already is hurt, but he complains about it and notices it frequently. I like this better; more realistic). 

These qualms aside, this is really the Michael Bay of Dresden files, only without Megan Fox and with a coherent plot and characters you care about. One blockbuster scene after the next, on and on until the novel ends. If you plan on starting this series, Grave Peril would be a good point. While Harry does reference past events, he often gives enough background that it won't detract from the story. 

However, don't start on the next book (Summer Knight) unless you've read this one. Tons of very key plot twists, including character changes and revelations, happen in this book that tie directly into the next one (and I'm fairly certain it'll keep this trend now that Butcher knows his underlying goals). Seriously, it won't make sense.

What else can I say? You should go buy it (see the link, hint hint) or check it out from the library and read it. If you can get an audiobook version, I'd recommend that even more, though they can be expensive. I've got Dresden Files fever now, and I don't plan on stopping until I've gotten all the way to book #12, Changes. And, of course, I'll keep reviewing them as I finish them.

On to Summer Knight

Word Vomit - Barfing my way out of a slump

I'm currently in a rut, mostly because of my post a whiles back concerning my desire to be both a YA and Epic Fantasy writer. Also because the tension of sitting on Paradise Seekers while alpha readers are getting to it is KILLING ME. I already got a lot of feedback, some good, some negative, and most of the negative is actually concerning the same few things, and they are issues I know how to address. Point being: it's close to being ready to send off to agents/editors, I'm just sitting on my hands for a few more weeks for more feedback.

Which drives me crazy. I really want to get this out because I really think it has a chance.

As stated in the previous post, I didn't write much this week, returning to the rut mentioned in paragraph one. However, I've developed a "genius plan" that I'm certain will help me with this.

Tomorrow is Writing Wednesday (moved from Writing Tuesday because the semester change messed up classes), and it'll be Writing Mondays after this week. Anyway, the point is I'm going to do something I haven't done...well, ever. I'm going to write a bunch of first chapters, rapid fire, with all my ideas I can think of for interesting stories. This is regardless of genre (though they'll probably mostly be YA), and I'm not going to stop until I find something I like. If, after a few hours, I really hate them all, I've made a solemn oath to go back to Effulgent Corruption whether I like it or not.

I should be editing Where Gods and Mortals Dance, but I haven't been in the editing mood...(actually I haven't been in the anything mood except Xbox). Plus, I'm focusing more on Paradise Seekers at this point.

Also, for the first time in a long time, I don't have tentative titles for these books. One is a vampire/detective novel I've wanted to do for a long time, but buried it because of the recent fad. The other is the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid I mentioned previously. There was a third, a YA steampunk with a clockwork god, but we'll see.

Bec and I also brainstormed a few days back about a fantasy novel that took place in a huge canyon, like the world was this enormous chasm that people lived in, at the center of an endless desert (they'd have to live there because that's the only place for water). I thought that idea was AWESOME and might try it out tomorrow too. Maybe I can turn it into YA somehow.

Anyway, just some ramblings about my current state of affairs. I'll be sure to keep you updated. Also, I am about two hours (out of eleven) into Jim Butcher's Summer Knight, the next book in the Dresden files. Expect a review of Grave Peril very soon.

And now, a poem.

Reading Regurgitation

My mind is vomiting through my fingertips,
Spewing sentences onto paper.
My thoughts are a tad ill, you see,
And they don't make Pepto Bismol for the consciousness.

Next thing I know, they gather around,
Like children, curious, at the circus
Cautiously contemplating the camels;
The readers ponder my mind's excrement.

No Weekly Word Count this week

on Monday, June 21, 2010
Sorry, but I've been busy with school finals and just general writing overload, so I'm taking a few days off. I'm also trying to decide what I want to write next, be it Effulgent Corruption, or one of the two YA ideas I've had for a while.
In either case, expect more writing this week, though I might not update it in a timely manner because I'll be at my wife's family reunion.

Why I want to write YA, but for some reason can't.

on Tuesday, June 15, 2010
This is a mostly self-indulgent post, so bear with me. Venting helps me get troubling thoughts off my mind, but I will do my best to keep it interesting for those who know me and who have read my writing.

The general gist is as the subject says: I want to write YA. But I have a problem. I have no ideas for YA novels.

Quick rundown. My first book, Lacrymosa, was originally written as adult epic fantasy, but I wrote it because I read Eragon and thought I could pull that off myself. Eragon is a YA, and Lacrymosa is pretty much YA except the protagonist is 19 instead of 17. I've often said if I rewrote it, it would be a YA. It's got all those YA staples: A love triangle, a conflicted main character, a world run by adults where she tries to find her way around, a coming-of-age story, yadda yadda yadda. So, in a sense, I can write YA, and I do have YA ideas.

The problem is, I convinced myself early on I was going to write adult novels. And so, as I brainstorm, my mind is firmly set in brainstorming epic fantasy.

