Category Archives: Fantasy

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

I committed to Book’d Out’s Eclectic Reader Challenge and have been chugging right along making progress, though I haven’t really gotten completely eclectic yet. So far I’ve been bouncing around the same genre’s but that’s okay. I have all year to get there.

One book I’ve committed to reading, Anna Karenina, is taking a long, long, long, long time because it’s really long and really slow and kind of like a lullaby. So whenever Goodreads tells me I’m ahead of schedule for my 100 books goal, I go back to it. So, after a few days on Anna Karenina (and only 10% progress), I started on some more books.

Miss Me Not

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon

Miss Me Not is an independently published novel only available in ebook format.

When I started Miss Me Not, I hated the narrator/MC. Her negative attitude was all too familiar in a bad sense, but something kept me going. When I finished the book, King had successfully used Madison’s negative attitude on life and helped her find happiness in completely legitimate ways (confronting issues, counseling, and work) that made it work. I felt like her writing could use some work, but this book was a good read.

One thing that threw me was the “New Adult” genre tag. This was supposed to fit in my ERC category but its definitely too young for NA. The MC, Madison, is a high school senior dealing with issues that meet YA. It’s good, just not NA.

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I picked this book for the Romantic Suspense category. I was pleasantly surprised. The main character, Charley Davidson (yes, like the motorcycle), reminded me strongly of Anita Blake from Guilty Pleasures (which I reviewed in January). I liked Charley a little more, she was less cheesy and fit into my personality more. Every since Dead Like Me, I’ve loved the idea of a grim reaper, which made the character of Charley really fun to get into.

At the end of the book, however, I’m feeling like Jones should’ve spent more time with the mystery of the story and less on the “oh, this strange attraction to the mystery man.” It started as a focus on the mystery but that faded away, which I didn’t mind until the end.

A Writer Teaches Writing

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This book was my epiphany book. I read the first half and was scribbling in the margins constantly as I read each line, each paragraph. Most valuable to me was Murray’s revelation of the writing process. I have read a lot of books about teaching writing and a few on writing, but none so perfectly summed up the writing process like Murray so much so that I feel lighter and more prepared for writing more now than I ever have in my life.

If you are a writer, read this book because it helps you to understand your writing process, but to help you develop your reading of your own writing and others. You will become, if you read this book, a writer and a teacher of writing. Don’t say, “I don’t need to teach writing,” because your first pupil will be you. So yes, you do need to know how to teach writing to yourself and to your writing buddies. If you are a teacher, read this book and keep in mind that when you talk about writing, it’s all abstract until you do it. So don’t think this will help you to become a better writing teacher without actually writing–it won’t, because it will be abstract and useless until you heed Murray’s (and countless other’s) advice.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I am on the fence about this book. I like some of the ideas Lamott shares but they’re mired in these ideas and personal philosophies and quirky (look at me) stories I didn’t like trudging through. I read the book for my thesis and will use it but I won’t recommend this book. It reminded me of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones but instead of inspiring me to write, I felt drained.

This did inspire me to think about honesty, which is a virtue that comes easily to me most of the time (and by easily, I mean it perches on my shoulder, the ever obnoxious parrot). But there is an honesty that is, at it’s core, honest, and honesty that is not and this is decided by it’s delivery. There is inherit in the Lamott’s delivery this showy side of pointing out the hardships and the oddities of her life with a false, flashy bravado. I started Stephen King’s On Writing and he has the honesty I employ, the honest honesty that when delivered is not meant to hurt, just be honest because it just is. It is not to be looked on with pity or sorrow. It just is. SO, as I told a friend, even my virtues have virtues.

Déjà Dead (Temperance Brennan, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

WHILE the main character, Temperance Brennan, DOES share a name and occupation with our TV favorite, Bones, that’s where the comparison’s stop. I aint mad, bro. I really liked Reich’s writing, I liked the story, I liked the description, I liked that I read it in Emily Deschanel’s voice. I missed the characters from Bones, but that’s alright because I watch the show. I don’t need to double up on this one (which is exactly how I feel about the Sookie Stackhouse novels). I don’t know when I’ll pick up another novel in this series, but I will.