Harbinger was NOT YA, and couldn't ever be. It was a violent, gruesome book about death, sacrifice, and corrupt people ruining a world. The story ended in a way an adult novel would end (not going to say for spoilers, but needless to say it is jarring), and the ending held the entire book together. It was adult.

Where Gods and Mortals Dance is not YA. While it certainly would be possible to make Ailene younger and increase the romance, that isn't the point of the book. Many readers haven't finished it, but there are some extremely jarring scenes in the novel (perhaps even more than Harbinger), and it ends dwelling on themes I honestly don't think young adult readers would get as well as adults.

The problem is, I write my best when I write YA, as evident in book #4: Paradise Seekers. Everybody has said this is the best book I've written. My wife (who I know isn't necessarily a creditable source, but she reads tons) said it's better than most YA she's read, and it hasn't even seen an editor yet. Everybody has also said this same thing: the pacing is perfect. This is huge for me, because in Paradise Seekers I cut a lot of the more detailed descriptions (a staple of epic fantasy) just to tell a story. It made the novel much easier to write, hence the reason I was able to finish it in under a month.

So here comes my dilemma. Effulgent Corruption is not a YA. In fact, it might be the most adult fantasy novel I've ever attempted (not because of violence, sex, etc, but because of the themes). The thing is, after being so successful with Paradise Seekers, I really want to try another YA (see if I'm not just a one-hit wonder in that category).

But my brain has been trained to write epic fantasy. Every brainstorming I do is for adult literature, not YA. Paradise Seekers worked because I had an adult story, but due to the nature of the world the characters had to be YA ages. So, I adapted accordingly. I can't seem to do that again on command, it just doesn't work.

I do have one YA idea, but it isn't great, and I haven't fleshed it out. I'm sure after some work it would be at least decent, but I don't want to tell decent stories: I want to tell great ones. But I also want to write YA. Now you can see my dilemma.

Another main reason I want to write YA is how much crap gets published. I'm reading a YA novel right now (expect a review soon) that got praised by everybody on the block and has a four star average on amazon (that's why I read it; I usually only pick up books I heard good things about from people). The book is unquestionably horrible. As a bit of a spoiler: a girl (viewpoint character) is in love with a man betrothed to another. When the guy is now pretty much married to the other girl, she still thinks its perfectly fine to sneak off with him and make out, because she "loves him." What is this book teaching?

I'm not even going to talk about that other YA novel that teaches people bad things (hint: It starts with a "T"), but you can see my point. The problem still stands though: I don't "think in YA."

Probably the main reason is because I hate teenagers. Ok, hate is too strong a word. They just annoy me. Being a psych major and loving to learn about human development, I know more than I'd ever hope to know about adolescents. The point being: they are usually major twits, blown every which-way by hormonal influence, and generally make bad decisions for dumb reasons. Why do I want somebody like this to star in my book?

Ok, so Paradise Seekers doesn't do that, but I still have issue: because I don't like them, I don't brainstorm stories starring them. Which means I can't write YA.

Which sucks.

So, I'm going to keep writing Effulgent Corruption, read some more YA (hopefully find a book that doesn't totally suck this time), and try to figure out what I want to do. I guess technically there's no law against me being both an epic fantasy and YA writer, but selling to two markets seems harder than just selling to one.

Also, I just now realized that posting an existential quandary about my writing on a blog that will probably be read by editors and agents might not be the best idea. Well, you know what? I'm going to do it anyway. Because I'm certain this happens to the best of us, and I'm honest. I don't know what I want to write. Well, I do, but I just am having problems with it. Or something.

I'm confused about being confused. This has to be some sort of record.

Anyway, thank you for sitting through my ramblings. If you have any comments or advice, feel free to throw 'em on over. As for me, it's late and I'm not tired, and I have a horrible YA novel to finish. *shudder*


Also, don't get me started about how the whole vampire craze ruined my idea for a vampire novel I've had for years. Trust me, it was YA, and it was great. And now I can't write it without looking like some vampire cash-in on the fad. I hate you, Twilight!

BOOK REVIEW - Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

on Monday, June 14, 2010
By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it Here: Fool Moon


I reviewed Storm Front a few days ago, though I read both books about two or three months previous. I noted how I enjoyed the novel to a point, but it didn't really have that hook or catch to keep me going. I liked the idea (wizard in Chicago solving supernatural mysteries), but the book just didn't sink in.

Well, it was in Fool Moon that the series really sunk its teeth into me (horrible werewolf pun intended). While I won't go so far as to say the book is fantastically great (it isn't, it's just slightly above average), it did have the one thing the first book was missing, something completely crucial in long series like these:

It had a hook, and I wanted to read more.

I still do, in fact. As I'm writing this I'm finishing the audio recording of Grave Peril on my iPod, and already have Summer Knight (the book following) on my iPod, and even checked out Death Masks (the fifth book in the series) from the library in anticipation.

I have Dresden Files fever. Congrats, Jim Butcher. You won.

Now, on to the review of Fool Moon.

The premise for all the Dresden books could be easily stated in a nutshell: Harry gets called up on some crazy murder/premonition/etc. He rushes out, only to get beat up. He then keeps investigating, finds nothing is as it seems, and gets beaten up a few dozen more times (and in this book he even loses his magic). Then, in the end, there's a desperate struggle and Harry manages to come out.

That's the basic idea. But don't think that doesn't make them any less entertaining.

The monster of the hour in Fool Moon is werewolves. There's a wide variety of the creatures, with names I can't summon up to recall at this moment, but just know there's the puppy-dog ones (think Twilight) and the huge demon-dog monsters from hell ones. Of course, the once Harry's gotta take out is the latter. However, things get complicated as Susan, Harry's girlfriend-in-progress slash reporter from Storm Front, gets in on the whole mess. Add a werewolf pack that isn't as it seems, a psychotic drug and crazy FBI members, and a whole ton of gory killing, and you have one crazy story.

Now, I've said this was the book that made me finally want more Harry Dresden, and that is true. However, the book itself isn't as fantastic as I've made it out to be. Its leaps and bounds above Storm Front, for sure, but it still hadn't reached that "I can't put it down" status (which Grave Peril fully accomplishes). The fact Harry can keep going in some situation is unbelievable, and he often takes breaks when I think he should be fighting, and vice versa. He also has a terrible knack of being a total jerk to monsters he probably shouldn't be a total jerk to (something that continues in all the other books, if my friends are to be trusted), which makes him seem a little dumb.

So, why do I want more? It's hard to identify what really causes you to be sucked into a story, but there are a variety of things I can think of. First off, the characters, especially Harry, are extremely likeable. Not only that, but they have a fantastic synergy. Harry, with his snarky comments; Susan, with her determination but ignorance of the world she's digging in; Bob, a genius spirit in a skull who likes sex too much; Murphy, a hard-broiled female cop who both despises and relies on Harry. It's a great set up, and you just know that whatever Jim throws into this mess will work. Or, it would work, once Jim's writing catches up, which is starts showing signs of doing this time around.

Add on a bunch of secrets behind every character that would be dug up later in future novels, exciting action, and a magic system that is both intuitive and unique.

Fool Moon is a solid second installment, and it ends on a pseudo-cliffhanger (not frustrating, but making me want more) that works perfectly. I can now say this is a series certainly worth looking into if you enjoy urban fantasy, or hard-broiled cop stories with a snarky narrator and magic interwoven.

Expect a review of Grave Peril as soon as I finish it.


Week Dates: 6/7 - 6/13, 2010.
Total Word Count This Week (Effulgent Corruption): 3,761.
Words Total for Effulgent Corruption: 3,761


Excerpts from this week: 

       One cannot go far before hearing this preaching. Claiming that this is the power of the gods themselves, the ability to manipulate the world around them, the chance to bring a greater light to the inhabitants therein. They say the gods gave us this gift, the Gangrene. They say that is why they left, because their love for us was so great.
I do not believe that.
I do not believe the gods left the crystals for us. I do not believe they died to bestow us some final gift, a taste of their power.
The gods left us because they saw what I see: A people doomed to be consumed by an ever growing, ever spreading corruption. They didn’t leave out of mercy. They didn’t leave us a gift. They gods were not benevolent. 
They left because they didn’t want to take responsibility when the world burned. Burned until it was naught but ashes.
They left us to die.
- Effulgent Corruption - A Note

         Drake stretched forward his right hand, placing it, he estimated, in front of a considerable distance. Then, with a flexing of the wrist, he pushed into where his palm should be. 
A flame, brilliant and orange, ignited from his hand. It started at the palm. where Drake could now see a shining rock, glistening in the sudden light. As he continued to push, fire also  popped out from his fingers, licking across the skin and nails as it flickered in the dark room.
By Xazion’s dead body, Drake’s eyes widened as they adjusted to the light. I...I’ve been Marked
- Effulgent Corruption - Newcomer


Slower week, as you can see. I spent most of it preparing for a test, trying to get pumped to start Effulgent Corruption, writing three papers, finishing handing out and messing with Paradise Seekers, and other things. Also, I think since I wrote two full-length books so far this year, I deserve a few days break. Right? Maybe?

In either case, I am still writing a minimum of 500 words a day, which I'm certain will go up once my finals are over (I have two this thursday) and I can relax a bit. I'm also figuring out some of the key twists in Effulgent Corruption and how they pertain to both the characters and the first few portions of the book, and the plotting is going decently. No outline yet, probably won't make one, but we'll see. 

Paradise Seekers is out to the first batch of alpha readers, and I might have to print off more copies if I want people reading it. I am hoping to have enough feedback by mid July to start sending it out; I have a few agencies lined up I want to query, I just would like a near-complete manuscript (to the best of my ability) before spamming people. 