Link: Goodreads.com

I’m just putting this book in here to say, guys, this is the kind of stuff I have to read to do my thesis that I can’t even say, “Yeah, I’d recommend this book for pleasure reading.” I can’t. I can recommend that if your local library has it, that you browse through it and recognize that we’re all scientific researchers using the heuristic research design. Yep. I’m not even kidding. If you need a design for a study, this is easy-I’d-rather-just-write-a-novel-so-I-did-now-how-do-I-pretend-it’s-a-thesis research. That’s Moustakas, you’re one part of the equation to why I’m going to graduate in May.

Also, you can’t get more eclectic than a book on scientific research next to some a murder mystery, just sayin.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of “What Melanie is Reading.” See you next time, folks!

Back to the Drawing Board!

This weekend I spent hours and hours reading for my thesis. I stumbled upon this book called “A Writer Teaches Writing” by Donald M Murray which made me really think about my writing process for my book but also for other stories. He breaks the process down as COLLECT PLAN DRAFT. The thing is, for his process, it’s not linear. It’s not just collect, plan, draft, DONE! It’s a revolving cycle until the final draft–meaning revision is just a rehash of the process. He refers to editing basically how I referred to correcting.

What does this mean? I’m re-thinking the Abassi Expedition. I’ve collected, planned, and drafted and now as I look at it–it doesn’t feel right. Something, mostly a fire, is missing from it for me. I think that I need some more collect, another plan, and another draft.

So, I’m probably going to collect my thoughts–break the draft down into the issues that I’m having, which for me, is primarily Alice and William at the end of the book. Morris grew into the most perfect character for me, save for maybe one or two scenes that feel forced. But Alice and William? They were planned before they were collected. So I’m back on the collect. I really want to better understand who they are, their backgrounds, how they’ll act as life comes at them. I had planned to be done with the Abassi Expedition by fall but honestly, I don’t know if that will happen.

After I collect, I’ll plan… I have legitimate scenarios for Alice and William to experience but I don’t think I have the right responses and actions on their part. So I might re-plan the rising and falling action. I like the climax, I like the end.

Then I’ll draft and when I do, I might use some old scenes but I also plan to use some techniques in that book like writing my lead over and over again in the different options (direct statement, anecdote, quotation  news, informing detail, dialogue, surprise, description, mood, face, scene, first person, third person, tension, problem, process, voice, second person, rhetorical question, background, introduction) with a focus on honesty, simplicity, immediacy, information, and voice.

I think it’s time for me to accept and be okay that my first draft is a discovery draft and it helped me to discover what I need to know, what I need to explore, what was left out. I have that draft off to my good friend Sabrina right now, so we’ll see what she says.

Another thing I’d like to do is to answer all the questions Murray gives that are more directed for non-fictional writing but still carry meaning to me:

  1. Do I have enough specific, accurate information to build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
  2. Do I see an order in the material that will deliver information to the readers when they need it?
  3. DO I hear a voice that is strong enough to speak directly to the reader?
  4. What do I know about my story?
  5. What do I need to know?
  6. Do I need to expand or narrow my scope?
  7. Will my reader’s questions get answered?

Murray also gives some great ideas about keeping the writing going such as setting a quota and keeping score, writing in parts instead of focusing on the whole, don’t stop to look at notes.

Before I start any of that, I need to figure out what is working well in my draft. My prose is good, concise, to the point, active, but my characters aren’t working for me the way they should. They’re not in the story enough. This plot is driven by the characters and the story needs to reflect that.

To really assess my work, I need to read it thrice (YES THRICE!) for content, structure, and language. Lately, I’ve been reading, instead, for language. That’s just not working for me. Because I can fix the prose but if the content isn’t right, that means nothing!

SO, now where am I? Well, I’m mired in the collect for my thesis. So the Abassi Expedition will have to wait a few months (hopefully just until March) before I can really delve into it’s collect. But I have a few books that I’ve recommended but never *fully* read, I’m going to link them AGAIN and finally read them this time! Cover to cover!

  1. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  2. Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs
  3. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  4. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  5. New to my list: On Writing by Stephen King
  6. New to my list: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

If I can work these into my thesis, I may, but until then, I’m stuck reading books and articles about writers teaching writing (if you know any, pass them on!).

Peep Show of The Abassi Expedition

Sabrina passed the Peep Show Challenge along to me and so here it is:

The Peep Show rules are, go to the 77th page of your WIP, count down 7 lines, write the next 7.

I promise, despite the fact that it only looks like 6 lines, it was 7 on my manuscript!

“She must be killed.” His handler downed a glass of scotch. “Your punishment isn’t over,” he added with another puff from his pipe. He nodded and men grabbed Morris from behind. They pulled him from the hook and he sighed at the relief on his muscles before they threw him to the ground in front of a trough of water.

They thrust Morris’s head in and out of the water, never drowning him but never giving him enough time to breathe before shoving him back in.

I’m going to pass this along to… AK, Jason, and Nat Russo! I can’t wait to see some of their MSs

Planning Your Story

Sometimes ideas come to us in the dead of the night and we write down a sentence, a paragraph, an idea. We get names from those characters come to life. But what’s next? What happens after you have a one paragraph or one page synopsis?

Research and planning.

After dredging up an old (worked on in high school) story, I thought–why not? It’s about time I got this idea out.

The first thing I needed to do was develop my own world of magic. I’m going to let you in on one type of magic that I decided to include: Feral Priests. Now, a feral priest can do three things: can communicate with animals, can share bodies with an animal, and can steal the abilities of an animal. Cool, cool but there has to be a cost or the world is just going to be a nutty, nutty place filled with superheroes. So, when feral priests speak with animals, they lose their voice for a time, when they share the body of an animal, they loose control over their own for a while, and if they steal the abilities of an animal, they kill it. I added four other priests with equivalent abilities and costs. It’s very important to set up your magic system so that you don’t run around with invincible characters (which I originally had).

So, then the MC was Aidan, but that name kind of took off so I rooted around the internet for the right name. I basically fleshed out the first few characters with Welsh names:

Cadogen (Cade), Mairwen, Bethan, Leolin, Owain, Roderick, Efion.

Then, I needed a city name for the starting place. I went to a site and just started writing down the names of cities in Wales that I liked:

Cardiff (Doctor Who?), Swansea, Caernaten, Brecon, Kilgetty

Then I started mixing them up:

Braed Macaediff Kilfair Caelfair Caelgetty Kilcaedon Braegetty Kill Caekilwen

No, my story is about a journey, so I built cities and name lists for each city. Then, shaped the plot–each city must be different! So, three cities, three unique experiences. Research for my first city is under-weigh: I’m researching Rome (which I’m familiar with anyway, thanks college!). As I research Rome, I think about how I can use their culture to supplement my story and flesh it out–maybe I’ll have a Colosseum, if there is a Colosseum then I’ll have to use it for it’s original purpose, for distracting citizens. So will my heroes fall to the trap and have to escape or will they break it? Either way, how will the trap be designed and how will they escape or break it?

After I figure out what the three cities are going to throw at my heroes, I’ll start working on a plot outline. I really like this set-up for the original plotting process:

I used this for the Abassi Expedition, the basic idea is that if you have 40 scenes, Act 1 is 10, Act 2 is 20, and Act 3 is 10. Or 60 Scenes: 15|30|15.

I broke out of this alter, but the idea of plotting this way really helped me set up. There are other plot charts:

This is another good image to have in mind as you plan, but it’s not as detailed. One thing, however, it makes important is the idea of constant upward movement–everything leading up to the climax must be rising action, if it’s not why have it there? It bogs the story down. Sure, it’s interesting, but if it’s not helping reach the climax, it’s a waste of space.

Again, I use that first chart back there and pick out all of the things listed starting with the Climax. What is the climax, why does it happen, and how do I get my characters there? Jason at Writing Possibilities also reminded me to find the motivation for my characters. And when I plotted the Abassi Expedition, Sabrina had me set up three struggles or conflicts for my characters: physical, mental, emotional.

As of right now, I spent a few hours Saturday just touching the surface of magic, character, and setting. Writing a novel, especially one in speculative fiction, is hard work. It’s not just sitting at the computer and writing. It’s planning, researching, and backtracking.

My next step is to use my new Campaign Cartographer to design my world and City Designer to work on the settings so that I can shape my plot.

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

In December, my friend Stephanie at Misprinted Pages shared Book’d Out’s Eclectic Reader Challenge with me and I got on the train. I’m really enjoying the progress so far this January as I use it to work towards reaching my goal of reading 100 books this year.

So, let’s talk about what I’ve read so far and what I thought!

Guilty Pleasures

Links: Author PageGoodreads.comAmazonBarnes & Noble

My friend, Sabrina, loves Laurell K Hamilton and her work so I decided to give Guilty Pleasures a look before getting into my ERC reading list and then I realized HEY! This fits the ERC!.32

Despite all the smutty covers made for this book, it’s actually quite devoid of sex, which stunned me. It started,out similar enough to other books I’ve read in this genre at a CLUB. YEP. A CLUB. WHO WOULD’VE THUNK IT? NOT ME. NAW. Okay, this time it was an all-male, vampire revue which means that it should have a nice, Magic Mike-inspired scene should it be made into a movie. I don’t know why, but this club thing is grating on me. It’s numero uno on what not to have in my urban fantasy piece.