I also have been listening to Grave Peril (the third Dresden Files book, since I couldn't find a physical copy I got the audiobook), and it is both fantastic and time-consuming. I think it wouldn't be far to say that I feel these books better suited for audiobook format. They just work this way. I'll have a review for both Fool Moon and Grave Peril up shortly. 

Other then that, not much going on. I'm trying to play through and beat Final Fantasy XIII on the PS3, but besides looking great the game really isn't that fun. So far, I just mash "X" (accept) and I win every battle, maybe once in a while I throw potions if it is a boss. There's only one path forward, you don't get experience or level (yet? I hope)...you just run and mash "X." Fun. At least it's pretty and the music is nice, even if the voice acting makes me want to snap the disc in half (seriously, it's 2010. You had an excuse for bad voice acting in FFX because it was like eight years ago. But that was then, and this is now. You have no excuse for bad voice-overs in a world where Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey, and Dragon Age exist). 

Well, expect more next week. Writing group and I are actually going back to the weekly critique thing, which is good. If you haven't bookmarked/google readered The Mansion House you really should; Jason had quite the talent for odd, off-the-wall humor. I find it incredibly entertaining. 

Ramblings on Writing - The Importance of Finishing

on Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ramblings on Writing - The Importance of Finishing
June 12, 2010

This week really is a rambling, where I have decided to just spew whatever nonsense I can think of about this topic, which I am a firm believer in. This is also a problem most first-time writers suffer, and many not-first-time writers (myself included) also have issues with. 

Let's jump into a scenario, shall we?

So you got the best idea for a book ever. You have a brilliant magic system, an unforgettable set of plot twists, a fantastic world, and characters you'd die for. This is the perfect fantasy story, one that's going to make you a rich author and allow you to buy a sweet skateboard and jump from a helicopter on the skateboard and ramp off the Grand Canyon while drinking Mountain Dew. Essentially, all your dreams are going to come true with this book. 

You make the file, pick a snazzy font for your title page, and start writing. Things are just really going good for you about 30k words in: this is epic

But sometime along the way things start to bother you. Your writing group points out problems in earlier chapters, issues that can't be addressed without rewriting entire sections. Your characters aren't acting the way they want to. Worst of all, they are in the most boring situation ever. Think Council of Elrond, only times infinity. This book really isn't flowing well.

Not to mention, while writing it, you got another idea for an even better book! You don't really know what you saw in this one, to be honest. It was just a warm-up, a test run for this next great novel. So what do you do? You leave your first great idea, which was clearly a complete screw-up anyway, and move to the next one.

Do this about twenty times, and you have the average first-time novelist. And sometimes the "latest and greatest" idea isn't even a new book; sometimes it's the same story, just altered, so you start over. It's now been several years and you have about ten unfinished files sitting on your computer, all teetering between the 20-50k word mark, all "horrible abominations."

Well, you are the psychologically disturbed soccer-mom, and I'm your Dr. Phil. And, like that balding tv-star, I am going to tell you something you aren't going to like. 

You need to get off your butt, and finish a novel. No matter what. You have to finish this, before you can start anything else. And that is final. 

Writing a novel to the average person seems like the simplest thing ever. Truthfully, probably everybody has at least one fantastic idea that they'd love to see novelized, something they've thought about for years. Often times when I tell people my goal in life is to write, they give me a smug little smile and a nod, saying something like "Oh yeah, I wrote a book in fifth grade. But good luck with that, I'm sure you'll do great!" The point is, everybody thinks they can write a novel. In fact, many people can write some pretty decent outlines, and even a few first chapters. However, very few people actually finish a novel. Isn't the statistic something like 99% of people who start novels never finish them? It's that 1% that perseveres and actually gets something done.

So, here is me telling you this: If you are reading this blog and plan on (or are currently) writing a book, you are now set in stone to finish this novel no matter what, because you read this and I'm using unrighteous dominion over you. If you ever want to be successful, or ever want a real author to take you seriously in the slightest degree, you absolutely have to finish something. And that something is what you are writing right now, because like I said before, I'm Dr. Phil and you have to do what I say. 

Now that I've lassoed you into doing something you probably will just ignore anyway, here are some perks to finishing a novel that might pique your interest and actually get you to see it to completion. 

- The first novel is always the hardest. After that, it becomes much easier. You'd think it wouldn't, but it most certainly does. 
- The sense of accomplishment is staggering. You'll be walking on air for weeks. 
- You can finally say, "oh yes, I've written an 'x' word novel. Let me tell you about it," to prospective agents/editors/in-laws wondering what you are doing with your life. 
- Professional authors get stuck, too. Ask any of them; they'll all say the same thing: they hated their book at some point and wanted to drop it. The difference between them and you is they pushed through and finished. Also, they are published and make money off their hobby, which you currently do not (don't worry, I'm in this class as well)
- Your relatives and in-laws might start taking your prospective career more seriously. They also might read what you wrote, which is both fantastic and terrifying

And here are some slightly-less encouraging comments that authors always bring up in panels about this topic, and don't realize exactly how semi-depressing they are because they are published and so don't have to worry about it.