Hamilton did a great job with first person narration. It wasn’t too “I” heavy. A few things bugged me, which were, I assume, funny to most but  repetitive or stilting to me (such as the use of “Naw”). She over uses some of the same jokes that I thought, “once was enough, twice was pushing it, thrice–too far.” Other than that, the prose was good. The bad guy was pretty obvious making me wonder why Anita Blake missed it until he revealed himself. Why did I piece together the mystery before her?

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A Clockwork Orange was just too frustrating to finish. I didn’t get very far before giving up on the language. It was like reading a novel of Jabberwocky. I’ve seen the movie so I knew the language and understood what was going on which to me made reading the book pointless. If I’m only following along thinking “Oh, I remember that part of the movie,” that means I’m not enjoying the book. I’m just trudging along because lots of people like it. I’m not one of those people and that’s okay.

The Road

The Road

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

McCarthy’s story is told with no chapters, no breaks. Just prose. I loved it. It wrapped me in this blanket and carried me along until the end of the story. A man and his child travel across the country and I’m not sure if it’s the apocalypse or McCarthy’s style, but if I could have, I might have held my breath the whole way. I was scared, worried, anxious about reading to the next page, the next paragraph because of what might happen if I continued. It was as if by not reading it, it would not happen. I don’t get this feeling very often when reading so that is a glowing recommendation.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)

Storm Front

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

For me, Storm Front became an abandoned book about 20% in. In December, I blogged about another series by Jim Butcher, Codex Alera. When reading Codex, I was able to get past the poorly developed characters, the tropes, and the amateurish writing. In Storm Front, I couldn’t. The world, plot, and races of Codex Alera saved the series and made it worth reading but in Storm Front, it’s just not there. I just felt annoyed by the narrator, sick of the writing style, and not at all interested in any mystery. It was PI mystery mixed with all the crap I hate about urban fantasy. I know lots of people love this series, but I don’t.

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

No Crystal Stair

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

No Crystal Stair is the first book I read that wasn’t for the ERC. A literary agent told one of my clients to read this to help her shape her novel so I too needed to read it. No Crystal Stair is a short, fictional, documentary (which is typically non-fiction?) book about the life of a Black Rights activist, Lewis Micheaux. The entire story is told from multiple view points all focused on Lewis. About 15% of the book is sources, acknowledgements, etc so this is a very, very short read. It’s labeled YA but I don’t buy that. There is nothing YA about this book; it might be helpful for kids to read with a history unit or to encourage self-research. The writing, in my opinion, was weak. The entire text was filled with generalized statements and showed a disconnect between writer and character probably because there were so many she attempted to write through. It was interesting and I enjoyed learning about someone but the delivery made me feeling unrewarded because of that big old word “fictional” up there. There were strange disconnects leaving plot holes over the course of the man’s life that made it frustrating in some parts. That said, it’s won awards and stuff so maybe it’s just me.

Elemental

Elemental

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In short, Elemental blew me away. For his dystopia, John used a place that most east coasters know–the Outer Banks. I vacationed at Hatteras Island one weekend and it was probably the best beach trip I’ve ever had so that paradise was set on end by John’s action/adventure story, making it even more powerful. He works to develop elemental magic though his world building is minimal, wasting no time on long info dumps, instead helps us to discover the way things work with the characters. His characters, I love. Especially Alice (what a spit-fire) and Griffin. I’m really excited for the next two books in this series.

Elemental is relatively short and is a quick, action packed read. I highly recommend this book. It’s my favorite this month.

Publishing, some other stuff, and a Poem!

I lied. I said I’d share my work this month but then my friend Sabrina started talking to me about helping her get published. SO I did some searching on query letters and then I thought, well where will I submit to and blah blah blah.

So here’s the thing: the best way to get published is to get published first (I know, I know) and win prizes.

I am submitting to OWFI’s annual contest this year. I also found this great site: http://writersweekly.com/this_weeks_article/004256_09122007.html. Maybe, if I win some sort of prize I can fund a drinking binge submission to paid contests.