- Your first book, despite loving it to death, probably won't be the novel you sell. In fact, it'll probably be the novel you bury and hope nobody ever finds a few months down the road.
- It's said your first million words are "practice" (which is a nice way of saying they are crap). In case you are wondering, I'm on my fifth full-length novel and have just crossed the 500k mark. So it takes a while.
- Your second novel will be leaps and bounds ahead of your first. The same goes for the third, fourth, and fifth (unless you are Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer. Ha ha! Zinger!)

And, a few more nice ones.

- The stuff you learn writing your first novel will lay the foundation for all future works.
- If you can complete one novel, you can complete ten. Of this I am completely certain. (on the opposite end, if you can't complete one, well...you can't complete one. You can start ten and leave them to die, though)
- The first novel you finish you'll remember for the rest of your life. If you are like me, you'll also remember the last sentence from that first novel. ("I'm going home.", for the record)
- It's just something you have to freaking do, ok? If you don't do it, frankly, you'd better start looking for another job.

Let me just say 100% of what I said above is completely true from either my personal experience or others, and this comes from talking to dozens of authors, both prospective and published.

So, don't wait. Whatever novel you are writing now, you have to finish it. You have to finish it, because you promised way up in paragraph whatever that you would. What's that? You don't remember doing that?

Well I do, and I'm going to hold you to it.

Effulgent Corruption started, Paradise Seekers alpha readers update.

on Thursday, June 10, 2010
I am sitting next to three spiral bound copies of the alpha version of Paradise Seekers. They look nice, very nice. I feel like a real author with these things.

And now I have to say goodbye to them as I give them out to people. Here's a list of those I currently know want to be alpha readers. If you aren't on here, you'd better shoot me an email or facebook message or comment.

Hard Copy - Chuck, Rosalia, Sarah, Derek, Jason
Electronic Copy - Sam, Braden, Alex, Eric

I currently only have three copies (as stated above), so one is going to the ETS crew, and the rest I'll figure out later.

Thanks for helping!

I also began Effulgent Corruption tonight, meaning I wrote a prologue and like three paragraphs. Yeah, it might take me a while to get into this story (and I need to do more planning, honestly), but at least it has a file on my computer now (and a quick-link in the dock) so I can no longer ignore it.

Here's the first sentences, from the prologue and chapter 1 accordingly

"On the day the gods died, the Gangrene crystals appeared."
- Effulgent Corruption, Prologue

"Drake's second life began almost exactly the same as his first: naked, screaming, and with excruciating pain racking his entire body."
- Effulgent Corruption, Chapter 1

I'm excited for this story, though it still needs some planning. The purpose is to keep me writing (even if I'm going to be focusing on editing WGMD for an alpha release soon), even if it's just 500 words a day (which it currently is). As always, stuff can be fixed in the first edit.

That's it! Those expecting electronic copies, and the ETS hard copies will be getting them tomorrow. Everyone will get an email with the list of questions I'd like you to answer after reading (instructions will be in the email). Thanks again for the help!

PARADISE SEEKERS - Alpha Readers Wanted!

on Tuesday, June 8, 2010
After a quick edit, including rewriting a chapter and doing a basic language edit (too much swearing), I have created a monstrosity I'm willing to let people see.

Which is where you come in. I need alpha readers!

For those not knowing, here is what an alpha/beta reader is. According to Wikipedia:

[An Alpha Reader] is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public." (Source)

Well, that about sums it up. I need people to read it and provide feedback. Comments on a pdf or word document will be very helpful, but let me explain a few key points.

- If you are selected to be an alpha reader (don't worry, it won't be hard), you'll need to read the book within a timely manner, and provide feedback.

- I honestly don't care how much feedback you give, but more is better. If you give detailed comments, please either put the comment with it in the page, or tell me the page number. Having to dig through my whole book because you know a grammar error is there isn't helpful.

- I have a list of about 10-15 questions that I will send with an alpha manuscript. If you don't give any feedback at all, I expect you to at least answer these questions. Don't worry, they aren't hard or anything. But they DO need to be answered if you agree to this.

- I will be printing off probably five (5) hard copies and binding them for distribution. If you live in the Provo/Orem area, then you can be eligible for the paper copies. However, it you can read on a computer screen without it giving you eye-strain, headaches, etc. please leave the copies for others. If you do get a hard copy, please try and keep note-taking in the copy to a minimum. If you can put comments on a computer, another sheet of paper, or even post-it notes, that would be helpful (then I won't have to print out more). If you absolutely have to write on a hard copy, I'm sure we can arrange something.  Specify in your comments which you'd prefer.