I’m also going to try to write a short story and some poems for publication. While I do that, I’ll finish my novel. THEN I’ll start querying agents. Hopefully, I make some progress. I’m looking forward to making a lot of progress on it this year.

But the thing is, I have to start writing shorts and poems in speculative fiction, which I almost completely do not do. I have some “I love science fiction” or “I’m a book nerd” poems but nothing… really in the genre.

I do however, have this blog and the 50 followers whom I dearly love. Thanks guys, you’re the best.

I also recently got reblogged! I know, super cool, right? Check it out: SingleInACollegeTown.

Also, I ordered a treadmill that will be here Friday which means that all my reading/tv time will ALSO be exercise time. This, to me, is the lazy way to exercise. But hey, it’s good for the brain and energy and living forever.

I dredged up this painting I made and a poem:

 

DSCN0404

 

 

Where Crimson, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Lilac Come Together

The sky is a clear white, as if the oxygen forgot
its favorite blue and left naked this morning.
Crimson, lilac, blue, and green grow
as living things in places they don’t belong
while my yellow hangs not as a ball in the sky
but as rays shaking around me.

Life laps, touches down and picks up again.
Lilac, soft, sweet tweeting.
Blue, leaves and paper and paper rustling.
Yellow, a lively violin playing.
Crimson, a soft, steady heartbeat.
Green, steady humming.

My yellow is aglow, the touch
of spring after a long winter.
Blue is the splash of salty water on lips.
Green is the caress of grass.
Lilac is calm in a storm.
Crimson the blush on cheeks.

On Revision: Eliminating Passive Verbs

I like to revise. I really like it. I love to help people revise too. I am also for hire should you want me to help you out. If you don’t want to pay me (why not?), there are lots of little things YOU can do to make your own WIP stronger.

First, you can check out a few blog posts that I’ve published that are really helpful:

Reblog Wednesday: The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam – This is great for speculative fiction writers to work on making sure their content isn’t rife with cliche.

Revision and Critique Group Tips – This is pretty self-explanatory! 🙂

An Exercise in Detail – This is great for practicing slowing down your writing to gather details.

Wordle and Poetry – This is a post about writing exercises and ideas to help you develop your writing.

One of my obsessions thanks to a grammar class in college is passive verbs. Passive verbs slow down your writing and steal the heat away from your prose. However, passive verbs, if you’re not familiar with them, hide from you and eliminating them can be difficult.

So first, pick a color of pen or highlighter and go through and circle/highlight every instance of: are, is, was, were, had, have, will, could, would. I also think looked, turned, watched, started, heard, gave, hoped, smelled, and thought should be eliminated as much as possible. They’re overused, blah words. Also, if you work to eliminate them, your work will be stronger.

Now, you have a wall of red… what next? Figure out how you can eliminate them. Here are some examples of ways I’ve eliminated some:

“he started to reel his line in” changes to “he reeled his line in” – simple enough

“there were apprentices running in between delivery carts” changes to “apprentices ran between delivery carts” – again, still simple because a great action verb stands ready

When you use passive verbs in situations like, “It was cold.” Cold is an adjective. So, either use it that way or use a metaphor… “it froze his fingers” or “it froze.” Or from “the car was red” to simply “the red car.” This is not to say, just add adjectives, because adjectives are lazy ways to add description, but once in a while, it’s okay. Be careful doing it. Sometimes, you have to rearrange the whole sentence or paragraph to eliminate your passive verb so don’t be afraid to look past the period for help.

For rearranging, try something like “Alice was used to Xui’s primping so she waited…” to “Alice, used to Xui’s primping, waited…”

Try this active verb exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Make a list of ten nouns. Pick a profession and find 15 verbs associated with that profession. Now match them up and make some sentences. She has sentences like “Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.” “The fiddles boiled the air with their music.”

Use -ing/-ed verb phrases to add detail (Running through the store, Mary slipped and fell.)

Use metaphor effectively (that takes practice) and not fall back on cliches or simile. “She laughed like a hyena” is both cliche and a simile. Using a metaphor effectively means using those verbs to do more than be literal: The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky. The buildings didn’t really draw anything, but that’s better than “The buildings were all different sizes.” And thoughtful practice: knowingly work on your passive verbs. The more you do, the easier it is.

I’ve found some really great sites about how to work on your passive verbs, so please check them out and please give me YOUR tips if you have any!

Let’s Have Fun Writing | Spike Those Verbs

Active and Passive Verbs

Passive and Active Voice

Active and Passive Voice