- Keep in mind I'm trying to get published here. You can be as harsh as you want. If you think the story sucks, tell me so (but be sure to tell me why). I won't have you forever if you tell me how abismal my book is.

- Also note that, just because you say something, that doesn't mean I'll change it. I still have creative control.

That's about it! If you'd like to be an alpha reader, you can either shoot me an email if you know me personally, or comment in this blog space with your contact information (aka email) and I'll be in touch. Thanks for all your help, and keep writing/reading!

-Tues, June 8

The Mansion House - Why you all need to go read this.

My friend Jason has started a new blog that chronicles the chapter of his totally real and not made up life, where he lives in a huge house with an interplanetary genius butler named Wadsworth and an obnoxious, vent-dwelling demon named Beezle.

The point is, this thing is hilarious, and if he keeps updating daily I'm sure it'll only keep getting better.

So, turn your browsers on over to http://whathowadsworth.blogspot.com/, and enjoy the madness.

Also: The blog's link "What Ho, Wadsworth" was totally my idea. Just wanted some credit for it. :P

BOOK REVIEW - Storm Front by Jim Butcher

By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Storm Front


I will openly admit: it was the covers of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files that first got me interested in the novels. They are all extremely similar: A figure with a staff and a wide-brimmed hat, his face cast in shadow, looking over some mysterious thing or another. This is complete with a title that usually is some funny joke on the monsters found within(ex. Fool Moon for werewolves or Grave Danger for zombies). Despite this, I found it very hard to find which one to start on, because there's twelve books now (which apparently ends the first series), and after a point Butcher stopped putting "Book X of the Dresden Files" on the front, and instead just put "A Novel of the Dresden Files." So, in order to find out which book you wanted, you have to look on the inside page and get the proper order.

But I digress.

The concept behind the Dresden Files is exceptionally clever. I like to think of it as "Harry Potter for adults." Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire, a private detective living in the modern city of Chicago. The books cover one case each, but with an underlying plot involving Harry, his exploits, relationships, etc. that apparently all culminates in some huge, amazing ending in the last book, Changes. Or so I think, because I unfortunately haven't been able to find the third book, Grave Danger, at any library, putting a halt to my progress.

But I digress. Again.

Storm Front introduces us to Harry just after a rather gruesome murder has been committed (a word to those interested: these books are very violent and contain profuse amounts of swearing. Just a heads up). Of course, because the murder was done so oddly, the police call Dresden (who has a teetering relationship with police-chief Murphy) to find out what's going on. The story then hits full "hardbroiled cop mystery" novel, with splashes of fantasy for good measure. There's a talking skull, fairies, demons, vampires, and more.

I said previously I really liked the idea behind this book series. It is, therefore, hard for me to say I'm not a huge fan of Storm Front (though the second book, Fool Moon, which I'll review soon is quite good). It was Butcher's debut novel and it shows; the pacing can sometimes be quick, but often I found myself trudging through the novel. Dresden is a witty guy, offering insights in nearly every impossible situation, but a lot of the humor seems forced (again, fixed in the later novels). While Butcher nailed the setting and theme, he fell flat with his prose and pacing. Not only that, but the mystery wasn't even that intriguing to begin with, making the novel all-the-more frustrating.

I've heard the series doesn't really even "start" until the third book, Grave Danger (which I still haven't found a copy of, as mentioned above). Judging by the way Fool Moon ends, I'd have to agree. Butcher was probably testing the waters with this book, which is fine, but it makes it just a step above mediocre. If you want to delve into this series (which I heard only keeps getting better), I'd suggest starting with Fool Moon, or Grave Danger. Fool Moon is a fun, exciting read, and there isn't much learned in the first book that isn't just re-stated in the second, so one should be able to just pick up and go.

Storm Front launched Jim Butcher's blockbuster career, and as a novel that accomplished that, I can give it credit. However, he has become a much better author over the past several years, so I'd take full advantage of that if I were to begin the series today.


on Monday, June 7, 2010

Week Dates: 5/31-6/6, 2010.
Total Word Count This Week (Paradise Seekers): 18,350.
Words Total for Paradise Seekers: 70,272


Excerpts from this week:

The forest was dark and musky smelling. Though it had appeared impenetrably dense from the outside, once I was inside the trees seemed sparse. Mist floated lazily around nearly every tree, so thick it was almost like pushing through molasses just to walk. The humidity was suffocating; I felt like I was breathing more air than water, and I immediately began to sweat. 
I can hardly see anything, I coughed, panting just to get enough oxygen to keep walking. Where did they go? And how on earth do they make their way around in this? 

-Paradise Seekers, Day Eight - The Southern Forest

Then, at that very instant, everything became perfectly clear. 

-Paradise Seekers, Day Nine - Julia


2,621 words a day average this week, which is pretty good considering I actually only did edits past Wednesday, meaning I didn't write much Thursday and Friday (though I seem to have put in about 1,000 words during edits, which is good, I suppose). I'm working on cleaning up the prose, which usually requires deleting a lot of over-description, but also requires adding description in parts because of ambiguity. I also am going to add a whole chapter in, which will bump the word count. This is based on early rough-draft readers.

Which, speaking of them, feedback has been quite positive. We had writing group over for a little while Saturday so we could discuss the problems they had and brainstorm solutions, and overall it worked out really well. Most of the problems are minor, and will be fixed in this next edit, so alpha readers won't have to deal with those small issues. 

So, once I finish that, I'm going to start editing WGMD as well, which is a much larger task. I'm considering breaking the book into it's already designated thirds, focusing on each as if they were their own whole so I don't feel overwhelmed. As I've stated before: I'm not great at editing, at least not without feedback first, so it makes this situation difficult. However, writing group has offered to critique one chapter at a time during the editing process, which should be very helpful. The problem is I go faster than they read, heh.

Re-reading Paradise Seekers, I'm really liking what I'm seeing. Writing it I didn't feel I was doing as well as I normally did, but I was in a "fantasy writing" mood, not a "YA writing" mood, which might have had something to do with it. Now I have to channel that inner epic fantasy writer if I'm going to switch back to Effulgent Corruption.

...or maybe I won't. While EF has been relatively well planned, I don't know if I'm up to such a large project just yet. I have my other YA idea that has only a very basic plot, but that's never stopped me before. I could probably write it by the end of August, should I start now. It's a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid I've been considering for a while. We'll see what I decide (though it'll probably be EF, honestly).

Good week! Keep on writing.

-Posted on Mon, June 7, 2010

Weekly Word Count

Weekly word count will be up tomorrow. I spent too long editing tonight and I'm about to pass out.

In Which Nathan is Arrogant

on Saturday, June 5, 2010
So, the rough draft for Paradise Seekers has gone around to the writing group and a few others (I'm currently working on a better draft), but I am very pleased to say the feedback has been really exceptional.

I've had two readers, for example, decide to pick it up super late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, for "one more chapter," than staying up to anywhere around 3-5 am because they had to finish it. Good sign.

Almost everybody has said the same phrase at some point: "Your best story ever," which makes me feel good about myself because I thought it had lots of problems (though, reading through it, it turned out much better than I'd originally anticipated). Most of writing group (and others) seem to agree I should shoot to publish this rather than Where Gods and Mortals Dance first.

And I think I'm starting to agree with them.

As a standalone story, Paradise Seekers works on a lot of fundamental levels with me. It's short (easier to edit, but also means there's less mistakes). I planned most of it before writing (also contributing to the "less mistakes" bit, minus one scene that needs an overhall). The story is catchy, fast paced, and has next to no filler. This also makes it so it's hard to put down. The characters have strong personalities, right off the bat, while WGMD currently requires some warm-up time. It also has a purpose, an underlying meaning (like a fable or parable) that I think is important enough that it'll stick with people. One reader even said the story was "powerful," which isn't something I've heard before.

Plus it's something I don't think anybody has done before, on many levels (meaning it isn't like the freaking Maze Runner! :P).

So, I'm considering doing this basic edit, followed by a second, larger edit, then send it to Alpha readers while I edit WGMD and begin Effulgent Corruption. My only problem is that, if this does end up being my breakthrough novel, I don't have any other YA ideas. Ok, I have one, but to say it's in a planning stage would be an exaggeration. I plan epic fantasy, but I write like a YA author. Oh, the humanity!

Anyway, I'm proud of myself. If you are one of the seven people following this blog who hasn't got a copy, feel free to sign on board. I'm gonna need some alpha readers pretty quick.

Note that this doesn't mean I won't have WGMD edited by the end of June. I'm just going to try and have both. Yes, I do enjoy working myself to death, why?

Ramblings on Writing - Meaningful Character Death

on Friday, June 4, 2010
Ramblings on Writing - Meaningful Character Death
June 4, 2010

So, in thinking about the topic, I've decided that I'm too damn serious all the time, especially on this blog. I mean, I want it to be professional and about writing, but who says I can't have fun while I'm doing it? So, see more posts coming up with just random junk that I feel like talking about. It probably will be writing related, but you know what? It might not be.

Now that this is out of the way, onto the topic at hand. 

Character Death is something I really can't give you a clear cut "yay or nay" on with regards to your own story. Truth be told, whether or not you kill of main (or side) characters is completely up to you, and many people actually totally hate it when authors kill somebody they've spent all this time connecting to (Barbara Hambly at CONduit very explicitly stated that she'll put a book down or quit a TV series if the author just randomly decides to kill a main character). So, as with all these little blurbs, take what I say with a grain of salt, and I'll mostly be talking about my own personal interpretations and experiences.

My writing group and I recently watched through the entire series of Firefly, and once we finished with the TV show we capstoned the experience by watching Serenity, the movie released a few years later to tie off the series, which was cancelled early. For those who haven't experienced either (minor spoilers, but if you haven't seen them you need to turn in your nerd card), just know that key characters from the series die in Serenity, including my favorite character. It's shockingly jarring and completely unexpected; I've watched a whole first season and a movie with these beloved characters. How could you kill them? How dare you play on my emotions like this!

Personally? I think it's brilliant, because it shows the author is serious, and he isn't screwing around. 

Think, for a moment, about tension in books. Tension can arise in many ways - between characters, between a character and his environment, etc. However, if you read a majority of novels, you usually don't worry too much about the well-being of a main character. This is especially true in the fantasy genre, where we can't even kill Gandalf without him coming back shortly after. If a person is a main character (especially if they are a viewpoint character), we as the reader expect them to make it to the end of the story. While we may have tension because they'll be tortured (either physically or emotionally), or put into dangerous situations, we never really fear their death, because we don't think it will happen. I think, while this is perfectly acceptable, it isn't realistic, and it is a total tension killer. Characters should die, and the character we think shouldn't die should totally be able to. 

When I first began writing, I kept telling my friends (who were actually mission companions and buddies, because I wrote the first 3/4 of Lacrymosa on a three-ring binder on my P-days) that my motto was "Nobody is Safe." While that might make me seem like a jerk (or just arrogant), I noticed that people would become seriously more concerned for the characters than they would reading other books. Knowing that I was fully capable of killing off a main character or love interest (which I have done in every book I've written so far, except maybe Paradise Seekers...uh, spoiler warning?) made them worried that I actually would. Because of this, when Lilly was being hunted by a huge Zentapox (a nasty dragon like thing that eats people essentially), was out of arrows and her protector was downed, people actually considered the option that I might kill her, or her main-character protector. And that, in and of itself, made the book both more tense and more realistic. 

Now, there is a line I must draw here, because I draw it myself. If you run around killing everybody (especially if you kill a viewpoint character in the prologue, which is exactly what I did in Lacrymosa), your readers are going to go from "shocked" to "pissed off" pretty quickly. In Serenity, when the main characters we knew and loved died, their deaths most certainly did evoke some anger in me, but because their deaths were meaningful and perfectly in character with the plot, I bought it. Rather than cursing at the author, who clearly decided they had to die, instead I cursed at the characters in the story who had done the actual killing. Because the writer walked that fine line between "shocked" and "angry," I was able to still stay in the story, focusing more on what the character's untimely demise meant in the plot, rather than be pulled out and start rage-hating at the author. 

How you do this is up to you, but I do have a few points. Please note these aren't universal truths, just pitfalls to be aware of. First, don't kill your character in a way that feels cheap. While that might be the most "realistic" (a stray bullet or blaster shot missed and ended up killing him), in most situations it just doesn't work. Second, if they do have to die, I personally think a "shockingly sudden" death is much more interesting than one where it is dragged on heroically for twenty pages. Again, it might work, but in real life people can take one, maybe two arrow shots before they are gone. Third, be very, very aware of the ramifications, both on yourself as an author and the characters in the story. As an author, I've had books planned where I know this character is going to die. All the way up to writing that point, I am aware of it, but I seem to convince myself it won't be horrible. It is. I get so immersed, it actually depresses me when somebody I've loved and developed with everything I've got bites the dust. But even more important than what I feel is how the characters in the story feel (because, honestly, an anonymous reader doesn't care if I had to take prozac after killing my hero). Killing the last beacon of hope is distressing for characters, and many people aren't emotionally capable of handling death. Know that the other characters in your book will all respond differently, and the world itself will change because you've killed Gandalf or Dumbledore. Know the consequences, and how drastic they are.

Something fun I often do when I am in the planning stages of a book (which, as mentioned before, is just a bare-bones idea dump) is, after I have a basic plot and a few characters, ask myself: "Ok, what would happen of character x died?" I've found this is also a great way to get past writer's block. Pretend a character is dead, and write a half a chapter describing the reactions of the other characters, and the impact is has on the story. Then store that chapter away somewhere, and proceed as usual. You'd be surprised as to how well you'll get to know your characters once the love interest is unfortunately killed by orcs, or the kind mentor is cut in half by Darth Vader. 

I think death, especially of key characters, in books can provide a very strong and very impactful emotional jolt to readers. It makes your book incredibly memorable. Think for example, about the Harry Potter books. Does anyone remember what really happens in book five in great detail? Of course not, we remember Sirrius Black dying. Same goes for book six, and Dumbledore. They become the center of the story, a blast to the reader's mind that makes them remember what they've read. 

So, give it a shot sometime! Tell me how it turns out. Just remember: keep it meaningful, and make sure they die in a cool way (killing Balrogs = awesome. Getting zapped by Snape = Not so much).